This past month, I have had the blessing of an opportunity to return to Syria and Lebanon for my cousin's wedding. It's been 8 long years without stepping foot on Syrian soil- due, in part, to the tragedies of the Syrian war. It is with great humility that I write this blog post today to discuss some of the things I've seen and learned on my trip and how these lessons can be integrated into all of our daily lives.
It comes as no surprise that the current state of the Middle East is tumultuous, to say the least. I suppose there was a time in Middle Eastern history when there was some semblance of peace (granted, not for long considering its track record) but the current economic condition of the countries begs one to wonder how anyone is possibly living in these conditions. I want to be mindful of the tone of this post as it is of the utmost importance to relay the beauty of these countries, not the heartbreak they evoke. My Syria, the Syria I have always and only known, is one filled with love, laughter, beauty, and renewal. Wadi al Nasara (Valley of the Christians) in particular holds an immensely special place in my heart. It is what I'd imagine heaven to feel like.
The years of struggle and stress have absolutely taken a toll on the beautiful people of Syria and Lebanon. I had primed myself mentally for some of the stories I know I'd inevitably hear. As an eternal student of psychology and philosophy, I was a bit nervous about what my eyes would focus their attention toward. Would it be the beauty or the sadness? Turned out, I had primed myself to see the beauty within the sadness. What can this teach us about how to live in the States where we have immediate and constant access to clean water, electricity, gasoline, and fresh food? What wisdom can we extrapolate from the conditions of the Middle East and how can we ultimately prepare ourselves for a life of service to others around us? In what ways can we encourage those in the diaspora to understand and empathize with their place of origin in a way that is productive and not self-serving?
Syria has taught me how to laugh in the face of adversity. It has taught me what it truly means to live whilst the world around you is burning. What else is there to do? Are people expected to sit in silence without so much as a dream to keep them from complete psyche-soul obliteration? One of these days I will find the courage to discuss the real investigative journalism and photos that have flooded my iPhone storage- for now, however, I will focus on these lessons of resiliency and optimism for the future.
There truly is a significant difference between first-world and third-world problems. It has transcended the meme. To put things into perspective, I have recently learned about the term "load-shedding". Load shedding is the process of reducing the internal stress of electricity and water distribution within a nation. In Syria, at least in Wadi al Nasara, the typical programme of electricity runs a total of about 3 hours a day on average (not consecutively). It will come for about 1 hour and be shut off for 6. During this one hour, everyone jumps to charge all of their mobile power packs, phones, and laptops, do their hair, and shower (as most homes don't operate on a generator and the water needs to be heated). The beautiful people have found a way to take these situations lightheartedly and clap every time the lights turn on. "Now you can share in our joy", they'd say to me. And share in their joy, I did.
This is where the self-awareness piece comes into play. These things weren't really a big deal to me as someone who was prepared for these shortages. Compared to the American dollar, food and parties really aren't much of an overextension. It wasn't until I took a step back and realized, "Yo, people really live like this all the time..", did I want to run and hide behind the nearest shrub. I wanted nothing more than to bury my privilege so far into the ground that no one would ever notice I was a foreigner. What a concept to be simply an observer and bask in the joy and love my family and friends offered on a silver platter. How could I take my life so for granted? As a writer, I assume you'd be able to understand how difficult it is for me not to be able to articulate these emotions. (I tend to intellectualize much of what I feel. Stunned to realize I can't with this at the moment.)
There is a lot of work to be done in these countries. There's also a lot to say about the current state of individual well-being. Mental health clearly is not the priority in the face of a lack of basic human necessities. Although, I'd argue that it must be prioritized in the deepest sense of the word. What I'd urge all of you to do is reassess your struggle bus. We are all on it, (or have been at one point in time). Do a complete inventory of all the things you are thankful for and all of the things you have taken for granted. Ask yourself, "Is this really a big deal?". I would never dream of invalidating another person's struggles or using the struggle of another to capitalize on privilege- however, it truly is of the utmost importance to suspend illusions of unnecessary suffering.
I've decided that in order to provide the best objective understanding of what is happening in these parts of the Middle East, I would need to break this down into a series of posts each with its own theme and point of enlightenment. I could write for years and it would never do the beautiful people of these countries justice. But hey, one could try.
Peace and many blessings, family.