As our final day in Aleppo ended, we raced to a vantage point to watch the sunset in the old city. As we reached the top of the hill and snugged into our jackets to escape the breeze, the cold quickly subsided as we became inundated by locals who wished to say hello.
Amongst them was a group of girls no older than 12; they were particularly friendly and curious. It was somewhat unexpected, not the interest but the nature of their questions, “Have you been to a Billie Eilish concert” one girl yells, another “I love your eyeliner”. Every question about pop culture and appearance took me back as they were dressed ultra-conservative, and their grasp of English was excellent, all learnt through YouTube.
I just started to think I had made a group of best friends until one girl raises her voice, “Why are you in Aleppo, why?” as she opened her hand in a w-formation and rolled her eyes. This little girl polarised me, and I was left speechless. Her tone and delivery threw me off the standard response; she clearly had something to say. My suspicions were correct as my answer, “I want to see Syria”, left her unsatisfied. She looked at me directly, and I start to wonder what this girl’s beef is, then reminded myself of her age, “Paris, you cannot sass a kid out”, so I laughed it off. She was too cognizant, outsmarting me at every turn, “Why? Why? People here are crazy; why would you want to come here?” as she rolled her index finger around her ear. I want to be honest with her, but I can’t seem to string the words together; it felt both insensitive and age-inappropriate. This girl from Aleppo seemed to see straight through me, “I asked you a question, hello?” as she wobbled her head. Eventually, I said, “Your country intrigues me. It is different from mine” She warmed up; the answer wasn’t untrue and she knew it.
After a 10-minute interrogation, she began to let her walls down; as much as she was driving me crazy, I admired her intelligence and fearlessness. I even asked her if we could start over, asking a 12-year-old to start over. Can you believe it? We introduced ourselves again; I say my name, and she says hers. Before I could say anything, she leaves me stunned and starts to cry, “I hate my name, I hate my name, I will be stuck here forever, and my name makes it so much harder”. I hug her, lost for words and afraid of creating false hope. I tell her my honest opinion, “Your name is beautiful”, but these scars are more profound than any words I can speak. It was gut-wrenching, so clear her abilities, so much she could offer the world, so much she wanted to “If I could be anything, a doctor or a teacher maybe, I want to help people”. I wanted to do something for her, but I couldn’t; I am an ordinary girl, and the world isn’t always friendly to Syrians.
I have thought about the girl from Aleppo a lot since that day, wondering why her life and place of birth determine and limit her life. I have gone back and forth trying to comprehend how there is a little girl on the other side of the world who is smarter and likely more capable than I am yet left with substantially fewer opportunities. Instead, bearing the price of her government and those who do badly around her.
I hope I see the girl from Aleppo again.
I will be returning this August, to join please click here.