I believe one day, my three children will be able to peacefully visit my homeland Damascus – Syria, and play marbles in the sandlot behind the apartment building where I grew up.
As a child growing up in the Middle East, I always wondered why Arabs and Israelis never got along. I would read all that I could. I would ask my father, who was a poet and a writer, all the questions I could. I was never satisfied with the complicated answers I received. I would say to my dad: “But the land is plenty big for all, isn’t it?” My dad would just nod with sad eyes. It seemed to make more sense that Muslims and Jews would coexist peacefully. After all, both people came from the same place. They had the same traditions, values, even looks.
Now as an Arab-American living in this democratic country and enjoying the freedom abundantly laid in front off me, I try to come to terms with my new identity. My compassion for my homegrown Arabic tendencies is oftentimes in conflict with the American-born privileges I adore. Back home I am a stranger in my own land. I am an Arab-American in America, and an American-Arab in Syria.
Recent events in Lebanon tell me the conflict may be more innately inscribed into our being than I had ever thought. The more heated the debate, more intense the bombing, gets; and the later I delay my children’s visit to my troubled country.
I just want my children to see the streets I wandered in my youth, and smell, taste, and touch my childhood memories. I want them to hear the music, feel the crowded city streets, and embrace the cool summer night breeze from the Mediterranean. I want them to play where I did, and wander the narrow alleyways of the oldest inhabited city on earth. I want them to taste the Syrian pastries I used to snitch before mom finished cooking, causing her to chase me down the hallway and into my father’s library where I would hide in his camel-hair robe (Abayae). Mom never suspected I was tucked in there and would look all around finally giving up. The dark and cozy cocoon of my father’s chest protected me when I was little. I want my kids to experience that…the same Abaya, the same smell, the same room. I want and I want and I want…
Hundreds of civilians are dying every day because of a meaningless power struggle. I cannot fathom what it will take for us to live in peace. What it will take for my children, Zade, Dury, and Demi to play marbles with the neighbor’s kids on that childhood sand lot in Damascus.
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