Living Among Arabs
BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
I come out of my bedroom and Ari, my youngest brother-in-law approaches me. “Good morning Ari”, I tell him. “Good morning” he says and looks at my face, “There’s mascara on your cheek”. Whilst walking towards the bathroom and trying to rub it off I tell him, “But I removed my makeup before going to bed”. My brain is half asleep. I still need to wash my face, shower, brush my teeth and drink a cup of Nescafe before I can think clearly.
Once I’m out of the shower I go to my bedroom to tidy my bed and I notice black dust on my bed. I try to brush it off, but it stains the white sheets. “What the hell is this?” I think to myself. I call Ari in, “What’s this?” He smiles, “Hokis, it’s soot from the burning of diesel; this is Syria”. I look at the sheets and realize they’re no longer white, but grayish. Half an hour has passed since I woke up and I start thinking clearly. “Of course it wasn’t mascara on my cheek. It was soot, which had entered the room from the balcony’s open door. How naïve of me. I’m in Syria”, I think to myself.
Almost five days ago I was in the waiting hall of “Zvartnots” airport. While waiting for the gate to open I saw an old acquaintance, Alice. We chatted during our entire trip and shared jokes while everybody was terrified by the abnormal turbulence. What might happen the next second was unforeseeable and out of our control and it was with the realization of this fact that we tried to brush away any bad thoughts. About fifteen minutes before our airplane landed, I noticed something from the widow next to which Alice was sitting. “Alice, please tell me its fog, clouds or a sandstorm”, I said. She observed the horizon, turned to me and said, “It’s dust”. There was a thick golden/gray layer above the city and of course it wasn’t fog, clouds or sandstorm. It was dust. “How naïve of me. Were in Syria”, I thought to myself.
I’m in Syria, the land of the Arabs. Here, women have the freedom to wear whatever they want: from miniskirts to hejabs. Here, men have the freedom to wear whatever they want: from shorts to the traditional “galabie” (a one-piece long dress). Syria is where, for many centuries, Christians and Muslims have lived next to each other in peace and harmony, where the air is absurdly polluted and you cannot wear your white blouse more than once. Here, people have dozens of children and men can legally have four wives and almost no one speaks the international language, English.
The mentality of the Armenian community here is completely different from that of the Armenians in Iran or Armenia. The book of their “unwritten rules”, which all societies have, was unknown to me until the first time I stepped foot in this country. Everything is a bit extravagant here: weddings, guest receptions, nights out and sometimes even simple communication. For this very reason everything amuses me. Sometimes things I consider to be absolutely absurd are highly important matters here. And of course, sometimes it’s the other way around. My visits to this country have opened a new door for me. There is another point of view to everything. Things I would have never understood or known before, have meaning and reason today.
The streets are narrow and crowded with both cars and people. The markets are full. The food is beyond delicious and there’s too much of it everywhere. In summer the air is dry and the definition of the word hot can be considered a mockery. Amongst the dust and rubbish there’s ancient history scattered throughout the city of Aleppo. There’s even too much culture and religion here. Different churches: Apostolic, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. perform their daily liturgy next to Mosques. You can hear the muezzin reciting the Quran several times throughout the day broadcast through loudspeakers.
This is Syria. I’m in Syria. In the lands of the Arabs, who gave shelter to our Genocide-surviving ancestors. Who give special benefits to our fellow compatriots living in these lands. Who believe in fate more than any one of us. Who will open their door and share their food with strangers. I will be living here for a couple of months and whilst packing my bags in Armenia I thought to myself, “come what may”. This is life and things don’t always happen as we wish they would or for no reason. We learn from each of our experiences and I will use this opportunity to observe the living conditions of the large Armenian community in Aleppo and write down and share my experiences. After all, it’s not every day that we find ourselves in Syria.