1. Be a good hostess If you ever have the privilege of being a dinner guest in a Syrian home, be prepared for a multi-course meal. For dinner, they will serve the food on your plate in giant piles despite your objections that you couldn't possibly eat all that. If you think you can manage, make sure you announce that you are full before you actually are, because they will insist on one more heaping spoonful. Be prepared for at least two more servings on your plate before you can be excused. After dinner there is coffee and sweets, then tea and nuts and seeds, then a plate full of fruits and veggies. If you stay late enough more tea and desert will be served. I see this culture reflected in myself at home when I always insist on feeding my friends that come over.
2. Family over everything else Family drama is rarely an issue in traditional Syrian families. Don't get me wrong, Syrian women love to gossip just as much as the rest of them, but they know where to draw the line. There will always be one family scandal or another, but people talk about the actions of the person rather than the person themselves. They value strong family bonds that will last for their entire lifetime. They think about longevity rather than the temporary pleasure of completely tearing down a person with words because of a mistake or habit. Syrian people tend to have the attitude towards their family members of “it is what it is,” they simply accept an aspect of that person's personality and move on to more important things, like loving them despite their flaws.
3. Real wealth is something you can't see My dad is probably the most dignified person I know. He knows who he is and what he believes in, and holds his head high. His family in Syria was never wealthy, but they were rich with values and morals. Despite being poor they never brought themselves down. Because of their high respect for themselves, they valued education and work ethic. They respected themselves, and because of that they always showed respect to others. They were never resentful of those who had more than them, but always praised them for their hard work. My dad has always been proud of his family name. He told me growing up, “remember, you are a Harbali.” To him that was the equivalent of a royal family's name.
4. Be content with what you have I remember being a child and visiting Syria in the summer times, man were those good days! My siblings and I always had an absolute blast there. Back home, we had a house full of things to entertain us; toys, games, a computer, movies, art supplies, you name it. When we went to Syria, I remember my three female cousins (that I always spent the night with) all together having just one small tote bag of toys, and that was it. Other than that, they had a few pens and pencils, a couple notebooks, and of course the all-essential deck of cards. We would stay up till sunrise playing passionate rounds of cards. When all the cousins were together as kids, we entertained ourselves with physical games that involved singing, running, clapping, or jumping. We used the most basic of supplies. My favorite was playing soccer with a flip flop stolen off someones foot. They had almost no physical objects to entertain them, but my siblings and I always had more fun in Syria than we ever did in America. What they valued more than material objects was the comrodery: telling stories, making jokes, singing, dancing, and making up ingenious games with limited resources.
5. Laughter heals wounds of the heart My two aunts and their kids went through unspeakable circumstances just to arrive here (Istanbul) safely. Back home in Aleppo, the sound of guns and bombs filled the air 24/7. They experienced so much violence, betrayal, and chaos. To be honest, I was afraid of what I might find here, afraid to find a ghost of the jolly people I once knew. To my surprise, I found they hadn't changed one bit. As usual, my young male cousins spent their time teasing each other, wrestling, playing cards enthusiastically, and filling their bellies with laughter. Sometimes, I would notice a forlorn look come across one of their faces. Their eyes would start to drain and look empty. But then, the cousin sitting next to them would jab them in the ribs and the sparkle would instantly fill their eyes again as they shouted out and laughed. My cousin asked me, “What else are we supposed to do? Be sad all the time?” I wish people in the West thought this way. Even the smallest amount of upset can disturb their entire day. Its a mentality that my family has adopted. Even the most horrific memories cannot drown out the joy of the current moment of having enough to eat, being in a safe place, and having family to joke with.
6. Give more than you take The first thing you may hear as a guest in a Syrian house is “my home is your home.” I've heard this phrase from people of all backgrounds and walks of life, but none take it to heart quite as much as a Syrian family. I have never experienced the same level of unbridled generosity anywhere else. They will literally give you the clothes off their backs if you asked. When visiting with my family I have to be careful with my words- simply commenting that I like something might result them insisting I take it for my own. This past Saturday we had a little ladies get together at my aunts house. She was getting dressed up, and put on a really pretty shade of lipstick. I commented on it, and immediately she exclaimed, “take it!” then scurried over to her closet to show me the other colors she had to offer. They were all brand-new, never used or opened, yet she was beyond willing to give it all up to me. I find myself doing similar things at home in America with my friends, offering up anything and everything just to make them happy. Like my aunt says: no material object can top a look of joy on someone's face that you care about.
7. Be resourceful and persistent My family in Syria taught me this lesson way before the conflict there ever started, but it is even more clear in my mind now that it has. Even before the conflict, my family was never very well-off financially, but that never stopped them from doing anything. Their lack of funds simply made them more resourceful. I credit that upbringing to my dad's love of duct tape (haha). In Syria, if there was a hole in the wall, they would first stuff it with news paper, cover it with chicken wire, then seal the hole with the beloved duct tape and paint over it. If the kids wanted to play soccer and we dint have a ball we would find bits of fabric around the house to roll up around each other till it was big enough to play. When they were faced with adversity, they never felt defeated or started to complain. They simply accepted how the world was, and moved on in a direction to fix it. Since the conflict, they have found new ways to use their resourcefulness. I've heard little bits and pieces of their stories- how they fled the war and made it to Turkey- and each one is full of courage, wit, and audacity. They had to do things they never thought they would do, and face obstacles they never thought they would face. There is no “right way” to flee for your life into a country that doesn't want you, and yet, here they are.