My Roots: “The Place I Call Home” by Masa Kateb

On May 4, 2019, we welcomed an enthusiastic group of emerging Vancouver writers to our My Roots Free Writing Workshop for immigrants who shared their stories on belonging & home with author and facilitator Aislinn Hunter. We’re thrilled to share a selection of these pieces with you. 

“The Place I Call Home” by Masa Kateb

Jeddo… Home will always feel like Jeddo! With his ancient rocking chair, his fruitful lemon and pomegranate trees, and his countless bedtime stories. My grandfather knew I was never a big fan of biting into apples – he would always cut them very thinly and lay them beautifully like sunrays onto a flat plate with so much love in the center, all for me to snack on while we’re watering the garden of my grandparents’ basement home at the heart of Damascus.

My world collapsed when Jeddo passed away on his birthday in November 2009. I remember all the details of that day, including crying my eyes out on the sidewalk next to the big mosque of Kafarsouseh Square. I had just finished my interview with the first women’s soccer team in Syria and was about to buy him his favorite flowers, as I was mentally heading towards his open arms for a priceless Jeddo hug.

In 2016 when I was about to leave Syria for the last time, I had multiple arguments with Mama about whether or not to take it with me to Dubai. This was right before I submitted my application to come to Canada. “We’ll leave it here in your room in Damascus, it’ll be safe!” she told me on a sunny summer morning in August, while the sounds of explosions filled the background of our conversation. “We’ll cover it with cloth bags Masa, you’re being ridiculous, it’s too heavy for you to carry around the world!” But my heart was set, and her words were entering one ear and going out of the other. My maternal grandmother, Tete, had also passed by then, and I wanted to carry that physical reminder of both of them. I had to bring a piece of my Jeddo with me out of Damascus.

I was afraid the typewriter would get damaged with the luggage on the plane so I ended up carrying it in my backpack to what was then my home in Dubai. Two years later she was in my backpack again, taking a completely different route than the one she had taken back in the 1950s, when she had travelled with my Jeddo to Germany, Italy and France. This time we flew together across the Pacific Ocean for the very first time, glimpsing at Bangkok and Tokyo during our few hours of transit at their big airports.

I keep on falling in love with her all over again. In the morning listening to my usual Fayrouz Arabic music the sun’s rays sometimes hit the shelves of my West End home in Vancouver where she sits and I completely lose track of my thoughts. I observe her telling stories to the Damascene Mosaic boxes on neighboring shelves and hear her discuss tales with the one bar of Aleppo soap I saved from my travels, and my handmade Damascene clay mug that thankfully didn’t break on the way here… all while the breeze of English Bay tingles my feather collection which I’ve gathered from all the places I once called home, including Jeddo and Tete’s mansion of love.

I think of Damascus more often than anyone could ever imagine… and I often see Jeddo’s rocking chair in the middle of my empty room in Damascus, rocking to the winds of the Mediterranean Sea, and waiting for me to come home.


Lauren Dembicky