A historian could talk for weeks about the Turkish city of Mardin, located in the country’s southeastern corner not far from the Tigris River. But in this post, I only want to say a word about one of its more recent inhabitants. Her name is Reyyan, and when we met in 2017, she was three years old.
My work requires me to sometimes crouch on curbs, looking around for a shot, waiting for the light to shift or the right combination of elements to come together. Most passersby ignore you during this time. Occasionally someone will give you the middle finger. And occasionally, someone like Reyyan, filled with joy and curiosity and life, will run to you.
Our desire to run hard, to burst forth from our starting line, is often dulled, even lost, as an adult. I’m talking about how we relate to a stranger, not how we run a footrace. Most people are familiar with the “glass ceiling” metaphor: an invisible barrier that keeps a certain demographic of people from rising beyond a certain point. There is also, I think, a “glass wall” that regulates how most people relate to one another. I often feel that wall when I travel, and I don’t like it. I like to see it cracked. Even better, I like to see a kid — who maybe doesn’t see the wall, who sees only a clear path to run — crash right through it. I can almost hear the glass hit the ground.
When Reyyan ran toward me, it was with her family’s blessing. That’s a sign of a good family: keep an eye on your kid, but allow them to knock down the glass wall, and become a bridge.
This experience with Reyyan and her family in Mardin reminded me of another similar experience 14 years earlier in Shanghai, when two Chinese parents walked up to me as I sat alone on a bench and placed their baby in my arms. That experience was the inspiration for “Holding a Child of Another Race,” Reason 21 in my book 30 Reasons to Travel. I’ll conclude with the following excerpt:
I imagined what might happen if people traveled abroad simply to hold a child that belonged to another race, another nation. Perhaps twenty years later there would be a little less war because the imprint of life would still be on our arms and the image of the child still in our hearts. I thought too of the corny trinkets we often lug home at the end of our journeys, most of which will never fit into the fabric of our lives unless we jam them there. What if we were to return instead with a photo of another’s child in our arms, framing it and placing it on a wall with photographs of our own family? Might this lead to an expanded sense of family—or at least to a new way of thinking about strangers? And what if we did the same service for the people we met, offering them not only our tourist dollars but also our children, even if only for a moment, and giving them a photo to remember it by? Hundreds of millions of people around the world would prize such a thing, forever remembering the gift and the people who gave it.
THINGS MENTIONED OR RELATED: