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Did U No We’re About to Bomb Syria? by Phyllis Dunham

When I was in third grade, my parents took me to see Lawrence of Arabia in an old movie palace in downtown San Antonio. Plush red velvet covered the seats and draped the stage. When the lights dimmed and the curtains parted, I sat in the air conditioned dark stroking the nap of the armrests. A world of vast rippling desert opened before me. The plot and the politics were beyond me, but the desert, the music, the costumes, the camels, and the characters dazzled. For me, Lawrence of Arabia eclipsed all westerns and all Disney movies. Thus began my Lawrence of Arabia summer.

My family lived on a parcel of roughly forty acres of Central Texas bottomland sorghum fields attached to another 300 acres of stony hills covered in scruffy mesquite, mountain laurel, and live oak trees. In the summer, my younger brother and I had only each other for playmates. I wheedled him into playing “Lawrence of Arabia” with the stipulation that I was always Lawrence. I was also in charge of costuming, scripts, and music. We filched our mother’s striped sheets from the clothesline and wrapped them over our shoulders in makeshift desert caftans and tied pillow cases to our heads with neckties from the costume box. Once properly attired, we were off. I led my brother in numerous uphill stick-camel charges while belting the lush melody from the score: Puuuuuum puuuuuuum. Pum pum pum pum puuuuuuuum puuuuuuuuum. From the hilltops, we surveyed the vast sorghum desert below as cud-chewing cows looked dull-eyed upon our antics. On a good day, we could blow up several imaginary trains, clash with Turks, stage dramatic arguments over tribal watering holes, and still conquer Damascus by suppertime.

Although I always played T. E. Lawrence, the Peter O’Toole role, I lifted a line from Omar Sharif’s character that rightfully belonged to my brother. I didn’t quite know what it meant, but I loved the way it sounded. Whenever I uttered, “It is written,” I rolled the R and raised one brow the way Sharif had in the movie. I uttered this as often as I could. If my mother asked why I wasn’t eating my peas, I replied in a low and serious tone, “I must not. It is written.” My parents probably found this amusing the first fifty or so times I said it, but eventually my Lawrence obsession wore thin. Once school started and my little brother had access to his friends again, he refused to play Lawrence of Arabia at all. He said I was too bossy, and my mother demanded the return of her sheets.  

Years later, I hustled my own kids to a revival of Lawrence of Arabia at the Paramount Theater in Austin. I needed to see it on the big screen again in all its Super Panavision glory. I thought my boys would find it as fascinating as I did. They didn’t. But although my sons pronounced it “okay,” the epic had still not lost its hold on me. In all my world travels during my twenties and thirties, I had never made it to the Middle East. I feared that my traveling days might be over, but I still longed to conquer Damascus, at least with a camera. 

In early 2005, my friend Vivian emailed me from Beirut where she was working for a U.S. government office. I had known Vivian for over fifteen years. We had become instant friends when I hired her straight out of Harvard to be my Press Assistant at the social change organization I headed in Texas. Now she was working for the U. S. effort to democratize the Middle East through teaching women how to run for political office. While Vivian was intimately familiar with my work in social change, she knew nothing of my past as a battle commander in make-believe Arabia.

Her email read: Might you be interested in teaching a workshop in Amman, Jordan on political organizing for Middle Eastern women?

I emailed back: On one condition. Can you get me to Damascus?

On February 14th, a month before I was scheduled to fly to Amman, all hell broke loose in Beirut. While riding in a motorcade, Rafic Hariri, the popular former Prime Minister of Lebanon, was assassinated in a massive truck bomb explosion. The Syrian government was, at the time, the primary suspect. In the days and weeks that followed, tens of thousands of Lebanese from various political parties and religions came together and marched in the streets of Beirut demanding the complete withdrawal of all Syrian troops and agents from Lebanon. This unprecedented show of Lebanese solidarity came to be called the Cedar Revolution. Vivian, from her office in Beirut, assured me that the series of workshops in Amman were still on. She wasn’t so certain about our being able to go to Damascus.

My mother and friends expressed their concerns about my traveling to Amman under the circumstances. My only hesitation was that I was a mother with one young son still at home. Then, two days before I was scheduled to fly to Amman, I tripped while stepping off the curb in front of my house and sprained my ankle. As the swelling began and the lavender bruising turned dark maroon, I briefly reconsidered. But then Vivian emailed me that she had taken a quick recon swing through Syria on her way to Amman. She felt we could safely spend a few days in Damascus as soon as we finished the workshops. Even though we would have no U.S. government protection once we left Jordan, she was game.

