Published: June 30th 2011June 30th 2011
Yasmine, the national flower of Syria
I was walking by my childhood home the other day when I came across an old but familiar fragrance. I looked up, and sure enough, the Yasmine shrub that produced vines of flowers for years still remained. Despite the marked differences in our yard and apartment flat, the Yasmine bush has remained, symbolic of the societal changes and constants in Syria.
The last time I traveled to Syria about three years ago, the city was full of tourists. People from the Gulf, Iran, and Eastern Europe flooded the streets of Damascus. What’s more, due to the war in Iraq, many refugees were also living in Syria at that time. I was overwhelmed at the crowded streets and felt like a stranger amongst so many different people.
But now, amidst all these politics (and it is just that, politics. Damascus remains to be a very safe city with even more affordable things to do), the only people who seem to remain here are Syrians. I came at an opportune time because I am learning and growing from my own people, without the confusion of outside customs. Though I was raised to believe that Arabs are united under one source, there are differences in customs and dialects from country to region. The history of the Levant is much different than that of North Africa, and most recently the history of Syria is different than its neighbors Iraq and Lebanon. I am learning overall Arab customs with a Syrian touch, which is absolutely essential in my studies of the Middle East, as well as development in my own personal history.
For the first time in a long time, I walk down the streets feeling completely at ease with my surroundings and environment. I feel confident with my identity, knowing that I easily blend in with others around me. Gone are the days where speaking Arabic makes you suspect under Western watch, where having a Muslim last name draws attention, or looking a certain way marks you as foreign or “exotic”. In Dreams from my Father, Obama describes how he felt that he could completely blend into his environment in Kenya. He states that he had found the source of where his history stems from. That is exactly how I feel right now.
Every evening I take a walk around a lovely park in front of our house. During my rounds, Yasmine blooms on walls overhead, people laugh and talk in familiar dialect, and young children who share my same heritage run around playing futbol. Just in these walks, I gain the sense of personal security and fulfillment that had been empty in my spirit for such a long while. At least for the time being, I feel at home.