The columnists' aunt at the ancient city of Palmyra, a historic site that has since been destroyed by ISIS. Courtesy of Marlo Safi

6 years later

I remember olive trees speckled upon the rolling hills by my Gido and Tayta’s house in my father’s village outside Sofita, Syria.

The sun rose and fell over the dam that I could see from our large, white house that watched over the village, adorned by my Tayta’s lemon trees. Pizza was made with ketchup instead of tomato sauce in 2009, and this sin was absolved with the most delicious falafel and shawarma I’ve ever had, and may never have again.

We could play soccer in the city streets of Homs, and when the arid conditions of the desert finally drained us of our energy and sweat, we could relieve ourselves with booza (ice cream) at one of the various stores that lined the streets. My  mother and aunt could watch us from her balcony while they sipped mate. Her apartment was lavish with marble flooring and furniture, and her cabinets were stocked with Syrian delicacies and staples.

The term “third world” never came to mind when I was 13 and visiting Syria. Food was ample and I could access television and internet. We’d have to boil milk before we drank it and sometimes the electricity would shut off unexpectedly, but these small nuisances were tolerable.  I wanted nothing to alter the country that had molded my parents and their parents, and I basked in the splendor of the quaint lifestyle, unmarked by bombast and the urgency of avant-garde, Western development. Syria was perfectly imperfect, but she wasn’t plastic and her culture was pure and rich.

My parents married on that land, and I was baptized in one of her church’s. I knew Syria viscerally.  Political mayhem and possible corruption aside, Syria was my paradise for the tenure of my visit when I was 13, if only because I felt the unexplained piece of my anatomy explained by being there — yes, I am an American, and I thank my lucky stars everyday that I can return to the safety of my American home, on our American soil.

But I have always pined for Syria, whether I knew it or not, because she is a part of me, and my memories of the figs my cousins and I peeled and threw in the sand by the ocean will always overshadow the before and after photos of my mother’s hometown that have circulated on the internet. I’m grateful that I experienced Syria in a time when most people could not place her on a map, or when no news from my family in the midst of the tumult was a sigh of relief that suggested they survived another day.

6 years after a brutal civil war that has ravaged the once sublime country I knew, I cling to the memories I have of Syria that most resemble those of my parents’. I was able to walk the streets they walked and eat the foods they ate amongst the people they knew in their youth. I may never have that luxury again, and neither will my parents. My children may never experience the country that shaped their ancestors, and I am left only with my memories to relay to them.

In 6 more years, this may be all I have: my pleasant, wistful memories that I can only document by writing them down in a journal or in an article like this. I don’t have as many pictures of that Syria as the media has of the new one. In 6 years, Syria may only be known for being the source of an international refugee crisis that was never solved, or one that is still continuing. She may be known as a hotbed for religious fundamentalism and persecution. The olive trees and children playing soccer in the streets will be replaced by the rubble of buildings and the piercing sound of artillery, and we’ll pity the children who grew up in this milieu.

As I learn more about my heritage, I realize that I find Syria in much of what I do. From my tendency to prioritize others over myself to my curly hair that I complain about frequently, I’m reminded that Syria exists from afar and that it’s up to her people to keep her alive. Shrapnel and shell casings can’t shroud or quell  the spirits of the Syrian people who carry with them the memory of what she was.

I may never be able to provide my friends or future children anything beyond a nebulous rhapsody of Syria and what she used to be, but 6 years later, it’s necessary to acknowledge that she used to be something much different.

War can ravage the land for 6 years, but there is a spirit that exists in the Syrian people that I hope will forever carry on her legacy.

Marlo Safi is the Editor-in-Chief of The Pitt Maverick.