The alarm rings. It's 6 a.m. It's time to pack my things and get out of Homs. It's been a month since I arrived here, and yet I feel like I arrived yesterday. After a coffee, the batteries charged, and the passport in our pocket, we get into the car.
For the last time, I look at the city of Homs: its houses, its streets, its churches. In some I have been welcomed, in others lodged, and for many I attended the reconstruction work.
This is where it all started for me. Yesterday I said goodbye to the entire team who have accompanied me since the start of my mission. I don't know if I will ever see them again, and yet they will have an important place in my heart forever, and they know it. It was with them that I experienced things that I never thought I would experience, and that I saw things that I thought I would never see. It's a moment that I never enjoy, which is always difficult, but this is different and I still can't explain it.
When I arrived I was lost but they took my hand. Thanks to them I discovered how they work, their habits, the Syrian customs. They followed my first steps, they participated in my first impressions. It is thanks to their patience and their incredible welcome that I leave with a light heart, with a desire to discover even more and to continue to give all I can give. It was here in Homs that I learned my first words in Arabic, that I had my first discussions with Syrians.
When I will speak about my mission with SOS Chrétiens d’Orient in Syria, I know that I will have a special tenderness for them, they who gave me everything, showed me everything, and were not afraid to correct me. I owe them a lot.
Now I'm leaving for another city. I am seized with a strong emotion. All my memories return to surface. One last look at the house and I slam the car door. A page turns, but nothing is over yet, because a new one is about to be written.
Little by little, the landscape of the city disappears, and we cross the Syrian desert. The car takes me over the mountains. Through the window, I see the same rocks, the same tussocks of grass, the same arid scenery that had amazed me on the first day. Almost two hours journey. Normally time would have seemed much longer, but no! The discovery of this country fascinates me. Everything is so different.
There is hardly anyone on the road, we only passed a few taxis. After a while, the mountains stay behind us, and the horizon emerges: the valleys and the heights turn into a plain. But what does not change is the aridity. The desert is the same. The yellow sand reflects the sun, which is quick to rise.
We left Homs, a jacket over our shoulders, and entered Aleppo in a hot summer.
These two cities are totally different. I had often been told about Aleppo, its main streets, its ancient buildings, and the canal where water once flowed, but which is now dry. Where in Homs we cannot miss the past, because the vestiges left by the war in two thirds of the city are glaring, here it is like a small museum.
Some neighborhoods were spared and allow me to see the other face of Syria, the one that is less talked about. When I cross the city, I am in awe of the tall buildings, the tall houses, which are all decorated with stone lacework. However, both dust and time have done their work and are engraved in these walls, which gradually take on a brown color. We are far from the big Parisian buildings, with pure gray, and perfect finishes.
For the first time since the beginning of my mission in Syria, I discovered a neighborhood untouched by war. I see Syria as it was a few years ago. I can see now everything the Syrians have described to me about their life before. It’s moving! Finally I can put pictures on their words. I find the same small balconies here and there, which reveal the tables arranged on which cups and coffee makers are always ready to serve the mate. I immediately recognize the Syrian welcome.
As I walk down the main street in Aleppo, I gaze in amazement at everything I haven't seen in Homs, such as shops and restaurants. I am discovering the other side of Syria, the unknown side. It is true that I was surprised by the incredible landscapes: the deserts, the sea, the mountains, but being in a real Syrian neighborhood that is still intact is a privilege and I am aware of it. I continue my walk and by chance I find myself in a small street. Syria will always amaze me as much: electric wires protrude from all sides, it looks like a huge spider's web. I don't even have to look up to see them, as I dodge some of them lying on the sidewalk.
A few steps away, a pretty park catches my eye. I approach it, and I see that here, work is in the spotlight. Adults computers on their knees and headphones in their ears, have taken over the place. But in the distance, the sound of laughter and crying puts a smile on my face, because everything is more alive here, more joyful.
Then, I finally arrive at my destination. Here, I have the honor of meeting Monsignor Jeanbart, the Greek Catholic Bishop of Aleppo with whom we discuss the projects of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient. He welcomes us with extreme kindness, happy to see the French return, forced to desert the country because of the health crisis.
When I arrived in Aleppo, I turned a page, the one I was writing in Homs, because I quickly realize that I will experience different things here. However, everything will be just as rewarding.
If you want to participate in an extraordinary adventure and discover Syria. Join me !
Joséphine, volunteer in Syria.