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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aleppo Falls and 2 Babies Meet

As winter sets in I am constantly looking for new daily adventures with my new baby. We walk around the neighborhood, we take public transit to neighborhoods we have never been to and sometimes we just end up at the mall. The mall is not great, but it will do. We wander around, try not to buy things, and sometimes get lunch. Yesterday was one of these days.  My husband has been out of town working and it’s just me and the baby 24/7. We took the train to a new part of the city and it was a bust. Nothing to do there and it was so much colder than I had anticipated. Feeling a bit defeated, we stopped at the mall on our way home. My plan was to get some food and maybe even try to speak Turkish to someone. We went straight to the food court and made a bee-line for Carl’s Jr. I hoped my dour mood was mostly because I was getting hangry. I had forgotten to eat breakfast, something I never did before I had a baby.

I placed my order, got my drink and sat down at the closest open table. It didn’t notice at first, but the young couple I was sitting next to had a stroller parked on the other side of their table. They were speaking Arabic and I recognized them to be Syrian. They seemed about my age or a bit younger. They looked cool, both wearing jeans. Him - big guy, with big wild hair. Her - head covered, but not extravagantly, a touch of makeup and that new mom glow.  They were clearly enjoying each other's company. While I watched them I missed my husband. I wished they were my friends. I wished I had someone nice to enjoy my meal with, someone besides my sleeping baby, still strapped to my chest. My food came and I was shifting around, trying to figure out the best way to avoid dripping burger juice onto my baby’s head, when I heard the man say (in Turkish), ”Look, he’s awake.”  My son, now awake, was taking in this giant man with his dark, wide-eyed stare. I looked over at him and smiled. He asked me in Turkish, “How old is he?” “Uc aylik,” (3 months) I replied. “You seem like a foreigner, “ he continued. “Yes,” we switch to English, "I am." “Our son is three months old, too!” he said, clearly delighted. He carefully took his son out of the stroller and proudly hoisted him. A beautiful little boy, he looked even smaller in the arms of this giant man. Their baby looked not unlike my son. Big dark eyes and a barely any hair. We laughed that they could be brothers, twins even. His, Adam, mine Kaya. We talked about parenthood, how hard it is, how awesome it is. How challenging. And if the babies looked like us. Which baby carrier is best. All the while our babies stared into each other’s eyes.

He told me they are in town from Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, just a two hour drive from Aleppo. “We’re Syrian,” he said, “Obviously. We’re here to get his passport and documents.” My heart sank and I nodded my head. My typical reply would have been, “Oh, Kaya has his passport, too!” But I stopped myself.

My son has an American passport. The best passport in the world. He won’t be turned away at borders, or humiliated at airports. He won’t be profiled or interrogated. He won’t even need a visa most of the time. The world is his! It is wide open to him and my husband and I are so glad for it. But not Adam. Tiny Adam with the big, dark eyes will not get very far with a Syrian passport in today's world. A virtual twin to my own son, he will not be welcome in Europe, or the United States. He will be automatically judged and discriminated against. At just 3 months old, he will be labeled unwanted, unwelcome or even a threat. He was born here in Turkey, but he will never be Turkish. Will he ever set foot in his “home” country, Syria? The border just a one hour drive from his current home in Turkey.  

And if Adam does return to Syria one day, what will he find? Today, Aleppo, an extensive world heritage site, a city since the 23rd century BC, Syria’s (former) largest city (the size of Chicago), is no more. The city is a ruin of ruble, most residents gone. No longer hospitable for life -schools and hospitals are long gone, along with the ancient ruins - food, water and electricity are scarce. Today only the most desperate and vulnerable remain. They are alone with the bombs and the fighters. They are being killed while the world watches. The war rages in real-time on my TV. A young woman calls into Al-Jazeera from a basement where she is hiding with a number of women and children. She is matter of fact, she is resolute. She admits that she will likely die or be taken captive by her own government. What will be left of Syria by the time Adam is old enough to understand what it is to be Syrian? To be from the place where history begins.

Adam’s parents finished their food, I finish mine. We say, Goodbye. Good luck. Nice to meet you.

Last night I had a dream that I was young again and my family hosted a refugee family from Syria in our suburban Chicago home in the 80s. I could hear my dad saying, “America is the best country in the world,” from the seat behind his desk below his signed and framed headshot of President Reagan. I woke up and wondered if Adam and Kaya will ever meet again. Of course, they would never remember this meeting in a mall food court, in Istanbul on a cold December day in 2016. Would they still look alike? Will they speak a common language? Would they have read in their history books about this day in Aleppo, when the city finally falls? The day the TV showed me an elderly man in the middle of a bombed out street, dead bodies blurred out behind him, as he screams into the camera, “Muslims, where are you? Where is the world?”

Where indeed?

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