It was one of those conversations you hear between strangers while riding the bus.
“I like your shawl,” said an elderly woman sitting on the other side of the aisle from me. She was talking to the twenty-something woman in the seat next to her.
“Thank you,” said the younger woman, and explained she had been given the colorful shawl as a gift from a friend who had gone to Egypt.
A man with hair beginning to turn prematurely gray leaned toward them from the other side of the aisle. “Is your friend from Egypt?” he asked in a deep voice with an accent.
The young woman explained that her friend wasn’t from Egypt, but had just been visiting the country. The man nodded. “I am from Syria,” he said. Hence his interest in the Arab World region.
The older woman asked the man how long he had been in the US. Soon the three of them — the older woman, the young woman with the shawl, and the man with graying hair — were engaged in a conversation. “I would like to visit Syria,” said the young woman.
The man nodded again, but sadly. “Yes,” he said. “You must visit later, when things are better. Right now ISIS is doing horrible things to Syria."
Without trying to eavesdrop, I couldn’t help overhearing the rest of the conversation as our bus sped across the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, Oregon. The sky outside the window was cloudy gray.
The man explained that he now lives in Portland with his wife. They have no children yet, but maybe someday. His sisters emigrated from Syria, like him, and now they live in Europe. “They are safe there,” he said with relief.
That’s when it really struck me: these are the sort of people who Donald Trump wants to ban from entering the United States. There was absolutely nothing about this man in the bus that seemed the slightest bit threatening. He appeared tired, his voice shook with sad emotion when he talked about his homeland. He looked like someone’s affectionate uncle, somebody’s slightly harried husband. If Trump has his way, thousands of people like this man will be barred from fleeing Syria and finding refuge in the US.
What struck me next was not just the absurdity of keeping refugees out of our country, but the utter pointlessness of it. Do we seriously think that keeping desperate, hard-working people from crossing our borders will make our country safer? That it will improve our standing in the world? That it will win us much-needed friends and allies in Arab countries?
This conversation in a Portland bus happened on Monday, the same day that Donald Trump reiterated his desire to ban Muslims from the US. Trump also indicated he would expand the ban to include all people from countries experiencing terrorism, like Syria.
The bus conversation was a symbol of what’s supposed to make our country great. Three people of different ages, genders, and ethnicities — the older woman was African American, and the younger woman white — shared a little about their hopes for the future and their families, while en route to an errand or home.
Yet I couldn’t help feeling sad I as I listened. This is the kind of human interaction that Donald Trump wants to stop from happening.