I need to warn you, the next two blogs involve politicians. Politicians are involved in politics. In Syria. Dangerous territory, I know. But don’t worry, that’s not my angle (mostly). I’m still staying out of Syrian politics, but even Syrian politicians have the capacity to inspire other human beings. These ladies most certainly inspired me.
I will label my first politician “Matchmaker MP”. I honestly don’t recall her name: we only met once but it was a meeting that marked me deeply. We had both been participating in a two-day training for women members of parliament sponsored by the United Nations.
Sadly, I can’t even recall what the training was about: I think it included project management skills and principles of good governance.
I do remember that it was in a large conference room with enormous marble tables covered with aged orange tablecloths, and dark brown floor-to-ceiling curtains strung against both of the walls with windows. As a member of the planning team, I was able to spend most of my time in the back with the sound guy, or in the kitchen with the cooks. That big dark dank room just put me to sleep.
But the thirty-or-so women members of parliament who participated seemed to have the time of their lives. I could tell that they thrived on the opportunity to spend time together and that the topic, whatever it was, interested them greatly. Being a woman politician in Syria can’t be easy – most of them were the first women to hold their seats in parliament and I didn’t get the impression that these were the hot-shot-hob-nobbers running the show. They were loyal, though, and eager to learn some skills that would help them make a difference in their decision-making roles.
At the end of the workshop, rather than head back home, I went to the closest town to visit a good friend who was living there. One of the other organisers realised I was heading in the same direction as one of the participants, and so suggested that she give me a lift into town. I gladly accepted.
We rode in the back of her chauffeured, albeit humble, car. As we drove in, she asked me who I was visiting, and I told her it was an American friend who was teaching English. She asked if my American friend who was teaching English was married. No. How old was she? I told her my friend’s age. That was all it took for this MP to pull her business card out of her purse and hand it to me, saying that she has a son who would be perfect for my friend. If my friend was interested could she please give her a call?
I should mention here that this woman was not a traditional-looking woman. She wore a navy blue tailored suit, her hair was coiffed in a tidy short do and with blond highlights, and she wore wire-rimmed glasses on an elegant chain. Nonetheless, the fact that I had an American friend in her twenties living in the same town as her son, was all she needed to know.
She asked me what I thought of Syria and I told her how much I love it. Then I told her that a month later I’d be heading to the United States. As she well knew, Americans did not have a very good picture of Syria (this was about 5 years ago, but I guess things haven’t really changed); was there any message she would like me to take back to my friends in America? Here is what she said: “Look around you. Do you see anyone sleeping on the streets? Do you see anyone starving? We may not have freedom here, but we take care of our people. People here are not destitute, homeless and starving. Can you say the same for America?”
Again, this was five years ago, but it was a clever response, wasn’t it?