The Legend of Yarmouk – in solidarity with communities being terrorised by war, starvation and besiegement

This week has brought about yet more dark days in the lives of the residents in Yarmouk refugee camp, in Damascus, Syria.

It is heartbreaking what the population has had to go through. Generations of Palestinian refugees in exile, caught in the midst of a civil war, and now, reportedly controlled by ISIS.

Last September, I came across a most inspiring story of the ‘legend of Yarmouk’ in a video called ‘Blue‘. The short documentary, produced by Bedayyat, is a must-see. It tells the story of hope in the midst of utter ruin, pain and starvation. It tells the small – but to my mind- legendary story of Aeham Ahmad, a young man who rolls his piano around on his uncle’s vegetable cart across Yarmouk, playing the piano with all his heart, accompanied by his own singing chorus from the camp.

They sing together.

They sing songs that speak to their own brutal reality with a smile.

They sing songs that soar high above the stench of oppression and despair.

The story touched me in an unexpected way. I have visited refugee camps. I have witnessed, albeit briefly, that indescribable state of permanent impermanence experienced by multiple generations. The struggle through each and every day to get by, and then only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.

To hear music played from the heart in the midst of all this suffering is nothing short of miraculous.

The fact that someone chose to go one step beyond his painful reality and take to the keys of a piano was so inspiring to me. The will it takes to play the notes and to raise one’s voice in song… and the inevitable shift in energy for those around them … It  all brought me right back to my studio to paint. I started right away, doing studies of the pianist. Trying to figure out how to depict this tale of triumph. The older I get, the more I realise that it is the smallest of deeds that create the hugest of impacts.

I have not yet uncovered my final piece. It is still in the making. But given what is happening today, and the unbelievable horrors they are witnessing, I could not help but post a few words and paintings in solidarity with the people of Yarmouk.

I pray that Aeham and his friends are unharmed.

While I realise that things are deeply dark right now, I share this modest post  out of deep respect for all those who resist the deepest of despair with hope.

To the people of Yarmouk. May the songs of hope never die. May the faint echoes of their songs  carry you through this darkest hour.

In Aeham’s words, from the 2014 article, The Legendary Piano of Yarmouk, by Moe Ali Nayel, in the Electronic Intifada.

“At the start of the siege in the camp, I decided to isolate myself from music and decided to stay neutral to the Syrian conflict. I sold falafel for six months, and kept music in my soul. But I couldn’t help it so I took out my piano and fixed it onto my uncle’s vegetable cart and started moving it between depressing neighborhoods in the camp.

“The camp’s streets were desolate; all the beloved ones who used to fill the street with their noise and joy were gone. I started playing my piano and moving in the streets of Yarmouk to bring back hope. That’s why I roamed the streets because I couldn’t keep the music quiet. I fed my body on falafel but I had to nourish my spirit and so despite hunger and siege I kept playing my piano.

“I started playing the piano when I was five; I studied music in the Arab conservatory from the age of six until I was sixteen. I usually play academic music on my piano but the current circumstances have inspired me to compose music that speaks about the siege and the crisis in a camp besieged for two years and a half.”

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