I 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 major 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.
Our 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. I 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.