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“There are the sounds of bombs a few streets away from us.”
“Our entire building is shaking.”
“No water today. No electricity.”
“Another family member has fled to Turkey hoping to find work.”
These are the things my relatives in Aleppo, Syria, tell me when I speak to them every week—if the Internet connection works. But this was not the norm before the peaceful uprising against Bashar Al-Assad started more than three years ago.
Back then, Syrians were accustomed to a country of plenty. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and where my family is originally from, was the business hub of the country and a bustling city with a population of more than 2 million. The majority of my relatives ran businesses that were in the family for generations—from tin-container productions to thread and textile factories. My maternal and paternal grandfathers and their families had put their hearts and souls into preserving their business and supporting their families, employees, and their local and national economies.
As a young Syrian-American child, visiting Aleppo in the summer with my family was the highlight of my year. When I visited as an adult, up until two years before the crisis began, Aleppo had a special place in my heart. It was truly the city that never slept. If you woke up early in the morning, you could smell the sweet scent of jasmine that abounds in the gardens of most homes, mixed with the aroma of Turkish coffee.
The markets would be alive with the fresh produce brought in from the outskirts of the city: Fresh pistachios, figs, cherries, and apricots were all on display. Sounds of produce carts, car horns, motorcycle engines, and Fairuz—the Lebanese singer whose songs must be played only in the morning because that is what Middle Eastern culture dictates—filled the morning air.