(with, of course, all due respect to mr. e e cummings)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Whispering Ghosts

  I caught myself thinking over the past weeks how different my time in Morocco is from my time in Syria, how much more muted my experience here is, thinking maybe it was cultural or maybe it had to do with the lack of pending revolution here.  To me, Morocco felt a lot more like America or Europe, full of people who worry about dating or grocery shopping instead of whether the mukhabarat are listening at the door and plotting against their family because of the sins of the earlier generations.  I was comfortable.  When people asked whether my friends in Syria were well, I would say, "I think so."
  Last night I spoke with one of these friends from Syria, though, the young woman who came to my aid when I was sick, who taught me about her outlook on religion and dress and relationships, who covered up in public and danced to Michael Jackson in private. 
  She's now in Turkey with some members of her family, having fled her home, her studies, her teaching position, and all her possessions because of military incursions.  She fled a situation in which she feared for her life, with rumors of rape and memories of the destruction of her house snapping around her heels.  Her brothers joined the resistance and she will not return to the country until after the fall of the regime, fearing that she would be kidnapped by government forces or shabiha.

  I huddled over my laptop for about two hours, forcing my mind through the lines of Arabic text that appeared on my Skype window one after another.  "You've seen the videos on YouTube," she wrote, "but we live those videos, we see them with our eyes."

  And I am ashamed of it but I miss the cocoon of ignorance, of knowing what was going on but not connecting it to the faces and names I know.  Even now, I find myself grasping for wisps of it, trying to pull them back over myself to stay warm and sedated.  I'll listen to music, I'll watch happy YouTube videos, I'll do a crossword, anything to distract myself and anchor myself in the reality that is my compound in Morocco.  Anything to pretend that a short Skype conversation or Facebook thread every couple of months is communication enough for me to truthfully say, "I keep up with my friends in Syria and they're doing fine."  "Alhamdulilah," they always say, "God be praised."  It's the stock answer to, "How are you?"  Alhamdulillah.  I am alive, life continues.  It could and does mean anything/nothing.
  And with the bombings yesterday of major Syrian officials, I come once more face to face with the unyielding truth that I can see no future for my lovely adopted country that does not involve wading through blood.  Everything has changed there, and I find myself in a situation in which people cheer for death for some as the quickest way to life for others.  I find myself with fewer and fewer heroes.
   I should have known that the imprint of my time in Syria could not subside quietly into fond memories and kind notes sent sporadically over the Internet.  The ghosts come whispering about sorrow and panic and guilt once more as they did upon my initial return to the US, no matter how hard I try to cover my ears-- and I do try.

  I'm not sure what I'm driving at here.  I suppose I would just ask you all, if you have a moment, to think about my friend in Turkey, to think about how fragile our equilibrium is, to tear a strip off your own cocoon if you can.  All I could offer her when we spoke last night were my sympathy and tears...offer up what you can.

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