Coming to Grips with Beautiful Israel and Charming Palestine

(popping by after a full year’s silence to share about a recent culturtwining adventure that was particularly poignant to me)

My aunt was a fervent supporter of Israel. I, on the other hand, have spent my entire career surrounded by people with a deep loyalty to the Palestinian people, which seems to equate opposition to Israel. I couldn’t quite grasp how my aunt and I could disagree so deeply on something so fundamental. She felt the plight of the Jewish people as if it were she who had been personally hurt, and I wanted to defend my Arab friends who I knew to be kind and peace-loving, and many of whom had themselves suffered deeply at the hands of the Israelis. There was no basis for agreement, so generally we just avoided the topic.

But my aunt was a woman of God, who cared deeply about truth and justice, who prayed and read her Bible and tried to live a holy life. I dismissed her views, but I could not dismiss her.

She passed away last month, just ten days before my first visit to the historic land of Palestine, the country we call Israel. I was going to work with a non-profit in the West Bank that provides psycho-social services to disadvantaged Palestinian youth through sports and arts activities. But since this was going to be my first time in the “holy land”, I figured I’d be amiss if I didn’t at least take a minute to tread the ground that Jesus tread, to see the city over which my Lord cried. So I made plans to spend a couple of days in Jerusalem before crossing into the West Bank.

Messages - requests, pleas, prayers - at the foot of the Western (Wailing) Wall

Messages – requests, pleas, prayers – at the foot of the Western (Wailing) Wall

Flying into Tel Aviv, I found myself wondering how I could honour my aunt’s legacy on this trip, and it came to me: I should try to see things from “the other” side. I’d spent years and years learning to see things from a pro-Palestinian perspective. I had two days during which I could try to see things from the point of view of Israel’s Jewish population. I could try to see the Israel that my aunt saw.

I’m so glad I did. I feel that I understand so much better now. That doesn’t mean I have any answers; in fact, the situation feels more hopeless to me than it ever did before. But over the years, I’d begun to dehumanise Israelis in my mind, assuming them to be some kind of sadistic beasts rather than my fellow descendants of Adam. That was easier than grappling with the fact that this is a complex, multi-faceted issue in which justice for all may be impossible, and forgiveness the only way forward.

Here are some personal highlights:

  • I learned that we are, none of us, without guilt. At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, I read about how German Jews, who had felt that Germany was their home and who had taken great pride in their German identity, were almost overnight made to feel like outcasts. Many of them sought refuge elsewhere, but refuge was hard to find. The story of one ship particularly touched me: with 250 refugees as its passengers, it sailed from one Latin American port to the next, and not a single country would allow it to dock. This feeling of rejection is part of the Jewish collective memory today, and as an American-Brazilian I have to accept that I too have a small portion of the rejection to answer for.
  • I saw how Jews from all around the world crave a homeland, and got the impression that many – perhaps most – of Israel’s citizens want to simply be left alone to get on with life in their little country. They don’t want to live somewhere that might reject them like many Europeans rejected them in the last century. They just want peace.
    I observed how Israel truly has been built as a Jewish homeland. And I can see why that’s a good thing. But I can also see how few of the world’s religious or ethnic minorities get a nation of their own, in which to thrive their history and heritage and culture. I’ve wracked my brain to think of other countries that act as homelands in the way Israel does for Judaism, and figured that Armenia plays a similar role for Armenians. But I can’t think of any others. Can you think of other “homeland” nations for minorities?
  • I was impressed by how family-oriented the West Jerusalemites (i.e. those who lived in the “Israeli” – not Arab – side of Jerusalem) were. I was there for their shabbat, which looked like Christmas day in London: not a store open, no public transportation, few cars on the road. What there were, though, were many families out walking together, fathers pushing prams, grandfathers toting toddlers from here to there.
  • I was equally impressed by how hospitable Palestinian Arabs were. In other conflict-affected regions where I’ve lived, I’ve often felt surrounded by edginess and reserve. Not Palestine. Everyone I encountered was helpful. My host even jumped out of bed when I started coughing in the middle of the night, to see if I wanted some warm water! My work colleagues, big buff athletic trainers in their twenties, were on the verge of tears as they shared their concern for the well-being of their students.
  • I registered horror at the depth of social division. As I scoured TripAdvisor forums, looking for advice about visiting Bethlehem, I encountered many comments by well-meaning Christian tourists described all of Bethlehem’s (Arab Palestinian) residents as better-not-talked-to-at-all. And as I sat around the lunch table with my Palestinian colleagues, I heard them rage bitterly against a foreigner who so much as set foot in Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel.
  • I concluded that there is no way to sugarcoat the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank (and, I imagine, Gaza, though I did not visit there) suffer injustice. I got a small taste of it as the authorities taunted my attempts to pass through a checkpoint from the West Bank back into Israel. I saw it in the so-called apartheid wall that was built right in the middle of neighbourhoods, destroying property in places, and in others splitting families and livelihoods in half.
A message of Hope pasted to the so-called Apartheid wall in the town of Bethlehem

