Log book in Syria - My first steps, my first surprises.

EN - Friday, 09 October 2020

There you go. I am now ready for what will become, the greatest adventure, if not of my life, at least of the moment, because who knows what is going to come our way?

Since I got my Bachelor's degree a few months ago, I decided to volunteer with SOS Chrétiens d’Orient.

As many young people did before me, and many others will after me, I want to make the most of my 18 years, and so use the energy to learn from life, before I start mine.

As a Christian, who is blessed to live in France, in a country in peace, I want to pass on what I received today. So, what could be better than leaving for a few months to the Middle East, with my brothers in faith, to know them, meet them, encourage them, and learn all from them?

After a few days stopover in Lebanon, here I arrived at my final destination: Syria. Finally going to be able to discover this country I'm going to live in for 4 months.

A long day in the car, under the overwhelming heat shows me a whole different face of what I imagined of this country. We are all more or less used to going to an unknown place with our heads full of preconceived ideas, unfounded beliefs, and I too have experienced the feeling.

sos chretiens orient syrie desert de homs

And yet, along the way, I am subjugated by the beauty of mountain landscapes amid this huge desert that stretches out at a loss of sight. Crushing heat suffocates me when I get out of the car. The sun, high in the sky, brings out this aridity more. Big rocks, and a few bushes here and there come marry perfectly with the landscape, in a calm and relaxing atmosphere, which may seem contradictory when you know the history of this country.

In Damascus, the horizon is radically changing. Here I recognize the image I had of Syria: ruins, ruins again, always ruins, large stone buildings in ruins. Sometimes, from the street, I can easily identify rooms thanks to objects hanging from the rubbles.

For me, Syria was this: remnants, buildings destroyed by war, tons of stones that were, a few years ago, beautiful oriental houses in the colors of the sun, with columns, arcades, and an inner courtyard.

sos chretiens orient syrie ruines de homs

The scenario repeats itself when I arrive in Homs: destroyed houses, and a blatant poverty that shocks when walking on the streets. Yet some Syrians have returned from their campaign. On the rooftops of some rebuilt houses, the red cans containing water testify to the presence of life around.

Here ruins give me the most beautiful lesson of my life. As I walk between the destroyed and jerking remnants, the Syrian accompanying me tells me a dilapidated apartment on the third floor from which we see emerging kitchen utensils: “Well, did you see? At least when they come back they'll have their plates.”

Surprised, I just reply with a little embarrassed smile, not knowing how to react. But immediately she explains that it's better to laugh than cry, now that tensions are soothed. It is on this lesson of optimism, and this strength of character that leaves me speechless, that we continue to tour the city.

Another time I'm lucky to be invited to enter the house of a family whose tricky and fine interior: little decoration, two large sofas with small armchairs. Windows are framed with lace curtains that lets sunshine pass through; an impressive contrast with the outside where large stones, which lie roughly on the floor, remind the war. A neat, modest and elegant interior, a devastated exterior: this has been the living environment of a large number of Syrians since the war began.

48 hours ago in my mind Syria was destruction and war. But when I arrived I was told something very accurate: “Syria is first the Syrians”. And it's true.

I have rarely been welcomed both by humans and by nature. I met the team of volunteers and Syrian employees in Tartous. Where the sun touches the sea to finish its run to the night, I immediately saw huge smiles on the corners of the lips, looks full of kindness and thanks. Happy and hopeful faces, that I found at the top of Maaloula Mountain at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

At dinner time, a Syrian says, “You are a hero”. So I thought about all these sentences I heard in Lebanon: “You are the angels of Lebanon” or “You are the sun of the Lebanon”. And I'm here, a 18 year old girl, who expected many things, but not to hear such words. I'm not a hero, but they are real heroes: They have incomparable hope, a steadfast faith, and an unforgettable smile.

sos chretiens orient syrie famille de martyr de sadad

Their welcome is always very warm! Free, without compensation! They are offering their local specialties the Mate, a tea we drink here in Syria, which actually comes from Argentina, or Turkish coffee, always served with a bake. I feel them proud, proud to make me discover their country and specialties. I didn't think my opinion would change so quickly nor that I would be touched by these people.

I came to give, and I know in advance that I will only receive. I give them presence, material goods, I show them that I, a French, think about them, come to see them, but they give me much more: courage, and hope to face the trials of life that are very small in comparison.

Josephine, volunteer in Syria.