She emailed: Do you still want to go to Damascus? I wrapped my ankle and got on the plane.

The school in Amman was held at the lavish, marble-clad Sheraton Hotel, a favorite of wealthy Jordanian brides for their wedding receptions. Brides and grooms in American-style wedding garb danced through the lobby followed around by bands of musicians whose lively tunes reverberated off the marble walls and floors. Contributing to the noise and energy were our chattering students arriving from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine. My fellow workshop leaders also arrived from their posts in Washington D.C., New York, London, and the Ukraine, a hotbed of activity for American-style democratization in those days just after the Orange Revolution. The Sheraton lobby buzzed, my travel-weary head ached, and my ankle throbbed. Was I ready for all this?

The following morning I facilitated the first of my daylong workshops on “Organizing Campaigns for Social Change.” The thirty women who attended ranged in age from twenties to fifties and ranged in dress from fashionable western blazers and skirts to jeans and t-shirts to long cloaks and hijabs. I looked toward the glass booth at the rear of the room where my translators, two smiling young men wearing suits and ties and headphones, awaited my first words.  They motioned for me to put on my headphones. As I began my welcome, I heard their Arabic translation though the headphones and became instantly disoriented. Being able to hear the English translations of my students’ questions and comments was necessary, but hearing the Arabic translation as I spoke wasn’t working for me. I yanked the headphones down around my neck when speaking. Then, when I needed to listen, I shoved them back onto my ears. I eventually hit a fairly effective rhythm pulling the headphones up and down as needed, but this demanded a great deal of concentration. I feared that my nervousness was obvious to these women.

Adding to my tension, a blonde middle-aged American woman in a navy suit sat at the back of the classroom observing and occasionally yawning or flipping her phone open. Vivian had warned me that this woman might observe my classes from time to time. She was from the

U. S. State Department. I assumed it was her job to make sure that I did or said nothing out of line with U. S. policy. At the time, that meant George W. Bush policy. Somewhat offended and not knowing how to teach “Organizing for Social Change” while complying with Bush-think, I fearfully decided to go for broke. I taught Saul Alinsky’s hardcore community organizing and Sojourner Truth’s fervor for justice for all women and Martin Luther King’s unwavering discipline. The next morning, the women came ready to work. They all wanted to talk at once.

“Miss Phyllis, I was awake late last night reading about your Dr. King. He was greatly influenced by Mr. Ghandi, yes?”

“Madame, Saul Alinsky was Jewish American, but I think we can learn much from him about making communities better.”

“Miss, I am so happy to read of Miss Sojourner Truth and her way of speaking the truth about the power of women.”

Later, the State Department lady told Vivian that she wasn’t sure what I had been teaching, but my students seemed enthusiastic and engaged.

As part of our next day’s exercise I asked each of the students to focus on one specific issue and goal she wanted to achieve in the coming year. For these women, narrowing the focus was not easy. The problems and suffering they wished to alleviate were manifold and complex. Most of the women started out by saying that they wanted to keep children from getting sick or they wanted to give women more rights. I pushed them hard to keep narrowing the focus.

“Give me one achievable, but ambitious and specific goal you wish to accomplish in the next year, and then tell me why it is critical in as few words as you can.” It was important that they get this right—as tightly-honed as possible before we moved on. Their statements would serve as the cornerstone in creating workable plans for achieving their aims. Once they understood the need for such focus, their stories tumbled forth in a mighty stream of specifics.  

One was working to increase the age that children were still in the custody of their mothers from thirteen to fifteen. After that, they become the property of their fathers. This way, she said, “The women can educate their daughters a little longer before the fathers interfere.”

“There are no jobs for the people in the west of the country,” said another, advocating for small scale eco-tourism. “We don’t want big hotels with the corporations making all the money. We want bed and breakfasts for the women, themselves, to run.”

Still another said, “My organization is trying to get clean drinking water for a village. A factory is making the water dirty, and the water is making the children sick … and the company that is dumping their waste in the water is tied up with the company that sells the bottled water, and both companies are tied up with the local government council.”

