In Beirut, Syria is everywhere. It's just 50 kilometres to the border, and 100 to Damascus. Syria is not far, and Syria is here.
I had been told to be careful, told not to mention that my husband comes from Syria. I was careful for a few days, but everyone here asked about him. Abuk lubnani? Zowjik lubnani? (Is your father Lebanese? Is your husband Lebanese? ... because what else would bring anyone to Lebanon?!) No, he's not Lebanese, he's Syrian. La, huwa suri. I was not going to lie. I mean, come on.
And the response, again and again, was ou ana suri, ana suriye (I am Syrian, too).
Followed by a big smile.
Ou ana suri.
And Syria was everywhere. It was the big, black Landrover parked in front of a block of flats in Sanayeh, Syrian license plate. The young man who works for a local NGO who came to Beirut when he couldn't stay in Syria any more. The beggars on Hamra Street, young women, old women, almost always with children, toddlers, babies who run barefoot on the dirty pavement. The shopkeeper and his wife, who have been living in Lebanon for 30 years. The taxi driver with the toothless smile. The AUB student with the excellent GPA. The doctor who, when he needs help, speaks to the policemen in English because he knows they won't be as helpful if a young men with a Syrian accent approaches them. Layali and her daughter who live in Beirut now after having spent seven years in Abu Dhabi where Layali's husband's company had send him. Naya who says she can't go shopping with me because if the shopkeepers hear her Syrian accent, they will charge her double the price. The waiters at the Syrian restaurant where the most delicious Syrian food is served, the restaurant that makes its owner rich while 30 of his employees live together in one apartment, work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, and the family is still in Syria.
Syria is everywhere in Beirut, if you look closely, if you care to listen.
Syria is here, when fighting breaks out in Tripoli, close to the border. They say you can hear the bombs targeting Aleppo on the highway leading north. It's a small country, the borders are never far.
Syria is here, when a bomb explodes in Dahiye, in South Beirut, where the Shia live, because Hizbollah fights on Assad's side, and ISIS fights Assad, and ISIS does not like Shia.
Syria is here, when you speak with Halima, a Lebanese artist and women's rights activist, about the Lebanese civil war, and you say that in a way Syria has become the new Lebanon, and she says, no, shakes her head, and says no, Syria is much worse, much worse. With tears in her eyes, this strong, composed, confident woman, who has lived through the Lebanese civil war, with tears in her eyes, she repeats, no, Lebanon was never like this, Syria is worse.
Syria is here, when you sit in the park with your friend Lina, the kids play, its a sunny day in December, and it's beautiful here in the park. You need to make a phone call, and while you're on the phone she receives a call, too. Is everything ok, Lina? It was her family from Aleppo, who just wanted to tell her they are fine. A missile has hit their street, many people died, but their house was not hit, they are alive, they are not hurt, even though many people died, many children, the children... I need to tell my husband and my sister they are fine, and she starts typing on her smartphone. You would not want them to hear on the news their family's street was hit without knowing their house was spared, you would not want them to worry. She was fine until I started to cry. I cry, she cries, Syria was there, on the bench, in the park, Syria was in Beirut.
And Syria is the man at the local corner shop, who greets you with a smile and a friendly keif al-hal? keifek? (how are you?) every time you pass by, who reacts faster than you when Lieschen is sick next to their shop one summer day, it might have been the heat, or maybe something else. Almost every day you see him, the neighbourhood wouldn't be the same without him, and one day he asks you, mineen inti (where are you from?) and you say min Almaniya (from Germany), and since he asked, you can ask, too, and the response is, of course, ana suri (I'm Syrian). Min Haleb (from Aleppo). 'albi bi Suria, he says, my heart is in Syria, and there he stands in front of you, this rock of a man, holds his hand to where his heart is and he cries.
'albi bi Suria, and in Beirut Syria is everywhere.