art of resistance, Syria

The Boy Who Dreams of Rebuilding Aleppo.

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Yes, THIS is the city of Aleppo – the spirit of its people. How I love this story!

It is a story about a 13-year-old boy, Mohammed Qutaish, who does not want to flee Syria – instead he dreams of growing up to become an architect to rebuild the ruins of Aleppo.

He still hasn’t given up hope of a better future – even though the reality of living in Aleppo is sometimes worse than living in a nightmare. In his home inside the devastated city he creates his own world using paper, paint and a glue gun.

Click on this Channel 4 video and dive inside Mohammed’s vision, see his Aleppo.

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: Night Draws Near.

tumblr_mxq7ppmmuh1rouua1o10_500/photo © Jehad Nga: Something in the WayIraq, 2010/

I often search for books on Iraq written by reporters who’ve spent a lot of months and years writing, understanding, witnessing – trying to come as close as possible to the truth of it all. Anthony Shadid was one of those reporters.

Shadid was a Lebanese-American writer, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times based in Baghdad and Beirut. He died three years ago, from an acute asthma attack while attempting to leave Syria.

I finally read his book Night Draws Near: Iraq’s people in the Shadow of America’s War. The book was published almost ten years ago, and it might seem I am really late for reading this. The sad truth is that Iraq today is not much different from the one Shadid describes in the book – in it, the night draws near fast and everything is ghamidha, ambigious.

Shadid writes: “Baghdad is a city of lives interrupted, its history a story of loss, waiting, and resilience. In the days before the American invasion in March 2003, the capital scarred by war after war felt torn, aggrieved, and filled with longing for the greatness it once possessed and has never forgotten.”

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He is great at observing how the greatness Baghdad once possessed plays a formative role in Iraqi culture of memory:

Rome can still see its past, the magnificence of its ancient empire gracing the modern cityscape. Paris and London, storied cities reinventing themselves as they age across centuries, live in their histories, which surround them. Baghdad, its ancient grandeur utterly destroyed, cannot see its past, its glory. It can only remember. Baghdad’s is a culture of memory, the city that draws strength and pride from the myths to which it continually returns. But the curse of recalling is the reminder of what has been lost.”

This book is a rare accomplishment because its focus is almost entirely on Iraqi people and the way this long war cripples their lives. Unlike many reporters, Shadid doesn’t forget that and doesn’t end up writing a book about himself (which is what many journalists do). He went independently through Iraq, detached from US forces, and on daily basis he asked the Iraqi people how they feel about the state of affairs in their country.

The dichotomy of the war (Washington vs. Baghdad, media vs. reality) becomes very obvious in this book. The war that is at the same time proclaimed a liberation and an occupation, is after all and before all – a war. Shadid notes all the little frustrations of the people – who cannot understand the efficiency of a superpower (US) that can take out their leader in couple of weeks, but is so inefficient in keeping the electricity running.

Throughout the book, we meet Iraqi people, different people with different backgrounds (social status, education, religion), and see how all their lives became similiar – reduced to war. We meet, for example, fourteen-year-old girl, Amal, who kept a diary starting around the beginning of the war. We see how she changes with time, how war changes her.

Shadid alo explains how fundamentalist used the growing hatred of America and found a way to appeal to young people – mostly desperate, without work and sense of purpose (and future) in life. At the same time when I read this book, I was also reading The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra, and it is just incredible how similiar these books are in their atmosphere – although Khadra’s book is a work of fiction.

Night Draws Near is a truly important book – for all of us to understand, for all of us to bare witness. That is the fair thing to do, that is the least we can do.

Through its storied history, Baghdad has had many names. Its medieval Abassid rulers knew it as Medinat al-Salam, the City of Peace. I hope it returns to that.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

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art of resistance

Taste of Home: A Kitchen Run by Refugees.

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Taste of Home (Okus doma) is a social cooperative run by refugees, migrants and volunteers. It is a project I’ve been following for a long time now, and it makes me really happy its Indiegogo campaign has been launched today. Please – keep on reading, get involved, spread the word!

It is a project that could really help refugees and asylum seekers here in Croatia – it would provide them with a way to solve the biggest problem most of them face – the one of finding work, feeling useful and appreciated, being financially independent and able to share their knowledge and creativity.

Taste of Home gathers a group of individuals of all ages and backgrounds brought together by a common interest in food and cooking. They come from countries like Syria, Senegal, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Croatia. Their efforts help refugees and migrants earn a living and become settled in Croatia. Through culinary and cultural exchange they learn new skills, make friends, and become part of the local culture.

They want to expand their program to include a catering business specialising in African, Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine and they need our help to bring this project to life!

taste of home/all photos © Taste of Home/

Check out their Indiegogo campaign for more information (of course – aside from being happy for contributing to such a lovely story – there are some other perks for all of you who choose to get inolved and donate). Let’s make this happen! ♡

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art of resistance, Jordan, Syria

The Champs-Elysées in Zaatari Camp.

cover1loresj/photo by Toufic Beyhhum/

The photo pretty much says it all. The following is a photo-essay by Toufic Beyhum and Nadim Dimechkie. You must be wondering about the connection between one of the world’s largest refugee camps (which is gradually evolving into a permanent settlement) and the famous boulevard (the paradise for dead heroes) in Paris? Well, read on, and find out all about it – thanks to the work of Beyhum and Dimechkie, titled What remains when all is lost?

