Faith and Hope

aleppo1I AM STILL IN ALEPPO… AND WILL REMAIN … these words from a friend and former colleague at the International Center for Agriculture Research for the Dry Areas (ICARDA) linger in my thoughts. His name is Manaf and it was his birthday recently. His wife posted his photo along with her birthday greetings on his Facebook wall. I did not recognize him at once because he looked a lot thinner…a lot more mature than when we used to work together. Then I realized…yes, it was him, Manaf Haman, one of the many good nature friendly people who were among those who welcomed me warmly when I joined the Communication and Information Department at ICARDA. I was half expecting, that just like many of our Syrian friends, Manaf must be somewhere else now. Many of them have long migrated to countries in Europe, Canada, or the bordering Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon. But Manaf and his family are still in Aleppo…and will remain!

For almost six years now, Syria has been facing aleppo3major destruction because of opposing forces staking claim on this beautiful land. The President’s army is fighting against the People’s army, and other forces from outside and within.

Aleppo was home to us for two years. And those two years gave us some of our most treasured memories. Our little one attended most of her primary schooling at the American International School located at the heart of Aleppo next to the President’s residence, my husband worked with the most renowned agriculture scientists at ICARDA sixty kilometers from the city, and I made numerous friends from all over the world with my association with the expat group and my colleagues at work.

aleppo2Our days in Aleppo were among my happiest. I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to live in such a beautiful country. The history written on every slab of its solid walls made me look back and appreciate the glorious times gone by. The kindness of its people made me felt safe to walk on its streets even at midnight. Recalling our blissful days and notable experiences in this part of the world made me realize that those will have to remain just memories … Aleppo will never be the same again.

We left Aleppo months before the war broke. Our expat friends and colleagues were relocated to places like Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon where they continued to function as international staff of ICARDA. A few of our local friends moved to countries in the northwest. But some of them, like Manaf, stayed … armed with faith and hope.

I sincerely admire people like him who stayed to stand and fight for their country, for the land that is their own, the society they belong to, the culture they grew up with, the religion handed down from generations. unhcr_syriaI am sure it was not easy living with bombs being hurled at the city any time of the day, soldiers firing their rifles any direction they decide to, uncertainties as to where to get the next meal (as most of the big supermarkets would have closed down) or how to educate their children (as most schools would have been destroyed!)  My prayers go to Manaf and his league, that they may see the light at the end of the tunnel soon. I pray for peace to reign in my beloved Aleppo, and that war no longer becomes an option for the Syrians and every other person on earth. I pray for a new tomorrow for all Syrians, and a new lease of life for Syria as the country rises from the devastation and rebuilds the magnificent country it once was, restoring the glorious success of its people whose faith and hope did not fail them.

All photos are borrowed from the internet, specifically the one from UNHCR-Syria.

Mother’s Pride

Walk slaltar_boyowly, carefully. I could almost hear the whisper of the mother as she keenly observes every movement of her little boy who is serving as an altar boy for the first time.  We have seen this little boy many times before, the eager beaver who used to sit next to his mom and dad at our church. Sauntering back and forth, noting each and every aspect of being a server in the mass. I knew he would be one of those cute little “mini-priests” one day. In the opening procession, he almost tripped on his new crisp white long gown. But this did not deter his spirit. He quickly lifted the edge of his gown and followed the bigger and more experienced altar boys as they took their appointed seats to the right of the priest. The mom motioned for him to keep his hand on a prayer stance at all times. She also signaled that he should not smile and be serious. The boy who was keen on looking around was gestured to focus on the mass instead. At one point, I thought the mom would rush to the altar herself, when the boy failed to kneel when it was time to do so.

Sitting on the pew opposite ours, the mom had her eyes fixed on her son during the entire 75 minutes that the mass was going on. The boy, on the other hand would, every now and then, check on her for approval. I couldn’t help but venerate on the sincere bond quietly happening between the mother who is filled with pride (and anxiousness) and the son who is assured of his mother’s guidance every step of the way.

Mothers! When I was young, I never understood where my mom gets all the energy to support and protect me any time…all the time, to see that I am at my best and that I get the best. I can never forget the time she worked overnight to make me a “parol” that won me the first prize, most symbolic category, in a lantern making competition at smother-childchool. When I went up the stage to claim my prize, I glanced at her and saw the brightest smile of pride. Though to be honest, she should have been the one awarded that prize!

I saw the same smile again when I participated in the “Awit ni Maria” singing competition in high school, when I received my NCEE score, when I passed my college entrance examination, when she came to see my first theatrical performance, when she came for my graduation, when I got my first job, when she first heard me on radio, when she first saw my name in the newspaper, when I got a fellowship abroad … the list is endless. But one thing is certain … my mom takes pride in anything and everything that I do. As a teenager and young adult, my mom’s smile is a stamp of approval that I am on the right track. But of course it was not always a smile, I had my share of “kalokohan” that made my mom cry. I was never perfect, you know. On those occasions, I made my silent vows to behave myself and be a better person, and never make her cry again.

A couple of decade later, here I am seeing myself in the shoes of the little altar boy’s mom. Someone who is anxious to see that her child succeeds in even the littlest things she does and plans to do.

I am praising God because my little one has given us nothing but smiles and we have always been proud of what she is and what she has achieved at her age. The truth is, I don’t think I have achieved even half of what she had, even until now. My husband and I take pride in all her achievements – big or small. We celebrate every inch of success she brfamilyings … from the highest honor she got in first grade, a trophy for a sports event, a newspaper article, an award for her painting, winning a declamation contest, coming first in an exam, getting the highest possible score in her IELTs, her Youtube channel, her blog, shining in Model United Nations … the list continues, but more than anything … we celebrate her being a good person – loving, kind, and compassionate.

OK, ok …the fact still remains that I will always be as anxious a mother as the little boy’s mom … afraid that she might stumble and fall, terrified that she may choose the wrong path, fearful of what life has in store for her. Fret not! … says the voice from behind. I say, remind me again in September.