A Damascene Wedding Shower Amid the War
The whole building seemed to shake with the loud Arabic music until it was silenced by the shrilling sound of a shell passing over the city:
Echoing in my ears.
Driving down music into silence.
As I heard the sound of footsteps climbing the stairs, I remembered my neighbor had mentioned that she would have an Imbarake (wedding shower) a week after her daughter’s wedding. Women who didn’t attend the wedding, like myself, came to congratulate the bride and offer her gifts.
So many times, in the past, I declined to be part of these celebrations. Somehow, I was persuaded to go this time; it seemed better than staying home and listening to the depressing news.
The outside door was open wide as women visitors hurried into the decorated apartment.
“They must be running away from the war,” I thought to myself, as I was led into the large salon. An old traditional wedding song was being played as young girls danced around the young bride in her white gown:
Damascene jasmine on your cheek
Sweet honey from your breath
May you be blessed by Allah, O Moon
You are the Moon, so brightly lit.
Salma, a middle-aged woman whose makeup seemed like a dreadful mask, laughed lightly and said to us, “So lovely to be in a happy atmosphere.” Then she lowered her voice and said as if she were talking to herself, “My son and his wife have been filing for a divorce all week long!”
Couples taking different sides,
Pulling away from each other,
Hoping for a different Syria
Gradually withdrawing apart.
“I’m sorry,” I said politely.
Salma breathed a sigh of relief and let out a loud, nervous laugh and said, “There is certainly nothing to be sorry about at all! For five years they have been fiercely quarreling over their different interpretations of the war.”
Crowded with angry women and men,
Quarreling over nothing and everything
As time passes,
They break each other’s hearts,
Tear each other’s lives apart,
Still hurting each other,
Over and over again.
“Now,” said Salma aloud, smiling, “at last, they decided to separate!” She reached out and grabbed a small cup of strong bitter coffee from the tray before the girl offered it to her and said as she drank it: “For peace of mind!”
Fatina, a pretty woman, raised her eyebrows and said, “You hear about so many divorces these days and from couples of different religions and backgrounds.”
Salma nodded her head and said, “True, but in the past, one would feel sad to hear about divorces. In our case, both my son and his wife feel strangely happy and free. Believe me, this war has driven everybody mad!”
My dream came true,
I woke up and you were gone,
No quarrelling all day long.
A fresh start,
A new beginning apart
Happiness fills my heart!
Suad, a respectable grey-haired woman, covered her mouth as though to weigh the words that were about to come out of her mouth: “It’s all this violence and terror we are all living through. It’s somehow affecting us in different ways!”
Travelling in the air,
Spreading fear everywhere.
Filling hearts with wrath and rage,
Unleashing inner beasts from their cage.
The outburst of violence in the Damascene community has reshaped people’s lives:
War reshapes lives,
Puts an end to love.
As hard as you try,
To keep feelings alive,
Sounds of war speak louder,
As much as you strive,
Shells and rockets move faster,
In a couple of words that are said,
Your dreams are shattered,
Your love is forever dead.
Suad sighed and said with a shrug, “How can we be the same people if our beloved city has changed too!”
In Damascus city,
There is so much suffering and misfortune,
So much sadness dwelling in the hearts.
So many people kidnapped and killed,
So much bitterness and hatred,
Separating and tearing families apart.
“Even our moral values have been affected,” stressed Suad as she nervously bit her lower lip.
Thuraya, a cashier, recollected incidents as tears streamed down her face:
“So true! When my husband first lost his job as a chef, I worked night and day to put food on the table. During that time my husband ran away from reality to the virtual world. Whenever I asked my husband what he was doing on his computer, he would claim he was searching for jobs in new restaurants.”
Thuraya swallowed hard and continued: “Until one day, I caught my husband chatting with women as young as our daughters. I can’t describe to you how deceived I felt. My whole world shattered in front of me.”
The Day I Died
I cried for my love,
I cried for my wasted years,
I cried for my lost youth,
I cried for my vague future,
As I buried my dead dreams.
Thuraya painfully remembered how scared she was of her future:
Who will wipe my tears?
Who will put a smile on my face?
Who will bring the sunshine
Back into my heart?
She took out a tissue and wiped her tears. Then with a smile she said, “Alas, I wiped my own tears and brought the sunshine back into my life on my own!” she continued proudly. “My husband didn’t deserve me. I asked for a divorce and now I’m a free woman!”
Nada, a motherly-looking woman who sat next to her, said, “I had the same experience, but somehow I didn’t have the courage to leave my young kids behind.”
So many times, she packed her bags,
Yet she reconsidered her plans.
So many nights, she decided to leave,
But future dreams broke in her hands,
So much pain filled her young heart,
Pain enough to tear her life apart.
Nada nervously coughed. It was as if all her emotions were caught in her throat as she strived to clear it and said, “I just couldn’t tolerate the idea of leaving my kids during this difficult time. So I decided to stay and prayed that God would keep me strong. My patience has paid off; my husband was brought back to his senses and my kids were not left behind.”
At the dawn call to prayer,
A woman stood and prayed,
She cried and sobbed for her family,
To be showered with mercy and blessings,
She prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
Once the salon was full of the visitors, the bride left the room followed by her friends.
“Now the bride will change into the dresses of her trousseau,” said Suad, “an old custom which some Damascene families still hold on to.”
The music changed and the bride reappeared in the salon dressed in a black glittery evening gown and matching shoes. The bride shyly moved her hands right and left to the beat of the music while the young girls in colorful dresses danced around her in a circle as they clapped their hands. It is said in Damascus that a bride should dance so that she will have good luck and her life will be full of joy and happiness.
