Normally I buy my tomatoes from the other side of the street. There’s a guy there who knows me now. His wife is my friend- I eat lunch at her house at least once a week and sometimes on a slow day when she’s working the vegetable stand I’ll sit inside with her for awhile. She feeds me cucumbers while she waits for customers and we watch the buses go by. But today I was late coming home from work and I needed tomatoes, so I went to a different stand.
It felt a little risky, which I guess is ridiculous. But I’ve become protective of myself lately- sticking to the families I know and the routines that I trust. Maybe it’s the gradual wear from a year and a half of being the foreigner, but I guess at least part of me knows now that there’s risk in going to a different vegetable stand, just like there’s risk in sitting in a double seat instead of a single on the bus, or saying hello to a stranger on the street. Some days people are kind and they say hello back. Most days the people in my life are supportive and generous and unbelievably good to me. But on some days strangers look back at me with fear and even anger. Some days they laugh at me. Some days they say things in Arabic that I wish I didn’t understand.
But I’m not making any new friends by sitting in the single seat on the bus and by going to the same vegetable stand every time, so I was glad today when I put my tomatoes on the scale and the man working said hello. I told him that I am American and he told me that he is Syrian. He has lived here for six months. He lived his whole life before that in Dera’a, a place that has now become famous for being the first city to protest in the Syrian uprising. I told him that I used to live in Ramtha, which is 6 kilometers from Dera’a. I used to wake up in the night to the sounds of shelling in his city.
I don’t know what to tell someone whose home has been destroyed. I told him that I am sorry- something that has never been useful in any culture. But he undercharged me for the tomatoes. His home has been destroyed and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to go back and he undercharged me for my tomatoes.
I am astonished by the strength that I see around me when I am brave enough to look.