I knew what city my mom was born in: Chicago. I knew what city my dad was born in: Damascus. However, I never truly got to drive through my culture and watch the images of what make me up zoom past the window. This was up until the summer of 2008. I had my new camera (a little pink point and shoot) and I was ready to take it wherever my Syrian American ties would take me.
I stepped onto the plane and, for once, the awful dentist-like smell wasn’t so bad. The sight of miniature skyscrapers and Chicago rush hour traffic was gorged by my starved eyes. After what seemed like forever, the plane landed. O’Hare became my wish-making factory. The long awaited Kodak moment graced my family as we approached the baggage claim: four precious grandchildren running, almost as if in slow motion, to their grandparents. The rest of the week was filled with climbing no-longer-cicada-infested trees (I still shudder at the 2007 events), gorging ourselves with Chicago-style hot dogs in front of the Shedd Aquarium, ascending buildings that made our ears pop (“did you know that Willis Tower is 1,451 feet tall?”), taking pictures of our handprints in the sand at Lake Michigan, and admiring the city lights on Michigan Avenue. The city was extremely animated with its vivacious characters lined up on the sidewalk. The lakeside was extremely tranquil with its sandy beds and sunny pillows. Chicago offered me the perfect mix of city life, natural scenery, and, of course, family. Before I knew it, it was time to go to an even more exotic wonderland: Damascus, Syria, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Damascus is a historic city in itself, but it is also a city whose structures created the very foundation of my bones. Every morning I would wake up to the sound of men on the street shouting the prices of the staple foods of Syrians everywhere: fresh fruit and vegetables. The air filled my lungs with sweet summer jasmine as I’d roam down the dwindling road at sunset with my grandma, admiring the colorful marketplace. I got to meet around fifty people, all who were somehow related to me. The gardens were lush and abundant with miniature apples, sweet cherries, and fresh mint. I especially remember the mini history lessons I received while walking down the Al-Hamidiyah Souq, with its black and white arches and men dressed in traditional clothing selling Turkish coffee. The Umayyad Mosque and the tons of Roman ruins gave such value to the city. Goosebumps crawled up my neck with the thought of Roman envoys travelling these very alleys. The city had such a lasting character. Best of all was the famous Bakdash Ice Cream that bore my last name. Damascus brought me back to my roots. I got to see where all our little cultural traditions came from and hear stories about my ancestry.
By travelling across the globe, I was able to see how similar Chicago and Damascus were. The city hustle and bustle was present in both the new and old worlds, as was the cool calamity. I observed friendly and unique faces when walking down the crowded streets of each town. Despite the differences between the new and technological Chicago and the old and traditional Damascus, I found that they converged through their similarities. Each city is foreign to the other, but the same globe connects them. The experience was priceless, and, even at eleven years old, opened my mind to the ever-growing world we live in.
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