My Days in Damascus: Letter to a Friend

'I Believe in Syria' poster in Damascus, on April 8, 2009.

Farah is a young woman living in Syria’s capital city, where she faces the daily struggles of trying to maintain a normal social and professional life in a country being ripped apart by war.

Dear friend,

After years hearing about the situation in my country, you will, today, learn about it from someone who actually lives in Syria. I live in the capital of a country that has been deformed by an absurd reality – a country whose people cannot tell if they can still even call it a country. I live in this uncovered box that used to be called Damascus, and I am a member of a group of people hypnotized by a complex force called war.

Firstly, and before you jump to any conclusions, or assume that I am exaggerating, I would like you to know that, for me, this place possesses a sentimental secret that is best described in classical poetry written about Damascus. I cannot say for sure whether this is true, or whether just like all those around me, I have lost my objectivity and entered a state of emotional intensity. There is a living force behind Damascus. Is it the city itself, its people, and the collective tendency to cling to the city’s soul in times of hardship? Or is it simply the general cycle that people living in wars go through, and have gone through during the many wars that humanity has endured?

My letter to you intends to present a little sample of this box, and how it looks, today, in 2016.

People here are born with an imaginary rope that controls their daily actions. For the last four years, we have all been living in uncertainty, and have been governed by the unknown. Sometimes, we do not even know why we continue with our daily lives, since we have no hope for a better tomorrow.

Like any living creature stuck in a box, there are those who try desperately to get out. Those who have not yet found an exit continue to knock on every door, hoping that they might eventually find a way out. There are also those who are busy with their small lives at the bottom of the box. They do not raise their heads to look at the skies so that they do not have to think of their unknown destiny.

Between the former and the latter, there are shades of natural and unnatural ways of living. Just like any other society, we wake up, eat, work, stay up late, fall in love, hate, dance and cry within this box. The only difference between us and others is that we live under increasing pressure, and although we know that this pressure will eventually lead to an explosion of some sort, no one has the courage to talk about it.

On a personal level, I can say that when someone lives inside of a box, and is aware of that fact, she begins to build more boxes around her, perhaps to convince herself that the living in isolation is her choice – that it has never been forced upon her. When living under pressure, one feels it, and the more pressure, the more one complies. In this environment, communicating with friends and family becomes extremely hard, and it requires much effort, power and positivity – things hard to come by when living in isolation.

On the other hand, those who ignore that fact that they live in a box or simply do not realize it, live in their own imagination. They seek to preserve the lifestyle that they enjoyed before the walls of the box got higher. They are disconnected from reality. Just like clowns, they have big smiles painted on their faces. They simply reject their reality, which they cannot change anyway.

There are endless details, my dear, but I will end my letter with the hope that you live in a better place in this galaxy, and I hope that you consider what you have read no more than the beginning of an imaginary bedtime story.

This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply, and you can find the original here. For important news about the war in Syria, you can sign up to the Syria Deeply email list. Photograph courtesy of Oliver Laumann. Published under a Creative Commons license.