Self Expression Magazine

Around Arabia in 20 Days: Catalyst

Posted on the 16 November 2013 by Eternalmusing @HanaMuses
TRAVEL BLOG. Hello. I am going to be posting a series of stories from my travels to a few countries in the Middle East last summer. Here's the first part. I named it catalyst for a variety of reasons.

--If you would have asked me back when the Arab Spring started in Tunisia on whether Syria would rise up, I would have laughed. Of course not! Everyone knows the Syrian army is brutal, molded from the battles with the French many years before. In a country where mentioning the president's name negatively can result in your "accidental death" or "mysterious disappearance," you would not think anyone would ever dare rise up. Not with a rope of brutality hanging around them like a noose.

I couldn't be more wrong.

Since the unrest that began in Syria three years ago, it has been a stressful, devastating time for the Syrian people. What started as peaceful protests in my parents' home country has resulted in violent attacks from the government, leading to over 100,000 deaths and 2 million refugees. Cities outside the capital had it the worst from the start, and no protests happened in beautiful Damascus, one of the oldest cities in the world and a place I call my second home. Regardless, there had been kidnappings and gunshot sounds, and thus, we did not risk traveling there for the summer, as had been a tradition every summer for as long as I can remember. For three years, I had not seen any relatives other than my immediate family, save for one cousin who had moved to Texas. We relied on communication via Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Voxer, and think of any other app that had a call/chat option. We used them all. There had been more and more protests on the outskirts of Damascus, and both of my uncles' houses were affected, and in result, they moved into my grandmother's house which was more in the heart of the city, in a small suburb that had a name most don't know about. Every summer that passed we would ask if they were doing okay, and they said yes, but did not want us to come in fear of something happening, and all was fairly well. Until last Spring. 

I woke up and scrolled through my Twitter feed, a habit I had picked up since the revolution began there. My twitter was ten percent school friends, ninety percent Syrian news coming from sources inside the country as well as people who have connections to people there. That morning, the whole feed was filled with news of a big explosion that rocked Damascus near Dar el Shifa hospital. My heart flew out of my chest. I jumped out of bed and was downstairs in less than a minute, facing a tear-faced mother on the phone. 

My grandparents' apartment complex was bombed. 

The building structure was strong enough to keep it all from collapsing, but every window, door, vent covering and loose object was thrown into turmoil. On that day, we told them to get out. It was no longer safe. They had barely made it out with their lives and we could not bear to lose them.I wish I could say that was when they decided to go, but alas they were adamant. Syria was their home, and they did not want to leave. 

So they fixed the home and mended their wounds. We stayed on even more frequent contact, and I checked the news and twitterfeed more frequently. 

It was a few months later when another scare happened. This one right in front of the family pharmacy. For my relatives, that was the final straw. Though they suffered minor wounds both times, it was their hearts that could not handle any more stress. So a few weeks later, they took a plane to United Arab Emirates to live with my Aunt, who had the unfortunate luck of moving back to Syria only a few months before the beginning incidents, and promptly moved back early on. 

After these events, we decided it has been too long, and my parents planned a trip to visit them all. I hadn't known about my other displaced relatives, since I was never close to them. I hadn't realized I had relatives in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and even one in Egypt. My parents showed me an itinerary and I was shocked to see that we would be going to three of those countries. Not only that, but the whole trip would take only 20 days. We would be leaving our home in Flint, Michigan and fly to the UAE and stay there for two weeks. We would then go to Lebanon for three days, and Kuwait for one. Three countries in 20 days? That's hardly enough time to breathe when around relatives, no less ones you haven't seen in ages. 

Needless to say, I was nervous. There was a level of excitement there unmatched by any recent events that have come to pass--but there was also a hint of fear. I was going to be meeting relatives who've been through traumas, survived bombings, and have lived nightmares day after day. I didn't think talking to them again would have the same laughter or feel like the same company. I also remember ending on a bad note with a few cousins, and I hoped to reconnect with them. As the travel day grew nearer, my apprehension grew.

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