When people ask me about Syria, I try to distance myself from the fact that I was born there, right in the heart of the world, in Aleppo, the oldest city on earth that’s still standing today. I think of Syria like a fairytale or a past life, one that I lived in a different body, a different time. I tell them Syria is beautiful, lively, with people who love to live and laugh and show off their culture.
But the news tells a different story about the Syria I once knew. The news shows destruction and half-fallen buildings where people used to cook, watch TV, play, and sleep peacefully. It shows evil in the form of scrawny children who are becoming parents at six years old because their parents were killed in the war and their siblings are too young to fend off on their own. That’s the Syria people are learning about today, when ten years ago, they’ve never even heard of it.
This isn’t the country that I knew, and it certainly isn’t how I want it remembered. I’ve been an America for more than a decade now, but deep down, I’ll always be Syrian. The Syria people need to know about is the Syria of my childhood, the land of my past life.
I lie down on my bed and picture myself on the other side of the world, back in my room in my old bed. Everything is there where I left it. No renter has thrown my stuff out; the dust hasn’t taken over my dolls and precious books.
When I get up, I’m seven years old again. I look at the balcony door by my closet, and that same old temptation hits me. The big, tall, rectangular windows call out to me; I climb on their edge and stand up with my head high. Up in the sky, hundreds of birds scurry about left and right, playing in their paradise. They don’t leave. They don’t hide in the trees. They just play.
I swing from one window to the other like a monkey. The old woman in the house on the other side of the street shakes her head at me as she takes her son’s clothes down from the balcony laundry line.
Down below, cars honk and taxis pick up tired people with grocery bags. I keep swinging because exhaustion is for the weak. I don’t want to leave this place. I want to stay, to feel the walls of this house. I want my bare feet to slide against the cold tiled floor.
This is my home.
And I keep swinging. Even as I wake up back in America, I keep swinging. My heart beats for Syria, and my soul swings in its direction. It swings and swings, and it will keep swinging till my last breath. That’s the Syria I want back. The one with innocence and laughter and happy birds.
I hope you enjoyed my nonfiction piece. If you would like to check out some of my other works, you can find a free preview of my Young Adult fantasy novel Dance with the Devil below: