They were in a cardboard box in my mothers basement, thrown together with a rubble of things that once had held meaning to me but now seemed irrelevant: various books and articles I’d saved from my days at the university, an ugly wooden mask that a friend bought me from some tourist trap in Tanzania, a red Chinese jewellery box with little trinkets in, a small brick (?) and a poster of arabic calligraphy cut out from a magazine (it had looked cool). Useless things, most of it, but for what laid underneath: Photos.
Photos in little paper bags of various sizes. You know, the kind of photos that you can actually touch, pictures from before the digital era.
I’d forgotten them for years. Or rather, for years they had been mildly unimportant if not for the recollection of good times with good friends and a few quite good shots of course. I’d borrowed my boyfriend’s camera and I had used roll after roll of film, on everything and nothing. The sheer amount of photos almost seemed embarrassing. Even back then, a syrian friend had made fun of me, saying I’d take a picture when he sat down, then a picture when he rose up, a picture when his wife sent their son to school and one of himself sleeping in front of the tv (I never took a picture of him sleeping infront of the TV - I might have made a drawing of him doing that though…). I wasted film on every little ugly thing and of the beautiful things as well. Then he paused for a breath, and said with uncharacteristic seriousness, almost a little unwillingly: It is the best present you could ever give to your family and yourself.
It might as well have been a hundred years ago. Memories of a distant peace, you know, the calm before the storm and all that. I wonder, does everyone seem stupid and naive in the eyes of the afterworld?
Since then countless Syrians have endured, suffered, feared, died, fought, fled, killed. Even though many have reached safer havens, the grief for a lost home is a continuing thing even then (or maybe especially then), like a chronic decease. I see the ghosts of my friends in the drawn face of every Syrian that I meet here in Sweden, and I could hear their pain in a murmured question a woman from Aleppo asked me almost a year ago: What do you think about the Syrian people?
A seemingly stupid question that you could hear from any taxi driver as a foreigner in Syria, but one that I could tell looked, longed for a certain answer, a certain acknowledgement. I tried to somehow tell her that yes, I knew of the country she longed for, that I remembered, the people and the houses and the food and the friendship and the gossip and the sounds and all those stupid little things. I tried, ambitiously and foolishly, to answer both the explicit and the implicit question and I failed. I saw it in her face as she pulled up the collar of the jacket against the cold and put her mittens on, a kind of resigned disappointment, a deep knowledge that even though you might get to the other side, get away from the murderers and the violence, it’s only to be slowly killed by loosing your context in the world, just by the simple fact that most everyone that you meet know nothing, NOTHING, about the place you came from and the person you once was.
I watched her silently, realising that there was nothing I could say.
Several months later I unearthed those pictures from my mothers’ basement. I’ve spent a lot of time with them now, making drawings of some of them, and remembering. I’ll try to make a little exposition. It’s weird with memories, you forget these important things and you remember the details. I remember that it was unusually warm for the season back in October 2005, that gave way to a bone-chilling cold in december, the humid air giving it entrance to everywhere and everyone. I remember the sound of the milk man in the morning, waking us all up with that stubborn clonk clonk clonk against the metal bars of the milk wagon, led by a donkey. I’d said “I hate that guy!” to my friend, who replied “we hate it too, but what can you do?” I remember the milkshake my friend did on sweet bananas and unpasteurised milk, worth any kind of stomach trouble and maybe even the hateful milkman. I remember the deserted afternoons during ramadan, and the twinkling christmas lights in the christian quarters in december. I remember chatting the night away infront of old, boring Egyptian movies, my friends falling asleep even while talking and eating pumpkin seeds. All these little things I remember.