Syria is burning… My childhood memories superimposed against the ruins of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus create a macabre landscape in my mind. I am flooded by them, the scents and sensations of those years, so very long ago, and yet just under the skin.

I can see myself on the balcony of our apartment, first in Homs, and later in Damascus. The warmth of the white concrete walls, the noise of the city with car horns, children’s screams, the mournful cry of the Muezzin, someone’s radio playing an endless song by Fairouz. It’s warm, I am young and with not a worry, soaking in the sensuous pleasure of the climate, the beauty and strangeness of the country, the kaleidoscopic colours of the souk, the generosity of our Arabic friends and neighbours. I learn to speak their language.

I cannot look at the massacres taking place now. Then, to me as a child, Assad and his party were but names and faces on posters in the mode of Communist Russia. We were apolitical, embracing this new world with trepidation and joy.

The six-day war (1967) was a precursor to the violence that would overwhelm the region, and I was already in a different country when Assad Sr destroyed the city of Hama, murdering his own citizens. The horror was incomprehensible.

Just as I was thinking of returning there, going back to find work in the Damascus school I attended all these years ago (checked the website, it existed, there were jobs…),  the unrest began.

Syria is burning, and we watch. I stopped, too many tears.

I close my eyes and listen to Fairouz instead, trying to recall the innocence and happiness of those years in the Syrian sun.

I wish the people of that country courage and a solution to the nightmare. I wish I could help.

Insh Allah…


أعطني الناي – فيروز

A’tini al-Nay

Give me the flute

Lyrics: Kahlil Gibran Music: Najib Hankash


The eldest child in Haddad’s family was a girl named Nouhad (meaning”sigh” or ” splendor”), who would later grow up to be Fayrouz, one of the most famous