I'm gonna do a not-so-humble-brag and tell you I was obsessed with Syria long before it dominated the news for disturbing reasons: war, massive civilian casualties, Russian power plays, refugees drowning in a desperate attempt to escape.
One of my best friends is Syrian and her enthusiasm for the culture and people of her country is unparalleled and infectious. In college she regaled me with stories of visits to see relatives, the beautiful historical sites, the terrific, amazingly fresh food. When she invited me to stay with her in her family's apartment one summer in Damascus, it took me all of five seconds to reply, "Yes! When?". The details of this first trip are the subject of a longer post but let's just say by the end of seven days of zipping around the awesome old neighborhoods in the capital, plus side jaunts to the ruins at Palmyra and Aleppo, and endless multi-course meals cooked by Lena's grandmother, I was practically looking at real estate.
Thus, when a few years later my friend got married in Damascus (in what, to this day, ranks as my favorite wedding of all time, besides my own), I was thrilled for an excuse to return again, and bring along my then fiance now husband. He loved the country just as much as I did (which made me love him even more), and promptly starting making kibbeh within a week of returning home to Texas.
Then, things changed a lot to say the least. I still can't wrap my mind around how this place that I associate with so much joy, light, life, and laughter is now a locus of darkness and death. And I won't even begin to fathom how real Syrians (not wannabe ones like me) can process the events of the past years.
What I am doing in addition to supporting financially and politically all the right dogs in the fight, is eating my feelings. Cooking Syrian food reminds me that this country was and one day will be much more than a war zone, a talking point in a presidential debate, and something whose mention makes people shake their heads in sorrow.