It was almost three decades ago but has never been far from my mind.
The letter from a young Syrian girl now haunts me. Despite my good intentions, it was lost in my pile of “to be done” chores never to be replied to. I always hoped she thought it went astray in the mail rather than ignored. Even then it was not a smooth flow between the two nations.
Nor did many Westerners visit that part of the Mideast. However, my sister living in Amman, Jordan, had a special Syrian friend who delighted in showing us his home territory. What an opportunity to walk the streets of that biblical city of Damascus that a farm girl from Georgia never ever expected to visit.
With our friend, well-known to the market merchants, we received hospitality with the assurance that the street food being boiled was safe.
Already well-known for his harsh, dictatorial government, the president of Syria, father of the current one, was featured with a statue in a brightly lit triangle in the heart of the city. It was explained that, in the cover of darkness, it had been a favorite stunt for the opposition to place buckets of excrement on the outstretched arms. No one dared do so in the new glaring light.
For us Christians, a highlight of the trip was a visit to the little town – thought to be the last – where the Aramaic language of Jesus was still spoken. There we came in contact with a class of Syrian schoolgirls, who were delighted with the opportunity to test their English, spoken amazingly well.
Of course, we exchanged addresses and vowed to keep in touch. Alas, one girl did her part. Mine was the failure.
The most interesting part of the letter in neat handwriting was a request for sanctuary for her brother. To leave Syria, he needed a sponsor. I suspect it was my inability to know how to handle such a request that allowed me to postpone a response until it faded away deep among other more immediately pressing matters. Little did we know what was to come!
Without doubt, the population feeling the wrath of the dictator was fleeing whenever possible. It also tells me that the culture protected males, in that she requested sanctuary not for herself but her brother. Or, maybe it was that females were not forced into the military or perhaps the family simply thought a son was more equipped to go into the wider unknown world.
At any rate, I now find myself wondering, could I have helped this one person had I been more diligent in seeking a solution for her? Or, most especially in light of today’s terror in that part of the world, is that young woman one of the millions now suffering under horrible refugee situations?
Worse yet, has she lost her life in the bombing? Is her face among those desperate fleeing families – with children or grandchildren in tow? What about that brother? Other family members?
It was a small human touch but the memory remains.
Ruth M. Gadebusch resides in Fresno.