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Thou art Syria, my country. Love songs were sung and ballads from home, and tears of rememberance glistened in the eyes of the guests as they applauded the singer.

The oud, that pear shaped instrument, thrummed its plaintive, yearning notes against homesick hearts, and said to the bride and groom, "Young lovers sing and be happy. Can you know what lies ahead of your feet? Sing and be happy, young lovers, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow will come only too soon."

Now the derbecki took its turn, this old drum with its stretched goat skin. It was tapped, and knocked upon and slapped with a gentle hand, a light and swift hand. Let it be thumped by fingers that can pull shouts from its throat, and let the young girls dance, their slender arms grace­ful as the willow in the lake, their feet disciplined in each exquisite turn.

The Family

All life centered around the home. The Arab immigrant home -- tenement rooms, or back-of-the-store apartment, small house or large, poor or increasingly affluent -- was the heart of all the family activities. Children were born there, the women of the family assisting the doctor.

The kitchen table, and the stove in the parlor, or the balcony porch or front door stoop were the gathering places for family and friends.

When mothers fell ill, the relatives gathered to cook, launder and care for the children. When fathers fell ill, the relatives banded together to see that the family should not want. They paid the rent and bought the family's food until the father could return to his work.

 


 

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Old parents, old aunts and uncles, unmarried brothers, sisters or cousins shared the family house. Friends from the family's village in the old country could always find a welcome and a grubstake.

When the old ones fell ill, they would not go to the hospital, for to go to the hospital meant one was close to death. If one must die, then let it be in his own bed, with his loved ones standing around him, so that he could direct them as to his last wishes and admonish them to be loving and watchful of one another. What they prayed and hoped for often happened. Everyone in the family would come to visit the old one, and respectfully kiss the old hand, receiving the blessing from this beloved grandparent.

Wakes were held in the family house. For three nights, the women would sit up all night in the parlor, saying their goodbyes, and remembering all the days of their youth. They would weep a great deal, and then one, to lighten the grief, would make a little joke, or remember something funny that the departed relative had said or done. All the women would smile self consciously, and conceal their little laughs behind tear soaked handker­chiefs. They sat on straight, hard chairs, prayed a little, talked a little, and dozed a little but there was no thought of going to their own houses and leaving the bereaved alone.

The men, too, sat together, heads bowed, silent and remembering.

Softly, softly, the zaghloot, now chanting the attributes of the beloved lost one, and remembering the happier times in this final farewell, would murmur mournfully through the house, and all, the men and the women, would fall to weeping.

 


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