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?”