Posted in Imen Benyoub

From Imen with Love

1426548_493414027428304_360525756_nOriginally published on Plum Tree Books Facebook Page
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From Damascus to Istanbul: a child’s memories of a city . . . 
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Dear Yasmin,
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This morning, I saw the first jasmine flowers on our balcony.  They reminded me of you. That’s why I decided to write this letter.
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We live in Istanbul now. I have new friends and I am learning Turkish. My parents never changed their habits. My father still smokes his hookah while he reads and my mother plants flowers everywhere to feel like our old house in Damascus.
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Wasn’t it Mahmoud Darwish* who wrote once “Jasmine is a message of longing from nobody to nobody”? They named you after it. Everyone loves the way jasmine clutters like snowflakes at the sides of the road, falling everywhere and scattering scent to greet everyone.
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Every city has its smells. My grandfather told me once that the heart of Jerusalem smells of spices and musk and Jaffa of oranges and the sea. He said smells are nostalgia and memory and the person can never forget them. Damascus alleys and houses smell of jasmine and rose water. It seems like an eternity passed since we left months ago, since I woke up to the sound of Feirouz singing and smells of freshly baked bread and my mother’s early morning ritual of making coffee and watering the garden.
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The day we left, she put her gentle hands on my shoulders and gazed at me. Her hazel eyes were full of tears and she said: “Habibi, we have to leave. Go pack your things”. War already broke with news of bombed neighborhoods and dying people reached us daily. My parents tried to keep me away from its ugliness, to cocoon me in a world of poetry and flowers, but the war reached our little world and destroyed it.
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The war brought death and fear. Houses were ruined. Most people fled. I always ask my mother about you. She said that you left with your family to go Jordan and that you would write to me soon.
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When we arrived in Istanbul I was angry and my mother silent. We packed what we could take with us; some clothes and family albums, some poetry books my father used to read, a silver ornate dagger that belonged to my grandfather. I took a picture of us together, feeding pigeons in the square of the Umayyad mosque.
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Istanbul is not so strange, Yasmine, they have bread sellers in the streets, big Bazaars and very old houses of wood, and a long bridge I can see from the window of my auntie’s house. The Adan comes from different places. There are pigeons in squares too. It is a big busy sleepless city. I love my auntie’s studio. It is full of paintings and its windows are always open to let light through. Stillm I felt lonely at the beginning because children did not understand me.
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I miss Damascus, the clean cats of our neighborhood and my school friends; I miss our trips to Quassioun and watching people dancing dabkah at weddings. I am still waiting for your letter, but now I will send you mine with the first flowers.
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Didn’t you always love when I told you stories?
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Firas
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Mahmoud Darwish ~ Regarded as the national poet of Palestine, he focused on the universal experiences of loss, exile, and identity.
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Translations:
-Yasmin: a female Arabic name “jasmine”
-Firas: a male Arabic name “perspicacity”
-Feirouz: a very famous Lebanese singer
-Adan: prayer call
-Habibi: “my darling” in Arabic
-Dabkah: a Middle Eastern dance
-Quassioun: a mountain in Damascus

 ©2013, letter and photograph, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved
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pictureIMEN BENYOUB ~ is a miltilingual, multi-talented writer, poet, and artist living in Guelma, Algeria. She is a regular contributor to Into the Bardo and to On the Plum Tree and Plum Tree Books Facebook page.