Hassem in Aleppo, Syria

A US Citizen In The ‘Axis Of Evil’

Derek Syria 56 Comments

Hassem in Aleppo, SyriaAfter the phrase “Welcome to Syria”, the second most common phrase that I’ve heard from Syrians is, surprisingly…

“I love America.”

I’ve been told this on a daily basis over here. In fact, about thirty minutes ago I was getting some photocopies made of my passport from a cigarette vendor/photocopier operating out of a small stall on the side of the road. The man looked at me and in Arabic asked “Ente Amerkey?” (Are you American?).

When I nodded my head that I was indeed American, he touched his hand to his heart and put a great deal of effort into pronouncing the word “Welcome” as clearly as possible. He then said a few sentences in Arabic that I didn’t understand, but another customer standing next to me did me the favor of translating his words.

The vendor had said: “We are happy you are here. We like America. Why USA don’t like me?”

And I know that this is a complicated and tricky subject, one that mixes the feelings of ordinary human beings with the attitudes and agendas of national governments, but it’s really impossible not to be affected by such words.

As recent as two years ago, it was quite difficult for me to even admit that I was a US Citizen while traveling. Often, when locals or other travelers learned of my nationality, I was subjected to a long and intense anti-America rant, no matter where in the world I happened to be.

But here I am some years later traveling through the ‘axis of evil‘ and as a US Citizen, I find myself more welcomed than in any other country I have ever visited.

As I say repeatedly on this blog, I personally travel in order to explore and learn about the world with my very own eyes. And what I’ve been experiencing here in Syria so far is all the proof I need that such a first-hand education is not only valuable, but necessary in order to avoid making dangerous assumptions about our fellow citizens on this planet we call Earth.

*My apologies for another post on how friendly Syria has been but it is the kindness and warmth of this country that has honestly defined my stay so far!


Have you ever been completely surprised by a country or people that you initially believed would treat you much differently than they did?

 

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Comments 56

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  3. Dave

    Earl, It is very encouraging to read your post. I, like many other Americans perceive our reception overseas as very unfavorable. It is nice to hear about places that you are receiving genuine hospitality.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave – Thank you for the comment. My aim is definitely to try and show that many of these places we consider to be so evil are actually filled with hospitable people who treat others as fellow human beings and not enemies!

  4. Annie

    This is such a great post. As Forrest and Kyle said above, it’s amazing how rational the people vs. the way we are made to believe and it speaks volumes about who they are and who we are letting ourselves become. I am glad to hear that you are representing us well, because even over in Europe I get the Anti-American rant and sometimes it’s even from Americans!!! It really shocks and saddens me. I hope we can all learn to be more open-minded and it’s true we are all just people.

    All the other comments really hit it on the head, as did you! Keep it coming and keep spreading the word!

    1. Earl

      Hey Annie! It drives me crazy how easy it is these days to create divides between people. We do it all the time and rarely for good reason at all. You would think that the benefits of being open-minded would be appealing to people but those strong voices out there unfortunately keep us fighting against each other. However, we must stay optimistic!

  5. Corinne @ Gourmantic

    I’m a little late commenting here but I wanted to say that I echo the sentiments you describe. I’m not American, but the hospitality and open mindedness you describe was something I experienced as well.

    Well said 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Corinne – Thank you for adding your experience as well. I’m quite sure that the more people that mention how hospitable Syria is, the more people will be inspired to add it to their list of possible travel destinations!

    1. Earl

      Hey Johnny – That’s good to know about Sudan and Somalia. It does seem a bit unfair to judge people before actually meeting them and spending time with them ourselves.

  6. Tracy

    Syria is an amazing country! It was one of the friendliest countries we visited on our recent RTW journey. Every single day people went out of their way to say hello, visit with us, bring us cups of tea and to tell us that we were welcome in their country.
    I can’t imagine that as Americans (or Canadians or Europeans for that matter) we are ever that welcoming to people visiting from the Middle East…and that’s a loss for us.

    1. Earl

      Hey Tracy – You summed up Syria quite well with that comment 🙂 And I also don’t think there is any other country that offers such a level of hospitality as is found over here. It’s been almost a month and I’m still amazed by it all several times each day!

  7. Poliepaw

    I’ll be entirely honest. I used to be one of “them”.
    I have always adored learning about different cultures, but I also always took what we’ve been told about our so-called “enemies” at face value. Luckily, the passion I have for learning and truth won out over ignorance bred of propaganda and inexperience.

    I have found exactly as you have in this part of the world; the common people have been almost entirely inordinately friendly, hospitable and welcoming. When they find out my American nationality (which I will admit to concealing on a regular basis) they only seem taken aback in fear of my opinion of them, and not out of any general malice for my country.

    The conclusion I have come to is that the governments will continue in their games, wars and manipulations as they always have. I suppose my own responsibility lies in dealing with my fellow humans as individuals and continuing to adore the fact that we’re not all cut from the same cloth – I can’t imagine how boring and pitiable the world would be if that were so.

