For years I used to pack my bags in June and take a Turkish Airlines flight to Aleppo via Istanbul. All of my cousins and friends would do the same. For months before, we would plan our visits back home, shop for summer clothes and buy gifts. It was a process filled with joy and fueled with longing to go back to our roots if only for a few weeks. As the years passed, these yearly trips became the way to take our children to show them where we were from. As Syrian expatriates, there was nothing more sacred than the summer trips back home.
Tonight, as I stand in yet another Turkish Airlines check-in line, I’m struck by how many other Syrians are in line too. This time, there is no joy, just anxiety and sorrow etched onto exhausted faces. Families say goodbye to loved ones going to southern Turkey to check on their displaced loved ones. Some families are going to Istanbul to meet their relatives after four years of separation: heavy consequences of the terrible war we all are living through. I ask every single person who slips a few words of Arabic between themselves: Where are you from? Aleppo, Damascus, Hama. I ask them so many questions. They hesitate, then begin to speak. Everyone has a story. Sad ones. Then they ask me who I’m going to see. I think about what to say.
After years of traveling east to see my family, now I leave my family behind and go to see people who have become over the last year, my other family: the displaced Syrian children who are waiting for us, the teachers, the Zeitouna team, and everyone else who we see only in Reyhanli, the tiny Turkish border town we know so well now. So I decide to say that I’m going to see my family too. The passengers smile and wish me safety and good luck.
Reyhanli is not Aleppo. And Turkey will never be Syria. But for now, it’s a place we love to return to, if only to stand on the edge of a land called Syria, our eternal home.
Zeitouna is a creative therapy and wellness program for displaced Syrian children run by Karam Foundation. Follow the Zeitouna Diary on Syria Deeply. www.karamfoundation.org