Orchids in Syria

Yaseen points decidedly at the fuchsia phalaenopsis orchid at the grocery store.

We’re getting the last few items we need before heading off to the television studio. I’ve selected a bouquet of autumn flowers; the usual chrysanthemums and daisies, all russet and gold, something to bring fall color to the table.

I ask Yaseen what he thinks of the bouquet. He smiles in his polite way, which tells me he doesn’t like it. He then walks over to the orchid display, and chooses the brightest one there.

Into the cart it goes, despite the price tag, and a few minutes later, we are back in the car, on our way.

Yaseen has been tasked with holding the orchid, and I think he has fallen in love with it. He gazes at it, gently touches its petals. He pulls out his phone, and snaps picture after picture of it.

I ask him if he has ever seen an orchid before, if they even exist in Syria.

He shakes his head, not once taking his eyes off the blooms.

I try to explain to him as best as I can that it’s called a phalaenopsis orchid, because it looks like a butterfly. I don’t know the Arabic word for butterfly, and I’m not sure Yaseen knows what it is in English. We are at an impasse.

It doesn’t seem to matter that he can’t understand what I am trying to say. He is under the orchid’s spell, and I’m too busy trying to get us to the studio on time.

It dawns on me that orchids must be exotic to him, but for me, they are almost weeds. They thrive in the warm humid climate of Hawaii, so much so, that I swore I would never have orchids in my wedding bouquet.

In the arid world of Syria, I think it must be a different story.

In Yaseen’s world, his home was bomb into oblivion. Seven of his siblings are now scattered throughout the world, and the eighth remains in prison in Syria for criticizing the government.

Yaseen’s universe shrank to four years in a refugee camp in Jordan, where his youngest child was born. It was a place of tents and “temporary” shelters that stretched row upon row, as far as the eye can see. It was a sprawl with no privacy, and definitely no delicate flowers. The only thing flowering there were the noxious blooms of uncertainty, good only for weighing the spirit down.

Yaseen’s sphere now is an apartment in Tukwila, where he and his family are carving out a new life. Paved roads, a supermarket right down the street, passenger (not fighter) jets roaring overhead and a place for his children to play have replaced the dismal camp.

I see why he stares at this orchid so raptly. I understand why he drinks in its beauty. A year ago, he was in a camp, awaiting permission from the world. And now, he holds an orchid. It must be a bit surreal for him.

I keep my eyes on the road. I smile, because I feel Yaseen’s joy. I peek at the orchid again, and it is indeed beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *