Sisters in the smoke and the Syrian cigarette

Holy Smoke in SyriaThe smoking sequel goes on. Moral of the day: Don’t fear falling back into old habits, for they may take you down new paths and journeys (I’m not encouraging smoking, just making it kosher for the day).

The day (22.12.2008) when I collapsed into my need for a cigarette, I had to take mom somewhere boring (some book signing event), so I had the car to myself for half an hour. After having to smoke my first cigarette – due to unbelievable joy that visited me from the great unknown that morning, I took the car for a ride around Damascus’ busy streets.

I went to Mazzeh, and hurriedly parked the car anywhere, anyway arbitrarily in the street, where a few passers by eyed me, having stormed out of the not-too-well-parked car to buy a pack of fags – no pun intended – and a lighter from Hamada. Then of course, from the supermarket next to it.

Mom hates the smell of cigarettes (let alone the not-so-good news of the habit kicking back into my life), so I opened all the windows and drove away to savor my 2nd cigarette that day.

Since the last time I worked a lighter was almost 2 years ago, I broke the one I had just bought while nervously trying to produce fire (FIRE!!), so I slowed down, with music blasting, windows open, with a red nose (because of cold and addiction) and was totally zoomed in on trying to create a spark from the broken lighter in my hand. I kept on creating blue spark after another in hopes of creating any glimpse of fire, to no avail.

I was dying for a cigarette when an angle passed by in the shape and form of a middle aged woman. She passed by and saw me crazily struggling with my lighter, a cigarette in my mouth, parked the wrong way on a busy street, with flash on, absolutely unaware of my surroundings. She kept on walking and looking at me, we caught eyes, but I didn’t really “see” her – then she took a few steps back and said, “you need a lighter, I understand, we are sisters in the smoke, we understand and feel with each other, ya 7araam (oh, poor you), there you go,” and she lit her lighter for me, extended her hand through the window across, I stretched myself over to the passenger’s seat next to me and received her timely rescue very gratefully. She made sure my cigarette was doing alright, then backed off and bid me good bye.

I was taken by this woman’s great understanding and compassion for me. This is Syria. People pick up on your need, feel it and act on it. This never happened to me elsewhere. But in Syria, people feel with you, they have great empathy for each other. I am glad I smoked that cigarette, it allowed me a nice interaction with a nice lady. Thank you, mysterious lady!

El mohem, I puffed away, losing most of my senses in the act, driving speedily, with hair flying all over the place, windows open, cold air whipping against my cheeks, other male drivers maneuvering to cut me off (because that’s exactly what I was doing to them – we call that “batwaneh” in Jordanian dialect – from “between,” and which is called over here “mta7asheh” or “zig-zagging”).

And then it hit me… what am I doing? This is so un-Sufi; this reflects adolescence on wheels! I immediately went into another trance of thoughts, of hours of reflection on my self accusation, what is Sufi and what is not, and whether I was being judgmental or not… and that’s another story altogether. The important thing is my first pack of cigarettes ever in Damascus is sitting next to this keyboard, waiting for me to pay it a visit…

Note: After writing the smoking series posts in this blog, I quit smoking following orders by my Sheikh. He said cigarettes are the making of Satan. My behavior – described above; a bit out of control and undisciplined, is the result of adopting a habit that encourages misguided thoughts, behaviors and ultimately pollutes the body and heart. In the Naqshbandi Path, smoking is prohibited to followers and believers.

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About 50% Syrian

What is identity? I was raised Arab (of varying origins), with a Syrian mother, and Moroccan, Lebanese and Tunisian great grandfathers and grandmothers. I always felt 50% Syrian, and this percentage mattered to me more than anything else. Love of my life, my late Sufi grandmother, is Syrian... all her bedtime stories were about her life in Damascus. Damascus is where the heart dwells.
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