I spent five days in Gaziantep living with a Syrian guy who's a professor of English at the local university. The day before I left, his brother who was still back home got shot in the neck. My host delivered the news calmly, and I received it dispassionately. It's not that my host didn't care—it was clear that he loved his brother very much—and it's not that I didn't feel for him; we had both become desensitized and detached. Every night before bed the guy from Syria would show me random footage of the day's devastation. They don't show videos like that on TV and I never bothered to seek them out online. He showed me a clip of a block in his neighborhood which had once been shops and apartments and was now a pile of rubble.
The nice Syrian kid that helped me find my hosts apartment the first night I arrived in Gaziantep had shown me a similar video when I hung out with him a couple nights later, except the pile of rubble was once his house. He showed me where his room used to be, and in the background I noticed a dying snake plant on the remnants of a concrete staircase going to a floor which no longer exists. Everywhere I went in Gaziantep I kept running into Syrians.
One day my host took me to the university to meet his classes; about 7% of the students were Syrian. The kids showed varying interests in me, but without a doubt the ones who were most curious and friendly, and who spoke the best English, were the Syrians. No one complained about the trouble in their mother country, they just showed me the kindness and hospitality of a guest in their home. For the first time however, a foreign conflict became real for me. The Israel/Palestine issue seemed distant when I was in the center of it, but what was happening in Syria was all around me when I was just outside.
I needed that; I needed to calibrate my understanding of the world. I heard about something in the news and then I caught a glimpse of it in person. The world isn't faceless for me anymore. The earth is smiling, but I wish there was something I could do to smooth the uneasy wrinkles forming around the sides of its lips. My hosts brother is supposed to be ok despite getting shot in the neck, but things for Syria aren't so hopeful. It's a shame I didn't get to see Syria in its heyday; the people are so wonderful I'm sure I would have liked it a lot.Soundtrack: Universal Soldier (Buffy Sainte-Marie)