I am Rana Thuraya Alnakshabandi, born in Damascus 1958. I may seem very old but I think in our lifetime we get to live many lives.
In my earlier years, my father was a lawyer, an open Democrat who taught me how to choose my way of life. From ideas on religious orientation to freedom of self-discovery, I was an avid reader. My mom was a distinguished artist. Freedom and art have shaped my personality. I studied at the College of Fine Arts in Damascus. At college, I had a boyfriend and we went out together and had a romance. Our love story ended in marriage and then we went to Saudi Arabia to work.
Of course, I moved to a different environment in terms of culture, freedom and social life. I established a decoration and interior design office. I gave birth to three children while working in a difficult environment. I have resisted so much to continue to work, and I have succeeded. I have resisted keeping my personality, my ideas, my principles and my freedom. I have raised my children in the same way, making them learn to choose and enjoy democratic and open ideas.
After 23 years of marriage, I got a divorce. Two years after that in 2008, I decided to return to Damascus. I started a publishing company, which was my second dream, and a new journey started. Then the revolution took place in Damascus. After many events, I had to return to Saudi Arabia, and from there I came to France. Here again, I started a new journey in life.
We live in one life. We are now in Paris in 2016, and I have been given a place to live, which is near a Parisian theatre. It is an old theatre, established 40 years ago, called "Conferance".
Life may have decided to take me on another journey to test my existence, integration, and even my affiliation. By this I mean my affiliation to my ideological identity because new places test us in terms of others and language.
I am not fluent in French. Yet, I found myself within a group of employees both young women and young men, directors and artists. I found myself in a world without red lines, borders or censorship, and that is my passion and my dream. The art world is not strange to me, but I was a stranger to others!
At first, I used to see many question marks in their eyes. In my opinion, others won’t get to know you unless you integrate with them, especially through spontaneous situations, also spontaneous parties maybe. I think this is better than them keeping a fixed idea of you through their own stereotypes.
During the parties they held in the theatre, there were many types of people, types of classes, affiliations and orientations. There were also different types of sexual differences, sexual and physical affiliations, I mean. They were all happy to have fun and joy and to drink. They were happy to enjoy their beautiful moments. I not only watched them but helped them and shared and lived with them all the moments of their joy and pleasure. They were happy with my contribution, and a trust was built between us. Let us ask ourselves what trust is and how to build it.
Trust is that others feel safe to be around you, feel that you are not against their ideology and are accepting of their differences.
I made many friendshps, and many of these friends are gay and transgender. They were surprised to find out that I am Arab, and that I treated them with love and honesty.
My relations are loving and interactive in all humanitarian, artistic, and somehow existential aspects. Language wasn't an obstacle, people overcome this obstacle when they help each other, so they helped me and I helped them. In the dialogue we had, I used French with Arabic and English in the same sentence. It was an amusement for them to hear me talk like this and sometimes they impersonated me.
I and all those who worked in the theatre became friends, and even more than just friends, we were like family.
We prepared for art exhibitions and parties, and prepared food together. I used to cater the food for these parties and exhibitions. Once I worked with them for a big party and I made "haraq b osbaao" and put it into small glasses, and it was fun for them. I taught them perfectly so they knew the food that we were preparing.
I often offered them food individually and I would surprise them with it during their lunch break. They would call me mama Rana.
My relationship with the theatre as a place was special. I had the theatre to myself at night, I had the keys, I would guard it, and I was the lady of the place. I used to close the doors, the dressing rooms, the training rooms which were next to my room, and the lighting room that was the most important treasure in the theatre.
The stage, the chairs for the audience - I used to look at them at night, empty. I felt like I was the queen and that the audience was my audience. I felt like the place was haunted by all the figures who had acted in the theatre for forty years. I became part of the theatre and it took me to a big and beautiful world of all of its shows. I attended many bold, clear works that were far from being censored.
Theatre .... I imagined that life would give me this bold opportunity to see the different parts of the theatre. At times, I would be washing the dishes at the bar, and they would call me to watch the play as it started.
I used to attend plays as if I was at my home. It was my house, the theatre was my real house. I used to watch plays from the lighting room on the second floor which had a window overlooking the hall. It was a very beautiful feeling to watch the play from the upper window. I felt like I was flying over the stage. We all became one family, with all the beauty this word holds.
Often the female staff would call me at night from under my window, because my window looked out onto the theatre's outer yard. They would say, "Rana, open the door for us!” I used to open the door for them, and they would come with their musician friends and their instruments. We would sing and dance until dawn, then they would go home. I locked the door afterwards and returned to the theater, which fills any void in my heart.
I met artists from all over the world who came to paint. They would have exhibitions in the theatre and each month they painted graffiti on the outer wall. We would sit and talk together about colours, brushes, and colour aesthetics.
How beautiful it is to connect with others over colour and brushes; here there is no language. Here is a language called the language of the spirit, and the language of being a human being.
Let's talk about Volfeng, a beggar who sat near a supermarket called "Framberi''. He had his collection plate and two dogs and always had a book. This man was part of the theatre, the "godfather" of the theatre stories. He became a close friend to me; I loved him and he loved me. He would trust me with his bag that he left in the theatre where he was hiding so that no one would steal it. He was my night guard who slept outside, under my window in the theatre. He said to me, "Rana don't be scared, I am here, sleeping outside, you are not alone”.
It was very beautiful and wonderful, to be among a group, and what brings you closer together is perhaps one passion, maybe your freedom and their freedom, maybe your acceptance and their acceptance.
We exchanged moments of joy, sadness and work. I cannot talk about my feelings alone, because my feelings became part of the group. It is now me and them.
Here, a tragedy began, because in every story there is a tragedy. The government decided to shut down the theatre because it could not finance so many small theaters which rely on its aid to stay afloat.
They all fought so hard, and I was with them in their campaigns to save the theatre from closure. There were marketing campaigns, artistic campaigns, plays and videos saying "Save the Theater".
All the workers were passionate about this. It was very painful for me, as I felt their sadness and fear of the unknown that was waiting for them. This theatre was their life, they worked, grew and were nourished in this place.
They were very sad, and sad for me when they said, "Rana, where are you gonna go now?" I felt that asylum in this world was not only for me as they too sought refuge, were tortured, and were forced to leave a place they loved, lived in and worked in for the unknown.
I was the last to leave the theatre and I closed its doors. I kept the key just as I had kept my house keys from Damascus. I was confident that integration was not a language but a mastery of love and acceptance, whatever a person’s background and beliefs, and that belonging is not to a place but to a human and to humanity.
This is a story of belonging to Paris and to my own country.