Day 236: A country of ruins vs. a country in ruin

Palmyra in a pinkish gold hue

Wow. Palmyra is amazing at sunset. Probably the most impressive of Roman ruins I’ve seen… Colonnade, arches, porticos, temples, it’s not hard to imagine this city in its heyday and how awe inspiring it must have felt upon entering its main gate. And even more so at sunset as the pink granite scattered over the enormous site turns rosy gold.

Went out to the ruins again this morning for a chance to see the colours at sunrise but the sun rose through a hazy horizon. Nonetheless, Palmyra on a quiet morning is a real mystical place to be. There are ruins galore scattered across Syria – Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman ones… but Palmyra, like a lost city rising out of the desert, is without doubt the most sacred of them all.

A stroll through the impressive colonnaded street of Palmyra

Whilst Syria is a country of ruins, we met father and son from a country in ruin. On the way back to Aleppo, a young boy approached me to say hello. A well dressed 14 year old, collared shirt tucked neatly in jeans, rolled up sleeves and a courteous smile, Ali came over and asked politely if we could take a photo together. He was traveling with his father, both spoke some English.

Palmyra’s grand theatre (restored)
Colonnade silhouetted against sunset clouds

In conversation, I was surprised to find they were from warzone Iraq. Arab Iraqis living in Mosul, a city described in LP as one of the most dangerous in the world due to the ongoing war. I can’t imagine what it must be like to grow up in such an environment… But from the surface, Ali looked anything but torn.

A smart and lovable kid, Ali held a curiosity of the outside world unlike most 14 year olds in developed countries who were too busy begging mom & dad for the latest iPod. He told me he loved the Great Wall of China, how he learned about it from school and was quizzed in a test on facts about the Wall that even I didn’t know of. I was curious what he wanted to do when he grew up. His answer – “I want to visit China”. His eyes were smiling. Just the simple act of meeting a foreigner seemed to have made his day. Remind me again how hard it is to please my 5 yr old niece….??

I was curious and asked why they didn’t move away from Mosul and live instead in the Kurdish region, often known as “the other Iraq” where it was free from conflict and tension. “Because he was born there” Ali told me on behalf of his father. Arab Iraqis and Kurdish Iraqis aren’t friends.

I knew it was a sensitive topic so didn’t press further but couldn’t stop thinking over one simple question: why can’t we just all get along? We’re all people, different but same. Kosovars, Serbs, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Israelis…

Both father and son were so friendly and courteous. On the same bus back to Aleppo, my heart sank as I watched Ali lean on his father to nap. A heartwarming sight, all the more sour against the backdrop of a country in a heartbreaking mess. Ali, I wish you the best and hope to see you one day in China.

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  1. Aviva says:

    That's really COOL!!! Take care and enjoy!

  2. ace says:

    oh wow, that just warmed my heart. i had so many emotions running through me when i read this post. i thought your pics were breathtakingly exquistite… and then i started reading about ali and his father. i think it's so lovely to meet such interesting people. and i can imagine a big bright smile on this little boy. thank you for sharing this :)

  3. Leslie says:

    I had the same feeling Ace! I was so amazed by the photo at sunset then to read so about such an heartfelt encounter! I hope to see Ali I China too!

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