A fourth told us about wanting to teach the people in her town proper techniques for disciplining their children. A father, adhering to the traditional ways, had recently tied his son up and left him in the garage overnight, a typical form of discipline. The boy had died. “When something like this happens,” she said, “there are so many victims. Even the father is a victim. We will hold trainings for the parents.”

We spent the rest of our days together strategizing and developing Alinsky-worthy plans for altering the balance of power in their tiny fragments of the world. We spent our evenings walking the shopping districts together in search of shawarma and street trinkets. We traveled to the hammam, the Turkish bath, where young women applied intricate henna designs to the backs of our hands. We showed each other pictures of our children and exchanged stories of our families and lives back home. They taught me how to line my eyes with kohl, how to dance to their music, and how to smoke rose-flavored tobacco from a hookah.

At the end of the week, we all stood together in the marble lobby of the Sheraton to have our group pictures taken. The women were somewhat sad about parting but mostly excited about implementing the plans they had created in the workshop. Vivian and her staff made sure the women got on their way safely home, and then the other instructors and staff took off for a sightseeing trip to the ancient city of Petra. I stayed behind with Vivian to help wind things up at the hotel. A couple of hours later, we set off for Petra ourselves.

Kahled, a spy movie-handsome, fortyish Arab with silver at his temples and an expensive haircut, had been Vivian’s driver for this trip and was to be our chauffeur for the ride to Petra. He was dressed smartly in black Wayfarer sunglasses and what appeared to be a perfectly tailored Armani suit. Concerned that Vivian and I would not make it to Petra before the gates closed, Kahled adjusted his mirrors and asked for permission to get us there “on time.” Vivian agreed to the plan and told me to buckle up tight. Kahled must have been a regular driver for the sons of sheikhs and trained in one of those how-to-outrun-assassins schools—either that or he was a Formula One racer. By the time we reached the desert outside Amman, we whizzed past the walled compounds of palaces and flocks of sheep tended by shepherd boys on donkeys. Kahled expertly threaded the sedan though the slender spaces between the other vehicles and passed every limousine, Mercedes, delivery vehicle, and livestock truck on the highway. Vivian and I tried to keep from looking at anything outside the car and stay focused on our conversation. I dared to peek at the speedometer needle only once. It pegged 110 miles per hour.

We arrived, a little shaken, shortly before closing at the Rose City, and because of my bum ankle, we weren’t sure at first that I would be able to see it at all. But one our fellow instructors just emerging from the site advised us to hire a horse-cart to take us down the narrow canyon into the ancient city and to hire a camel for me to ride around on once we got there. Camel? Lawrence of Arabia style? I could hardly wait. Our wagon creaked and swayed as the horse clacked down the slick stone passageway. By the time we made it into the ancient carved city, dusk approached, and the air grew chill.

We wrangled a price from the last camel driver, and he bade me to sit astride Zuzu, a white camel with his legs folded beneath him in the rose-colored sand. As the camel driver tapped Zuzu’s rump and hollered “Hup! Hup!” Zuzu unfolded his legs in stages to rise to his full height with me perched precariously on top. Zuzu was freakishly tall. As Vivian and the camel driver walked along beside me and my camel past the ornate buildings carved into sandstone by the ancient Aramaeans, I straddled Zuzu and shifted my weight with every step. The saddle pitched and yawed, and the soles of my shoes dangled far above my companions’ heads.

From my vantage point, I could see far past the city and out into the desert. I thought of Peter O’Toole atop his camel and felt the same rhythmic swaying I had seen him experience in the film. I also thought about another movie: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In 1988, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had filmed a scene here, using Petra’s treasury building as the secret lost temple housing the Holy Grail. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery battled Nazis for treasure not more than a few yards from where I rode. I thought, too, of the real T. E. Lawrence. He had been in Petra in 1917. He had organized an army of Syrians and Arab Bedouin tribes here and won a critical battle against the Turks. Surely, the real T. E. Lawrence had ridden a camel through Petra, perhaps on the very road Zuzu and I were traveling at the moment.

When we reached the end of the road outside the city, I smelled the cooking fires of the Bedouins as mothers in the caves and tents around us prepared their families’ evening meals. Dozens of their small fires glinted across the darkening desert, the sun’s slanted last rays painted the boulders burnt orange, and even the smallest pebble on the sand cast a long shadow. We turned around to head back.

As I rocked to the tinkling of the camel bells, I noticed that the camel driver seemed to have grown quite infatuated with Vivian. I asked him in his distraction if I might throw one leg over the other in front of the saddle horn. This was how O’Toole and Sharif had done it in the movie.

