by Nicole Plyler Fisk
I’m honored to be a contributing writer to this blog (thanks, Chuck, for the invite). For my first piece, I thought that something with flowers would be appropriate, so I’m adapting a diary I posted, originally, to Daily Kos. But, it’s hard to divert attention from the 2016 presidential election to Syria, both there and on my Facebook page, so anything that has to do with the latter quagmire needs all the help it can get, from as many platforms as will host it. Thanks, FFS, for being one of those. ~Nicole Plyler Fisk
Recently, UK Channel 4 News ran a story about “the last gardener in Aleppo.” The story follows an Aleppo man, whose name, Abu Wad, translates to “father of the flowers,” and his 13-year-old son, Ibrahim. For the past five years, Father-of-the-flowers and Ibrahim have maintained their garden center in rebel-held Aleppo, despite continuous bombing from Assad and his Russian allies. How have they managed? Father-of-the-flowers explains that they think of the bombs as Beethoven’s music, they remind themselves that the world belongs to ordinary people, and they constantly rebuild what’s been destroyed — by planting their flowers in public spaces, like roundabouts.
When I came across the video on a friend’s Facebook page, I looked forward to watching it — especially after reading a recently posted comment, thanking my friend for the “breath of fresh air … in indescribable horror.” I can only guess that the commenter posted before finishing the video, because the garden center is no more. Six weeks after the interview, the regime bombed it, killing Father-of-the-flowers and leaving Ibrahim fatherless and alone.
After watching this video, which hasn’t yet gone viral, I was reminded of one that did — also about a father and son, also about the importance of flowers. After the Paris attacks last year, a father calmed his young son’s fears by pointing out all the flowers, left in remembrance of those who died, and saying that they’re in opposition to guns, that they’re there to protect.
I remember that in America we collectively cooed over the video featuring French father and son and turned our Facebook profile photos the colors of the French flag. And good for us. But shame on us if we don’t share as widely similar lessons from a Syrian father and his son.
The latter story expands the former in an important, though uncomfortable, way — because it forces us to recognize and grapple with the fact that, unlike the French boy, this Syrian boy no longer has flowers to bolster his strength. He doesn’t even have any to place on his father’s grave. What are children to do when there are no more flowers?
Answer: they look to us, and we give them more. It’s our moral responsibility to step up and help children like Ibrahim, despite what seems to be our horrifying new tendency to retreat into American isolationism. This inaction is particularly jarring when we know — because science! — that trauma, like that currently being experienced by the children in Aleppo, is literally passed on in their genes.
We don’t have to go to war to step up our humanitarian game. Since the video’s publication, a UK gardening group, of all organizations, has started a thread. Here’s a sample comment, in answer to the question “how do you propose we help?”:
In essence, with the support and passion of UK family of gardeners, setting up a fund to provide support for the son of the “last gardener in Aleppo” or arrange sanctuary and longterm support in the UK … with education and training in gardening/with a view to postwar future reinstatement of gardening/nurseries for the future community/hospitals and trauma recovery centres. This will also require some special expertise but the first stage is to capture the public.
Surely in the 21st century world, in the digital age, we can figure out how to help this one Syrian child (and then another, and so on) — because, despite the title of the video, Father-of-the-flowers does not have to be the last gardener. There’s still his son. And there’s us.