Sadness in Syria, Hama.

Faisal was the first Syrian friend I made on my first ever visit, he was also the first friend I lost in the war; I made many more friends and lost more too.

My first visit to Syria must be some twenty years ago now, only my diaries lost in my Mothers cavernous loft have the details, so much of my memory is draped in the dust of time but that day is still clear to me.

I walked over the old stone bridge spanning the al Assi River, the Norias grinding on the far bank, I spotted a sandwich shop, more a kiosk really, I treated the young man behind the counter to my recently learned Arabic greeting, he smiled as he replied, he prepared my sandwich and we both sat on plastic chairs and became friends, he told me some years later the reason he had taken to me was my fumbling Arabic.

Hama had been the city that first garnered my attention in Syria, I had only recently learned of its bloody history and no sooner had I arrived in Damascus I set out to visit, qualified advice being whatever you do, don’t mention the war, but obviously I am not one for following advice as regular readers of these pages will no doubt be aware.

Hama had suffered a brutal crackdown in the political unrest in the 1980s, half the city was raised and tens of thousands were killed, the city like many in Syria is multi faith but the Muslin brotherhood and conservative Islam were synonymous, prior to the uprising in 2011 most political analysts had declared the Syrian government to have crushed the Ikwan (MB).

I asked Faisal as we sipped tea where he learned his English, he told me he had learned while in prison as a child; he showed me a crumpled photograph of his house before it was destroyed, it was a matter of fact conversation, not angry or melodramatic although he sighed somewhat tiredly as he remembered the death of his horse, even my horse he said shaking his head.

I joined him and a group of his friends again that night, in fact for the next few days I would spend the nights chatting until the early hours, walking the quiet cobbled streets, empty accept shadows, under antique arches and past the Automan Hamam, on more than one occasion getting back to find my hotel locked up, I learned a lot in those few days and acquired an affection for Hama that has never left me.

Over the years I would drop by Hama and visit my friend, when we sat together late at night our conversations were always about the injustice of political power, and not just his own, elected or not the abuse of power that punished the weak or poor, when I visited with Friends then it was just his whole hearted hospitality.

Faisal was a good friend and was always there to help when I needed it, my early days in Syria especially, on one occasion I had asked his recommendation for a restaurant to entertain a visiting friend, I took his suggestion and enjoyed a beautiful Syrian meal beside the banks of the Orontes River, when the cheque was ordered the waiter said the bill had been taken care of.

We came from very different backgrounds and lead very different lives yet became very good friends, I don’t know the exact details of his death, as was very common in the early days of the Syrian uprising his death was shared on Facebook, despite the utter sadness I felt, still feel, it did not come as a shock, he was prepared to stand up for what he believed in, and for that bravery he paid with his life.

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30 thoughts on “Sadness in Syria, Hama.

  1. Pingback: Sadness in Syria, Hama. — John Wreford Photographer | MONSITE

  2. Hi John. Nice piece. And tens of thousands of similar pieces could be written about other Faisals, and Fatimas, and Mareams, and Muhammads. I have worked for 8 years in the Middle East and have known many Syrians. Many of the ones I have know are now at the end of their working lives, and that in itself gives cause for concern. If you do not have a job in a ME country, you will not have a work or residence visa, and therefore you must return to your country of origin. Consider then, the plight of a 65-year-old Syrian lady, unmarried, from Aleppo, as she contemplates the future. Sadness in Syria indeed. Thanks again for the piece.

  3. Faisal seemed a decent man. And as it always happens, decent men and women are the ones paying the price. However, it’s a small consolation that his memory lives on in your mind, and now in those who will read your post. I certainly will.

    Thanks

    Fabrizio

  4. Rima

    Thank you John for sharing all those menories with us, it gives me grief that I can only read about Syria withiut being able to be there, yet I can feel, smell and touch my country through your words.

    Thanks again

  5. Hi John. Not only your pics, but I love the way you writting. The stories make me sad and happy at the same time. Sad, because everything that is happening there, and the friends (and their families) I miss, and the thoughts of what they (must) have sufferd, the fear they must have had before they were killed. Sad that I coudn’t do nothing about it and that we can’t see eachother anymore.
    Happy because of all the beautiful memories with them. What you have with Hama, I have with Aleppo (Old city). I have visit/worked for over almost 25 years in the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan and Syria) and have known many Syrians.
    Beautiful people and their wonderful families and friends. Two of them became my best friends, and one of those two my lover. As a gay man, I/we had néver problems. Never shouting it from the roof, but it was no secret (when asked). They were ‘gone’ for 2 years…. but last year we found each other again. Sadly most of their families are killed… Like Faisel they were all decent, polite, educated, smart and happy people! The only thing they wanted is to share (like you said) their ‘whole hearted hospitality’.
    Thank you for sharring your story. May your friend rest in peace

  6. As always, your stories touch my heart, John. I made a beautiful friend in Greece, a young Syrian man only seventeen years old and already a refugee, of course a refugee, his family left behind, of course. I miss him.

  7. Pingback: Sadness in Syria, Hama. – Mary Hansen Blog

  8. Reblogged this on The Snarkie Hijabi and commented:
    Amazing Photography as well as writing. I am sharing this post because I believe those who do not live in the Middle East have a skewed idea of how those people are. This sad piece shows that they are very much like us, if not more friendly and welcoming. They have people who care for them and people who mourn for their loss of this world.

  9. mbfitzmahan

    Thank you for telling me a story from your very full expat life. As an expat myself, I am especially touched by your story. This is an every day story of people learning about each other through open conversation. Forming friendships across culture. Isn’t that the gift of living abroad? Knowing that people are just people. With hopes, fears, and loves just like I have.

    I am sorry Faisal died. His loss is our loss.

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