“Sure. Sure,” he said, impatient to get back to his conversation with Vivian, “That is the way it is done.”

Using my new technique, I immediately felt more secure, but apparently so did Zuzu. Like a horse anxious to get back to the barn, Zuzu suddenly took off at a gallop. For as butt-jarring as a camel’s lope can be, his gallop is surprisingly smooth, much more so than a horse’s. And Zuzu’s particularly long legs made each stretch and contraction of his gallop hurl us forward at a dizzying pace. I loved it. The driver didn’t catch up with us until Zuzu and I had been back at the camel yard for quite some time. In the meantime, I’d had a few moments of flying down the main street of Petra on an impossibly tall camel while his hoof beats echoed off the walls of a city carved from rose-colored sandstone over two thousand years before.

It took most of the next day for Vivian and I to get our visas approved to enter Syria from Jordan. In the late afternoon, with our freshly minted credentials tucked into our daypacks, and our luggage stashed in the trunk, we loaded into the government sedan with Kahled at the wheel for our last ride with him to the southern border of Syria. Kahled had taken a protective attitude toward us. He was not happy about letting us off at the border, and he insisted that we call ahead to secure a hotel and a taxi on the Syrian side while we were still in the car with him. He even took the phone from Vivian to speak with the hotel and taxi company to make sure that the arrangements were to his satisfaction.

Our taxi was waiting for us on the Syrian side. Kahled had told the driver to look for two tall women with blonde hair. We would be the only ones. Plastered on a building above the taxi stand was a twenty foot high double portrait. The current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was on the right and the former President, Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad, on the left. Bashar had become President five years before when Hafez died.

“Why the double portrait with the dead guy?” I asked Vivian.

She shrugged. “Continuity?”

I noticed that Bashar’s eyes were too close together, and they were blue. As had the famous British travel writer Freya Stark, I wondered if those intense blue eyes in the faces of some Middle Easterners were a vestige of the Crusades.  

Within an hour, we were being driven through Damascus traffic. Within another hour, we had checked into our modest hotel (no Sheraton for us once we were no longer on the government tab), and we were seated at a restaurant in the old part of the city. Over dinner, Viv said,

“Don’t be surprised when we get back to the hotel if someone has gone through our luggage.”

“Who would do that?”

“Syrian police.”

But nothing seemed out of place in our hotel room when we returned. Either no one had rifled the luggage, or they were damned good at covering it up.

In the news earlier that week, Bashar al-Assad had announced that he was immediately withdrawing Syrian troops into the Bekaa Valley on the Lebanon side of the Syrian-Lebanese border. He said he planned to withdraw them from Lebanon altogether “soon.” The marches and demonstrations, though somewhat smaller, continued in the streets of Beirut. Vivian and I, a little worried but still determined to see the city for ourselves, set out to explore Damascus.  

In order to enter the Umayyad Mosque, we were required to don hooded cloaks made of drab grey cotton. Vivian joked that we looked like Ewoks, and we both felt uncomfortable having to cover ourselves simply because we were women. But the Umayyad Mosque is one of the oldest, largest, and most sacred in the world, and this was the only way for us to see it. The enormous courtyard with its tessellated black and white marble floor is the center of a compound that predates the Roman occupation of Damascus. It was originally an Aramaean temple, and then a Roman temple, then a Christian Cathedral, and eventually a Muslim mosque. John the Baptist’s head is said to have been buried here, and the tomb of Saladin, the twelfth century Sultan of Egypt and Syria, is just off the courtyard.

Suddenly, the call to prayer blared from the speakers in the minaret. Only in Syria is this call made by a choir rather than a single muezzin, and the harmonic effect is haunting. We were allowed to enter the mosque to observe, but we were relegated to the women’s side only. As thousands, women on one side, men on the other, knelt in murmured prayer touching their foreheads to the carpets, no one seemed to notice the American women clad in gray hooded robes watching from the corner. 

As Vivian and I poked through the tiny shops crammed with goods in the Souq of the Old City, we were met with smiles and welcoming gestures. We were the only obvious Westerners I saw in the city, but the shopkeepers treated us with kindness and efficiency. At a spice stall, I sniffed the leaves and shards of tree bark and fragrant powders to make my selections. I noticed a pile of whitish semitransparent rocks like chunks of quartz in a basket on the floor. When I asked what they were, the proprietress answered, “Frankincense.” Of course they’re selling frankincense in the Souq in Damascus in 2005, I thought. They’ve been selling frankincense in Damascus for four millennia.