All of a sudden, to the great surprise of everyone, Samia, a woman in her late thirties, jumped to her feet and joined the young girls in their dancing.
“Sometimes you are just so sad that you need to express your feelings and lose yourself in the music,” she said, as she swayed her body along with the music. “If my worries will not let me go, I will dance them away!”
I bowed to my cares
And asked them for a dance.
I swung my arms around them
And danced them away.
Suad shook her head in sorrow and said in a faint voice as if she were talking to herself, “She is desperate! Her husband was summoned to the army five years ago, although he had three other brothers. She hasn’t heard from him since. Her family wants her get married again, but she still waits for her husband to return every day.”
Why was her husband taken to war?
She no longer can understand,
Why was he chosen out of the four?
To fight away in the wasteland,
She still waits for him at the door,
Knowing not, he lies dead on the sand.
Young girls carried in trays of lemonade and orange juice and offered them to the guests as the bride left the room followed by her friends.
The mother of the bridegroom greeted everyone and asked them about their health.
Later the bride reappeared dressed in a splendid pink dress and matching shoes. She seemed to have overcome her shyness and gracefully swayed her body left and right, smiling at everyone.
Sofia, a bottle-blonde woman, turned to the bride’s aunt and asked, “Does the groom have an apartment of his own?”
“Yes,” said the aunt nodding her head. “A very small one!”
“Small is better than living with in-laws,” said Sofia. “Living with my in -laws was the cause of my divorce. We had to move in with them when our apartment was hit by a shell. Unfortunately, the interference from my in-laws caused endless quarrels. I felt I was living a dreadful nightmare. I begged my husband to move to my parents’ apartment or to rent a small apartment. He strongly objected to everything I suggested to save our marriage. I felt desperate so I filed for divorce!”
Fatina, a cheerful woman in her twenties, smiled and said sweetly, “What’s written on the forehead, the eye must see.* I have a cousin who had two children. When the war broke out, a shell fell on their apartment and she and her husband separated and went back to live with their parents. Little by little, my cousin felt her relationship with her husband was beyond repair and their marriage merely an empty oath. Finally, she insisted on divorce.”
As war rages,
She returns to her parents,
She who never thought to return again.
Her husband, too, stays with his parents,
He who had no more hope to regain.
As time passes,
Their marriage is only a meeting once a week
an empty tale, of idleness and pain,
One morning, they open their eyes,
To realize, their oaths to each other were lies.
I thought to myself how war has put an end to many of the social constraints that compelled married couples to think long and hard before considering divorce. They no longer give a thought to the impact that any such move would have on their children and their parents.
Again, the music changed, and the bride reappeared in a royal blue dress with matching shoes. She happily moved her arms gracefully as her friends circled around her and cheerfully clapped their hands.
Young girls carried in silver trays with bowls of kishk al umara, a sweet white pudding garnished with almonds and crushed pistachios, and offered them to the guests.
The bride’s mother joined us and asked, “How is life here?”
“Life?” said Amani as she breathed deeply and hopelessly waved her arms. “There is no life! There isn’t any life here in Damascus. No life in all Syria!”
I was about to protest but I remained silent when my eyes caught the sight of columns of smoke spreading over the city. I sadly recalled that the Byzantine Emperor Justinian once called Damascus “the light of the Orient.” Now its light is dwindling under billows of smoke.
Black columns of smoke,
Spreading fumes in the air.
Creating towering dark clouds,
Filling our hearts with despair.
“No life and no happiness,” said Amani as she pointed at the wide window. “With shells randomly falling everywhere, who can find happiness?”
“True,” said the bride’s mother. “Still I think, one must think of life and embrace it!”
As Amani told her story we understood her pain: “My son lost his newlywed wife last month. They were shopping and in a matter of seconds a shell struck her and she died.”
In a flash of lightning,
A shell ended her life.
In matter of seconds,
He no longer had a wife.
“Now my son with no wife or job is thinking of immigrating.”
I cannot remember one peaceful day,
When shells were not on display.
The ground under me violently shakes,
Rocking back and forth like an earthquake.
Smoke turns bright daylight,
Into dark shadows of night.
Sadness and sorrow fill my heart
With news of dying people in every part
Because of all of that,
I’ll bid you farewell and jump on a raft,
Cut all ties with my past and depart.
I thought of articles I had recently read and TV shows and muttered to myself, “Unfortunately, he will depart to live through worse nightmares.”
The world watches crowds of Syrians,
Fleeing from frightening nightmares,
Leaving behind empty villages and cities
Reaching out to promising foreign coasts,
Where—it is said—peace and jobs grow on trees,
Only to live amid new, terrifying nightmares.
As the music changed, the bride reappeared wearing a smart suit with elegant high heels. I was amazed to see her dance so comfortably in those spike heeled shoes.
At the end of the party, the bride reappeared in her white dress and again happily danced and twirled around the room with her friends.
From the large window of the salon, I could see that clouds of dark smoke had covered a large part of the city.
“Things must and will get better someday, ” I said to myself as I thought of how much Damascus city had suffered throughout many centuries, yet it still rose battered and bloody.
“Nothing bad lasts forever!” I said to myself, as I watched the dark billowing clouds. “A phoenix is bound to appear and spread light into our lives.”
Out of the rubble and ruins
Throughout the blazing flames
And billowing dark smoke
The Phoenix emerges,
Covered with scarlet red feathers,
Dipped in a thousand shades of gold,
Flaps its wings and rises up in the sky,
Spreading sunshine into the world
- There is a Syrian folk belief that you are born with the name of your future spouse engraved invisibly on your forehead.