In Syria, Humanity and Heritage Suffer War's Irreparable Devastation

Monday, June 29, 2015 | Syria (map)

This church in Quneitra, the largest Syrian city in the Golan Heights, was damaged during the 1967 war with Israel. When I visited in 2005, the devastation visible in the Golan was the exception in Syria.
Ten years ago this month, I quit my summer construction job early and, buoyed by the single year of Arabic studies I then had under my belt, left my friends back at Georgetown and my family back in Baltimore to fly off to Damascus, Syria.

Looking back a decade later, the two brief months I spent in Syria—which I wrote about extensively on this blog—stand out in my mind as some of the happiest of my life, and among the most formative. I spent my weekdays absorbed in Arabic study, advancing swiftly thanks to the patient Syrians all around me. Each weekend, I explored a different part of the country, clambering over ancient ruins, wandering unknown souks, and revelling in Syrians' warm hospitality.

The place wasn't without its frustrations, to be sure—and the political tensions were palpable—but I came away from that summer with a deep reverence and respect for the country, its people, and its heritage.

Today, those fond memories make it that much harder to watch the destruction that is being heaped upon that same country, those same people, and that same heritage. The Syria I fell in love with no longer exists, and will never again exist as such.

Onward

Friday, June 26, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

What progress looks like. (Image source)
Today was a big day.

On three continents, we saw a series of yet more brutal terror attacks—this time leaving dozens dead and wounded in France, in Kuwait, and at a beach just next door in Tunisia.

Back home in the US today, a nation still in mourning after last week's similar killing of nine black worshipers in a South Carolina church finally got some good news. The Supreme Court announced a narrow 5-4 decision extending the right to marry to gay couples.

These seemingly unrelated events coincided today amid the broader era of transition in which we live. The attacks serve as a reminder that we inhabit a world where reactionary forces seek to manipulate violence, fear, or hatred to impose their own views and lifestyles on others at the expense of individual freedoms. The judicial ruling, however, serves as a reminder that it is those of us working to advance personal liberties and freedom of choice who gain the most ground, year after year.

16 Essential Algiers Experiences

Monday, June 8, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Why 16? Each of Algeria's 48 wilayas, or regions, has an assigned number for its license plates. Because plates on every car registered in Algiers end in 16, the number has become synonymous with the city.
After over two years of living and working in Algiers, I have spent considerable time exploring the city and its surroundings, as well as entertaining a handful of adventurous visitors. In the process, I've gotten to know this city well—even if I'm still discovering more each day.

One thing I've learned: there is lots to do here! (Not a surprise in a Mediterranean port of 4 million people that is also the capital of Africa's largest country, and yet its reputation sadly suggests otherwise.)

Distilling all the Algerian capital's unique sights, culture, and activities into one brief not-to-be-missed list isn't easy, but summer tourism season is upon us, and I have to try something to get more of you to visit! (Plus, the country's tourism officials don't seem likely to try it anytime soon.) So without further ado, here is my selection of 16 essential activities that every visitor to Algiers should experience: