He was not a handsome man
not even in possession of a face that was easy to look into
It was journey twisted and wrinkled like a baby’s at birth
only his never smoothed
the folds filled with hopes and wonders, longing and dreams lost in the creases
they described loyal lines in a Resume of hard work
And he laboured with energetic toil for the joy and happiness of strangers
Strangers like me that turned up at the Hotel Cairo
a mis-named rooftop respite from the surging life-affirming chaos that once was Aleppo.
When you spoke with him, he fixed you with a present, earnest eye
searching your face and body for the words that filled the spaces
of those he didn’t know
It was his right eye
because his left eye stared always left as if alertly seeking out the next person
to serve on with a warm yellowing hairy wire smile and gracious generousity
His name was Abdullah; Abdullah Abdullah
“The Servant of God The Servant of God”
His parents had made doubly sure that this should be so
and Abdullah Abdullah was true to his name
for he chose to open his arms, heart, mind and smile wide
to those who came in to his hotel
in his city, in his beloved country and welcome them
And his country was full of Abdullahs and Abdullah Abdullahs -
both literally and figuratively
I met most of them on a bus along the Euphrates to Palmyra
Late I hadn’t paid the fare I
stepped on, all places taken and the aisle long filled with people and piles of boxes of goods
Eight Abdullahs stood to offer me their seats
and no-one would sit till I honoured one of them as their guest
shabbily dressed as I was compared to them
the “welcome to Syria’s” like rain to desert sands
So I sat while it rained
and an Abdullah paid for my ticket before 5 more passed it back to me so I could stay seated
then when we stopped for a rest yet another pressed food to my hand to ensure I had eaten
And still another Abdullah a cold cold coke…just what I needed
because the sun was beating hard on our heads and they could tell the desert sweats were new to me...
And when my destination became known
somehow it had flowed like the Euphrates to the ear of Abdullah the bus driver
who made sure I was first out the door;
bypassing the bus station as irrelevant for the history-made edge of Palmyra - and to the steps of my hotel, a short walk to the great Temple of Baal - now gone.
Just as all these Abdullahs may now also be gone.
They may all be dead now
And if they are all dead now - and they were right about God
and I am not
Then Allah will be smiling upon them
For they were true to His Word: To welcome strangers as brothers until they proved otherwise.
In His eyes: Ambassadors of their Faith and of simple - selfless - human - kindness
He will bless them with His hand upon their heads hung low
as their tears flow for their sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers - daughters & sons
...who still run...
who still run...
who run from the missiles, the bombs and the guns
Who still run with the hope that we too will welcome them
as some of us were once welcomed by their now dead fathers and brothers
and now dead sons.
Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.