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?