A message of Hope pasted to the so-called Apartheid wall in the town of Bethlehem

We don’t see what we don’t want to see. Avoidance is easier than all-out hatred. And hatred is easier than direct confrontation. I enjoyed Israel, with its unique cuisine, great spaces for walking, and its clear family values. I also enjoyed Palestine, with its own wholesome cuisine, friendliness, and sense of life lived to the full. But few Palestinians are allowed from the West Bank into Israel, and few Israelis would ever think to pass the wall into the West Bank. They don’t see the injustice and so don’t have to think of Palestinians as humans. Meanwhile, Palestinians who have not seen any Jewish communities other than the settlements which are brazenly established in historic Arab communities, don’t see any humanity in Israel.

So here is what I saw: Israelis don’t forgive the many people of the world who have hurt them over the years: they’ve chosen instead to build walls. Palestinians cannot think of forgiving the Israelis because all they see are walls. But as I left the Holy Land, I found myself reminded of Nelson Mandela, who played such a key role in beginning a long path to reconciliation in South Africa, and who said: “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

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My opinion about the World Vision same-sex marriage controversy this week

I’m not really into politics and controversy, and I generally work really hard to avoid having – or, at least, voicing – a strong opinion about issues that get people all-riled-up. I try to spend more energy trying to figure out how to invest in people, celebrate diversity, and learn from others, than trying to figure out what said people should be doing. I try to do the right thing myself, but know I get it wrong all the time, so I find it more interesting to just get to know people.

So I feel like I may be wading into a pile of mud trying to write a post about the recent World Vision decision and reversing-of-decision. In case you missed it, click here for an article that summarises this week pretty well. Or, just read the following very-brief summary of events:

  1. Monday: World Vision USA (note: USA – not World Vision International!) announces that they will no longer not hire people who are in same-sex marriages. My interpretation of their statement is that they weren’t coming out for or against same-sex marriages, but they were saying that their staffs’ churches should be the ones to have an opinion on the matter. And they were not changing their policy of hiring Christians, nor a pile of other moral policies that they have.
  2. Monday-Wednesday: Lots of American evangelical leaders speak out, condemning World Vision USA’s decision.
  3. Monday-Wednesday: Some unknown number of ordinary American evangelicals call World Vision to cancel their child sponsorship commitments, saying they can’t support an organisation that supports same-sex marriage.
  4. Wednesday: World Vision USA reverses Monday’s decision and it’s back to status-quo. Except now they have managed to make everyone their enemy. The conservatives won’t forget that they wanted to change the policy. The liberals won’t forget that they didn’t stick to their commitment.

But, as someone who has worked on and off with World Vision for several years, who has some great friends who work there, and who frequently interacts with big NGOs like World Vision on the ‘implementation’ end rather than on the ‘fundraising’ end, I have some thoughts, so I will dare to share them here:

  • First and foremost, I am keenly aware that this entire controversy is about World Vision US. The World Vision offices that I’m familiar with don’t really have much to say on this issue, one way or another. Or other such ‘controversial’ issues, for that matter. So this controversy is largely about what is happening in World Vision’s USA offices, and possibly a few international posts that maintain close ties to the U.S.
  • Second, all NGOs have to be responsive to their donors. We call it a “dual consistency” (or at least one of my former employers calls it that). A development NGO has a mission to serve the poorest of the poor, a responsibility to do that in an appropriate, strategic and culturally-sensitive manner, and accountability to the ones providing the resources with which to do it. Most of the largest NGOs are accountable to big-government-donors who underwrite projects with budgets of up to multiples of millions. Those donors have all kinds of standards and requirements that they hold NGOs to! We mostly don’t mind because (a) they give a lot of money, and (b) we agree with their standards. World Vision is unusual in that, while it does have some big government donors, it has chosen to fundraise primarily with local Christians around the world through its sponsorship programme. This means that World Vision has put itself in an awkward position of reporting to millions of individuals who probably don’t know much about development work. It’s an awkward position to be in, but it’s also kind of cool, because it means that all those individual sponsors have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and to follow some exciting developments in other countries. And it’s worth noting that this controversy is about World Vision’s hiring policy, not their policy of who they choose to provide assistance to in their programmes, something about which lots of other donors have rules.
  • Third, having worked in NGO offices during seasons of controversy and massive change, I can guarantee you: it is no fun. It’s a highly charged, politicised atmosphere, with lots of meetings behind closed doors as people try to make decisions in a way that won’t fuel unnecessary gossip – but it never works because everyone outside those doors is speculating anyway. Everyone is tense, waiting, and inevitably starting to wonder if their job is on the line or if the entire organisation is going to shut down – i.e. imagining the worst.

