Ibrahim lived in Idlib province in Syria. He is a graduate of English Literature from Aleppo University. But he joined the Free Syrian Army. Why? Because in 2012 the regime of President Assad burnt his library of English books during the early stages of the war; he had five hundred in all including Shakespeare and Tolstoy, as well American poetry. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was his favourite – he saw hope in Godot. But the war as we know became complicated and many factions entered the war. Ibrahim left and is now teaching school children in Turkey.
I have followed his story via the reporting of BBC journalist Ian Pannell. I wrote a play about him called Waiting for Summer, which was shown in Brighton and have written a poem. What drew me to his story, and to Laila Sumpton’s poem ‘Morning Prayers’, is the way in which the more personal story is told. It is not the helpless uneducated victim that is often portrayed by the western media; it is someone who had hopes and aspirations like anyone living in peace.
In Morning Prayers, the hopes of a mother are set out, “You long for monotonous streets/unremarkably intact/adapting only to the seasons.” These longings for the mundane are ones that many of us take for granted, “You hope for the rush to school/to be fuelled by no more/than a stern bell ringing teacher.” Of course if you are trapped in a war, then “You pray for your son only to fear/spiders, heights and getting lost/that he will grow bored of birthdays,/only ever hold toy guns.” But we know that even the most simplest of wishes can be very difficult to fulfil. Whether it is Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Egypt, mothers, father, sisters and brothers hope and pray only for peace, for to read books, play, get married and live safely. Laila’s poem shows this both starkly and beautifully.
Laila Sumpton is a member of the Keats House Poets and works in both the poetry and NGO world, hoping to bring the two together. She runs creative writing workshops at museums, charities, hospitals and universities and writes extensively about human rights issues. She co-edited ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights‘ published by the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium and is working on her first pamphlet with the working title of ‘King Arthur in Kashmir.’
You pray for quiet mornings
to wake on the roof this summer,
with your grandma the only one
unbothered by Eid fireworks,
and the youngest cradling new red shoes
like a new-born.
You long for monotonous streets
adapting only to the seasons,
homes improving or crumbling
at the natural rate with families ripening,
and washing bunting more crowded
each year. You hope for time to tend
the herbs you grow in retired teapots
by unbroken windows, have a garden
free of rubble. You want to only worry
about having enough jalabiyas*
for every August wedding,
for the worst news to be
muttered in weather reports-
that storm clouds will shrink
the shoals you sell
leaving your husband
playing indoor dominos for days
and learning the best of the worst
Egyptian films by heart.
You wish you had parcelled
old regrets for now-
stockpiled, pickled and canned
whilst things could grow,
that you had enjoyed the water-
had the time to swim between wars.
You now relish all the little battles
from before, like the day they banned soap
said it could be used in bombs
and your little one chimed
that even they knew baths were bad too.
You hope for the rush to school
to be fuelled by no more
than a stern bell ringing teacher.
You pray for your son only to fear
spiders, heights and getting lost
that he will grow bored of birthdays,
only ever hold toy guns
and never ask why you cradle
these red shoes like a new-born.
* Jalabiyas- long gown worn in the Middle East