MEMORY PLACE HERITAGE DISPLACEMENT

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MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS IN HOMS

Lots of Syrian refugees may suffer post-war trauma because of what they've witnessed or been through, however they all experienced a certain level of a cultural shock due to the new country in which they moved to. That's why sometimes they try to dig deeper into their minds searching for images in memory to help them heal their longing souls. I heard a young Syrian refugee in Lebanon said: "I'm so sad; I'm losing my memories, images started to fade away, our house, my school, my friends … their shadows used to ease the pain in my heart, but now all those places and faces are vanishing" Scientists say that long-term memories are formed and stored in our minds when we experience repeated sceneries or important events shared with others. Unfortunally, our memory may let us down by time, especially when painful accidents occurred. Odors, tastes, voices, noises, faces and places; all together create the whole image. As a refugee in Jordan; sometimes when my worries increase, concerning the present and the future, I travel back in time; trying to depict precious moments that I've shared once with my beloved ones. It was the first day of September 1980 when we moved from Damascus to Homs; a small village-like city, with rows of bended pine trees shaping the southern entrance. At five o'clock in the evening nobody is in the streets, no shops are open , Homs used to sleep early during the 80s.  

An imaged view of the author approaching Homs by car for the first time in the 1980s

  Abdulhamid Elhraki was my first secondary school , it was an old traditional house transferred into a school near Al-Dablan street the most important commercial street in the city. A simple friendly social atmosphere welcomed me in my first days, something different from what I was used to before in Damascus. I moved later to another school : Granada in the heart of the beautiful modern neighborhood of Al-Ghota. This school represented a sophisticated and more complex type of social relations. It was such a relief to leave it after I’ve got my certificate. The faculty of Architectural and Civic Engineering , located in the New Ekrema neighborhood. Although as a building it resembled all schools in the city but it meant the future for me. Surrounded by so many friends, went through all ups and down of the five years of study; for me this place witnessed a lot of dramatic memories. After 7 years in Kuwait I went back to work again in my university. New buildings but the same staff. With lavender planted along the walkway to the entrance, and so many people to share wonderful time with; years of work in this building were the best in my life. I worked with closed friends and gifted students, many projects focused on the old city of Homs, which encouraged me to continue study and to get my masters degree.  

Faculty of Architecture drawn from the memories of the author

  The atrium was the center of the faculty, all professor’s offices were located around it , and so many students prefer to sit on the stairs in their free time. As an assistant lecturer, I had limited responsibilities, so I had a free-pressure work job and I enjoyed almost every single day of the 10 years working there. Al-Hadara street represented the new commercial axis neighboring the university; it was the best choice to spend the shopping time after working hours. With its mosaic of social fabric it was vibrant and busy all around the day hours. Shops focused on mid-income class, and fulfilled all their needs.  

An imagined perspective looking at the extension of Al-Hadarah street towards the main Intl. Damascus Road

  Visiting the old city was a weekly spiritual journey that I practiced till the beginning of the war. With its old mosques, churches, houses and markets; It was such a magical space full of original odors , vendor voices , narrow alleys formed by dark basalt stones, so many secret places to discover and so many people to meet.... Al Attareen old market offers an endless list of perfumes assembled in few minutes to satisfy all clients for few pounds.... Thrift shops market together with fake jewelry shops in the old market attract ladies to spend hours to chose suitable outfits to their families....Coffee grinders  overwhelmed the space with coffee beans fragrance...The Great Roofed market dazzling its visitors with hundreds of small jewelry shops  and other stuff.  

The author imagining herself in one of the bazaars in the old city of Homs

  Journeys from the city to Hama, Aleppo and to the eastern cities in Syria began from  the bus station located  on Hama street...Khaled Ibn Alwaleed mosque is the most visible on Hama street. It marked the city as an architectural and spiritual landmark. With spacious garden surrounding the building; this place hosts thousands of visitors every day all over the week...Homs refinery marks the western entrance of the city, with toxic emissions flow over the city, that’s why I have positive feelings when I smell similar aromas: I feel that we’re almost there in Homs. Precious memories shared with family and friends are the bonds that make Homs the place where I need to remember when dark thoughts control my mind. Its squares, streets and buildings are the chest  where I deposited all my valuable days for more than 30 years of my life.

An imagined perspective into one of the streets around the old city of Homs

    About the Author:   Abeer Adel'aal is a Lecturer and Teaching Assistant in Syria. She had a bachelor degree in Architecture (1989), and a Master degree in Urban Planning (2010). She worked in Kuwait, Syria and Germany, mostly in academic institutions. When writing this blog, and before moving back to Syria, she was living in Amman and working as a part-time lecturer in ASU and BAU universities.