Syrians tend to have large families. Not so much today as in the past, but to give you a brief idea, I had eight aunts and uncles on BOTH my mom and dad’s side. As a result, I have a total of 35 first cousins! In my immediate family, there’s my oldest sister, Sana, then my brother, Yousef (whom we call Zouzou – like zoo-zoe (rhymes with “toe”)), then my sister Julia, and finally, my twin sister, Noel, and myself. (Are you still reading?) I also have 13 nieces and nephews and 19 great-nieces and great-nephews. Just saying.
My older siblings were born and raised in Syria. My twin and I were born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. My oldest sister, Sana, came here when I was young. Zouzou and Julia stayed in Syria by choice. Up until the war, they had very good lives and were happy to be there. Even during the war, even though things were difficult, they decided to stay. Now that the war is all but over, they have both told me they don’t intend to leave Syria ever. If you didn’t have a chance to read about my first few days in Syria, you can read about them here: Syria Today.
My brother has four children. Shadi (the “a” is like “android” – “shad-dee”) is the oldest. His wife, Rihab, is from Habnimra, a larger town about 15 minutes away. Their children are Yousef (Zouzou – named after his grandfather), Jouri (like “bonjour” – “jouree”), and Laith (pronounced “Lais – rhymes with “face”). Don’t ask.
Shadi owns a mini-mart, which surprisingly, has EVERYTHING, literally anything you could possibly want. I think it’s magic. He also chauffeurs people around in his recently acquired Peugeot. Shadi is a hard worker and loves his family. In that way, he takes after his dad. Rihab is a blast! SOOOOO funny!!! She totally cracks me up, although, seriously, I can’t even print some of our funny conversations. Just trust me. I was having serious hair angst before a baptism reception, and she gave me an expert blowout. Also, I always ask her for advice when I’m in Syria.
Their son, Zouzou, spent the summer working part-time in his dad’s store. He rides around the village on a motorbike (like everyone else). He’s very smart and is looking to study engineering at university. He’s a senior in high school this year. Jouri is sweet and smart. She writes fables for fun! I wish I had copied the story she read to me so I could tell it to you. I’ll ask her to screenshot it and send it to me. Laith is a blast!
He’s super smart and nine years old. He’s a real ham and loves to ride around in his new bike.
Shereen is next. She lives in Hab Nimra. She married Rihab’s brother, Wassim. Wassim is great! He’s one of my favorite people ever! He’s a tile setter and a builder. I’m gonna do a whole entire post on Wassim and his work because it’s so awesome. I told him he should move here, he’d be a millionaire his work is so good! Shereen and I talk and talk and talk. Even when I’m here in the States, we’ll be on video chat for an hour at a time.
Their kids are Gibran (named after the famous Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran), Jilanar (which is the what they call the pomegranate blossoms), and Jawad, whose nickname is Jado. Gibran is 11, Jilanar (Nara) is 8, and Jado is 4.
We like to go on hikes together. And walkabouts in general. In Syria, people ask each other if they’d like to go “a mishwar,” which means go for a walk.
Going for a walk together is definitely a popular activity. Shereen’s kids and Laith took me to the “Ain” (sort of rhymes with “fine”) in my village. This is a natural spring that’s been protected. We climbed the rocks. Even Jado!
He’s a tough guy! We watched the frogs, and looked at all the plants, and closed our eyes and stood together in silence for an entire minute, listening to the sound of the wind in the trees and the bird calls. It was a magic moment!
Danny and Muhanned are my brother’s youngest kids and they are twins! Muhanned got married last year and he and his wife, Sara, have a new baby daughter, Massa (which means “diamond”). She is the cutest. Here, see for yourself. I’m so happy for Muhanned. He’s very happy and his wife is lovely and smart and a great cook and mother. And Massa is, well, you see. She’s a treasure.
Danny is still single! Waiting for the perfect girl. He can sing “Bye, Bye Blackbird” all the way through. I taught it to him in 2010 and he still remembers it. He’s learned a lot of English since then and he practiced with me during my trip. He makes me laugh but he’s also really smart. He sings in church and has a beautiful voice. He has a lot of friends – everyone loves Danny. He and his friends often stay up until 4 or 5 a.m. talking and laughing, drinking yerba mate and smoking the argheli.
My brother is retired now. He still works every day. He’s super smart (I know I keep saying that, but my family is smart!). He is a family man. Absolutely the definition of family man. He has dedicated his life to his family and loves them and they all love him. His wife, Nadia is an amazing cook! She takes care of me like a mom when I stay with them. She did my laundry, cooked my favorite foods, and when I didn’t feel well, made me special foods and made sure I was comfy. I call her “Nadooshy” as a nickname, and also, Mama Nadia. We also talk and talk and talk when we’re together. She’s very clever and knows how to do all sorts of things really well. Oh and also, she alters all her clothes to fit perfectly and look stylish.
Whew! Well, that’s my brother’s family. I’m at over 1,000 words and I haven’t told you about my sister’s family yet. You can read all about Julia and her family here: Syria Today – Part III My Family (the other half of it). If you have any questions about what you’re reading, just let me know. There’s a place at the bottom of the page for comments and questions. You don’t have to register to leave a message. Minshoofkoom ba’adaan! (See you later!)