Syrian Storytellers – Letting the World Know

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Caption on picture “Even the House of God is not safe from Bashar Al Assad”

Last night my husband and I had the privilege of attending a fundraiser for NuDay Syria — a nonprofit created to support humanitarian and relief efforts in Syria. Their activities include food programs inside the country, education for children displaced from the war, medical aid for moms and children, and other social service endeavors.

The highlight of the evening was listening to the stories of two Syrian activists who have been on a “Hope tour” in the United States for the past month. Without drama they told their stories. The first was Raed Fares from the town of Kafranbel. Kafranbel is in northwestern Syria and has the loving nickname of “The Little Syrian Town that Could.” Anyone who knows the children’s story of The Little Engine that Could will immediately be curious about why this small town has this reputation.

It’s because Kafranbel is the center for creative thought and expression against the Assad regime. Raed is the brain and catalyst behind the efforts in Kafranbel. The main focus has been banners and signs written in English that seek to tell the world about what is going on in Syria. They are written in bold print and many have cartoons to illustrate the situation. Some are sarcastic, some are witty, others are plain sad — but all tell a story. All express outrage. You can see many of the images at the website Occupied Kafranbel, where the history of the town is given in more detail.

The second is a blogger — Razan Ghazzawi — who has blogged under her own name for the duration of the conflict. She had to flee Damascus a couple of years ago when she faced arrest and persecution but has traveled across the Middle East to bring awareness to the Syrian conflict, specifically to the human cost of the conflict. Razan gave a poignant description of the loneliness that is a part of being an activist in Syria, holding out hope for others through writing and art, even as the activists themselves struggle with the loneliness that leadership and passion for a cause bring.

We left the evening sobered. The event took place while many Americans were glued to the television watching the Golden Globes – a yearly narcissistic event designed to give already big egos even bigger ones. Yet even as Hollywood glitters, and in that glitter mocks the rest of the world, Syria has not gone away. Other news has taken over our news feeds and our Facebook shares, but Syria is still there. It is still a public health and humanitarian disaster. There is still unthinkable violence and struggle for survival.  A Syrian musician, Kinan Azmeh, will be on stage tonight at Carnegie Hall for an event to raise funds for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). He will be the opening act – a clarinet solo playing a song called Every Day is a Sad Morning; the words haunting in their description of the daily reality for the people of Syria.

Earlier yesterday I read a quote from Joan Didion on stories and story tellers: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

These words resonated deeply with me as I listened to the stories from last night’s event. The narrative line across the disparate images given by these two Syrian Storytellers was one of hope, one that says “Don’t Forget”. A narrative that said to me “Despite bombed out buildings and millions of refugees, we’re going to keep going, keep drawing, keep writing, keep informing — will you come with us on the journey?” 

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Blogger’s Note: You can find more information on NuDay Syria here. For practical ways to assist click here.

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16 thoughts on “Syrian Storytellers – Letting the World Know

  1. I agree! Most of America has become pre-occupied with lifestyles of the rich and famous while some people around the world suffer. I never watch the Golden Globes, and I wish people would read and watch the things happening around them. There are other people who need the attention more than celebrities!

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    1. Thanks for entering into the discussion Nathan. As Donna said below, some people use their position to bring attention. But the Golden Globes is not where that happens. I think what struck me was the contrast that night and trying to make sense of the contrast.

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  2. The glitz and glitter of Hollywood is often the means by which the average US Citizen becomes aware and awakened to world issues and justice concerns. It is storytelling of a different medium, but not inherently bad. We need to push Hollywood to cover with honesty and transparency the happenings of Syria and other places of injustice around the world. We need to celebrate when the RIGHT stories are being told. We need to create a market for truth, which is self-critiquing and motivating for the Good.

    It is so complex.

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    1. Aware and awakened are two different things but true that one can’t begin without the other. I’ve not heard one Hollywood star speak about Syria since 2012 when Angelina Jolie took a trip to Turkey. I totally agree glitz and glitter aren’t inherently wrong. And I love film. My son is in Hollywood and works on a popular television show. But the golden globes truly is a show that highlights narcissism and the shallow parts of the industry so my words were born out of my own struggle with the disparate images in my world. Sent from my iPhone

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      1. I agree. I was reflecting on the complexity of it: how to hold the tension without giving in. You seem to manage that well… my tendency is to either outright embrace is all, or reject it all. A happy medium must be found in me… Its the issue of having feet in both worlds.. it never ends.

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      2. Oh my gosh — I am so terrible about holding the tension without giving in. (Great phrase). First off I’m a complete hypocrite which is why I’m so good at spitting it in others and second– I vacillate between despair and self righteousness. A terrible combination!!

        Sent from my iPhone

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    1. It really is — the media plays into our lack of focus and we also deal with compassion fatigue. It’s a bit like seeing the homeless everyday — I know when it’s a tourist because they stop and give….those of us who are part of the landscape continue on. It’s not about not caring as much as we know there are no easy solutions.

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this…for sharing your heart… and for sharing the passion of Raed Fares and Razan Ghazzawi. Some writing I simply read and think through; other writings make me FEEL. And this was one of those pieces. I shared it on my FB… I hope others can read this and start to act for the Syrian people.

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  4. Wow. Thank you Marilyn for sharing what is heavy on your heart and not letting us move on. I was just thinking about Syria last night while reading a book: The Problem from Hell: America in the time of genocide (or something like that). This is a good reminder that though our news feeds have moved on, Syria is still there. What a great way to draw on Syrian artists and creative thinking too, I love that.

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    1. I loved the emphasis on art and creativity and its role in activism. One of the things we saw in Egypt during the revolution was amazing graffiti pop up all over the city. One of the artists was a friend of my daughter’s. Graffiti never existed in Egypt before – and suddenly there it was creatively voicing the feelings of the people.

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  5. Marilyn, my heart hurts for Syria. Having visited there a few years ago, the friendliness and genuine hospitality everywhere we went is still with me. In one village we visited, Malula (sp) where we attended an Orthodox service and they still speak Aramaic (sp)). My purchase there was a large hand crocheted fish, the symbol for the early Christians. I framed that and it hangs over my desk and reminds me every day of Syria and the horrible events taking place. We also visited Aleppo and Damascus and other cities that have seen war and destruction. I’ll never forget that road trip. Your thoughts today should remind us all of the courage and determination of people whose stories need to be heard. We cannot forget.

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    1. Yes! And Maaloula is the place that got the attention in December when the nuns were taken (differing versions of what really happened) I have always wanted to go to Syria – and your words speak to how once we visit a place, our heart for it changes.

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