Before the horrors in Syria began, at a photo exhibition in which I shared images of travels there, some close friends chastised me for ‘spending time with terrorists’ when they saw this image. Abdulsalam, who welcomed my family and me into his home, is a creative, successful Bedouin entrepreneur. His name actually means ‘servant of peace’, yet was deemed immediately by some to be an instant criminal, THEM, for the simple crime of wearing an Arab headdress, or kufiya.
I was working at a hotel in Palmyra and learned that tourists wanted to have an authentic Bedouin experience. So now, I take people out into the desert on camels to have dinner and stay with my family in our tent.
Early one morning I took a walk through the Bedouin community outside Palmyra. On seeing a lone, Westerner, they invited me into their tent for morning coffee and breakfast and to visit with their ten-day old baby. Other than ‘assalam alaikum’ (hello) and ‘shukran’ (thank you), no words were shared. However there was a deep human connection.
Despite continued diligence to conscious of prejudices and judgments, it is easy to slip back into preconceived notions and misconceptions, as I learned firsthand. Three years ago, before all of the horror and killing began, I was in Aleppo, Syria with my family. As we walked around the Citadel there, we heard loud chanting. Instantly I went from a mode of conscious understanding to a state of panic. My immediate reaction was to grab my family and run for our hotel because there were ‘loud noises’ and we were ‘in the Middle East.’ Quickly I told them not to go near the crowd, but of course I broke that rule and went a little closer. What I found was that it was a promotion for chocolate. The next day was Mother’s Day and they were trying to encourage people to buy Elegance brand chocolate. Because I had investigated, I didn’t return with a story of escaping ‘something horrible in dreaded Syria,’ but instead ended up hoisted on people’s shoulders and joining the festivities.