The other day I had spilled food on my hand when eating outside and needed to wash it. In a street corner a man sold candy and chewing gums from cardboard boxes. I had seen him before as I passed the corner every day, it was close to my work place in Damascus. In the morning I saw him coming and loading the boxes with the unsold items from the day before – overnight he covered the boxes and the wobbly tables the boxes were placed on with different pieces of fabric tucked together. The man was sitting on the side of the street, I approached him and asked for a “small bottle of water”.
“I don’t sell water.”
Of course, the little stall didn’t have a fridge, how could he sell any drinks? It had been a stupid question to ask.
“Aha, ok. Sorry.”
I turned to leave.
He remembered something, got up and went over to the tables, started rummaging around among the fabric. He picked up a box of clean paper cups and a big bottle of water, his own water, then poured me a cup. I fetched my wallet with my other not-so-greasy-hand and picked up some coins.
“Thank you, how much is it?”
Some weeks before I had been ripped off in a grocery store, paying twice as much as I should, and when I realized I couldn’t be particularly mad. Most people would rip anyone off if they were on the brink of poverty, especially a foreigner who had much more, in a time when the country’s currency was falling dramatically until the previously big-bills turned small-bills turned nothing. I wanted to pay and insisted, offering the coins. Suddenly the man looked sad. Just sad.
“I don’t want any money. Please take it, my daughter.”
That made me quiet. I mumbled a thank you. In that little moment, kindness won over war. It’s not a small power, not a sign of weakness. I believe it can sometimes be very strong.