Juwayriya Rosa x Damascena

Juwayriya. Whose beauty is so legendary, the Bard himself quotes her name. Whose body has been exported to Europe for centuries since the time of the Crusades. French perfumers would distill her dried petals to resproduce her scent as essential oil. Syria used to smell of Juwayriya. Now it reeks of gunpowder.

Farmer Jamal Abbas looks out over land in El-Mrah, some 60 kilometers northeast of Damascus, the capital of a country ripped asunder by war for five years. “Juwayriya is dying,” he says.

The tradition of cultivating Juwayriya has faded as entire families have fled the war between regime forces and rebel groups. War prevented Juwayriya access to her home and forced her to quit her day job, depriving El-Mrah of its main source of income.

Nostalgic European merchants reminice of how they “learned to walk in her fields.""Juwayriya is unique", one such merchant says, "because her smell is heady, her quality is better and she produces more oil."

Farmer Abbas also tries to explain:“It’s not just a business relationship we have with Juwayriya, she’s part of the family,” he says sadly.

For him, Juwayriya “will not come back to life until this war is over”

Meanwhile, Juwayriya herself stands resolute.

You will try to crack my ribs, shotgun,

But the bending of my knees belongs to my lord

Lord allow Hades to light a fire in my chest on the days you didn't ignite the sun

When nails are torn from bloody hands,

When mother is ripped from child,

Father from son,

When the last Damascus rose is stripped of all of her color,

When I am left clutching out for the last mirage of a broken land

I cannot fall, I will not fall.

As her celebrated poetry coach and mentor Ken Arkind puts it, "She's like a daisy packing a shotgun."

As the cultural anthropologist Daisy Hayes points out, " A lot about a culture's treatment of women, can be learnt from their floral history."

The Arab Spring is in full bloom.

Created By
Vandhana Ravi


Photo Credits: D Jabi - "Damascus Rose"

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