I have been asked to write about my memories of Homs, the city where my parents were born, the one which for many years meant Syria to me and which sadly has become the prey of all human cruelties.
The first image which came to my mind, not without mixed feelings nostalgia and pain, was my grandparents’ house. Above all, I remembered the happiness and excitement that used to fill my heart when I arrived at the front door, after a long year of anticipation. It represented everything to me. The enchanting scent of the jasmine flowers that framed it, carefully tended to by my grandfather, is engraved in me forever.
This house hosted all my childhood summer holidays. It gave me something priceless memories no one can tarnish. Lost in these memories, I become free.
Every summer after the school term, we used to fly to Damascus and go directly to Homs by bus. Not any bus, though, but the local and notorious “al Ahlya”, with its unforgettable and delicious red wrapped chocolate.
Once there, the door to everything opened wide into stories of every kind, full of colours and adventures!
The house was actually a building, where we all gathered at this time of the year. Every child coming from abroad with their family had a place in one of the apartments. My grandmother had succeeded in giving birth to a small football team (including substitutes!), and as each child had in turn several children of their own, the house was packed. It was a city within a city.
My grandparents used to live on the first floor apartment. We all gathered there for Friday family meals, and after big events. Each wedding was followed by gossiping and laughter in the living room. We also used to gather for my elder cousins’ baccalaureat results, which were a matter of life or death. Education was a big deal in the family.
My cousins and I used to organise ourselves in gangs. Every generation had its own. Our playground was the stairs, the gardens and the balconies. Boys played football in the ground floor garden. Girls sang and danced in the lower apartment. The youngest played at the entrance of the building, happy and carefree.
It was not all rosy. Especially when the boys broke windows or were caught playing on the roof and had to face my grandfather. But that was also entertaining!
The stories that happened in this house bound us together, and gave us a more than a home. It was a shelter we all looked forward to returning to.
All this happiness had a flipside though. The most important person for me was always missing.
Someone who loved Homs as no one else, but could not touch its soil. Someone whom I can never thank enough for allowing me to collect all these memories.
Bittersweet piece of heaven - this is how I remember Homs, through my grandparents’ house and its door to everything.