Tags: Heritage, Middle East, Winner
Damascus, Syria, a city at the heart of a bloody war. A city that itself is a juxtaposition where life thrives only kilometers away from heavy conflict and war. After years of waiting, a turbulent flight to Beirut, and a bumpy taxi ride with hundreds of checkpoints, I finally reached Damascus. For my parents, this is where they were raised, a melting pot of Syrian Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, and various others. I however, saw Damascus as the place I would visit in my youth and spent countless hot summer days and cold nights wandering the city with people that I loved. But the Damascus of old was only a memory that still lived inside the people; for what I did not know was that I was about to see another side of the ancient city, a calm within the storm.
Everyday in Damascus was a surprise, from wedding parties to long nights sitting on top of the mountain that overlooks the city. From the sounds of shells only minutes away, to celebrations with fireworks shows. The smell of Jasmine mixed with baked deserts and the contrasting smell of gasoline to form an unexpectedly sweet juxtaposition just like Damascus itself. Life seemed to go on perfectly fine in what could be called a warzone; the people were doing what they could to survive. Driving through the city, one could see cars from the United Nations heading off in the directions of the warzones. Minutes later we took a wrong turn and fell into the center of conflict, shells behind our car. It all seemed unreal, how could the conflict be so close yet so far? How could I be in the middle of (one of) the most dangerous places on earth? Where has the Damascus I know and love gone?
As we drove to our home, I was once again greeted by family members and friends, and suddenly the conflict seemed to be so far away. I climbed up the stairs to the house where my grandparents used to live, and suddenly a rush of ecstatic emotions hit me. As I climbed up to the rooftop balcony that my grandfather built himself for my family decades before my birth, I smelled the wondrous aroma that I had become accustomed to, the juxtaposing smell of Damascus that suddenly reminded me of my youth and the years my grandmother and I would spend before her passing looking over the city of Jasmine with beady eyes. I suddenly felt serene and desired only to lay down and watch the starry sky and look over the city as I once did, paying no attention to the war that was only minutes away. At that moment, I was a Damascene, a Syrian, living life as though I was living in the past, looking away from the war only to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As all people in Syria seemed to be doing, I was finally hopeful that this war would end and that Syria would return to its former glory, a rose in the desert, with its city of Jasmine flourishing once again.