Syrians celebrate a wartime wedding in hospital scrubs
A hospital inundated with victims of war pauses a moment to celebrate the marriage of two of its staff.
The floors of this hospital are often smeared with¬†blood. Every day, the horrors of Syria's war play out in the lobby, as¬†men, women, and children wounded or killed in the fierce fighting that¬†has raged between the regime and the rebels in this city for three¬†months come into the hospital.
But on this night, the smears of blood were cleaned from the floor,¬†and instead of wailing, there was dancing. For a few hours, the¬†hospital put aside sorrow and weariness to celebrate the wedding of¬†two of its staff.
Zakaria Mansour El Hajji and his wife-to-be, Bushra, met at the¬†hospital two months ago, and two weeks ago became engaged. On Monday,¬†they will be married in a village outside Aleppo. Saturday night, the¬†groom and a group of doctors, nurses, and staff feasted, danced, and¬†sang during a few hours of relative calm, bringing smiles and laughter¬†to a place often filled with sadness.
"We can't forget our pain, but we have to make our happiness, and we¬†will keep looking for our happiness," said hospital receptionist¬†Hassan Maksuma, as the groom's friends stripped him of his street¬†clothes and dressed him in a new suit, following tradition, behind the¬†desk in the lobby. Usually, Mr. Maksuma sits behind that same desk,¬†watching the wounded and the dead flow into the hospital. "The¬†happiest moments are the ones we make happy," he said, quoting a¬†proverb.
Outside, the sounds of war echoed in the dark streets. Inside,¬†hospital employees, many dressed in scrubs and white coats, began the¬†celebration by crowding around a meal of kofta, bread, salad, and¬†fruit, laid out on blankets in the hallway right outside the one-room¬†intensive care unit. Then the groom descended to the lobby amid¬†ululations and a shower of celebratory foam droplets sprayed from a¬†can. When his bachelor friends hid his new trousers, playing a prank¬†that is common at grooms' parties here, he took the reception¬†microphone, looking a bit embarrassed, and jokingly threatened to¬†begin cursing them in Arabic, English, French, and Kurdish unless they¬†returned his pants.
Mr. Hajji, a tall, slim young man, works as an administrative employee¬†at the hospital. The bride Bushra, an engineer who began volunteering at the¬†hospital as a nurse after the conflict began, was not present at the¬†groom's party. Doctors have asked journalists not to print the name of¬†the hospital because it is often targeted by regime shelling.¬†Buildings all around the clinic, and the hospital's own top floors,¬†are heavily damaged from the shelling.
Aleppo residents, and the hospital staff, are weary from a battle that¬†has ravaged and divided the city, killed too many of its residents,¬†and sent thousands of others fleeing to the countryside or neighboring¬†countries. The hospital received five bodies earlier in the day. The¬†day before, someone brought a body that had decayed for a month while¬†residents were unable to retrieve it because of the fighting. Tonight,¬†only a few, non-urgent cases made their way through the celebration in¬†the lobby.
"We make joy from disaster," said Othman El Haj Othman, an emergency¬†doctor dressed in his scrubs, his shoes covered with drops of dried¬†blood, speaking loudly to be heard above the joyful singing. He paused¬†to inspect the wrist of a boy who walked into the lobby seeking¬†treatment. "We will continue our life. Nothing will stop us. We will¬†try to build a better future for these kids," he says, gesturing to¬†his small son, who craned forward to see the celebration.
The groom danced with his friends, and then they lifted him atop their¬†shoulders. He held aloft two Kalashnikov rifles as they belted out¬†traditional wedding songs mixed with chants demanding the end of the¬†regime, made familiar from protests across the Arab world.
One rebel¬†fighter who had joined the celebration headed outside to shoot¬†celebratory bullets into the air, but those guarding the hospital¬†stopped him. "It's good to see a wedding inside all of this war, isn't¬†it?" said one man. Another picked up the microphone and began singing¬†wedding songs. "Listen to your mother-in-law and you will be happy,"¬†went the words to one. The men joined arms and danced in a circle as¬†women filmed with their mobile phones. One man beat a drum and the¬†crowd set down their small plastic cups of bright green sugary soda¬†and Pepsi to clap to the beat.
"We want to make happiness amid the death," said Mr. Hajji as the¬†party was winding down. "Thank God we can have a day like this, and¬†have everyone happy around me," he said. "We have lost many people,¬†and I'm happy to be able to make them happy tonight."