Jamila at the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite
During our site visit to the Church of St. Simeon (about 60 km away from Aleppo), I noticed my friend MR sitting with a young Syrian student, helping her practice English in her copybook. So obviously I went and sat next to the two of them. Immediately the girl’s younger sister, Fatima, came and joined me. MR and I and the two girls sat on the two-thousand-year-old stone wall chatting and practicing writing while their parents picked olives from a tree nearby. Soon two middle-aged tourists approached where MR and Jamila were sitting. “Do you mind moving to the side?” they said jovially through British accents. “If we could just get in that spot, we would get a perfect shot of the peasants harvesting.” So MR—the university student sacrificing her enjoyment of a historical site to mentor a Syrian girl—and Fatima—the seven-year-old learning literacy in a difficult and repressive society—moved over.
Surely these women were “cosmopolitan” in one sense of the word. They daringly chose to come to Syria and probably had lots of other passport stamps from previous travels (Syria isn’t exactly the first stop on most peoples’ world tour). They had fancy cameras and an enlightened sense of photograph composition. They were dressed in practical shoes and headgear and addressed us courteously.
So what is cosmopolitanism? Is it having a lot of stamps in your passport, a fancy camera, and an enlightened sense of photograph composition? Or is it more about recognizing universal values that we all share–such as the values of nurturing children and encouraging education?
This of course is my roundabout, holier-than-thou way of saying that those tourists really pissed me off. But the two girls were precious. I absolutely recommend making friends with children wherever you go.