The Vegetables’ Diary


In our house, everything had a copybook. Beginning with the shopkeeper’s monthly economic book, the provisioning notebook, the family notebook, the salary notebook, the telephone directory and the dictation notebook in my school bag. All these notebooks have the same ending – the nearest falafel shop in the neighborhood. They will use the paper to wrap the roller sandwichs.  Therefore, I decided to throw my papers from my head onto this blog, thus avoiding a fate among frying oils.

The Zurian Mint (Mint from Deir ezzor City)

Time: Elementary school days
Place: Ayyash village

                I learned the real meaning of Zurian mint in the town of Ayyash in Deir ezzor at the banks of the Euphrates river. My family went on a springtime trip along with our neighbors. As soon as she got off the car, our neighbor Um-Samer screamed: “Zurian mint!” I had no idea what she meant or what she wanted. But the scent reminded me of the time I accompanied my mother to the Attarien Market (perfumers’ market).

Um-Samer ran towards the short green plants. She knelt on the ground and gently touched them by her fingers’ heads, then she raised her hand to my mother. My late mother closed her eyes and inhaled while Um-Samer did the same. I could see that it was a like meditation for both of them. Wow! I immediately felt inspired. I rubbed the top of the tiny and soft mint’s leaves with my small hands- and passed them to all my brothers and sisters’ noses. They inhaled the scent and closed their eyes, enjoying it like if it were their first time.  I was a 7 years old kid, exploring the landscape of his hometown.

The trip ended up with the fresh mint tea, it was the best tea I ever had.

The Zurian Cucumber!

Time: Secondary school days.
Place: Our garden.

               Faten…our neighbor’s name. She never felt bored or tired of preparing her dinner with the same daily rituals. As she was listening to the Deri folk music Al Moulaya by the local singer Abdulkader Hennawy. Faten tried to compete with him as she was singing louder than the sound of music. Sometimes her voice overcomes his. I’m sitting at my study table in our garden and secretly cursing Faten. Blocking my ears by my earphones and get back to my books. I had been a student of Bacaloria.

But Faten insists on interrupting me and blurring my thoughts. She is cutting the cucumbers. The smell of the sliced Zurian cucumbers descends from the first floor into our garden, sneaking into my stomach and tickling it. Oh…. The same evening scene is over again. I close my book and take my earphones off the table, and without a host, I head to the kitchen, I grab a cucumber, in the same size of my finger, from the fridge and bite it. As usual, the white goat cheese is a good company with the cucumber on a soft fresh piece “Ragheef” of bread.

Baby Aubergine!

Time: High school days
Place: Vegetable’s seller

All women gather at the vegetable’s shops in Deir ezzor, all are waiting for the mini trucks loaded with baby aubergine to come from the countryside.
It is makdous’ time and aubergine’s jam. That’s why women race to get this kind of aubergine – they can brag by stacking their transparent glass jars full of makdous and jam on their kitchen shelves.

My role in this competition is to carrying the big bags of the aubergine and walking behind my mother. And all that happens before seven o’clock in the morning.

Deir Ezzor Okra!

Time: University days.
Place: Damascus University.

The official identity of the Deir ezzor cuisine is okra. It differs to any other okra farms in Syria –in shape and taste- and people from other provinces crave for it. My friends’ mothers in Damascus always asked me to bring Okra for her when I travel to Deir ezzor.

A press conference about okra at the University:

Colleague 1: Why do you eat okra a lot?
Me: Because it’s tasty.
Colleague 2: I heard that you don’t fry the okra before cooking… is that right?
Me: Yes.
Wired Colleague: Do you eat okra by hand?
Me (confidently): Yes.
Colleague 4: will you initiate a festival for okra like the tomatoes’ festival in Spain?
Me: why not.

Then I walk to my flat in Damascus. Taking a frozen bag of okra out the freezer, my mother sent it to me from Deir Exxor. I cook it with fresh tomatoes, eat it all and having a short nap, exactly like the people in my hometown do.

Deir ezzor Okra makes me proud.

Deir Ezzor’ vegetables’ syndrome

Khaled Alesmael









Published by Khaled Alesmael

KHALED ALESMAEL is a multi-awarded journalist, author and sometimes filmmakers. He worked in Syria and the Middle-East for more than fifteen years, was the correspondent for Radio France International/ Arabic from Damascus and the media officer for the risk reduction project/ UNDP Damascus. In 2012, he escaped the war and continued his career in the media in Egypt and Turkey. He apply for asylum in Sweden in 2014 and he got it and became a Swedish citizen in 2018. His works have appeared in the prestigious investigative programs Investigative Mission/ SVT and Conflict Program/ Swedish Radio, and he has been writing for several newspapers and magazines like Ottar in Stockholm and Newstatesman magazine in London. He has also worked for the daily German newspaper as a visiting journalist through the International Journalist Program. He became a Swedish citizen in 2018, and he lives in London now. Selamlik is his debut novel; it came out in August 2018. It has got considerable attention in the Swedish media and positively reviewed: "Selamlik is a prospective classic, a low-key melancholy, and grand book." - Dagens Nyheter “He reminds me of Jean Genet, as brutal as helplessly romantic”. The legendary Swedish gay writer Jonas Gardell for Expressen. “A magnificent account of the Syrian disaster" Sydsvenskan. "Selamlik glances at gates to other worlds" JP. "Khaled Asmael's debut novel about a man's escape from the Damascus gay scene to a refugee center in Europe glides imperceptibly between fantasy, nightmare, and reality" Göteborg Posten.

One thought on “The Vegetables’ Diary

  1. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!


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