Caring for the Soul of Syria

Windows of the Soul, Damascus

I can’t write about Damascus without feeling jasmine climbing upon my fingers…

I can’t utter its name without tasting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, and quince…

Can’t remember it without sensing a thousand doves perched on the wall of my memory, and another one thousand flying…

I am haunted by Damascus even when I am not residing there…

Its ancestors are buried inside me, its neighborhoods intersect above my body…
Its cats love, marry, and leave their kittens with me…

Do not ask for my identity card, I am a hundred percent Damascene, like wheat, plums, and pomegranates. Like brocade, Aghbani and Damasco. Like copper pitchers, and the armoires decorated with mother of pearl; all of which are part of my history and the trousseau of my mother…

A tree of Arabian jasmine that my mother left on my window, its white moons grow every year…

by Nizar Qabbani

The magnificent, deeply touching poem, Windows of the Soul, Damascus, was written by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). The video in the above link is a reading in Arabic of the poem. The photography is truly uplifting.  It was published by a group of Syrian students on their website called Syrian Students for a better future studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I heard part of this poem quoted by the inspiring Ghada Alatrash on the podcast, Saving Syria – Keeping War-torn Culture Alive by CBC Radio’s Ideas. This podcast was produced by Naheed Mustafa. I was hooked by the podcast’s introduction, featuring Maamoun Abdulkarim‘s heroic fight to save thousands of irreplaceable Palmyra treasures from Islamic State destroyers and moved to tears by the music, poetry and stories of tragedy and hope that followed, from contributors Ghada Alatrash, Alia Malek and the music of Aya Mhana.

Oh, how a special place like Syria, in so many present, ancient and artistic ways, shows the best we can be as a gifted, precarious, human “episode” of the history of Mother Earth – a true reason to keep hope alive.

On Suffering and Disillusion

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Then:

No action destroys evil, but only the apparently useless and perfectly patient suffering of it.

Simone Weil, Gateway to God, p. 51 quoted in my diary entry on 10 October, 1984.

My belief in the above to be true, while never total, was stronger over three decades ago, when I was a Christian. The example of Jesus, given by a well-known Jesuit, seemed to confirm Weil’s intuition:

The power of the human person, his secret weapon, is his power to suffer and die.

From The Two-Edged Sword by John L. McKenzie, S.J., from page 25 of the same diary.

Now:

I look at the way the world has been increasingly dominated by a single political entity since I read the above statements, with, seemingly, little but pain and destruction for any peoples whether they dare to oppose it or not.

This dominion has been achieved by a combination of overwhelming military might, the absolute and wanton waste of Mother Earth’s natural resources on weaponry and, since the Reagan years, the gradual extreme control of the West’s mainstream media to the point that, among the smartest of us, there is a dismal, widespread lack of awareness.

I am now far from convinced that there is much hope for the approach of “turning swords into ploughshares.”

By the way, we Christians might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus used this phrase somewhere in the New Testament, but we would be shocked (I was!) to find that this everyday, so hopeful expression comes from the name of a statue completed in 1959 by a Russian sculptor named Evgeny Vuchetich and presented at that time to the United Nations, where it still stands. But New Yorkers may well be aware of this…

Yes, a Russian from, er, Russia! Go figure! The same Russia that is now increasingly, and I am convinced unfairly, vilified on the front pages and TV headlines of all the major organs of the “free press” for doing things that the planet’s paramount hegemon has been doing for just as long, albeit with greater success.

Hmmmm….

 

 

An Examination of Consciousness

Won’t be long with this repost. Just thought, in view of recent developments and immanent elections in Europe, that we might want to reflect on the real winners from every single shock that occurs. Who are they? Not you and me… And they ARE a select few.

And I’ve updated my Poems/Poésie page. Please check it out…

Ram Goat Liver

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Leighton “Pluto” Shervington

Born in 1950 Jamaica, a talented bass player and songwriter, Pluto Shervington, had this really big hit song, Ram Goat Liver, in the mid 1970’s. It is one of my favourite Jamaican songs and I occasionally do it for some of the people I sing for in the local hospital. It gets anyone within earshot moving and, if they know it and some do, singing and smiling along.

The song’s “singability” (making its composition seem deceptively effortless) and Shervington’s gift for telling a superb, hilarious, naturally colloquial story, set it apart for me.

It took him a week to write, after getting the idea from a fellow Kingston songwriter, Ernie Smith, who had already had a couple of hit songs of his own. On his way to the old Federal Records studio Ernie had watched a minibus hit and kill a goat on the road.  A fellow observer said, casually “All we need now is a pound of rice…”

Verse one really pulls me in:

Sunday gone I jump on a minibus; I really late but it’s not my fault

An as we nearly reach by de terminus, I feel the bus come to a halt…

‘Ee lick a ram goat down by de roundabout, an’ just as if dat would not, suffice

A bredda run through de bus an’ start to shout

You shoulda dead mek we buy a poun’ of rice!

Then the chorus:

Ram goat liver good fi mek mannish water.

Billy goat teet’ mek de earring for your daughter.

Curry goat lunch put de bite in your bark;

It mek your daughter… it mek your daughter walk and talk.

Like many songs from the West Indies, there’s some double entente in the chorus. For example, mannish water is considered a male aphrodisiac.

Anyway, in the song a cook-up actually occurs, and the storyteller ends up suffering some discomforting embarrassment after consuming some of the pot’s contents:

Before too long you no ha fi ask – a runny belly like a Judgement Day…

You can find the YouTube version with lyrics here.

Another hilarious song from Pluto: Your Honour. In it he is in court for “fooling around” in the wrong bedroom. His defence:

Me two hands dey was occupied: me shirt in me lef’ an’ me pants in me right!

And why not check out his 1974 hit, Dat, about a poor Rasta who could only afford to buy pork at the butcher shop but has communication problems because he will not let the forbidden word pass his lips…

Fidel Castro

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El Morro – Santiago da Cuba (photo from 2010 Cuba Trip)

I have long admired Fidel Castro, who did much to bring world-class literacy and health care to all Cubans and to countries in need. Fidel, who died on November 25, was no saint, but I believe a pure idealist would never have had the strength to withstand the pressures, the attempts on his life and the crippling, decades-long embargo applied by the USA.

I have been to Cuba twice. The second time, in 2010, my wife and I traveled widely on the island by public bus and stayed with local people in their homes.

I have posted on Cuba and on Fidel Castro previously here:

Cuba – A Reflection in 2010 (Re-posted in 2012 from a blog since closed)

On Fidel Castro