It is the heavenly voice of the Levantine singer Fairuz that awakens Christian neighborhoods of the city. Mothers are awake earlier than usual; they open the doors to their balconies and the contest begins on whose Fairuz is loudest. It is Good Friday, one of the most important days in the Aleppian Christian calendar. Shop keepers and hair dressers are packed; working in harmony with the rhymes that mix with the fragrance of the Bakhur incense. In the afternoon, tens of thousands of Christians join a pilgrimage to the nearly forty churches of Aleppo. The old town, however, gets the largest number of pilgrims. Farhat Square in al-Jdaydeh quarter puts on its special attire. The sounds of people, peddlers and boy scout brass bands are a symphony embedded in the memory of Aleppians. The four churches that overlook the square remind Christians of their ancient roots in the city. The medieval limestone holds the memory of surviving the Mongol slaughter when Timur Lank invaded Aleppo six hundred years ago.
Lovers of Arab music know Aleppo by the name Em el-Tarab – the “mother of tarab.” Tarab roughly translates as “ecstasy” and refers to a state of spiritual up-lifting and enchantment that is induced by this type of music. Although today the term is often loosely applied to any type of traditional Arab music, Tarab actually refers to a particular musical culture that was popular from the 19th until the first half of the 20th century.
Arabs are considered a high context culture, meaning that due to a long history of intense contact in their communities, they can use short cuts, allusions and proverbs easily in their conversation and expect to be understood. Much can go unexplained in discussions as people are deeply familiar with each other and their common culture. Languages that exist in these cultures can have a richness of allusions that others may lack. For example, in Aleppo, if you want to point out that someone is stupid, you have a range of options, not all of them particularly politically correct:
A tale of two cities in Aleppo: Rubble on one side, packed restaurants on the other. Five years of conflict have torn Syria apart. And nowhere is that more stark than in its most populous city, Aleppo, where front lines carve through neighborhoods and slice it in two. Loveday Morris, The Washington Post
Syria’s frontlines have become the world’s most dangerous areas, forcing millions to leave their homes. But some people in the city of Aleppo refuse to go. They’ve taken up voluntary relief work, to help the casualties of war.
Municipal water returned to several districts in western Aleppo, including Seif ad-Dauleh and New Aleppo. Water, which had been cut off for several months has still not reached Izaa, Sirian and Ashrafiyeh.
CARE initiative connects Refugees from WWII and the Syrian War through pen-friendship
“I know firsthand what it’s like to lose a home and become a refugee.” Carefully penned in tight script on a piece of ivory stationary, this was the opening of 87-year-old Helga Kissell’s handwritten letter. It was addressed to Sajeda, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan who Kissell has never met.
In Aleppo one is not awakened early in the morning by the cheerful chirp of a robin or a wren, nor by the clear call of a cardinal, but rather by a penetrating voice crying in Arabic under the window, “Hellu Haleeb”. This syncopated wail persevering on the interval of a minor third defies all sleep. Eventually it lures one to come outside and buy “nice sweet milk” direct from cow to consumer, for the gentle jersey waits at the door bedecked in her blue glass beads.
Now when I hear the word cocktail what comes to my mind is a drink in which the bartender skilfully brings different components together to create a new concoction. The word had a different meaning in Aleppo. You could get a normal cocktail, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, in fancy bars in the city but they were not as good as what we thought of as real cocktails.