I asked her how her cousins are doing. I’ve known her cousins ever since we all bunked together during our student years. Her eyes flashed at me and her feet started dancing on the floor as her elbows leaned harder into the counter. She told me that two of her cousins, girls in their early twenties who she counted as among her best friends in the world, were engaged. This was not good news. She was furious because their fiancés were both twenty years older than them, from a country where you or I would probably never ever want to live.
My friend then explained: “But before I could tell her what a terrible idea this was, she told me I was not allowed to say what I was thinking. ‘Between marrying a man I don’t love and death,’ she said, ‘I choose to live. Don’t you dare judge me for that.’ What could I say? He’s her ticket out of Syria. When I call them on the phone, I can hear the shells landing right outside their house, I can hear men shouting on the streets. My other cousin has left her home, along with her husband and baby, because their town is a complete war zone. Squatters have occupied their little country cottage so they can’t go stay there even though it’s safer, and plus they don’t want to leave their house in the city because, if they leave it, then they’ll lose absolutely everything.”
My heart broke as she said this. My heart was already breaking – I have so many friends in Syria whose stories are not as different from hers as I’d wish. I thank God every day that none of my dearest friends has
yet died, though death has crept close indeed.
Even though my heart was breaking, I tried to think of some comforting truism. I think I asked some questions about how they might get to safety in Lebanon, about whether there was any chance at all that her cousins may learn to love their future husbands, elderly though they may be, about whether the youngest girl in the family was still able to go to school. Then I tried to find a bright side, that the fighting could die down, that her cousins really would be safe after they were married, that tomorrow was another day.
She blew up at this point. In Arab culture, we learn to express the depth of our emotions by the volume of our voice. So I was not offended by her shouting. What offended me was what she said: “You can’t know! How can you even start to care? They’re not your family! OK, so you have a friend who you want to help, that’s sweet, but your real family is safe. These are my family. And the entire situation is [I think she used an expletive here]. There is no positive side, there is nothing good about it.”
I was offended because my heart was breaking. Because I have shed many tears over Syria. And because she was right. I care but I am enormously privileged because I have the luxury of choosing to care, and I probably still don’t care enough. And, really, I don’t see any good in the situation either, even if I am looking.
But as the conversation went on, I came to realise something and I told her: “Fair enough. The situation is terrible, I can’t even start to put into words, and you’re right that they’re you’re family not mine so I can’t really understand. But even so, I need to hope. I can’t live with the thought that this is it. Maybe things are not going to get better, but I need to know that they can. I can’t go to sleep at night without some hopeful thought, otherwise I’ll just despair.”
After this we moved on to another topic of conversation, because she confessed to being a realist and preferring to call a spade a spade, while I discovered myself to be an idealist obsessed with hope.
Hope for Syria, even when it feels like all hope is lost, is one of the reasons I have launched the e-book version of my novel Dreams in the Medina at this time. Ultimately, it’s a story of hope, even more so when it stands in contrast to the Syria my friends are currently living in. If you read e-books, please get a copy, read it and while you’re reading it pray for Syria. Pray hope into Syria. Get together with some friends and pray together for a land of rich culture and deep heritage.