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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Aleppo From A Different Time

Aleppo Citadel, 2004
I first visited Syria in 2001.  I was studying in Jordan that summer, and during a mid-program break, I traveled to Syria with some of my classmates.  Aleppo was my first real introduction to the country, as some of my classmates had spent time there previously and were eager to show everyone around.  This was a bit of a trek to undertake, particularly in the summer.  As I recall, we took taxis over the Jordanian-Syrian border and into Damascus, where we hired a minibus to take us to Aleppo.  The trip from Damascus to Aleppo took about 5 hours, which is a lot during the hottest part of the summer!

I loved Aleppo.  We went to a Turkish bath, ate lots of tasty food, explored the Citadel, and shopped in the souk in the old city.  Imagine being 21 years old and sitting at a cafe at the base of the Citadel at night with a bunch of friends.  I thought life couldn't get much cooler than that.

On the way back to Jordan, I visited one of the Crusader castles and Damascus.  That brief trip made me determined to return to Syria one day, and I did.  I studied in Damascus between 2004 and 2005.  I made a couple of visits to Aleppo during that time, including one with Scott.

For a long time, Aleppo meant adventure and fun for me.  It still does have those associations for me, but now they are mixed with the images I am seeing now of civilians evacuating the city and the stories I have been hearing about terrible violence and suffering.

I don't know what the answer was in Syria, or if there ever was an answer.  I do wish with all my heart that the international community--if we believe such a thing truly exists--had known what to do and had the will to prevent this tragedy.  I cannot imagine and hope I never experience the loneliness and hopelessness of being trapped in an area with regular bombings, a dwindling food supply, and little medical care.  Syria--and maybe Aleppo in particular--has received a good deal of news coverage, unlike many tragedies unfolding in the world.  I wonder sometimes how much the news coverage has helped the people there.

In a way, I feel very selfish bringing my own feelings into this situation because they don't matter.  My feelings one way or another won't do anything to change the situation or save any lives.  But I will say this:  Watching from afar as a beloved vacation spot becomes synonymous with death and destruction gives me the sobering reminder that no person or place is immune to tragedy.  Of course, I hope with all of my might that nobody ever has to experience such tragedies again.  But it will certainly happen.  I hope that if we can imagine this type of scenario happening to a place we know or people we love, then maybe we can keep our hearts open to the people currently trapped in terrible circumstances.

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