Meeting the family

Note: This is a direct continuation of Syrian slaying. The whole story begins with the post The Kindness of Syrian Strangers.

For a minute or two, we all just sat there while Ahmad's father wrote things down in an official-looking book (not a computer, mind you). It seemed like whenever there were several consecutive moments without conversation, my lovely travel companion Linh wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about Ahmad's religious beliefs. So she asked a few questions, and got a few answers (I've saved my discussion of Ahmad's religious beliefs).

Eventually it was time to leave the slaughterhouse and return to Aleppo proper. We got back inside the tiny truck and drove away, through the industrial city and its surroundings until we got back into Aleppo. It was getting to be pretty late; we had spent much of the afternoon and the entire evening with Ahmad, and I expected that we'd part ways soon. He, however, had different plans.

"I will take you now to my parents' house in Aleppo. You can meet my mother and my brothers and sisters", announced Ahmad.

As ridiculous as this seemed, it was much more normal than going to a slaughterhouse, and spending time with Ahmad had been immensely educational, so we did not protest. We arrived at the house, which turned out to be just an apartment in a multi-story building. There were maybe two small bedrooms and a large living room (though perhaps it seemed large only because it was devoid of furniture). We were enthusiastically greeted by Ahmad's mother, who was an old round woman with a face fully wrinkled, wearing something that looked like pajamas. It was pretty late, after all, especially for an old lady.

We sat on the floor of their living room and Ahmad's mother offered us tea, soda, and juice, all of which we declined. Ahmad told his mother about us. As they talked, I looked at her and just thought, This woman has given birth to sooo many children. I've forgotten the exact number now, but I'm confident in saying it was at least nine. She seemed quite happy and energetic to me, which I found amazing. I imagine raising a child to be the most time consuming, draining thing a person could do, but this lady seemed to have done it several times across many years and still be able to enthusiastically entertain the random foreigners her son brings into her home at night.

Ahmad himself has three children, but he tells us this number is atypically low for a Syrian family. He decided to stop having children largely because it's expensive. His youngest has serious medical problems, and even though the government pays for his medical care, it takes a lot of effort to care for a sick child.

We met and were told about several of the old lady's children: there were children in primary school, and men old enough to have children of their own. After marveling at her fecundity and hospitality for about an hour, and struggling to have conversations with Ahmad's siblings, always using him as an interpreter, it was time to leave the family home. Everyone seemed so incredibly happy that we had come; it made me feel very special.

We went outside and Ahmad said we would take a taxi. He hailed the first one that he saw driving by and we got in. Ahmad sat in the front and started talking to the driver. It seemed like they greeted each other exceptionally warmly, so I asked, "Do you know the driver?"

"Yes, he is my brother", said Ahmad.

That's how many siblings this guy has, I thought. Randomly hail a cab, and chances are its one of his siblings.

After all this, I was expecting to be taken back to our hotel, but instead Ahmad's brother drove us to a hotel where another of Ahmad's brothers works as an accountant. At first, I was under the impression that we were there just to pick him up after work, since it was on the way. I soon found out that this was just another weapon in Ahmad's arsenal of hospitality and generosity. Ahmad's brother came out and led us to a lovely little garden area in front of the hotel and told some waiters to bring us nuts and drinks.

It really was a nice place to sit and eat some nuts, and I think Ahmad had brought us there because he thought we might enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. I made a valiant effort to keep taking advantage of being able to talk with a real-live foreigner: I talked to Ahmad for another hour about his views of the United States, other neighboring countries, his plans for the future, his friends in other countries, and on and on. Finally, though, there was a long period of silence dominated by the sound of us chewing nuts, and we suggested to Ahmad that it was getting late:

"We have to get up early tomorrow. We're going to Turkey in the morning. We should probably go back to our hotel and sleep", I said.

"Would you like me to take you to get some dinner first?", asked Ahmad.

This man just won't stop being generous, I thought. "No, thank you, we're still full from the delicious lunch at your house", I said.

"We will take you home then", said Ahmad.

Ahmad hailed another taxi (this one not driven by a sibling) and it took us to our hotel. I payed for this taxi ride in an effort to not feel further indebted to this amazing man. We waved goodbye, walked away from the car, and our unbelievable day was finally over.