Margaret Strelow in Syria 2006. Photo Contributed
Margaret Strelow in Syria 2006. Photo Contributed Contributed ROK161115strelow2

Strelow looks back on the friendship she found in Syria

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow looks back on the friendship she found with locals on her visit to Syria when she wandered off the beaten track

 

NOT many people have had the privilege of visiting Syria.

I was in Damascus in Syria with a tour group in 2006 just as hostilities were beginning.

We visited the market and walked wonderful alleys and down the old Roman road - the 'street called Straight' mentioned in the Bible. (Which is no longer straight by the way - generations of shop owners have crept their facades forward in a higgledy-piggledy fashion as the width to march through a Roman Legion is no longer needed!)

At one point I broke away from the group and decided to sit in an open space and just watch the world's oldest city go about its business. (On some broken columns from the remains of a Roman temple no less!).

Margaret Strelow photo of the Damascus Arch in 2006. Photo Contributed
Margaret Strelow photo of the Damascus Arch in 2006. Photo Contributed Contributed ROK161115strelow1

In the space of three quarters of an hour - as I sat in the sun in an open courtyard - I experienced warmth and openness and welcome.

Local women who were shopping in the market nearby took it in turns to come over.

Obviously I was a curiosity.

One woman assumed I was American - but with a little sign language and kangaroo hops she came to understand where I was from.

Many smiles all round.

A second group approached - we had no language in common at all.

The conversation went something like this - 'My husband is in the mosque'. (Gesture pointing and a moustache sign.)

'The woman with me is my daughter.' (Gesture pointing to the woman and then gesturing to the woman's own breasts and then 'cradling a baby').

And smiles, lots of smiles.

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow on a visit to Syria in 2006
Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow on a visit to Syria in 2006

Another group included a young woman who was the English teacher at a high school in Damascus. (Lots of language difficulties - I worried about what she was teaching!)

I joined in with the tour group again to have lunch and a visit a souvenir shop.

Much to the displeasure of the tour guide, Darryl and I decided to go to the shop across the alleyway instead.

There we meet a father and son who spoke English and who proceeded to tell us how much money the tour guide would be making from sales in the bigger shop over the road.

We talked a little about the history of Damascus - and then it was my turn to get ripped off.

I bought a shawl which is still my pride and joy.

Years later when I saw the Islamic State (ISIL) bombs hitting Damascus I couldn't help but think of these gracious women, sisters in a distant place, going about their daily shopping - and their efforts to reach out in friendship.

Margaret Strelow

Mayor of Rockhampton



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