So, in short, to anyone reading this who thinks Monday’s decision was horrid, and to anyone reading this who thinks Wednesday’s decision was even worse, I guess what I’d like to say is, give World Vision a break. First, remember that this only applies to one of many, many World Vision offices (granted, their biggest office, but still). And second, keep in mind that things must be pretty miserable in their office right now and they’re no doubt working really hard to figure out how to respond to their various consistuencies.

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Tomorrow – Chasing Misery Book Event – if you’re in East London, come!

This is the first live discussion about the book Chasing Misery, and I’m honoured that we are hosting it at my university. I think it’s a must-read for people like my students, who are considering a career in traveling around the world, hoping to do more harm than good – oh, I meant more good than harm!

So, if you’re around East London, do come. If you know someone around East London, tell them to come! It will be a discussion well worth your while.

If you can’t come, you should most definitely still read the book.

CM Poster

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I attended the #WithSyria Vigil today – #Pray for Syria

This evening at sundown, in cities all around the world, people gathered in remembrance of the three-year anniversary of the Syria conflict. I attended the vigil in London’s Trafalgar Square, where we had a light show, children’s voices on the loudspeaker, music, and a short

Several times during the one-hour event, they played a recording of a Syrian girl saying, “Please stop the killing. Think about the people, think about the children, the women.”

Then the speaker urged us to do the same, issuing a call for us all to get out our phones and tweet our solidarity and support for the Syrian people with the hashtag #WithSyria.

Some activists worked the crowd, encouraging us to attend a rally on Saturday the 15th, the actual third anniversary of the conflict.

I had a host of emotions as I stood there and watched, and listened, to the uniquely multisensory presentation, complete with children carrying balloons and recordings of children singing, images of words up against the monument while listening to a speaker, and lanterns.

My first reaction, I think, was to the girl’s plea. She asks that we stop the killing. Who can and should stop the killing? How can anyone in London effectively stop the killing? History has shown that, in complex conflicts like Syria’s, the only way to stop the killing is to kill everyone who is killing, effectively then continuing the killing. I want the killing to stop, but what can we in Trafalgar Square do, really?photo(2)

We were told to tweet it. By tweeting we can stop a war? Oh if only it were so. Tweeting can create a powerful voice, raise awareness, give us an avenue for self-expression. But I fear it won’t actually produce radical change.  It’s not nothing, because I know that our elected leaders pay attention to what is said in the twittersphere, but it’s not much either.

Most of all, though, I felt confused. I have journeyed alongside dear friends who lost everything, or almost everything, in this war. I have laughed and grieved with people I care very much about. How do those experiences, how do those real human lives and emotions, find their expression in this Central London artistic event? I’m not saying it doesn’t, I just didn’t see it.

But as I left, I walked away with a conviction. Who can stop the killing? God. Who can that girl plead to, asking for an end to the killing and for hope to come to the precious children and their mothers? God? We can’t pray to twitter, but we can pray to God.

Please #pray for Syria.


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Evil and Perversion, Redemption and Beauty (part 3)

falucaI’ve written about evil and beauty and perversion this week. There is so much more I could say about these things. Stories to tell, pictures to recreate in words. Experiences, memories. The depth of human depravity and the glory of God’s creation are indeed endless. I’ve kept myself sheltered from experiencing these in their fullness, but I’ve been a front-row spectator. After living in a dozen countries, most of which rated bottom ranking on the poverty charts or top ranking on the corruption or violence-against-women charts, I was working in revolutionary Egypt – my cushiest posting by far. I remember one day going on a boat ride up the Nile through downtown Cairo with a group of people, and this woman struck up a conversation with me. I have no memory whatsoever of what we were talking about, but she then made the comment, “You’re not very adventurous, are you?” I was stunned. No one has ever called me not-adventurous before, and indeed, I wear adventurous as a badge of honour! But by the time I got to Egypt, the adventure had been pretty much washed out of me like a bad dye. By the time I got to Egypt, I never went out at night and my colleagues had to drag me kicking and screaming on a midnight climb up Sinai (which was well worth it).