In a jewelry shop on the edge of the souq, I tried on a ring made of onyx set in a wide band of silver. The owner, speaking to Vivian and me in English, timidly asked, “Are you Australian?” We shook our heads.

“Swedish?” No, again.


Finally, I spoke up. “We’re American.”

His warm smile emerged as he stepped forward to shake our hands. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming to our beautiful country. Thank you for not thinking we are all terrorists. Thank you. Thank you.” He bade us to sit down, and he served us sweet mint tea in small hand-painted glass tumblers.

“We love American people,” he said. “We love America. I am sorry to say, we don’t like your President Bush. Forgive me.”

“Neither do we,” we replied.

We sat and talked for a while longer about Syria, Lebanon, and President Bush. We talked about our families, and he told us where to find the best glassware and fabrics in the city. We had similar encounters in shop after shop. Always the same. We love your country. We don’t like your leaders. They never spoke of their own.

We visited many fabric shops and flipped through the stacks and stacks of richly colored and textured swatches. I had never made the connection. Damask – Damascus. The intricate woven patterns of damask fabric date back to the Byzantine era and were invented and perfected in Damascus on special looms fitted with wooden punch cards that experts consider to be the first computers. The reality, that Damascus is a world treasure and one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world, was beginning to sink in for us in a way that no guidebook could make clear. By the time Paul fell to the ground in a blinding light on the road to Damascus around 36 C.E., the city was already over two thousand years old.

On one of our last afternoons, we made a trip to a suburban street lined with sweet shops. In the glittering windows were elevated trays loaded with stacks and layers of fancy confections arranged in rows and spirals whose patterns rivaled the complexity of Damask fabrics. There were squares of crisp golden phyllo sandwiched with crushed pistachios, and there were tiny bird’s nests of delicate pastry filaments nestling candied pine nut “eggs.” We sampled some of the fanciful treats and had the confectioner box our favorites to take with us.

In the sweet early evening light, we walked along the street on the way back to our taxi. All around us we saw families in mostly western dress enjoying themselves after work and school. We saw fathers hoisting their children onto their shoulders or helping them feed the pigeons in the neighborhood squares and mothers pushing strollers or lifting toddlers onto their hips to wipe their faces with tissues and kiss their foreheads. 

By the time we were to leave Damascus to make our way to Vivian’s home in Beirut, some fifty miles to the east, all commercial transportation through the Bekaa Valley, the only direct route, had been shut down. Vivian heard about some taxi drivers who, for a hefty fee, would drive people over the pass and through the valley late at night. She’d been told we could find them at a small square at the edge of the Old City. It was already dark when our taxi dropped us there. The teeming streets surrounding the square were packed with men and boys all somehow involved in the underground international taxi business. All around us men hollered and gesticulated to get our attention and young boys grabbed at our luggage.

“Taxi, Madame? I take you. Good price,” they shouted.

Vivian picked two tallish strong-looking boys from the horde, and we relinquished our heavy bags and struggled to keep up with them as we pushed through the throngs toward the square. In the center were roughly fifty or sixty taxis parked in bumper to bumper columns. The boys lugged our bags up one of the middle rows to a dated but gleaming American model cab, a black Crown Victoria. They told us the driver was their uncle. He opened the trunk and started to load our luggage. Vivian stopped him and began to haggle over the price. Only when she was satisfied that the deal was reasonable did she allow him to load our luggage. The “nephews” had disappeared back into the crowd presumably to search for more customers. Vivian had negotiated a price for just the two of us.

She specified, “No others in the cab, right?”

The driver nodded, “Yes, yes. Only you two.” We were instructed to return at midnight and were told that our bags would be safe locked in the trunk. We rationalized leaving them behind by figuring we were more likely to lose them on the crowded streets than in the trunk of the taxi. Obviously, the cab itself couldn’t be moved. We found a restaurant nearby where we were the only women, and we ate our dinner, sipped mint tea, chatted, and read until it was time to go back to our taxi. I couldn’t wait to stretch out along the generous expanse of the Crown Vic’s back seat and sleep my way to Beirut.

