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Ghada Alatrash is a doctoral candidate and an instructor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. She is the author of Stripped to the Bone: Portraits of Syrian Women.

Red. The soil of my hometown of Sweida is red. My father always told me that it was red because the town is located on volcanic ground and its soil contains a high concentration of iron. After a massacre that left hundreds dead on Wednesday, Sweida’s soil is stained with a different shade of red – the red colour of human blood spilled at the hands of evil.

On July 25 or what is now known as Black Wednesday, the residents of Sweida woke up to a massacre. Islamic State militants infiltrated our town and cowardly knocked on the doors of homes, barging their way in and massacring families, kidnapping dozens of women, and at times leaving one child alive to continue to live the horror of their crime for the remainder of his or her life.

I heard the news from my family first. I had picked them up from Calgary’s airport on Monday, returning home two days before the massacre. They brought me many gifts from Sweida, including Syrian spices, candied chickpeas, baklawa, and my favourite handpicked pecans from a tree whose shade I sat under every summer until war ripped into our homeland. The bag they carried across the oceans still smelled of Sweida and it filled my heart with the aroma of my homeland. But as they sat to enjoy their first Canadian summer evening on Wednesday, they were bombarded with the news that our hometown had been attacked by IS and the blackness has overshadowed our hearts ever since.

Sweida is a town in Southwestern Syria that it is mainly occupied by the people of the Druze faith, and in recent years, it hosted many internally displaced Syrians since the war began in 2011. Today in Sweida, there still remains a Roman amphitheatre standing tall, as well as remnants of the Byzantine Empire. Many of our homes in Sweida are built with basalt volcanic rocks, something you can only see in a few places in the world, one of which is my hometown.

Several of our grandmothers and mothers in Sweida wear a foutah made of white fabric on their head that makes them look like saints. I remember how my grandmother’s fouṭah was never arranged to her liking, and how she would loosen it every five minutes and retuck the stubborn pieces of hair underneath the fabric, and then reposition it to cover her chin with the excess fabric hanging on her chest. She truly looked like a saint. Any Syrian can recognize a woman from Sweida by the fouṭah she wears.

One of my favourite memories of Sweida are the evenings spent on balconies, listening to stories of grandmothers and mothers while drinking mate (yerba mate, a South American herbal tea) in an elegant mate gourd with a metal straw. Drinking mate in Sweida was cultural protocol and ceremony, and it brought us together to share the same gourd in one setting. I can only imagine that there is no room for the tales and stories today; I can feel and hear the deafening silence of mothers’ tears.

In most homes in Sweida, there exists one room called the Maḍaafeh which is a spacious room that is built to formally host a multitude of guests and hold celebrations. Its main feature is its extended couches built into and along the walls that are covered by colourful cushions made of flamboyant velvet Syrian fabric. The photo of Sultan Basha al-Atrash, Syrian Commander General who led the Syrian Revolution (1925-27) against the French mandate, hangs on most walls in the countless Maḍaafehs of the city. There is a sense of community amongst the people in Sweida like in no other place in the world.

On Friday in Sweida, more than 200 corpses were carried in its streets and buried under its red soil. Residents of the city walked the streets in masses. The Druze faith teaches reincarnation, and I read a post written by a resident of Sweida resiliently expressing that the hundreds killed are not dead, but are reincarnated and born again today to a new life. Another video posted on social media showed scores of people gathered and singing as they stood around coffins.

I have received numerous messages from Syrians, Canadians, and others from across the world expressing their condolences for our losses. On Thursday, Calgarians, Syrians along with peoples from all other nationalities, held a candle vigil to express their solidarity with Sweida. We are all Sweida and we mourn the dead in Syria and in every bleeding corner in our sad world. Today, we are united as humans with the same colour of red hearts.

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