But all that is to say… I realised after talking to that woman on the Nile that I could have experienced the evil, beauty and perversion so much more closely and intimately than I did. By aid worker standards, it turns out I’m not all that adventurous after all. But I’m adventurous enough to know what it looks like.

And yet the most precious bit of this humanitarian life, the true deep beauty that goes beyond any spectacular beaches or mountains or jungles or deserts or sunsets, is redemption.

Today, I sit here in stable cushy London in awe of the redemption I get to see. In awe, but ravenous for more. The stories of redemption feed me: they replenish a heart that’s worn dry and a brighten a soul that’s washed bland.

They’re a balm. For a long time I felt like a gas tank with the little yellow light blinking EMPTY, wondering how much longer I’d run before simply collapsing for lack of fuel. After all, I take arms length very personally.

But then these moments of redemption poke their little faces out, and not only do they fill my heart, but they begin to nudge. Where can I go, what can I do, to see more redemption?

Lately, redemption has come in the form of a group of friends mobilising themselves and their resources in one country to welcome refugees from another country. My friends don’t do it because they’re supposed to help people, and they’re not receiving any help other than the help they themselves recruit. They are genuinely enjoying it.

Redemption came in the moment that a Muslim woman friend of mine who studied Islamic law turned to a Christian male friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, and said that she’s just like him because they both witness to their respective religions. And they became friends.

photoRedemption came in remembering that above the layer of alcohol-induced orgies I was witnessing at work, there was a mother who took in a teenage girl who needed a place to stay. And just down the street from where very possibly a colleague may have molested a coworker, there was another mother putting on puppet shows for children whose school had been destroyed. And while I sit in conversations about how many millions of dollars we can raise to set up a centre for refugees, there are spoiled middle-class teenagers visiting homeless refugees and breaking bread with them.

Redemption came in seeing social norms and walls crumble down, religious stereotypes fizzle away even if sectarian bombing still takes place down the street. I saw redemption when people told me they helped the poor and the downtrodden, because it used to be them and it might be them again.

I’ve seen miracles these last few months, true miracles. And the filth and the guilt, the sadness from the evil, the disgust with the perverted world we live in, my desperate attempts to cling to beauty because of how it contrasts with its surroundings… all of those somehow have become a burden worth bearing, manageable risk if you will, because redemption is coming.

In case you missed the other parts, click here for Part 1 or here for Part 2

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Evil and Perversion, Redemption and Beauty (part 2)

So reading a book written by other women-like-me has had me reflecting on the things I’ve seen and lived in these past years. The way in which it has shaped my outlook on the world.

As I read these essays, two things seem to creep their way into each woman’s story: tears and alcohol. And yes, hand raised, my essay includes both tears and alcohol. I guess I’m not all that unique after all, at least not in the company of humanitarian aid workers!

Why the tears? All women cry, well, almost all women cry. But the things that we cry about are probably not the things we imagine women are expected to cry about. We cry out of an accumulation of emotion. Our hearts fill, fill, fill and eventually they are full. Then we cry. Maybe that’s not unusual, but it sure seems like my heart has done its fair share of filling over the years. The everyday in my world is held at a level of intensity that I do not yet have the words to capture.

drinksAnd that’s where the alcohol comes in, I suppose. This intensity of emotion, this depth of human experience which I struggle to describe, is not something we can live with on a daily basis. It’s really too much. The world is too much, and our voluntarily inserting ourselves into that world makes it all the more so. So that’s probably one of the reasons why alcohol is so popular. Some of the essays talk about the legendary aid worker parties, where people drink some awful poisonous local brew with no redeeming quality except for the fact that it makes them forget. Yes, I’ve been to those parties. Never been much of a drinker myself (she says to reassure her mother), but I’m so familiar with the need to forget. There are other ways we try to give our brains a break from reality… running, yoga, downloaded tv shows, and – well – all kinds of other stuff.

