where is your accent?

Back in the early days of the Syrian revolution, my phone rang at 7 AM, and my caller managed to tell me between her tears that her brother was detained during a demonstration in Damascus.

I tried to comfort her and tell her that he was going to be alright, but these were the early days.. the Syrian regime had the time to detain and leave people in cells for longer periods of time. Inhuman tales of torture were pouring out everyday bring those of us who are still free into a socked state of disbelief.

We, his friends and family, rushed to clean up after him.. we closed his Facebook account, cleaned his email inbox, removed him from our own Facebook lists for our own safety, and started asking around if anyone has heard of him or his whereabouts.

There was a sense of guilt associated with everything we did: why did we get overworked for this guy and never orchestrated efforts for thousands more who are in the regime's cells? why does it feel more personally inciting to act if it's someone you know, when thousands of others are going through the same everyday.

He was released 22 days later. I sat in my diaspora waiting for new of his arrival, and the same crying voice who once told me that he was detained called me again, still soaking with tears, to tell me that he was back with horrible signs of torture on his body.

Months later, he recovered, and we managed to meet in a neutral  ground outside of Syria where his parents insisted that he goes for a while, fearing that he will be demonstrating again (which he did, several times after his detention) and get caught again.

We sat in this street cafe puffing nervous clouds of smoke and talking. He refused to give me details, he knew that they will end up on my blog one day or another, but the brief account that he told me forced his tanned muscular body of a 21 year old to release some shivers, he passed-out several times under torture.

He is Alawite, coming from a family line of voiced regime critics who were repeatedly harassed by the regime's security service agents several times over the decades for their opinions. The regime cannot tolerate dissents especially those whom he considers his own.

He showed me scars on his back, still slightly visible even months after his detention. He was whipped relentlessly for days, and every time they hit they would say: "living in your Damascus made you lose your accent? ask for mercy in your original accent or we won't stop"..
They were referring to his original village accent, an accent that has been long associated with the regime's security forces and thugs for decades in Syria, an accent he never even learned to speak properly after being born and raised in Damascus.

I'm ashamed to tell you my story, he said. I will make sound horrible and painful, but in reality it doesn't count, for I am out and alive. The rest who are still inside those dungeons, or those who had left in body bags are the real stories that people should hear about.

He put his coffee cup on the brass table and stared into a void which seemed to open next to that table. He said in a low sad voice: "what's even worse is that they will become numbers and statistics, and their stories might never be told while mine might be of interest because of my sect". He was right, people are constantly looking for stories like these to chew on. it will make their casual chants more interesting.

we shook hands and separated, he made me promise to leave out and change many of the details he told me. We parted on that summer day and he went back to Syria.. never said any heroic last words, and never made promises to continue the struggle, or anything.

he was just another guy.. and that's why his story counts..

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