"I chose to live on the outskirts of my city, avoiding noise and pollution. I built myself a house on a plot of land east of Damascus on the edge of the desert. In Doha, the city in which I’ve been living for the past five years, I often spend time in the desert as well… I’m not a city man.
I was never charmed by Damascus, but loved it still. I loved it not merely as a hometown (I was always sceptical about nationalism and other manifestations of the human tribal instinct), but because I appreciated its uncanny beauty tainted by a streak of modern ugliness; secret service agents colonising its streets, huge advertisements bearing witness to the corruption of government elites, and the stench of a debased system revealing itself around every corner. I tried ignoring the ugliness, but I failed. I felt provoked in my own city, haunted by an overwhelming feeling that it was under occupation.
In childhood, a farm belonging to my grandfather in the beautiful “Ghoutah” surrounding Damascus provided a haven for the family. We used to get together every Friday, and my sister, cousins and I would lose ourselves in the farm running from tree to tree picking plums, apricots and peaches, trying to avoid the grown-ups lest we get in trouble for being too unruly and free. I recall very distinctly the freshness and the clarity of the well’s water, which we used to race as it ran through the irrigation channels. I remember the horror of a nettle’s sting, and the smell of burning wood when the family gathered in the evening around a fire that we often built under the largest of the giant walnut trees."