It’s sad to consider Syria and how it is thrown into the news these days. The country comes across as a place of oppression and cruel dictatorship, a place where the USA has “invoked sanctions.” Along with many other countries in the region, the young people are burning with a desire to be a modern democracy – a painful process. To me, Syria is like a venerable great-grandparent, a country containing one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. I want to honor this place and the people who were friendly and kind to me.

I fell in love with Damascus in 2003. I was alone in that city, alone in my hotel, as my

with Shabda at Ibn Arabi's shrine

husband and the group stayed at Dar Meir Musa a couple hours north in the mountains. But I felt at home here. My husband, Shabda, was on a TV show like 20/20. One man with a mop stopped me in the hall. “Salaams. I see your wife on TV!” He meant “husband.” English is a rare language here. I felt safe.  It’s like this: if I set my handbag down on the busy sidewalk and walked away, someone would grab it and run after me, calling in French and Arabic, eager to say that they are returning this to me!  But that was before the city was flooded with Iraqi refugees in the last 5 years. Still, you could NEVER do that in New York or Rome. In any Western city. My favorite memories are strolling the streets after the Ramadan fast-breaking meal among the families and baby strollers. At about 10 pm it felt like a festival. One evening I bought a warm nightgown with the word “dream” set in small crystals on the practical grey fabric. I still wear it – 8 years later – and dream of Damascus.

Prayer for Syria 2003                         
I
Let there always be sky
choreography;
pigeon flocks in formation
Brown, cream and pinto,
wings sunlit, dull,
then colored again –
wings above Damascus, lifting my eyes
higher than the minarets.
The flock comes apart – bird by bird
onto the coop below my window
while the world of Ramadan breaks fast and
clusters of girls and women
pressed into gray winter coats,
scarf-headed, more modest than pigeons, stroll souk
and sidewalk.
II
Syrian Times tucked under my arm,
I pass through groups of Saudi oilmen,                                                                                                     slow and easy on the sidewalk, clicking
beads in the morning sun.
Brown cloth falls from their wide shoulders,
lifts in the breeze of the revolving door
of the Cham Palace Hotel,
where the concierge sits at her desk, flipping
her dark hair absently with a gold pen.
III
In the bird market, pigeon buyers
assemble an all white
or black collection; match feathers to                                                                                                          a herd of goats. Chickens
have learned to stay put,
tethered by kitchen string above
a box filled with rabbits whose soft
feet never touch the floor.
IV
What am I tethered to, and with whom do I weep,
soar and turn? Muslim women here correct me
in the saint’s shrine; they are trying to
squeeze me into the only flock they know.
I say: let Syrian women be safe from harm.
May they find themselves on sidewalks
decked in winter coats vivid as tumeric, coats
colored lemon rind or pomegranate juice.
V
Parting from this city with its ancient trees, sweet
with songbirds, we arc above the earth
rising 37000 feet over the pole.
Let there be connectedness and peace – a wish held by
all who fly – between the ground we rise from,
and the place we land. <>
 

With regard to the “Arab World,” Chris Hedges https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/05/02?print writes: …So I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. “We had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion… And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.”

If you want to read more about MY ADVENTURES IN SYRIA, go to SEARCH under Tamam’s links on screen right and type in: “Syria.”

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