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WATCH: In Besieged Yarmouk, This Serenade Will Melt Your Heart

In at least one place where tomorrow feels lost, music still fills the gashed present with a kind of home-made mercy. The place is Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp outside Damascus, the present is a siege of over 450 days, and the music—unlike water and electricity–keeps flowing unstoppably from Ayham Ahmad’s battered upright piano.

Much more than a mere soundtrack, this music is the hero of the short, bittersweet documentaryI Am Blue”, which pays homage to Ayham’s insistence on composing in the midst of devastation, and the camp’s collective struggle to endure. Indeed, rather than surrendering to despair, the composer and pianist turns music into a survival tool, serenading the rubble-strewn streets of his hometown with the help of local singers who belt out original songs from the middle of intersections.

Smiling, they sing about tears shed on endless nights and the absurdities of distant delegations that do not bring help. Still smiling even under occasional mortar fire, they sing through the last verse before quickly dragging the piano-on-wheels to protective cover.

Fragile as it is, their music is a lifeline connecting Ayham with his now-exiled friend Abo Gabi, the film’s director, who sings for his friend from far away. It runs like a silvery balm over the chronic lacks—of sleep, food, and water—that afflict the camp. It stitches together the vanished past, the harsh present and the unimaginable future. Most tenderly, it serves as a requiem for the dead, and as a tentative offering of hope, even and especially when that hope seems impossible.

For more information: I Am Blue on YouTube

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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