    1. Earl

      @poliepaw: That was such a nice comment to read and I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I think that your conclusion is spot on and it is our responsibility to understand the difference between politics and our fellow citizens of the world. Once we reach that conclusion, we find ourselves open to the kind of education that ends up disproving much of the generalized beliefs we once held.

      Keep up your passion for learning and truth!!

  8. Dina

    I like this kind of story/experience, Earl. Very often you need to jump to the real location to find the truth about how particular people are living and thinking.

    1. Earl

      Glad to know that you agree Dina 🙂 Sometimes its impossible to know the truth without seeing something for ourselves. Even then we often don’t have the full story but at least we can gain a much better understanding of a particular country or people when we travel there ourselves.

  9. Andi

    Great post as always! Every time I travel in countries where I think the people will not be welcoming to me once they discover that I’m American, I’m always shocked that I’m actually embraced. It’s the other Western countries that always give me hell and make me so angry, ahem Australia I’m looking at you pal!

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Hahaha…it’s interesting because I was talking with another traveler and I was saying how usually I receive more slack for being an American from other travelers than I do from locals in any country I’ve visited!

    1. Earl

      Me too! Hopefully, more and more people will slowly realize that what we hear and are led to believe are quite often not the reality.

      Keep enjoying your time in Thailand! I think I saw you were sandwiched between some people on a motorbike? That sounds like SE Asia to me 🙂

    1. Earl

      @Financial Samurai – The food here is simply wonderful! I’ll be writing all about it after I get to Damascus and sample some more 🙂

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  11. TourAbsurd

    Lovely post. Really, this is a big part of why I started blogging. I want my friends and family back home to know that people are inherently good. Travel and my participation in Couchsurfing.org has reinforced this over and over again. Thanks for the kind words about our neighbors in Syria.

    1. Earl

      @TourAbsurd: Yes, I agree that people are inherently good as well. And I am repeatedly reminded of this every time I visit a new country. No matter where I go in the world, everyone generally has the same basic goals in life! Thank you for the comment!

  12. Maria Staal

    Hey Earl, I totally agree with you that first-hand experiences are the best way to form a well balanced opinion, and I am so glad that you write about it! Keep the stories coming. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – I think that when we see things with our own eyes, it makes it much easier for us to convince ourselves that we were wrong about something. Of course, reading stories written by people who are having such first-hand experiences is also a good method 🙂

  13. Jodi (legalnomads)

    On my way out of the Quito airport yesterday, a group of Americans on a tour were surprised to see another xray for their luggage. They wanted to know what the big deal is and then said “this is Ecuador, not Syria”. Of course, I had to ask them if they had been. No, not a one. But they all wanted to know why they would go, and then looked at me suspiciously and asked why I would want to head there either. The whole group – 15 people – was trying to lecture me about how I ought to stay in countries that ‘like us’ and that respect ‘our values’. I told them I was Canadian, handed them your URL and said that until they went there, they really had no place trashing Syria. /end rant.

    Keep these posts coming – the more people that realize a skewed media portrayal isn’t the be all and end all, the better.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jodi – Wow. After reading that I pictured the entire group standing there speechless scratching their heads as you walked away in triumph 🙂

      Seriously though, that’s as good an example of allowing fear to control our beliefs as I’ve ever seen. Hopefully they will check out my posts and realize how very wrong they are with their assumptions. Thank you for sharing that story!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christy – That is definitely one of my main goals with visiting this region. Hopefully it will encourage others to explore places that they might otherwise avoid due to unnecessary fear.

  14. WanderingTrader

    Wow man incredible story… Im going to be heading out there next year so I hope to experience that kind of thing as well.

    fyi: if you are going to Isreal dont let them stamp your passport 😛

    1. Earl

      @WanderingTrader: I’m sure you’ll have a similar experience over here as well! And as for going to Israel, you also need to make sure Jordan doesn’t stamp your passport either (for both entry and exit) or else Syria immigration will be suspicious and can deny you entry.

  15. Liz

    I feel that I like them already and I’ve never even been there… or I’ve never even consider going there. They seem to be so nice. I am glad to hear that.

    Keep sharing with us how wonderful human being can be. =)

  16. Jeremy B

    I suppose the “why USA don’t like me” may spring from Syrian media portrayals of US extremists. Earl, maybe a post on Syrian newspapers and television could enlighten us over here…if it doesn’t get censored?

    1. Earl

      Hey Jeremy – You’re right, the Syrian media also does their fair share of truth-twisting. So just like us in the US, they are led to believe something that is not necessarily the reality.

      And I will try and talk more about the news and television over here at some point although I think that will have to wait until after I leave just to be safe 🙂 The reasons why that is a wise decision is another post as well.

  17. Shannon OD

    The fact that they “love america” despite holding close the belief that we “dont like them” is an incredible testament to their tolerance and understanding in an region that is continually slapped by the American media with claims that there is little of either quality present.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – It is an incredible testament for sure. They really want to be liked by Americans and the US in general and I get the feeling that this would be the case with any other major European country that they thought did not like them as well. I think they understand how their country is often portrayed and so the people have taken it upon themselves to try and improve that image. I keep waiting for it to change as I hop around from town to town but I still receive the same warm reception everywhere I go.

