“Look at the little birdie and say cheese!”
I think often of the guys I worked with in Syria and wonder how they are doing or where they are now. Are they okay? Are they living normal lives with jobs and families still in the same village? Have they moved somewhere else? Or have they gotten caught up in the war and gone off to fight for their freedom? Or are they refugees? And when the news has been particularly bad regarding Syria, I wonder, are they even alive? That’s a dark thought and hurts my heart. I wonder most about the younger guys, Faiz, Abed, Abed 2, Saad. When I see photos of Syrian soldiers fighting or refugees fleeing, I look for their faces. These were young single guys so it’s possible they were drawn into the conflict. When I met him, Abed 2 was just coming into manhood at 15. He’d be about 21 now. I think of my own nephew who is around the same age and hope he never has to experience the horrors young Syrian men have had to go through. I thank the gods every day he and my niece were born in North America where they are safe, although with the current strong political divides, another American civil war doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities in our future.
When the Syrian refugees started coming to Canada, I religiously watched the news scanning the crowds looking for familiar faces. Canada has so far opened its doors to over 25,000 people and hopefully many more to come. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to run into Abed 2 or Faiz or any of the Shabab on the street in Toronto. What a wonderful moment that would be! Or, would we even recognize each other after so much time? Perhaps we would blindly walk past each other like everyone else does making their way through this big, busy, crowded city. It’s unlikely I’ll ever see any of the people from the village ever again, so for now, all I can do is hope they are safe and tell stories about the great guys I got to meet and work with.
I make a point to think about the people I’ve met in the Middle East regularly now, not only Syria but Egypt and Turkey as well. I remember names. Faces. Stories. They’re all important people who have collectively changed my life forever and made a mark on my heart. Remembering them all keeps me grounded and much more aware of the world around me.
On the last day of the dig, we all got together for a group photo to commemorate our excavation square in Area B. As with all big group photos, no one knew where to stand or which camera to look at. We’re all laughing and moving around and trying to place ourselves while friends were already taking our picture. Every time I look at this series of photos, I can’t help but smile to see us laughing together trying to figure out what we’re doing. It’s those genuine smiles on all of our faces that remind me what an amazing experience I had in Syria. At that time, I had no idea it would be my last.
Credit for almost all of these amazing, super fun photos goes to our site photographer Bjoern Oldsen. Thank you so much for taking such incredible photos of our time in Syria! They are truly wonderful and a treasure to have today.
In the photos: Me, Saad next to me on the ground, Monsoor in the New York sweatshirt, Abed in camo, Abed 2 with the orange on his jacket, Fahim in the green button-up, and Fakri with the maple leaf Discovery shirt