When we returned at midnight, the crowds had substantially diminished, and we made our way easily to the Crown Vic. The man we had presumed to be the driver was nowhere in sight. He had been replaced by a tired-looking skinny fellow who smoked filter-less cigarettes and rocked nervously from foot to foot. He spoke no English. Inside the Crown Vic was a family of four with baskets and bags on their laps. Vivian tried to tell the driver that we had been promised we would be the only ones in the taxi. The driver shook his head and opened the trunk to show us that our luggage was there, unmolested. As we looked around at the other taxis, we saw that all were stuffed with people and their belongings, some with even more people than our taxi. The driver asked us for the exact amount that Vivian had negotiated, and we somehow jammed ourselves into the Crown Vic, Vivian in the front seat, and me in the back. A few minutes later, by some unseen cue, the drivers got into the taxis and began to drive us column by orderly column into a single file like cars exiting a ferry. We rolled convoy-style into the moonless night, through the pass, and across the occupied Bekaa Valley to Beirut. 

A few weeks ago, I received a late night text from my youngest son, now a college student back in Texas. It said, “Did u no we’re about to bomb Syria?” I knew. And I had thought of Syria many times in the years since I’d spent those few days there. I had thought of my students, too, all of whom I’d eventually lost touch with.

I’d thought of Rukan, the studious gynecologist from Baghdad who wore wire-rimmed glasses and a cream-colored scarf over her hair. She, like me, was a mother of four sons. How had they fared through the years of war? I’d thought of Mesta, the young spitfire from Cairo who looked and dressed like an American college student but negotiated deals with Danish wind energy companies for the Egyptian government. What had happened to her in the tumultuous days of mass protest leading up to Mubarek’s resignation? What was happening to her now that the military and the militants were in charge? What had happened to the quiet, dark Palestinian women who always sat in the back of my class and seldom spoke to anyone outside their group? Had Israeli or Hezbollah bombs detonated in their streets? Killed their children? What of Kahled? How had that wily survivor fared? And what of the shopkeepers and taxi drivers I’d met in Damascus? What of the suburban dads and moms and their children? Were Bashar’s forces or the rebel forces or ISIS or now, God forbid, American bombs in the north and west of Syria tearing their lives apart?

The greed of the French and the British who coveted the Turkish domination of the Middle East was the real conflict at the heart of the story of the real T. E. Lawrence. France and Britain realized from their experience in the Great War that they must have access to oil if they were to remain world powers. Lawrence, a British Arab-speaking archeologist with extensive knowledge of Syria, the Levant and Mesopotamia, was enlisted by the British Army as an advisor. Believing as he did in an independent Arabia, Lawrence united the Arabs against the Turks, and he and the other commanders, both Arab and European, eventually drove the Turks out. Then the oil-coveting Europeans carved the land into a wobbly set of kingdoms of mismatched ethnicities across the lines of old blood feuds. T. E. Lawrence, his services no longer needed, was sent home. The Europeans placed their newly-appointed Arab kings in charge and made them rich with oil money sucked from beneath their own soil using western technology and driven by western demand for cheap fuel. The fate of the Arab peoples depended entirely on how territories were sliced up and who was put in charge.

But in recent years, the wobbly dictatorships have begun to topple to people’s movements that are rapidly taken over by extremist groups. And, in recent decades, America seems to have discovered a stake in those ancient blood feuds and the European usurpation that never solved them. We have sent people like me to the Middle East to try to shape democracy. And we have also bombed Afghanistan and Iraq. We are bombing Syria.

I am not an expert on Middle Eastern policy. No one will call me to speak on the Sunday morning talk shows about what the next U. S. move should be. I will not be asked to outline a policy paper for the State Department or to write an article for the Wall Street Journal on the effects of current Mideast policy on world oil markets. But I want to scream at the experts whose voices emanate from my kitchen radio, the experts who bandy policy for a handsome living. But what do I know? I, who was once a little girl with romantic notions about a place that I’d seen in a movie. I, now a mother who once spent a few days touring Damascus and meeting a few people who want to live in peace and raise their children. I who wish, oh how I wish, that Damascus was a place that could only be conquered by suppertime in the minds of children at play.

Phyllis Dunham currently lives, studies, teaches,  and writes in New Orleans. She worked for social change organizations on women’s and environmental issues for twenty years and is the mother of three adopted sons. Her works have appeared in the Cenizo Journal and on WWNO Public Radio in New Orleans.