So not only have I witnessed evil, but perversion. Not just party-hard. That doesn’t have to be all that perverted. But I’ve had colleagues accused of sexually assaulting other colleagues. I would struggle to count the number of men I’ve met on the field who conveniently forget to mention their wives and kids waiting for them back home. Drunk driving, hookups in really-not-so-appropriate places, constantly shifting sexualities, bar fights… these are the things of everyday life. And it’s not just aid workers. I couldn’t tell you why, but I’m fascinated at how the few tourists who show up in our forgotten corners of the world put our own perversion to shame.

What’s their excuse? Do they just somehow think that this is a place where they can get away with it all?

And for that matter, what is our excuse? Yes, we’ve chosen a hard job in a hard posting where we hear hard, hard stories. But some things are, just simply perverted.

There are certain countries in my not-too-distant past that are coated with this layer of perversion in my memory. My appreciation for the natural beauty and my compassion for the poor and disenfranchised of those places is obscured by a sense of filth and guilt. Not because I feel I’ve done wrong, not per se. But because I went out of a desire to be a part of something good, and instead feel like we, collectively, gave life to something ugly. Something that I’m just not really too proud of. Beautiful, gorgeous places. Ugly, detestable memories.

I’m beginning to think I want to go back to these places again with no agenda except to be pure and seek out the best in people in a way I didn’t do before.

Click here for Part 3

or here to go back to Part 1

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Evil and Perversion, Redemption and Beauty (part 1)

I’m working my way through an advance copy of a book entitled Chasing Misery. It’s an anthology of essays written by women aid workers about the humanitarian life. I’m thrilled to be a contributor.

chasing_miseryThe essays are good, really good, and I can’t wait until I can tell you all to get a copy for yourselves. They really do capture what it is like to be a woman do-gooder, the type of woman who doesn’t really stop to think about social conventions or whether it’s prudent to go to a certain place. The type of woman who goes where there’s a need and, if we’re completely honest about it, thrives on the adventure. We’re an odd bunch, in some ways. In other ways, we’re more normal than you think.

But reading the essays is bringing a lot of memories to life. I’ve worked in many places, difficult places, fun places. I’ve lived in so many countries that I might consider “the most beautiful place on earth” that I would be at a complete loss to choose a winner. None of them are anyone’s top-ten-tourist destination list (unless that someone was an aid worker, or a bit crazy)… Competing for top ranks include Timor Leste, Kosovo, Syria, Darfur. I’ve woken up to mountain landscapes, and ended my days to sunsets that snatch my breath away. And each of those precious moments was all the more precious because I felt so privileged to be there. Not everyone gets to live in the Balkan Mountains or in Southeast Asian rice fields. I could do it because of how awful life was in those places.

I saw evil. Always it was at arm’s length, never did it invade my personal space. But it was always just an arm’s reach away. Genuine, perverse, pure, nasty evil. Hatred, abuse, torture, disdain for humanity – these took the shape of a wide array of expressions which were nothing if not evil.

And all this darkness made the natural beauty of the places where I lived all the more beautiful.

Now, I know there’s plenty of evil surrounding me here in cozy little London. Evil is far from the sole property of the developing world and conflict zones. But it was most certainly more in – your – face.

And after a day of talking to people who have suffered, writing reports about poverty, witnessing injustice in everyday encounters, the grandeur of the desert would fill me with a sense of awe that will never be matched in London, where life is just a tad more respectable.

Click here for Part 2

And here for Part 3

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Book Club Questions

Are you in a book club? If so, this is for you!

My Dream for Dreams in the Medina is that it spark empathy and discussion about the beautiful diverse cultures of Syria. And I’ve been told that it actually does make good fodder for a book club. So… for next time your book club meets, here are some discussion questions to keep the conversation going!

book display1. Would you like to live in the Medina Jamaye’a (university dorms)? Why or why not?

2. Leila and Nisreen are both Sunni Muslim girls from a relatively conservative background, but the similarities between them pretty much end there. What were some differences in their background and upbringing that might explain who they became as young women?

3. Do you see Ahmed as a protagonist, or as a villain? Why?

4. What might you do if you were in Huda’s situation? Or if you found out about what happened to Huda?

5. Would you have advised Roxy to marry Bassel or not? Why?

6. Have you ever been judged by the family you were from rather than the person that you area, as Leila was by Ahmed’s mother?

7. What are some reasons why Maha seemed so stable?

8. What was the motivation for Mary and Ghalia for not completing their English degrees and wanting to be by family?

9. If Mary and Ghalia told you that they were dropping out of university as they did Leila and her friends in the book, how would you respond?

