The day you leave Tadmor you are reborn. That date becomes your new birthday.
When I first interviewed Muhammed, from Aleppo, and he cited the day of his release, 11 years after his arrest “my kidnapping, I say kidnapping” as “My new birthday!” I thought he was speaking off the cuff — but it wasn’t a coinage, just a well known convention among survivors. They call it their new birthday because few get to experience it.
I remember a haunting drive where one of my translators said (not knowing about my previous interview) “No one comes back from Tadmor.” In that car, in another country, he still whispered. The kingdom of silence and its diaspora of whispers.
Well some people did come back. Today Muhammed is self-actualised. He takes care of himself and his family. Whatever trauma he’s endured, he’s overcome. He lives without hatred and its incredible.
In the time since I interviewed him another Tadmor survivor’s work has been translated into English. You can order it now here.
I’m interested to read the work by Mustafa Khalifa because he was apparently shunned by all cliques in the prison. By professing to atheism, he alienated himself, or so is my pre-reading impression. This in one of the worst prisons in the world, a place of untold (in the true sense of that word) cruelty and inhumanity.