An Hour In Hama

Nancy Penrose

     Hama is a city in Syria. Hama is the city where I stopped on a journey from Palmyra to Aleppo, where I photographed the ancient wooden water wheels that jigsaw the curving riverbed of the Orontes, where it was the day before the feast of Eid al-Adha, where the foretaste of a holiday effervesced the crowds that strolled the park by the river, where my husband and I were the only apparent Westerners, where people watched us with curiosity, where a man in a red-and-white checked keffiyeh that wrapped around his head and flowed down the back of his robe used his cell phone to photograph a little boy, his son perhaps, posed before a water wheel, where a balloon seller tethered to his bouquet of lemon, tangerine, turquoise, and rose watched me as I took a photo of the man in the keffiyeh, where a coffee seller poured from the long-handled stainless steel pot on his cart that was a bicycle, where he gestured to me to buy a cup and I should have as payment for taking his picture but I did not, where a young woman wearing a lavender headscarf and black boots with spike heels stood by as her young man companion bought an ear of roasted corn from a vendor on the sidewalk, where I asked our driver, Abed, to find a pastry shop so we could sample the specialty of halawat al-jibn, where we watched the baker roll flat the mounds of sweet cheese dough, where the baker pinched off a piece for me to taste, where the chewy cream-colored dough was cut and rolled around a custard, where the sliced and overstuffed logs were served to us on a small white plate wreathed with painted pink roses, where the green sprinkle of ground pistachios topped the confection, where the first bite whispered rosewater, where sweetness surged across my tongue from the sugar syrup poured over it all, where Abed bought a box of the sweets to take home to his family, where he paid our bill as a quiet gift to us, where I read in my travel guidebook of a massacre in 1982, where then-President Assad murdered 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, where in the autumn of 2010 this felt like history, where in the summer of 2011 snipers loyal to now-President Assad, the son, kill peaceful protestors, where hundreds of thousands demonstrate against the regime after Friday prayers, where tanks and soldiers storm the city, where blurry images of limp and bleeding bodies are captured with cell phones and posted to the web pages of Al Jazeera, where I am bonded to the horrors I see on the screen, where the memories of my lyric hour there are changed by the boldness and blood of Syrians, where the dark crevasses of repression are no longer hidden beneath sweet surfaces.


This article appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63

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