A Love in the Middle East

No one would dream of living where they live.
Unless forced to.
His country
is a bulletin of war
coming from the borders,
originating within.
a divided land,
stitched together by wars and treaties.
Proud countries.
Hysterically feared by the world.

He tells her: Write about our love, my love.
She promises she will.

They have their own way of coping with reality,
of preserving their love.
They pass by the respective daily checkpoints
each one knowing
that today one could be fake,
controlled by the wrong faction,
unfriendly with friendly fire.
Perhaps their last checkpoint.
They both refuse
political or religious discussions.
They dream big and endlessly.
So often together.

He tells her: Write about our love, my love.
She promises she will.

They talk about their jobs,
the daily insignificances.
It paints normality
where nothing is normal.
They dream big and endlessly.
So often together.

She knows
he is not safe.
He fears
she is nothing more than a target
to reach the headline news.

they both refuse
to follow the news.
He knows where she is at 11 am
She knew he was sleeping this morning.

He tells her: Write about our love, my love.
She promises she will.

He called her.
He went to the Capital this morning.
And no, he kept it to himself.
The checkpoints
the bombs
the demonstrations
He spared her all these thoughts
“I did not tell you, my love”, he says.
She knows the reasons why

He tells her: Write about our love, my love.
She just did.

Picture: artwork of Laila Shawa

Looking for Hibah Ahmed from Aleppo

‘I was in a relationship with a girl from Aleppo University, where I was studying. But after the crisis started, I don’t know where she has gone.’
(You call it ´crisis´).

Do you still have contacts with someone in Aleppo?
‘Wallah (I swear): No. No one.’

University people, someone.. Relatives, friends.  Think..
‘I wish I had. But no one.’

When was the last time you heard from her?
‘After the events started in Aleppo.’
(the ‘events’ you say)

‘Must have been around middle of that year. Maybe.’

Did the two of you have any friend in common? Someone you can look up?
‘In Syria you mean? No, no one.’

Love stories cannot end this way
‘I know. But with war, everything is possible.. I was studying with her, in the same department’

But how could it be that you lost contact immediately? Did you look up for her in Facebook, Twitter? Do you have a picture of her? You can look at Google Images and see if you find her
‘Nothing of this. She hadn’t a Facebook account, I lost my phone with her photos.’

I want to help you. How can I?
‘Hahaha. I forgot her. Maybe she is dead. She was such a beautiful girl. Smart. She loved me so much. She was such a giving person. She was even lending me her car. She used to invite me to her home to have food. With her parents. She was everything to them. She was their only child.’

Do you remember the father’s name, his job?
‘I think it was Ahmed. But I never asked her the last name of her family.’

Will you make me a promise?

Will you look for her?
‘I am always looking for her. But I have found nothing. She is also the one who lost contact with me. I think she is dead now.’

Do not say it…Do you think so?
‘After all that has happened, no one will remain alive.’

Maybe she left Aleppo long time ago

(After a silence of 20 minutes. Long, heavy minutes)

‘Do you believe I will find her?’
Never give up hope, I believe
‘It’s impossible.’

Do you feel she is dead?
‘Yes. If she is still alive, she would be looking for me too. Because she loved me so much.’

Maybe she is looking for you
‘She knew everything about me, after I arrived to Yemen. I gave her my Facebook account, gmail, my phone number. And I have never changed it.
She promised me she would open a Facebook account, but nothing.
Do you know what? I stopped so many efforts to get married. Because of her. My parents wonder why I am not married yet. I told them I am waiting for someone. But till when?’

Till when you are ready to move on. This is why you have to find her. If not her, her fate.
Is the university closed?
‘In Aleppo, yes.  The life has been closed, not only the university. I really feel so sad because I have mentioned this story. I know I made you sad with this. Sorry dear.
Her name is Hibah Ahmed, of the University of Aleppo – Faculty of Science, Biology Department.’