  18. Henway

    You touched on a great point.. When he asks why doesn’t US like me? What does he mean by US? I don’t hate Syria… and neither does my friends or family.. Heck, i doubt anyone even harbor ANY feelings towards Syria (we’re too consumed with our own personal lives)… does Obama hate Syria? I doubt it.. who’s “US”?

    1. Earl

      Hey Henway – Thank you for your comment. I think that unfortunately, the classification of Syria as part of the ‘axis of evil’ gave the impression (as it would) that the US and its people aren’t too fond of this country. It was quite a strong statement and as a result, the number of US tourists dropped off significantly afterward. And in this part of the world, the only way that Syrians can see that Americans don’t dislike them, is to see more of us visiting their country. Otherwise, they hear their own media’s version of the story which involves the US being anti-all things Middle East.

      Just to see someone’s face light up as they say “welcome, welcome, welcome” over and over again after hearing that I’m from the US is really something that needs to be experienced. They really are so happy to know that despite what they hear, some of us are still willing to visit their country!

  19. Nate

    Earl – no need to apologize….keep them coming!! This is exactly what we need. Consider yourself a reporter on the ‘front lines’ if you will. All the news and info we get about other countries is so filtered by our media (case in point: ‘Axis of Evil’). For the US to make an overarching generalization of a population and various countries is very disheartening and sad.

    The fix begins with us. It begins right here. It begins with reaching out to other human beings and realizing we’re not so different. We only make ourselves out to be different out of some false sense of self we’ve built up, which is then fiercely protected. This is where fear comes from. This is where the separation comes from. This is where ‘us vs. them’ comes from. We all know in our heart of hearts that there is no ‘us vs. them.’

    I’m so glad you’re sharing stories like this prove this to be the case. Spread the love man, spread the love!

    Peace,
    Nate

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – Such a good comment you wrote. You explained the root of that ‘us for them’ mentality perfectly. And it’s just a fact that the more we travel (or the more open we are), the more we are able to break down those barriers between us and them. Often, it takes nothing more than a short conversation or the shaking of someone’s hand to feel that connection that we all have with each other. But we have to make the effort to do this. Luckily, once we realize that things aren’t always as they seem, we find ourselves wanting to, as you so eloquently put, ‘spread the love’! 🙂

  20. AdventureRob

    I don’t know why but the line ‘why don’t America like me?’ seemed to struck a cord. I blame the media personally, they influence people way too much in the wrong direction

    1. Earl

      Hey Rob – It’s an interesting line for sure. And when I ask some questions, they are usually talking about more than just the US government not liking them. They take the fact that there are barely any US citizens traveling here as a sign that the people must not like them as well. So when they meet a US citizen, they believe that there is hope that this feeling will change…

  21. Gillian

    That’s how travel gets us out of the ‘us and them’ mentality and into the ‘we’re all just people’ mentality instead. One person at a time going to places that we don’t know enough about. Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Gillian – You’re exactly right. At the end of the day, we all want to live a peaceful, happy life above all else. And travel does help us understand that fact and in turn, eliminate the divide between ‘us and them’. I think the hard part is admitting that we don’t know enough about a place or a people. We tend to think we know everything there is to know already after watching a news program for a half hour 🙂

  22. Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist

    Hopefully more people would travel with an open mind, and check the reality before believing all this bushwah about an “axis of evil”. Glad to see you enjoy your time, Earl, and I personally find this kind of posts very encouraging, so it’s a pleasure to read them!

    1. Earl

      Hey Fabian – It’s quite easy to create our own reality without having any reliable information, which is why it is so important to find out the truth for ourselves. But of course, this takes much more effort than simply believing what we read.

      I appreciate your comment as always!

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  24. Kyle

    It’s sad that most Americans can’t offer that kind of reciprocity. People in a lot of countries understand that the politics do not always reflect the thoughts of its citizens and that certainly shows when going to the “axis of evil” countries.

    On the good side, at least we have you changing the mind of Syrians one by one! Keep being our ambassador!

    1. Earl

      Hey Kyle – I think that’s the key, being able to separate politics from the people. We often don’t agree with the politics in our home countries, and it is the same in every other country around the world. So if we don’t want to be labeled according to how our government behaves, we must avoid doing the same to others. And no matter which part of Syria I travel to, I’ve still yet to have an anti-American encounter!

  25. Forest

    Earl it’s so similar to Egypt in that respect. People here just really love American and British things. Of course they hate the war in Iraq and Afghanistan but it’s odd how rational most people are in not blaming the general populations of our countries. Sad thing is many people back home and in the States make such nasty assuming comments about Middle Easterners…. So sad.

    1. Earl

      Hey Forest – It’s a good point. People are quite rational over here and I was very much surprised by their open-mindedness. They take great effort to avoid associating the people of a particular country with their government and it’s a lesson that we should all take notice of!

      Glad to hear you’ve discovered a similar attitude in Egypt as well…

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