Mosque Open Day. Saudi Arabian dates and reduced cream. Hospitality. Travel sick for the Middle East. Don't bomb Syria, Obama.

September 1st, 2013, 8am

It was the end of Islam Awareness Week in New Zealand. My wife, mother-in-law and my almost one-year-old daughter visited the only mosque we have in Wellington.

A young girl with the most beautiful voice sang a verse from the Koran. A Saudi man poured me a thimble-sized cup of cardamom-flavoured Arabic coffee and invited me to his country’s national day. There was candy-floss and a bouncy castle. We ate ethnic food sold by the various nationalities that attend the mosque. It reminded me of the hospitality I encountered when I travelled through Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank in 2004.

I was lost in Damascus. I went up to a local and asked him for directions - I forget where it was I needed to go. He took me by the hand and led me to my destination. This was a regular occurrence. I fell asleep on the cool tiles of the Umayyad Mosque. I played countless games of backgammon with a French traveller who invited me to come and stay with him in Paris, which I did. I woke and fell asleep to the dulcet tones of the muezzin who sang from a minaret up the alley not far from my hostel; there is nothing else quite like it. There was an elderly barber - who rode to work on a motorcycle - that had a barber shop across from the hostel. My face has never felt smoother. I can’t remember his name, but I have a photo of him with his son. They’re smiling. I haven’t thought about them at all since the civil war. Now that I have, I hope they’re still alive. As I write this I wonder about all the Syrians that befriended me while I was in their country. All the Egyptians. All the Lebanese. All the Palestinians.

Mostly, the possibility the US might bomb Syria makes me feel disappointed. No matter how many mistakes we make in that part of the world, we never learn from them.

Cassie and Janet said thanks.

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Aidan Rasmussen

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