Author Diana Darke told an enraptured audience at Wimbledon BookFest last weekend that she will return to war-torn Syria to reclaim a house she bought in 2005.
She purchased a grand but tumble-down property in the country’s capital, Damascus, and painstakingly renovated it with dedication and passion.
Like many great adventures, the reward turned out to be in the journey.
She learned about Islamic art and architecture and gained an inside view of Syrian culture and legal processes.
Perhaps more importantly, she discovered creativity and kindness in people in a part of the world that is often sensationalised by the press.
At the festival she showed the audience a slide-show of intricate images of her house, the William Morris fabric of the merging with screenshots.
The past few years – as the country has descended into one of the most brutal civil wars of this century – she has the house to be used as a safe haven for those seeking refuge.
Based in the Old City, which is so heavily controlled by the government, it is relatively safe.
However, confident that Diana would never return to Syria, a former friend has betrayed her trust and taken the house for himself forcing its refugee occupants onto the streets.
Diana told South West Londoner: “Those people who were already dishonest and opportunistic have had the opportunity in this lawless climate to become more so – scum rises to the top in war.”
The ‘friend’ however has a surprise in store as she will be returning to Syria to reclaim her house.
Remaining deliberately vague about timings and logistics to protect herself, she told the South West Londoner: “I am going back into the lion’s den.”
Diana is keen to stress this betrayal is an exception, and is passionate about promoting a richer understanding of Syrian culture through her book.
She said:“I hope people will take away a different image of Syria and ordinary Syrian people after reading the book.
“I especially want people to understand how most Syrians are not extremists at all, quite the reverse, they are generally moderate Sunni Muslims with a naturally tolerant and open bent, often towards Sufism, the complete opposite of ISIS, as I discuss in the book.”
Even so the audience at Wimbledon BookFest couldn’t help but feel grateful to be in a luxurious tent draped with William Morris fabric, instead of in Syria, where the war rages on.
Picture courtesy of Wojtek Ogrodowczyk, with thanks