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“The salesman on the Champs-Elysées displays the shiny black shoes in neat, even rows. Each time the wind picks up, each time a truck roars past, they are drowned in billows of fine desert sand. And each time, the salesman dusts the sand off each shoe, wipes it down and places it back in line. Another cloud of sand may come along any moment, but the shoes will stay clean.

Named by French aid workers, this Champs-Elysées is the main high street in the Za’atari refugee camp, a three year old Syrian city in Jordan where 130,000 refugees are trying to make a living somewhere they do not wish to live. Most have left their homes, trades, families, and material possessions behind and they want to go back now. But until they do, they must manage with what they have left. And what they have left lies within.”

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“Atallah has revived the family bakery here on the Champs-Elysees: the bread is delicious. Mounib has established an impressive perfume shop—which he insists is nowhere near as good as the one his family ran in Syria for generations. Rashed, 14, leaves the camp to buy furniture from Jordanian merchants and comes back to sell it, much as his family once did back home. Where tradition fails, resourcefulness steps in. There are no cars here, and law and order is the preserve of the UN. So Abdul Mansoor, once a policeman in Syria, now makes phenomenal falafels. Omar was a car mechanic; now he sells second-hand clothes.

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“Some jobs have been invented before anyone’s come up with a name for them. What do you call the kids who use wheelbarrows to help people with their shopping for tips, or to resell UNHCR blankets and tents so they can buy what they really need? What do you call the welder-joiners who fuse impossible things from impossible combinations of materials, or the makers of custom-made flat-bed trolleys designed to shift shipping-container homes between buyers and sellers?”

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“A combination of good governance and the opportunity for dignity has quelled many of these less desirable elements, while providing opportunities for the better instincts to grow. For some, there is even excitement here—in the relative law and order, in the electricity (which some Syrian villagers had never had on tap before), in the entrepreneurial opportunities. But nobody wants to be here. For all their ability to survive the present moment, no one can build lasting happiness here, for that would mean accepting their fate. Still, there is enough tradition and resourcefulness to make life bearable.”

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“And there is always pride – another resource from within. Pride keeps the streets tidy and the wedding dresses moving. Pride keeps the homes orderly, the teenaged boys groomed and fragrant, the barbershops busy. Pride keeps the shoe salesman in business.”

/all photos © Toufic Beyhum/

• • •

This is not the full story and these are not all photos. Please read & see it all on Toufic Beyhum’s official website.

For more on Zaatari refugee camp, you can see some previous posts:

Inside Zaatari: Being a Teenager in a Refugee Camp

The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp

The World(s) of Refugee(s)

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art of resistance, Syria

Playlist: Khebez Dawle.

FullSizeRender/Khebez Dawle in Zagreb, photo by Borna Subota/

Khebez Dawle is the name of a Syrian band I was lucky enough to see live in Zagreb just three weeks ago. They’re a sweet little discovery to me. Young and full of love towards life, they escaped the violence in Syria and have been on the road for months now.

They escaped in 2013, after their drummer, Rabia al-Ghazzi, was killed. They were first in Lebanon for a while, but then decided to try their luck and reach Europe – since then the road/the sea/the forest has taken them from Turkey and Greece to Croatia. They are now on their way to Western Europe (I hope they arrived safely).

In Croatia (were they spent only twelve days) they shared their music in front of a large audience on three concerts that were organised very fast, totally spontaneous. It was inspiring. All the money went for their new music equipment – since they could not take their instruments with them on this long journey. Like many dear things, they were left behind.

Here’s some music by Khebez Dawle, enjoy it.

Previous Playlist:

Checkpoint 303 – The Iqrit Files

Mashrou’ Leila – Straight from Beirut

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghan Women by Farzana Wahidy.

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The Afghan city of Kunduz was seized by the Taliban this week. A hospital in Kunduz was bombed today during the US airstrike – Medecins Sans Frontieres says it gave the coordinates of hospital (hit by an airstrike that killed at least 19 people) to US forces several times.

Another 19 human beings and all their lives are now being reduced to collateral damage. Afghanistan, and all the other war-torn places can’t seem to leave my head…

Farzana Wahidy was born in Kandahar and moved to Kabul at the age of six. She attended school during the years of the Afghan civil war. After the Taliban came to power and prohibited the education of women, she secretly attended an underground school located in an apartment with three hundred other girls (it made me think of Nadia Anjuman and the Golden Needle Sewing School).

And Anjuman’s verses just keep on reappearing in front of my eyes, falling all around – sounds of shattered glass.

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

But back to Wahidy now. When the Taliban were defeated Wahidy continued her education, completing high school then enrolling in a two-year program sponsored by AINA photojournalism Institute. In 2004 she began working part-time as a photojournalist for AFP becoming the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service. She continues to freelance for a number of international news outlets.

These are some of the photos from her Afghan Women series.

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/all photos © Farzana Wahidy/

I’d like to end this post with one more Afghan woman I admire and often think of – Setara from the Afghan Star. I don’t know where and how she is now, but I hope music still lifts heaviness from her heart and she still manages to look life in the eyes with a smile.

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• • •

For more on Farzana Wahidy and her work, visit her official website.

For more on Nadia Anjuman and her poetry, visit Circumference.

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