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Similar to other rural areas in Syria, jobs are scarce in Wadi Al Nasarah, especially those suitable for its well–educated Christian youth.

Many leave the area to live in cities like Damascus, Aleppo or Homs,” says Ms. Nehme. “And then so many of us go abroad, to the United States or Australia,” she adds. “I have two uncles in Australia and my two sisters in Pennsylvania.”

The Sallom family from the village of Kilitia exemplifies the region’s migration patterns. On a sunny morning, the 76–year–old patriarch takes a break from gardening to chat. As he has done for the last 60 years, Hana Sallom tills his modest 12 acres, on which he cultivates corn, beans, vegetables and fruit.

“I have five boys and two girls. They all live in Homs, except one boy who helps on the farm. My wife used to farm, too, but she is sick in bed,” he says. “There have been many changes around here. Lots of people have left to take jobs in the army or government. Others travel to Homs every day to work and come back in the evening.”

The trend has many local Christian leaders concerned. “The problem here is that people are leaving, the population is going down,” says Father Andrew of Amre. “Christians started settling here in large numbers about five or six hundred years ago, but now gradually things are changing as people leave the area.

“These villages were Christian, but Muslims have started to move in. Many new apartment blocks have gone up, intended for Christians, but in five or ten years time there will be Muslims living in them.

“Mosques will get built,” he concludes, “and Wadi al Nasarah will never be the same again.”

Many of those who leave, however, return for the summer or during the Christmas season. And, looking out at the idyllic countryside, with its gently rolling hills painted in hues of olive green and gold, its ancient villages and stone churches, it is no wonder why so many natives faithfully return at least once a year.

One such émigré is Lamaan Nahas. On vacation, she is visiting her home village of Alkaimi with her aging mother and three children. Mrs. Nahas left Syria 17 years ago and now lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, children and, for the past year, her mother. She loves San Francisco and her life there, she says, but she misses her home in the Valley of Christians. Her mother, her gray hair pulled in a bun, smiles broadly, visibly happy to be back home, even if for just a short stay.

As we talked, a couple of girls approached a nearby fountain fed by a natural spring with large plastic jugs brought from home. As they filled them with the fresh cool water, they giggled with delight. The valley has many natural springs and it is not uncommon for each village to have one nearby. Though all homes in the valley are equipped with modern plumbing and electricity, locals often prefer to collect their drinking water from these springs.

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Tags: Syria Christianity Village life Monastery Syriac Orthodox Church