These are extracts from Hasan Almossa’s as-yet unpublished book “I Was Born Twice”. Hasan is the founder of Kids Paradise, an NGO supporting vulnerable people and implementing sustainable projects in Syria.
More than once, you will read the phrase, “I wrote in my notebook.” So what is this
Unlike human beings, who usually have only one name, the notebook goes by many. However, there is a common thread between this notebook and human beings. Both go through different phases.
In each phase, the notebook was gradually shaped, growing like a plant until I managed to transfer it into this book so that it wouldn’t be lost, as had happened several times before. But now the notebook’s spirit has been captured in the book, forging a telepathic link with my memory that tried to save everything while only a little remained.
As narrow as a palm, and as small as a child, my notebook began its journey in life: I
used to put it in my pocket so I could jot down what people asked me. I also wrote down names and addresses of patients and the injured, so I could follow up with them.
As I wrote more and more, so my notebook grew. I wrote about war, common sayings and poems, and it also featured some stories. I wrote about pain as it was lived by ordinary people. I did not aim at publishing while I was writing, but rather I wrote to remember people’s pain, to follow up on their stories, and to solve their problems. Later, I started gathering the sorts of details that most media outlets cannot focus on. And yet these are important details.
Even though I was recording such details so as never to lose them, my notebook was lost more than once, such that I could not get it back. In 2015, I lost it for good, so I tried to collect the fragments of information still in my memory, as well as some things I’d written on small sheets of paper. With every name I wrote, I tried to restore my notebook. But many questions would pop into my thoughts without answers.
What happened to the one who’d dreamed of going to Europe? Did he ever arrive, or was he trapped in a prison on his way, or did he disappear inside the big whale’s belly of the ocean?
What happened to that woman who came with her injured son? Is he still alive, or has he died and left his mother wandering through a cruel life?
What happened to the old man who was asking for a prosthetic leg? Did he ever get it, or does he still live with a cane?
What about the girl whose father promised her a new eye while she was riding in the ambulance? Did she ever get a new eye, or was her father only trying to soothe her pain?
What about that family who sold all of their property to travel to Europe? Did the human trafficker keep his promise and help them to reach Germany?
The act of reorganizing the information in my notebook brought up thousands of
questions and put me in front of hundreds of unforgettable stories. Many of these stories were too painful to document, and I was afraid, too, that my bag would become as heavy as mountains. There are too many graves in exile: solitary graves, group graves, and lost graves. It was hard for me to put the destruction of past, present, and future in my bag and sleep beside it. I needed to sleep so I could continue my work, yet how could I sleep alongside all these tragedies?
And so I was sleepless beside these human tragedies. I often wished a bullet had ended my life so that I didn’t have to witness these stories I carry.
The buzz of the bullet stays with me: for three months, its buzz kept visiting me from
time to time. I wished to sleep or, as we call it, go to a minor death, in order to comfort my tired soul. Others wished to relax forever and turn to the real Death.
In these pages, I wrote what I felt, what my pen could write, and what I felt obliged to record.
The first birth
I, like everyone, was born once. However, unlike most people, I was born a second time too.
My mother gave birth to me the first time.
I was born the second time while observing the lives of those born at the edge of a
homeland riven by a crazy war that tossed the shreds of them to all continents. I will discuss this birth later, but now I want to talk about my first birth.
I was born in some manner twenty-odd years ago, in a town on the Zawiya Mountain. Many stories lie behind the stones of this mountain. Those are stories from history about dignity and about men who refused humiliation. Many legends and myths hide behind the rocks of the Zawiya Mountain and in the warmth of its nights. Swallows and finches fly and build nests in its trees.
It was in this area that I was raised and, in my mother’s milk, I drank in the kindness of the breeze and the beauty of the natural surroundings. Oaks and laurel trees taught me self-respect and their peaks made me feel pride. I learned how to be independent from these trees that covered me with their shadows.
This mountain witnessed the sacrifices of martyrs who defended it against
invaders. You can still hear across the landscape the whispers of heroic men who fought ferocious battles against the French army during the French mandate in Syria. One of the French generals described one battle thus:
“The battle with the rebels was difficult. Since the First World War, such a thing was
unprecedented. They were about 150 men, but they managed to break the French campaign. The rocks, sky, and rains fought with them.”
The second birth
I will remember the day as long as I’m alive.
“Go to the water company and get a water tank to fill the swimming pool,” my father
said. I’d been nagging him to fill the pool for me on that hot summer day so I could swim. I was just seventeen years old, and swimming was my passionate interest.
My father was sitting absent-mindedly in his office, barely listening to my nagging adolescent requests. At the time, I’d thought he was busy with his business, with trade papers and contracts. However, that day I think I was wrong—he was thinking about issues more important than his business and money. Perhaps he was thinking of my brother, who’d been injured by a stray bullet in a demonstration. The injury had prevented my brother from attending his last exam at university. We were hiding him in our farm without the right medical care. He might end up disabled for the rest of his life, but we had to keep him away so the security men and their spies could not reach him.
We are a big family. I have twelve brothers, and perhaps our father was thinking about all of us. So while I was thinking about how to swim in cold water, my dad was anxiously thinking about the unknown, about what was waiting for us in the future. At the time, he looked at me with his tired eyes and a neutral expression, addressing my nagging with a short sentence: “Go to the water company and get a water tank to fill the pool.”
My happiness at that moment was incredible. I hadn’t noticed his tone or the way he
spoke to me. Was he satisfied or disappointed? I didn’t think about it that day, but I am thinking about it now.
His sentence changed my life. My life had been monotonous—going to school and coming back home. I had small dreams, and the biggest of them was to fill the pool and swim in the cold water.
I didn’t know this sentence would change the course of my life. I’m surprised by the
white hair that appeared on my head even before I reached 20. That day, I burned years and jumped over my age to be born for the second time.
Every birth is accompanied by labor, and we don’t feel the pain of it while our mothers do. However, with my second birth, I felt and lived the pain of labor.
Now, I am more aware of the birth that changed my life from then forward, altering me from deep inside, exploding suddenly to turn my life upside down.
The turning point for my second birth came in the summer of 2011, a couple months after the Syrian revolution had started in Daraa and spread across the country. The Syrian people were gathering and protesting in an unprecedented uprising. But the regime in Syria faced the protesters with fire and weapons. It escalated the confrontation with people and went from using guns and snipers to tanks, then jets and barrel bombs.
Although I participated in demonstrations with my brothers and the people in my hometown, I didn’t know what people who were chanting “Freedom… Freedom… Peace… Peace… Oh Daraa, we’re in solidarity with you!” really wanted.
I was holding up my mobile and taking photos of the protests, as I loved taking photos.
Day after day, the childhood inside me started to sink. I was observing and thinking
about what was going on around me. A new spirit occupied me. I wondered why bullets targeted people. They were protesting peacefully. They were not criminals. These questions echoed inside me, and for the first time in my life, I saw tanks moving in my hometown. I was distraught and full of strange feelings and wonder: Why had tanks come? We used to draw tanks, and they would be fighting enemies: Were we enemies?
Death was looking out at us from their barrels while they crushed the air.