Based on photographs brought by refugees coming into Beirut, Damascus is not once a city but several towns, neighborhoods, and villages. This signaled the fall of one of the myths about this nearby city. For the youths and elderly of Beirut, the Mezzeh neighborhood meant the famous Mezzeh prison. Whenever the Syrian army arrested one of our neighbors, we used to say, “He was taken to Mezzeh.” Mezzeh was just the prison that we thought was the most formidable of all. The first time we heard of Rif Dimashq was when Rostom Ghazala was made in charge of security there following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. We thought he was appointed in this position in order to stay close to Lebanon and keep eavesdropping on us and receiving Lebanese politicians that can meet him as soon as they cross the border. Rif Dimashq was for us this area right next to the borders with Lebanon. We had never thought it was made up of towns and villages and was inhabited by people.
Now, the Damascus we do not know is different from the Damascus we did not know. People who fled Damascus to Beirut brought with them their love for it and scenes of space and colors that we had never imagined existed that close to us. Those did not all leave for political reasons, for many women and men among them (the number of women is actually bigger than that of men) left because the city is no longer suitable for their lifestyle after it was torn apart by checkpoints and it became very hard to go out after 8:00 pm.
“I came here to stay close to my friends,” said a young woman whose companions in Damascus have left. This is something we have never done when Beirut got unstable. We used to leave because it was no longer safe, because schools were closed, or because we no longer had jobs. Wanting to be with people has never played a part in a decision as big as leaving the city. This young woman is like many others who left to live with their friends in Beirut then later think of finding a job and starting a new life.
Damascus lives inside those who left it for Beirut in a way that makes it very difficult for them to change their mood to fit that of the host cityHazem al-Amin
There is some passion that surpasses what we feel for our friends in our city that is much smaller than Damascus in terms of space, population, and history. The Damascenes through whom we are rediscovering Damascus are not bored with their friendships, which they celebrate on daily basis as if they have just started yesterday. They miss each other more than we do. There is some form of childishness in the way they manage their time and lead their lives and which beats this senility residing in our souls after our youth was spent listening to Rostom Ghazala who lived behind the hill we later knew was called Rif Dimashq.