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I always miss the small town of Breeke, especially in the holidays. It’s not a fancy place. The locals plant aubergine in little fields – they love to fry aubergine. Or they collect herbs, khebeeze, and cook them.

Shahba Old Town_Photo Amr Al-Faham

I still remember that time I sat in the micro bus in Damascus, waiting for it to start off towards Breeke, with my father sitting next to me. As we drove, I ate croissant with chocolate. I ate so fast there was none left for my friends Dani and Marah.

Dani and Marah are my youngest uncle and aunt. They are both older than me, but only by a few years.

Marah and I used to play many games together. She taught me how to draw faces. We acted like housewives in our kitchens, or pretended to be teachers in a school. She used the back wall of the house as a blackboard. I remember how we used to both write words on the wall, and my cousin Marina joined in too.

Dani taught me how to cycle. We both used to clean the pond – it was full of tadpoles.

A few years after that visit, Marah got engaged. Marina and I felt so sad. Our aunt was no longer a child like us, but had started her new life as a woman.

Now I will talk about Marina. I hardly know where to start, as she was a part of my childhood and my teenage years.

Shahba Old Town

The house of my grandfather and the house of Marina’s family was separated by farmland. She lived just three minutes walk away. We both used to climb olive trees during the siesta. Sometimes we walked around the pond, or along Matakh Street. I can still remember those streets today. Marina’s mother would prepare warm za’atar sandwiches for us, and we would walk and eat them.

Marina’s home was very small, only a room and kitchen. They did not have satellite TV, so we used to watch only Syrian drama at night. Marine and I used to pretend we were sleeping, but we were watching the TV series secretly with her mother.

I will never forget how the sound of the radio used to wake me up in the morning. My aunt was addicted to a detective radio drama series called Hukm El’adala. My funny Uncle Dani used to imitate the actors.

The sky in Breeke was clear and blue. The weather was cool. As I grew older, my grandmother started to offer me matte (it’s a warm, special drink that comes from Argentina). It was a sign that I had become an adult. I felt so proud to drink matte with my family.

I remember Stella, the dog, whom my uncle Hassan used to leave free without a chain. I remember Amsuk, Marah’s cat.

I will never forget my days at my grandmother’s house. Sometimes I felt sad, because her house was very poor, and the floor was without ceramic. I dreamt of becoming an architect and redecorating my grandmother’s house.

My grandmother passed away. Marina got married, Marah became a mum, to two children, Fofo and Mayouse. I used to play with Fofo, but I don’t know how he looks like now, or he how he talks. The idea of not meeting him again is killing me. What if he does not remember me?

I feel sad when I hear that Breeke is changing. Everything is new. It does not match the identity of the town in my memory, where the houses were made by black stones. I feel sad because I was forced to leave.

I am not a part of the town anymore. Breeke must remain as the memory of a ten-year-old girl.

Images: Amr Al-Faham

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