Sebastiano Tomada
Zakaria Mansour el Haj celebrates his wedding at a hospital in Aleppo Oct 27, 2012.

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."

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