The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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Walking through the basalt ruins in Bosra.


Laura Fabrycky and her daughters look down at the stage from high up in the amphitheater at Bosra.


inside a smoky, modest café to escape a

torrential afternoon rain and had a satisfy-

ing meal just below the cliffs where the

Orthodox monastery of St. Thecla perches.

After visiting the shrine, we hiked

through a famous crack in the rock, bun-

dled against the rainy cold. The apocryphal

story tells of a rock that opened to allow an

elderly St. Thecla, a contemporary of the

Apostle Paul, to flee her persecutors after

having faced torture and death sentences

many times over in her life.

Two years later, the al-Qaida-linked

al-Nusra Front would wage battle with the

Syrian army here, taking lives and kidnap-

ping a dozen nuns.

Back in Damascus, the sights, smells,

tastes and faces of the ancient streets

left lasting impressions. We purchased

a set of glass-paneled copper lanterns

from a shopkeeper who, in his doting,

fatherly way, gave our daughters little

fabric-framed mirrors for their purses.

Mash’allah! Mash’allah!

He had the lanterns wound tightly in

bubble-wrap for our trip back to Amman,

assuring us that if any of the panels broke,

he would be honored to repair them.


come back, no problem.

The lanterns have

by now even survived a

transoceanic voyage. But

five years on, our memo-

ries are in a kind of inter-

pretive ruin, and we have

no place to fix them. It

was a good trip. We still

say, as we did then, how

lovely a place Syria was,

even in the shadow of its

ruthless dictator and his

apparatus of fear.

Yet Bosra’s basalt structures have been

pocked by bullets, its mosaics punctured,

many of its residences demolished. The

destruction of sites like these, there and

elsewhere, makes us weep, but that pales

before the abject suffering and displace-

ment endured by the Syrian people.

Howmany times have I thought

of Thecla’s rock and said a prayer for

miraculous safe passages for the countless

refugees who have suffered unrelentingly

in the years since?

The diplomatic life comes with

enormous privilege—which, at its best, is

twined with a responsibility to venture far

beyond the safety of Disney-like surreal-

ity; to take real and complicated places

into one’s own life, as best one can; to

meet people, encounter cultures and

make memories in places that many will

never see.

While some among the American

public harbor fear about the unknown

and the “other,” we think back to the faces

we saw—including little ones with bright

pigtails and brown, doe-like eyes, just like

our Hannah; eyes that should have been

compelling enough for a taste of liberty,

for an end to the violence, for a livable,

human peace—smiling, waving, as our

daughters played farm in the gentle ruins

of Bosra.