Separation and War

My cousin Farah and niece Aya in my grandfather's kitchen ~ Homs, Syria summer 2007

My cousin Farah and niece Aya in my grandfather's kitchen ~ Homs, Syria summer 2007

Meet Aya in the pink t-shirt above.  Aya's mom is an American citizen, but Aya was born in Homs, Syria where she lived the first four years of her life.  Aya was the top student in her school, toppling students, years her senior, in everything from Quran memorization to mathematics.  Aya enjoyed mornings in this kitchen with her great-grandfather, who would feed her breakfast while her mom was still sleeping.  She and her brother would then proceed to tear up the remainder of the house until her mom's cousin, Farah, woke up downstairs.

Aya and Farah were inseparable.  They had similar interests, clanking around the outside of the villa in fake high heels or hand-me-downs from their mothers.  They both cried when the boys would hit them with soccer balls.  They both marched around like they owned the city with their cheap bags of organic and locally processed potato chips, and they both smiled -- a lot.

Less than a month after the above photograph was taken, Aya and I left to the United States with her mother and three siblings.  She would learn English, forget Arabic, excel in school, and never see her home country again.  And she would never fathom the nightmare that her childhood best friend would experience in her absence.

Now meet Farah.  Farah was her mother's first daughter and last child.  She lived in the flat below her grandfather, and spent her days helping her mother at home, attending school, dressing up, and touring the many social events, weddings, and parties in Homs, Syria.  She was always adorably chubby, undeniably superficial, and irresistibly cute.  She spoke with a voice that could have swallowed three helium balloons and she made a cheesy grin occupy her father's proud face each time she marched in to greet the family.

The fact that she is, technically, Aya's aunt meant nothing to her.  The two were born around the exact same time of year and became quickly inseparable.  But after Aya left, flourishing in America, Farah suffered a worse fate.

She continued with life as normal until she was told, one day, that she could no longer attend school.  The road just wasn't safe anymore.  Farah couldn't play outdoors anymore because bombs shattered the skies around her and she has spent the last three years of her childhood in a city that is still under siege.  Her mother is sick and her family is afraid.  She knows so many people who have fled, or died.  She doesn't have the same childish innocence, the same happy grin plastered across her face.  She lives a totally different world than Aya does now--one shrouded in fear and destitution.  She can't have fun.  She can't attend school.  She can't learn English to communicate with Aya.  She can't ride her bike, buy potato chips, or dress up for a wedding.  And she can't guarantee that she and her family will remain as lucky as they have been to be safe despite all the turmoil in the city.

While news outlets focus on statistics of gory details regarding the Syrian revolution, an entire side of the country has been ignored.  There are real people--real children--best friends who have been separated and dreams that are being shattered.  There are emotional breakdowns, happy memories that haunt the rubble left in the cities ripped to shreds.  There are hopes that may not survive this storm.  And there is life not being lived by hearts that are still beating.

I hope I am there on the day Farah and Aya reunite.  And I hope it's soon, and I hope it's safe.

Dena AtassiComment