«I did not forget,» I write.
And he replies with four hearts and two emoji gift-boxes.
We were talking about things we like doing.
«You spend a lot of time alone,» He writes, «why?»
And it makes me smile that he, alone in a city torn by the bombings, alone in an apartment that his brother left because unsafe, he speaks to me about loneliness, worrying about mine. Wondering about my hermitism. About aspects of my life that people closest to me pretend not to see.
I tell him about books to read, things to learn, stories to tell, drawings that are just waiting to exist. And so he sends me a selfie asking me to make a portrait of it. Just like a friend would say, «I like your drawings. When will you make one for me?»
I ask him how the situation is today in Idlib. Everything revolves around today, every day. A few days ago he sent me the image of a car-bomb that exploded in his neighborhood. And the number of wounded. No dead.
«The world has silently witnessed the killings and destruction of Syria for ten years. It did not protect the population, or eliminate the criminal Assad, or hold Russia and Iran accountable for their actions. The world does not care about Syria.»
And I hesitate. Because I cannot claim to understand – I, without car-bombs outside my front door, or planes above me launching death from the sky. The same virus that worries me threatens him and the people he would like to help.
If I felt I had no way out, would I stay in, put my life on hold, or would I go out, down in the street, like he does? Isn’t this mine less living – waiting for a decree or for the dissolving of common fears, locked in in an apartment in the illusion of some idea of security – compared to his – he, who speaks to death like a spouse; he, who has been waking up with her for thousands of days.
And that the world cares about Syria – of his shattered country, of his fellow nationals who die in the rubble, killed by gas, tortured in prison, while travelling in an attempt to reach the border, drowned in the sea that separates them from a continent that does not want them, freezing on a mountain or suffocating hiding in a truck – I just cannot say. I myself write these lines and do nothing else.
The crimes against humanity in Syria are well documented, have direct witnesses and all of us as indirect witnesses. We, and our governments that represent us well, behave as we would in the schoolyard before the actions of a bully that today happened to someone else: looking away with a hint of sadness, lest we get beaten too.
There was this woman speaking in a video, “Women of honor: talking about rape in Syria”, in which a group of female survivors of Assad’s prisons reported being themselves victims and witnessing torture and systematic sexual violence. In a society where sexual violence is a scar more for the victim than for the perpetrator, in which surviving a prison where death was invoked as a liberation, and survival is door to a new cage – that of an existence where personal dignity is lost –, these women had decided to break the silence while showing their faces. And there was this woman among them who said: «You are deluded. Do you think the problem is the lack of a report? The whole world knows what is happening in Syria. You will see: they will watch this video, share it on Facebook, and then forget about us.»
Wasn’t she right?