I am listening to Adagios, The Best Classical Relaxing Music.
Aeham Ahmad starts the book describing his life as a Palestinian refugee in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascas. Life isn't easy with a scary government, and corruption in every facet of life. Even getting a decent schooling is extremely hard to attain. Even if you are rich and can afford the best schools, many of the teachers there got their positions by means other than ability, so good luck with that.
On top of that, Ahmad, coming from a lower class, is treated with contempt. Nevertheless he and his father, both musicians, are determined to pursue Ahmad's dream of being a concert pianist.
After school, Ahmad, with his father start a musical instrument business where they provide both instruments and lessons. He gets married, has children.
As a Westerner, I found Ahmad's descriptions of his life and culture, how he met and married his wife (very different from here) interesting from a cultural point of view. His family immediate and extended live in the same apartment building. Life without your family members is unthinkable.
Life in Yarmouk is walking on eggshells to make sure you do nothing to tick off the government and end up in one of their torture chambers, conveniently located beneath the government capital. This is normal. His brother disappeared for an unknown reason and has never been seen again.
As difficult maintaining this balance is, it all comes crashing down as war between Isis and the government escalates. By the end of a year, Yarmouk is a pile of rubble. People are eating grass to survive.
Yet, Aeham Ahmad is determined to continue his life as a musician as much as possible. Their store is demolished, but no one can afford lessons or instruments anyway. Aeham salvages one piano, beat up and out of tune, and with his friends, they push it around the city and sing and play. They write songs, other citizens give them poems that they put music to. They start a children's choir.
Then one of their singers, a little girl, is shot down by a sniper. Snipers are everywhere. Some are Isis, some are the government's snipers. Lines a mile long snake around an area where the UN is providing food baskets, but only old people and children may get in line. If a young man gets in line, he is in danger of getting shot down by a sniper.
Does anyone in the West know what this is like? Trying to travel anywhere involves checkpoints and lots and lots of money to grease hands. If a soldier is in a bad mood, he won't let you pass. If you're belligerent, or if the soldier doesn't like your face, you're taken away, sometimes never to return or to return a battered shell of what you once were.
Finally, Aeham was able to leave Syria and move to Germany, but that journey is a harrowing read all by itself. He had to leave his family, some of them permanently, others, his wife and children were able to come a couple of years later.
I am looking at what is going on in my country with looting and rioting, tearing down statues of men long dead. Maybe those disgruntled First Worlders need to go live in a country like Syria for a while and get some perspective. Maybe even some gratitude for living in a country where you're not in fear all the time.
I wish Ahmad all the best and my prayers go out to every person living in such sad situations around the world.
Here is a link to Aeham playing in Syria. The video is in German, but you can see him playing on the streets in Yarmouk.