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The House in Manbij

"I come from Manbij a city that just like all other Syrian cities has suffered bombings, death, liberation, and where kings of all forms and colours have passed through."

Credits TEXT: Aboud Saeed Translation: Christina Cullhed September 11 2018

Aboud Saeed was born in 1983 in Manbij, Syria. He wrote diaries on Facebook when he was contacted by a German publisher who translated his diaries and published it in German in a book titled "I'm the smartest one on Facebook". He moved to Germany in 2013 where he published his second book titled "A Life Great as a Quick News" by the same publisher. His first book has been translated into English, Spanish, Italian, French, Danish and Portuguese.

I come from Manbij a city that just like all other Syrian cities has suffered bombings, death, liberation, and where kings of all forms and colours have passed through. The city is now controlled by the democratic Syrian forces and is recently a relatively safe place. As someone said: “Everything is made accessible: there is electricity three hours per day, there is water, work, medicines, and the Syriatel network is finally functioning—and freedom under Syriatel is reliable. Cigarettes are again sold openly in the streets.” So, security and safety have reached Manbij thanks to the Syrian forces with the help of America, and who would dare threaten a hillside when there are Americans around?

Security and safety—that is why refugees from other areas are drawn to this relatively safe district. As a result the prices of real estate have soared and become imaginary: storage warehouses cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and houses cost tens of thousands. Rumour has it that it is political money, and only God knows! These are public affairs issues that only politicians and intellectuals with great minds can understand—they are not our business.

I am from Manbij and have eight brothers and six sisters who are older than me. The family, which includes my father and mother, the living and the recently dead, and all my siblings, are altogether seventeen people. When people from Europe ask me about my family, and hear that we are seventeen, their eyes explode, ambulances fill the streets due to havoc in the city from the shock of hearing how large my family is.

But this time the eyes of the Europeans did not explode—instead it was the family that exploded, when a buyer offered us a big sum of money for our house in Manbij.

The house is our inheritance and therefore the whole family must collectively decide whether to sell or not. Since Manbij is now governed by democratic forces we decide that we too should negotiate democratically. We siblings are geographically spread out: some live in Saudi Arabia and some are still in Manbij; one section lives in Turkey, while I live in Germany. In accordance with the democratic principles of free speech and the right to vote we all gather in one place; however, as from the very first negotiation session we fail terribly. Each one of us leaves the meeting staunchly clinging to our own opinion—no one has made any concessions and there are no plans for any further negotiations.

My brother living in Turkey says: “This is a fine opportunity; let’s sell the house and start afresh here in Turkey—live our lives here like normal people. We are tired of the war; we are tired of it.” He wants to fix the deal and tell the buyer: “Brother we have agreed: we’re selling!”

My other brother, who still lives in Manbij, disagrees and says: “Auzo Bállah! We are not selling! Why should we sell the house? Tomorrow the regime will fall and you can all return and live here.” When they hear this, the family explodes in a giant collective guffaw that shakes the whole of Manbaij, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and makes my brother deaf.

My other brother in Turkey replies: “Dear brother, let’s sell now and rent a house and then when the regime falls we can buy a new one.” To this yet another brother living in Turkey, one who has rented his house, his shop, and even his washing machine, says: “It is impossible to sell our house and rent a house instead—isn’t it too shameful to live in a hired apartment?” So he phones the buyer and says: “Thank you Khayo. Fate does not want this deal to go through.”

My brother in Saudi Arabia—the one who is deeply interested in all news reporting and who follows up on Syrian events in international media often referencing to Trump and the latest news from Sochi and the Turkish elections and Erdogan’s successes—he says: “I suggest we wait until we know about Sochi and see what the coalition can manage to do.” So, he in turn phones the buyer and says: “Khayo, we want to sell, but let us wait until after the elections in Turkey.”

This decision makes my mother angry, so she intervenes: “Brother, how do Sochi and Erdogan concern us? And what does our house have to do with the opposition? She now phones the buyer and says: “Khayo, be patient with us but my son is young and stupid.”

Now my sister’s husband joins in the discussion, and well aware of his precarious position in the family hierarchy, he still suggests strategically: “Be patient everyone! I have heard that they are going to build an airport in Manbij; Manbij will become like Paris and prices for real estate are going to hit the clouds.”

He then contacts the buyer and suggests: “Khayo, my relatives and my mother-in-law are willing to sell their house, but they don’t like the price. I am not really involved; I just thought I would do a good deed for them.”

Now my youngest sister who lives in Turkey phones the buyer in a frenzy saying: “If there is a sale then I want my share of it as soon as possible; don’t say you need to check this that or the other—it is my lawful right.”

And so the discussion continues in this way between my sisters and brothers and their wives and their husbands. One wants to sell, one refuses to sell, and my mom wants the whole sum of money plus a house in Manbij to return to, and she wants the regime to fall and wants to be a tourist in Turkey—she wants it all.

The contacts with the buyer continue until he instead contacts the whole family and tells us: “I don’t want your house. I no longer want to live in Syria at all.”

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