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Blog

Damascus, February 1990

Lisa Ohlen Harris

Lisa Ohlen Harris provides us with a short passage that didn't make it into her forthcoming book Through the Veil. The post first appeared on her website LisaOhlenHarris.com.

We bumped suitcases up a set of stone stairs, and into the narrow pathway of the Old City. Along with the eleven other Americans in my research group, I followed our team leader, Steve, through a maze of stone and dust, of small doorways and little children. I could not imagine finding my way in or out of these corridors every day for three months, but Steve assured us, "Everyone will know where the foreigners are living. If you get lost, just stop and ask." Two boys playing soccer with a grubby ball stopped their game to stare at our strange procession of suitcases and foreigners. I thought I heard one of them whisper the name of our Syrian host, Abu Mousa.

Steve smiled in triumph as we rounded the turn leading to Abu Mousa's doorway. One by one we passed through the front door and into a wide atrium garden, where Um Mousa had prepared a welcome feast—chicken over rice, with vegetables and pine nuts. We were jet-lagged and hungry, and the chicken was so good. We sat together and ate. A lot.

I remember it was cold in Syria in February in a hundreds-of-years-old stone house with no heat. I remember sneaking up to the rooftop to meet Todd after a day of ethnographic research. I remember weeping three months later when it was time to leave Damascus, the city I had learned in such a short time to love.

Twenty years ago. For every detail I remember there are dozens I’ve forgotten. And for every chapter inThrough the Veil there are memories that didn’t make it into the book. In these last months before the book releases (summer 2010) I’m going to post “deleted scenes” from Through the Veil. By sharing these memories I hope to serve up an appetizer for the forthcoming book as well as commemorating the twenty-year anniversary of our time living in Damascus.

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Lisa Ohlen Harris is Relief's Creative Nonfiction editor. Her Middle East memoir, Through the Veil, will be published by Canon Press in 2010. Lisa's essays have appeared in journals like River TeethArts & Letters, and The Laurel Review, and have received special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses (2009) and in Best American Spiritual Writing (2008 and 2010). Lisa enjoys mentoring and editing the work of emerging writers through her critique service.