(you did not say Her name was)

The Broken Loves of War.
Love stories cannot end this way with wars getting in between.

I feel immensely naive, but I ask: Does anyone know of a beautiful girl named Hibah Ahmed who used to study at the University, in Aleppo, Faculty of Science, Biology Department, year 2011-2012?
If so, please tell her nothing has changed. She is still loved, more than ever and someone is waiting for her.

Yemen: this is why the War Hurts

Any war hurts.
Any conflict is a war on humanity and on the most vulnerable: children first. The poor. The sick, the elderly, the defenseless. Those who are silenced because their voice will never be reported. The animals. The illiterate. Those who live on less than 2 dollars per day. Or even 5. Those who have no documents, least a passport.
Those who have nothing to sell and can rely only on their legs to run away. Those who cannot escape because there is nowhere to go.

Showing a picture of a blown up body in Europe will be received with a Rest in Peace. But it’s not here, it’s not here with me, close to me, contingent. It does not affect me.
There is a distance. It’s enough to move on.
Any war is not specific, contigent. Until the first bomb drops on your city, your neighbourhood, your house.

Why the war on Yemen hurts.
This war which is not here, close to us, has not made hundreds of thousands of victims (not yet, that is), is taking place in a country which for decades has received so much negative publicity we wonder if there is an equivalent on earth (maybe Afghanistan).
A war which has produced 2.5 million internally displaced who can only move from one village to the next one, to a school turnt into a refugee building in the Capital Sanaá but cannot cross borders.
The war is there, in Yemen. Not close to us. No refugees to kick out of our sacred European territory, our precious soil.
This war which has seen a country waking up one night under the sound of bombs falling from the sky.
Nine-to-One: this is the ratio. Nine countries united against one, the poorest country of the Middle East.
We remember seeing pictures of Ramallah, before the war on Yemen, and say: They seem better off than us.
A country which has always fought hard to reach the end of the day with enough food for the family, the water to find, the disease, the lack of electricity, unemployment, corruption.

This picture was taken in 2006, nine years before the war, in the Capital Sanaá.

13092002_1041504755942655_1876104030743934791_n                          © Sandro Rizzato

Enough to look at the pink dress of the girl on the left to understand and to know this was, at some stage, an Eid dress.
Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha being the only two occasions when most of the children receive their new wardrobe for the year. Do not think big: a pair of shoes, a dress and few other things. Chocolates. Pocket money from relatives and for one year they long for the next Eid. In the meantime, the pink dress fades in colour and texture.
Children of Yemen. This is why this war hurts. 

© Mohamed al-Sayaghi

To and from the well. And back.
To and from the mosque. And back again.
To and from the charity tank set up and filled by an anonymous benefactor and back again. Till the tank is dry.
To and from the mosque, and back. To and from the well and back.
All under a scorching sun. Every day. So many times a day your legs become your clock: it is always time to move and fetch water.
Sisters of Yemen know no stroll. They work hard. Keep the family running fetching water which is undrinkable, uncookable. Still, keeps the family going.
This is why this war hurts. There has never been enough water to do anything.
Blessed are the monsoons: you can collect water.

With the siege imposed on the country, no gasoline is allowed to enter. No gas can be delivered to cities and villages alike. There has been no electricity since April 2015.
Many have found themselves selling the jewellery of the women in the family to buy a solar panel. Though it does not serve the purpose of cooking.Wood will do the job, if you are lucky to live in the countryside.
To and from the wood, and back.
This is why this war hurts.

Author Unknown


I took a taxi, in Sanaá, once. It was Ramadan. I hadn´t had food that day and the driver was surprised I was fasting.  It was by chance. I was not lying but he made of a single day of fasting a full month of observance.
When I reached the office, he refused the money and gave me a small copy of the Holy Quran.
‘Take this, please, Sister. And one day, when you return to Europe, tell them we are not all terrorists.’
This is why the war, this war, hurts.