Sights and Sounds, Laughter and Tears

When is the last time YOU ate garlic for breakfast? It is said that Lebanese food is the “food of heaven” and if so, Dhour Chouier is heaven’s retreat. As others have already reported, our days have been filled with food, fellowship and the stories of war torn Syria. And this fourth day was no different. In addition to a garlicky bean soup called “fool,” the day began with tears. I had just left my room after a swish of Scope, when I met Mary Rose and her sister-in-law Annette of Aleppo. They were crying tears of joy together. Annette had just discovered that her son was flying into Beirut from London to see her. It had been six years since they had seen each other. “My son is a concert pianist,” she told me, “and I will finally be able to see him again.” (Since 2012, Syrians have not been able to acquire visas for travel.) Then again, with tears she added, “Oh, but my husband will not be able to see him. He cries many tears for our son.” Hers was one of many stories of heart wrenching separation of mothers from daughters, parents from children, and siblings from each other.

We moved from tears to singing as we opened the morning worship with, “Anta Athimon Ya Allah,” meaning “you are great O God.” And amidst the pain and tears, this is where the focus lies, in the praise of a loving God who is present in pain and suffering. The morning’s study took us to John 20 where Mary Magdalene found healing from her grief in the risen Christ.  

After Bible study, we gathered on the porch for coffee and more stories. Our hope is that our sisters will experience healing in our listening. Listening is one aspect of the loving that we came here to give, so I turned to Tami and Hala of Aleppo, a city that remains under siege. Hala tells me that her six-year-old son sleeps with her and finds comfort in her words,” b’hibic, ya ibni,” meaning “I love you, my son.” After a bomb blast destroyed their car, which was parked in the front yard of their home, her children live in tension and uncertainty. These lovely young mothers who would be driving carpool and serving snacks at soccer games, talk of war and how it has changed their lives forever. Their movements and activities are very restricted to home, neighborhood shops, school and church. “Yes, the church," Tammy says, “is where we find refuge, our only source of comfort.” As I continue to listen, my heart and mind struggle to absorb the harsh reality that they face from day to day. Searching for words, I ask, “What would you like me to take back to the church when I return home?”

“Ask them,“ they answered, “to acknowledge our humanity. We are people just like you. We are well-educated; we speak multiple languages. We want to be respected, not forgotten or feared.” I assure them that we represent a caring and praying church

Lunch was waiting for us after a morning of Bible study. Walking up the hill and down the path, I began to detect a familiar smell. That familiar combination of garlic and greens over rice could only be molokhiya, ( a Lebanese and Egyptian “dish of the kings,” for which there is no American equivalent). This unique dish, one of my favorites, sends me back to my room where another swish or two of Scope readies me for the Dhour Chouier millinery. For the next two hours, we felt the smiles and heard the laughter of collective creativity. Who would have guessed that Syrian and Lebanese women could be even more beautiful under the feathers, and bows of original wide-brimmed straw hats.  

The full moon stares back at me as I finish my thoughts for this day. In the days and weeks to come, when distance and time separate me from the smell of garlic, the sound of laughter and the flow of tears, I wonder if this moon will remind me. Will this moon that rises behind the flare of mortars and relentless shelling of Syrian homes be the same moon that shines in the clear Carolina sky? Will it be the moon that shines upon us all, and calls me to prayer?
Lisa B. Culpepper
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Hemingway, South Carolina