Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sepia Saturday 396: Looking forward and Looking back

On The Road
Looking forward and looking back

Although the prompt this week is a cheerful scene in a market, it reminded me of the photo below. We were traveling in Syria and I'm standing with our guide Abdul, our backs to the camera.

Abdul was plagued by bad luck. He told us a story one evening as we dined at Naranj, the finest restaurant in Damascus, if not all of Syria. The meal was splendid and while we drank our coffee and lingered over a delicious tray of fruit and pastries, Abdul mused, teary-eyed, about an incident, he explained, which epitomized his life…

I headed for home one night, cutting through the alley behind Naranj where I almost stepped on a skinny, mewling kitten. I picked up the little thing and looked into its green eyes. It needed rescuing; it needed me. From the restaurant, I got a saucer of milk and some flakes of fish, sat down in the alley and fed the little thing. Pushing up against my hand, it purred so hard little bubbles came out of its nose. I'd never seen that before. “Where’s your mom?” I asked, hoping the mother would appear from behind the trash cans—hoping she might catch the fishy scent and join her baby at the banquet. I scratched the tiny ears a little more, petted it and thought the impossible—could I take it to my room? And find someone to care for it tomorrow? No, that would be foolish if the mother was nearby. I decided to bet on the mother showing up. As I stood and picked up the saucer to return it, I felt a sense of peace, rare for me at that stage of life. The kitten ran toward the end of the alley to the street and disappeared behind trash cans. I felt good. Ten minutes with the purring kitten revived me and for a moment I escaped my own troubled soul to rescue another living thing. I turned to step into the restaurant kitchen when I heard brakes squealing from the road. I knew what had happened.”

Abdul's company was called “Driving Tourists Happy.” We hired him based on the excellent recommendations of his customers on Fodor’s forums. His bad luck wasn’t mentioned in his promotional material. In the photo, we’re looking at a stall in the famous souk in Aleppo, centuries old, destined for destruction in a few years.

For Abdul, then working to build a business in tourism in Syria, the future didn't turn out well. Ahead lay chaos and destruction nobody predicted. Behind him, it was the same kind of scene.
Aleppo souk before and after.

"If I'm happy," Abdul said "something horrible is bound to happen."

The list of his bad luck episodes was long. He’d lived in the U.S. for years on a work visa as the marketing director for a company that sold an Arabic language program. After 911, he was deported and had to return to Syria with his ex-wife and U.S. born children. He was given two weeks to get out of the country–not enough time to sell his home and a business. The family landed in Damascus with almost nothing. In the U.S., his trusted friend, to whom he gave power of attorney, sold his house and business and stole his money. What else?

Abdul's family home in Aleppo was eventually destroyed and his siblings scattered around the world. The last we heard, Abdul was in Brazil. I hope his luck improved.


  1. How sad, and how frail our lives are, even the brick buildings which house our goods! Sorry to hear about Abdul's string of bad luck, which I hope has turned around for him now.

  2. The best Sepia Saturday themes are the ones that inspire great stories like this. I don't think Americans understand the horrible destruction and heartbreaking personal tragedy that the people of Syria have suffered.

  3. It's practically impossible to imagine how people are managing to survive in Aleppo today. Glad to hear that Abdul did so and was able to get out of the country safely, at least as far as you know.