In the last couple of weeks there have been daily news reports about the worsening situation in Syria and especially in Aleppo, which by all reports is heading for “total destruction”.
When I hear these reports I always think about the various people I met on my trip to Syria in 2010, at a time when the country was totally safe and no one could have predicted what was about to happen to it.
I’ve decided to write a list of all the people who left an impression on me because I often wonder what these people are doing now and what may have happened to them.
This family stopped me in the Damascus souk on my first day in Syria and asked if they could take a photo with me. I had visited a lot of countries but had never before had locals want their photo taken with me. I felt honoured and little did I know it would not be the last time this would happen on the trip. (Mother and daughter, with father in the background).
The three friends
This group of friends were sitting in Al Hatab square in the Armenian district of Aleppo. They were intrigued by me and told me it was strange to see a young western tourist. They asked me why only old people visited Syria.
These two sisters in Aleppo who were out with their parents and asked to have a photo taken with me. The one on the left held my hand as this photo was taken. It’s still hard to understand why they thought I looked special enough to be worthy of a photo. I really wished I could speak better Arabic because there were so many things I wanted to talk to them about.
The party animal
The young guy working in a gift shop in Al Hatab square who took pride in telling me he’d been out drinking and dancing until 5am the previous night. He wanted me to know that Syrians know how to party.
The mini footballers
These boys playing football in Al Hatab square, who definitely started showing off when they noticed I was taking photos.
The generous stall owner
The man in the Damascus souk who gave me a free bar of olive soap. This particularly struck me because 6 months previously I’d been in Marrakech, where the market stall holders were the complete opposite of this and seemed out to exploit tourists for everything they could. All the people in the Damascus souk seemed genuinely delighted to see us (in Marrakech I’d been sworn at by a couple of locals).
The teenage girls
The huge crowd of girls on a school trip who surrounded me outside the Citadel in Aleppo. A couple of them stopped to talk to me and then their friends started coming over one by one. Soon I was surrounded by a crowd of them and I understood what it must feel like to be a celebrity. They all wanted their photo taken with me and wanted to know if I was married (a popular question in Arab countries).
The wheeler dealer
The young guy working in the internet cafe in Palmyra who offered me 50 Euros for my iPhone (I declined the offer).
The cheerful man
This guy. He was just some bloke in the souk in Aleppo. I was taking a photo of him and when he turned round I expected a grumpy reaction but instead he gave a very warm smile.
The family in the bedouin tent in the desert near Palmyra who we visited unannounced. Our guide went up to the tent and asked if we could come in and have a look around. They gave me an adorable baby goat to hold and invited me to stay behind and marry one of the sons of the family.
The children in the mosque
All the children playing in the courtyard of the Great Mosque in Aleppo. There were so many of them and they all loved having their photo taken by me and my tour group. The concept of ‘stranger danger’ obviously hadn’t reached Syria because their mothers were not at all bothered about strangers taking photos of their children!
The other day a friend posted on Facebook about Syria’s ‘White Helmets‘. I hadn’t heard about them before but I discovered they are a neutral civilian organisation of volunteers who rescue people in the aftermath of bombings.
I’ve previously done some fundraising for refugees but I decided next I would raise some money for the White Helmets, to support people still in Syria. So, for the coming week (w/c 17th October 2016) I’m going to donate all profits from my online Arabic alphabet course to the White Helmets.