10. In the end, did Leila get the “dream”? Or did she settle for less?

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Dreams in the Medina is officially launching!

Dreams in the Medina is “officially” launching!

Please come and bring a friend (or, if you’re not in London, tell a friend in London to come, it’s going to be great!)…
12 December 2013, between 7 and 9 p.m.
House Café and Gallery – 70 Camberwell Church St, London, SE5 8QZ

There will be a book reading, discussion about Syria and chat with the author, refreshments, information about Syrian charities, Syrian handicrafts, signed book copies & more!

Here is what some recent reviewers have said about the book:
Sometimes it takes a story to make you care… To bring to life what’s only been flat.
– Lisa Burgess @ LisaNotes
An academic, with her roots firmly planted in reality, Woronka draws her characters to reveal the similarities and the differences among their respective cultures.
Catherine Hoffman, Five-Star review for
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Mourning Sham

With each day that passes, I feel further removed from Syria. But I still have dear friends there, and am privileged to be in touch with them several times a week. They are so dear to me, and they are my heroes. But here in cozy London it is hard to actually feel their reality. And so maybe I now have enough distance to start writing a tribute to the Syrians who continue to inspire me, more and more. This might be the beginning of my next novel.

Leila picked up the phone and scrolled down to the familiar name by a Lebanese phone number. She pressed the green button and tapped her fingernails on the table as she waited.

After four rings, Maha answered, “Darling Leila! How are you? I’ve missed you!”

“Oh I’ve missed you too. What’s new with you?”

Rather than continue with the standard pleasantries, though, Maha responded only with silence.

So Leila jumped in. “I saw your Facebook post. May God have mercy on their souls.”

Maha chuckled. “Do you know what they found in the rubble? The entire house destroyed, but the television still upright with that little doily crocheted by my grandma on top. My mom always wanted to throw that doily out because it was so old, and it’s the only thing that survived!”

Leila joined Maha in a few moments of hearty laughter. What else can you do when talking to a friend whose father and youngest brother had both been killed by random shelling?
Once the merriment had died away once again, Leila asked Maha the practical questions: “What will your mother do? Will you go back to Syria for the funeral?”

“I have been trying to convince my parents to come to Lebanon for ages, since the beginning really. But Mama doesn’t want to leave. She says it is her home and if the Christians all flee Syria, then we are just offering it to the Islamists. She will go to Damascus to stay with my Aunt, you know my Aunt right? Praise God, so far, the Bab Touma region of Damascus is still safe.”

“And you?” reminded Leila.

“Mama told me not to, that it’s too dangerous. It’s silly because I go to Sham all the time with Samir, but Sednaya is now completely blocked off so I couldn’t get back home anyway. Can you imagine? I’ll never say goodbye to Baba nor to my baby brother. He was about to start secondary school already, you know?” Those last words came out in gulps, as if Maha was forcing the tears back.

“Ma sha’allah. God creates and man takes away.”

Leila herself had not escaped loss. Praise God, her immediate family was safe, living in a camp in the Jordanian desert, in a couple of shelters that looked like shipping containers, donated by a rich Arabian businessmen. As far as any of them knew, their village no longer existed, though none had been able to cross the various different front lines to check for many months now. Two of her uncles and a number of her cousins had joined the Free Syrian Army early on, and most of them had been killed in her fighting. One of her cousins, though, had proved himself to be a natural at war and been promoted to an officer in the FSA. Leila made it a point not to talk to him, ever.

There was little more to say on the subject, so Leila asked, “How is Samir?”

Over the phone line, Leila was convinced she felt Maha relaxing with the change of subject. “My husband is amazing. He’s my hero. Everyone worries about me when I travel – and I worry too. But Samir, he has been detained a few times times already! But he keeps travelling back and forth between Damascus and Beirut. He says he can’t stop as long as there are people who don’t have food to eat. He’s here in Beirut right now, thank God. I’m going to keep travelling with him, there are so many women in Damascus who need someone to listen to them and sit with them. And plus it’s less scary to travel with your husband than it is to send him into harm’s way. Anyway, he’s right. He can’t stop as long as there is need.”

“So you’re saying he is crazy.”

“I’m saying he is a man of God.”

Leila nodded and smiled, then remembered Maha couldn’t see her smiles over the phone. She didn’t want her friend to get the wrong idea, so she repeated the phrase with which she ended most of her conversations with Maha, “You guys are amazing.”

Posted in Dreams in the Medina, Syrians who have inspired me | 1 Comment