Voyage to the Unknown - Syrian Evening

In the weeks before it happened, there was an air of vagueness about this event. Was it a talk? Was it a culinary experience? Was it a musical evening?  So, after being chivvied by a personal plea and an email, I, along with a flood of late taker- uppers arrived with an open mind, and no idea what to expect.

My questions were quickly answered as I entered a packed Club room. Madame President had half a dozen toddlers clinging to her, there were perhaps 40 members, groups of Syrian ladies of all ages, some in national dress and about 20 men. During the evening, I found out that they came from an area spread over a vast tract of the country: some were from Damascus but some from tiny villages 1000 miles away. The atmosphere was cheerful as the groups surveyed each other and gradually polite exchanges became less stilted and the groups melted into one mass. 

it helped that the big screen in the new reading room was showing ‘Despicable Me’ on the big screen. This was being viewed by perhaps 20 wide eyed children, and there were more children in the studio playing with a tableful of Lego.

The gong announced that the food was ready, and members were served a vast range of colourful dishes, chickpea stews, a range of meats, dips, vine leaves, and lots of vegetables.

It was interesting to see the men of the group serving and describing each dish as they served it, especially as it had been cooked by the women, who stayed upstairs with the children.  Idris, who has been in Scotland for 20 years and has been helping people settle here, moved from table to table explaining in detail the food and telling the stories of those who were there. 

Everyone who had been eating then went upstairs for coffee and to share biscuits and cakes, and the women and children came down to finish off what was left. This seemed odd, but we were assured that is was perfectly acceptable. It worked well for us as it would have been impossible for the whole party to be in the dining room at the same time. Upstairs in the Clubroom, the music began: so different from Western music. 

The idea of the evening was for this group of displaced people to be able to offer something to us. They had thought of bringing film footage of their harrowing journeys to get to Scotland, but decided instead to give the best of what they could bring – their food, their cooking, and their music.

It was a happy event yet with an underlying feeling that what they had seen and experienced was being left unspoken. This was illustrated quite potently in a short exchange with the musician.  I said that his eyes looked sad when he was playing.  ‘Yes’ he said. ’Only a year ago, I played the music I played tonight in my village, to my parents and family. Today I am here and they are far away. I don’t even know what is happening to them’.

I didn’t know what to say.


PS from organisers. £10 of the ticket price was given to the families to pay for the food and to help them buy essentials. They are being welcomed to Edinburgh and have a certain amount of support, but as one of those attending explained, they have been invited to official receptions and parties organised by the city, but this was the first time they felt they were meeting ‘real’ people.

We made no money from the event, but the hope is that we made some new friends and even new members. There was a musician, an artist and a film-maker amongst them and we are looking at ways of making it possible for them to join.