LETTER FROM DAMASCUS
A Damascene Wedding
A soft knock on my front door takes me by surprise. One wonders these days who the visitor could be. Especially when most of our friends and relatives have left the country.
As I opened the door, my young neighbor came in fluttering like a butterfly. “Its my brother’s wedding” she said enthusiastically as she waved the invitation card in my face “You and your daughter are both invited” she said “My Mom will be expecting to see you” She gave me a hug and fluttered out.
“A wedding” I murmured to myself. Marriages seem a near impossible thing, both economically and emotionally with the war dragging on. When a wedding celebration does take place, it is simple, unlike the extravagant parties in the past.
“How long since I have been invited to such an occasion?” I wondered The last one was my niece’s wedding, just before the war. I bit my lip as I thought how many things have changed since then. Weddings used to start at eight and end at midnight. Now they start at three in the afternoon and end at five. People want to return back home as early as possible. No one knows what might happen in the late hours of the night.
The next day, I went with my daughter and her friend to the salon where they had a hair do and make up.
The women customers there seemed in a state of denial of reality. I listened to their conversations with awe and wondered where on earth do they live.
At the Beauty Parlor
The manicurist lacquered her nails red
Looked at her customer and said:
“No use of pretending, instead,
We should admit we are dead”
The customer carelessly said:
“I want either orange or red,
To match the crown on my head”
A blast shook the ceiling over their heads
Then a woman stormed in and said:
“Shells fell on the street ahead
Two were wounded and one dead”
The customer bit her lip and said:
“Not true, it’s all in your head
Come on, I’m late, go ahead!”
As we came back home, “zalageet” cries of joy rang out in our neighborhood. Our ears have been accustomed so long to the sound of shells and bullets. What a joy to hear happy sounds rather than sounds of war.
A Wedding Dance ‘arada’*
A cry of joy,
Rang like merry bells,
instead of sounds of shells,
Sounds of drums,
Echoed Instead of sounds of guns.
Dancers flipping shiny swords,
Praising the bride and groom
Twirling and leaping one by one,
Spreading happiness and fun,
As black smoke blocks the sun.
On our way to the wedding hall, we were caught between a wedding and a funeral procession that passed each other in the street. Some people were offering congratulations while others were offering condolences. It was confusing and touching.
Crowded with girls and women
Deserted by boys and young men
Hailed with explosive bullets
Haunted by shells and rockets
Where life slips away
A widow dressed in black
kisses a coffin and wipes her tears
While a bride dressed in white
Happily throws kisses
Sad and happy crowds exchange looks
Wonder whether to congratulate
Or offer their condolences
Lost forever in sympathy of love and woe.
Damascenes are known as “lovers of life” They try to make the best of bad situations and make a joke of it.
As women were being introduced to each other, they did not ask about each other’s health, but instead asked about their water and electricity.
“How is your electricity?” asked a woman “Well,” answered another sarcastically, “let me put it this way, as good as your water!”
The bride had already arrived when we pushed our way through the crowds of people.
She was seated on a dais among relatives and friends. She was pretty but like all Damascene brides was heavily made up.
Small tables were arranged for the guests to sit and get a good look of the bride.
Soon loud music was turned on and the bride got up and danced. Later on, all the young girls got up and joined her, clapping and cheering.
It was nice to see young Damascene girls so happy. Fortunately, the war hadn’t affected them, as it had affected the middle aged women.
I looked around the hall and saw the scars of war had engraved wrinkles on the Damascene faces, as if the history of the city was written on their faces. Maybe during peaceful days, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. War makes one look with a more observant eye and search for little details in fear of having little details slip away forever.
War has visited all faces
Not one face was untouched
Sadness has engraved deep lines
Like a surrealistic painting
Awaiting for a face-reader
To read the history of their city.
A woman sitting next to me told me that this wedding was not the only wedding taking place today, but many others are taking place as well.
“Life must continue,” said the woman as she smiled happily. “Weddings are taking place in very strange ways. I call them war weddings,” she said. “My friend’s daughter recently got married on Skype!”
“Skype!” I said. “How can that be?”
“Well,” said the woman “the groom who lives abroad appears on Skype watching his bride sitting among his and her family. Then the Sheikh recites the ‘Fatiha’ and the groom says: ‘Amen.’ Again the Sheikh asks the bride if she agrees to marry the young man and she says yes. Then they each put on their own rings as the women let out their zalageets”
The woman stunned me. Of course, to make this marriage legal, the groom’s father must have signed the marriage contract on behalf of his son. I’ve also heard lately of meeting your spouse on the internet for my daughter has had many proposals to do so and fortunately, she didn’t feel comfortable about this and rejected them.
