The Syrian coast in the nose

Kefah Ali Deeb came to Berlin in 2014 and spent six years writing a taz column about her old home country Syria and her new home Berlin. Here she describes how the past keeps catching up with her memories of her home country Syria, lost friends and escape.

The Syrian coast in the nose

© Lena Kern
Kefah Ali Deeb © Lena Kern

The flight from Syria remains in my mind. Forests, fields, rivers and lakes can at least sometimes soothe my memory a little.

We were on the flight, my friend, about whom I had already written in earlier columns, and I, hoping not to be picked up by the security forces. He steered the car and drove rather slowly while I silently sank into the passenger seat. Through the open window, a breeze smelling of sea and cedars caressed my face.

On an enchantingly beautiful route we passed a place on the Syrian coast, with the sea on one side of the road and cedar forests on the other. My heart was beating for the country I did not want to leave of my own free will; the fear for life was hovering over me.

Suddenly, my friend broke the silence with the question: ‘Do you know that as long as I live, I will never leave this country?’ Without waiting for my reaction, he played the song Halwa ya baladi, ‘Beautiful you are, my country’. I cried out of sorrow and love at the same time, while my friend, out of embarrassment, lifted his voice and sang: ‘Beautiful you are, my country’.

Only a few days later we were both caught in ‘our beautiful country’ and went to prison. I was released later, he stayed inside. The only thing I learned in the six years since then was that he died two years ago. This news was never confirmed or denied by any official authority. What is certain is that he kept his promise: He never left the country.

The smell of the woods

I’m sitting in the ICE train right now, passing forests in Brandenburg; memories shake me awake. It’s a pity that the windows can’t be opened; I’d like to breathe in the scent of the woods and maybe soothe my memory a little.

I no longer hear any songs about my lost country, I don’t want to have any more longing. I don’t hear any more news and I can’t see any more reports about the miserable condition of Syrian refugees, about the dead and the burning wheat fields. I live only with the hope that this misery may soon come to an end.

The train is still going fast, the Brandenburg forests rush past me in the opposite direction and I am torn between the train and the forests. The loss always seems to win.

Forests, fields, valleys, rivers, streams, lakes, sun, moon and rain always exert a great attraction on me. They awaken my memory and bring my memories to life. What I want to forget becomes present, the past brings me back and my country pulls at me. I try to flee, work a lot and often travel to exhaustion. And I ask myself: ‘Do you take the fatherland with you on the soles of your shoes?’


Kefah Ali Deeb (*1982) is a visual artist and author of children’s books and magazines from Syria. She fled to Berlin in 2014 and wrote about her old home Syria and her new home Berlin in the taz column “Neighbors” for over six years. She is editor of Handbook Germany, an information portal by and for refugees. She also publishes in other German magazines such as ZEIT online and 51 °. As an activist, Kefah Ali Deeb is a member of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria. She gives guided tours of the Berlin Pergamon Museum through the Multaka project.

In the column article “The Syrian coast in the nose” she describes how the painful memories of her homeland Syria, of fleeing from there and the lost people keep catching up with her. Among other topics, she mourns for a friend who was imprisoned by the Syrian regime and died in this captivity. Nature, in the sight of which Kefah Ali Deeb wants to be briefly released from the burden of memories and the thought of the ongoing suffering in the Syrian war, simultaneously awakens the painful memories again. The past does not let her go.

This article is published here with the kind permission of Kefah Ali Deeb.

The first publication appeared in German (“Die syrische Küste in der Nase”) on July 07, 2019 in the taz column “Neighbours” (“Nachbarn”):!5585032/ (26.08.2020).

Translation from Arabic to German by Mustafa Al-Slaiman.
Translation from German to English © Minor Kontor.