It is sad how violence can reshape people’s lives and change their traditions. I recall the romantic frame this young man’s mother tried to put on it:
A War Fairytale
(A True Telephone Conversation)
“My son is a computer engineer,
He is thirty years old,
Your daughter is twenty four,
A teacher, I was told,
Let’s meet on Skype,
Since our lives are on hold,
Our kids can text each other,
Until their hearts, to each other, unfold,
In Beirut, they can be wed,
Write their marriage vows in gold”
‘Your fairytale’ has been told,
But, it can only exist in children books,
Where enchantment and magic still hold”
Families have become less demanding and ask less from grooms due to the current circumstances. War has changed and deleted many of the Damascene wedding customs.
As the sounds of the shells raged outside, a pretty woman with wide dark green eyes recalled how shells had fallen on her son’s University wounding many students who were taking their final exams.
A death announcement
A new name
A new death
Announced in the news
A whole life gone
A prosperous future lost
“We have lost our humanity” said the pretty woman “We are merely numbers announced in the news headlines!”
Syrians reduced to numbers
Announced on TV broadcasts
Transformed to names,
Printed on death announcements
Engraved on headstones
Cherished by beloved ones alone
As I listened to her story, I felt my heart ache. I wondered how long will our children have to fear a meaningless death by a random mortar shell.
Other women recalled other sad stories which saddened me terribly.
Life in Syria
She was the joy of her mother
Playing with her sister and brother
Blowing kisses to them one after the other
Dancing in the street despite the wet weather
Spreading happiness and helping others
Today, she has disappeared forever
He came back from work
A hard working shop clerk
Put his children on his knees
Told them stories from overseas
Today he’s gone indeed
Despite his children’s pleas
Just the other day,
She was a creative teacher
With attractive features
A loving mother,
To wonderful creatures
Now no longer
Can her students or children reach her
Thus rises the Syrian death toll
As shells end the lives of innocent souls.
Suddenly, the loud music stopped, and the mother of the groom announced his arrival.
Covered women, like me, rushed and put on their scarves, as the large video screen showed the groom arriving with the bride and both of their mothers welcoming him.
Later they both appeared in the hall and exchanged rings and the groom slipped a gold necklace around his bride’s neck.
A woman handed them a big sword which they used to cut the large wedding cake.
Then they both danced together, while pieces of cake were distributed to all the guests.
I tried to eat my piece of cake, but the sad stories I heard seemed to ruin my appetite.
The Bride and groom in their best,
Enter the wedding reception room,
Circled by happy relatives and guests,
Greeted playfully by words of jest.
The woman on my right looks depressed,
Her blue eyes were filled with distress:
“I was thrown out of my house” she confessed
“For four months my son was under arrest
I have no job though I’ve searched everywhere
Nevertheless, I’m alive so I guess
My family and I must be truly blessed”
She said as she got up and left.
The loud Arabic music fills the hall,
The bride and groom dance at everyone’s request,
As the woman on my left in a black vest,
Violently shook her head and hit her chest:
“I come from Douma, source of the unrest
Lost my job and house like all the rest
Now I’m constantly on a daily quest
For peace of mind and a place to rest”
The groom embraces his bride and is pressed
By his mother to open the small jewelry chest,
Then slips the ring on her finger with a playful jest
The wedding feast table was generously set,
The guests lovingly wished them the very best.
As the shelling continued from east and west.
On our way back, Damascus was alive with hooting cars and their loud music. The streets were crowded with young people bustling with energy.
Throughout history, Damascus has witnessed many wars and suffered a lot of violence and injustice, but its inhabitants have always been able to overcome their catastrophes and rebuild their city.
Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city, has lived through five thousand years of history, and will survive and live for many other thousands of years:
Damascus city never dies.
It remains alive.
It raises its head up high,
Reaching up to the sky.
*An arada band is a traditional musical group that sings and conducts mock sword fights during weddings — usually at the arrival of the groom to the bride’s home.
*zalgouta is a joyous cry made by women at every wedding.
Muna Imady was born in Damascus in 1962 to an American mother and a Syrian father. She has a BA in English Literature and a diploma in English-Arabic Translation from Damascus University as well as a Maitrise from the Sorbonne.
Imady has designed a beginners English reading course for children and has written several text books for teaching English as a second language to children. She has also written and translated many short Arabic stories for children which were published in several Arabic magazines.
She has been interested in folktales since she was a child and promised herself that one day she would write a book of the folktales she had collected. Imady lives in Damascus with her husband Dr Nizar Zarka and her three children, Nour, Sammy, and Kareem. She teaches English as a second language to young children and continues to collect folktales in her free time.
She is the author of the collection: Syrian Folktales
Works by Muna Imady
AIRMAIL/VOICE FROM SYRIA
A Damascene Baby Shower
A Damascene Story (Contest Winner: Every Family Has a Story)
A Damascene Wedding
A Damascene Wedding Shower Amid the War
A Death in the Family
Beirut in a Damascene’s Eyes
Damascus – February is the Month of Cats: Shbat Shahr Alattat
Poems from Damascus
Reactions and Realities: A Poet’s Perspective; A Visitor’s View
Snow in Damascus
The Three Spinners: A Syrian Folktale
What Will Be, Will Be