Becca Balint: A Vermonter in Doha

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Each day a friend posts captivating and poignant photos online from her home in Doha, Qatar.

She documents both her mundane and wondrous experiences there, and those of us on the other side of the globe get a feast for our eyes and spirits. School for International Training graduates, she and her spouse have lived and worked for NGOs in far flung reaches of the planet for over a decade. But this is the first time she has fully embraced her skill and grace with photography and put her pictures on social media for daily consumption and reflection. It is one of my favorite parts of my day: visiting Doha with a touch of a button.

Another friend is in Abu Dhabi with her sons this week; they are forgoing tangible presents in exchange for experiences this holiday season. She works for a nonpartisan think tank in D.C., although I met her at the Women's Campaign School at Yale. Through her snapshots and online posts, I have visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and seen her sons' delight as they watched the lights dance in the mosque's reflecting pool. We have shared many parenting experiences together through our posts and messages on Facebook over the years. She, an African American mom, who lives in our nation's bustling capital, and I, a caucasian mom in one of the nation's whitest and most rural states, feel grateful for the window we have into each other's lives.

At 47, I am not a millennial nor am I a technology native. When I started college, I was still composing my term papers on an IBM Selectric II typewriter, which I just learned is listed as "vintage" on ebay. Thanks for that, ebay. I also was decidedly not an "early adopter" of social media. My older sister and I would often joke about how there were a lot of folks — past loves, for example — that we were happy to keep at a distance; we didn't need to make it any easier for them to track us down. "If I wanted to be in touch with them," she laughed, "they'd already have my contact information!"

But I relented when I started to see its usefulness in shrinking the world for me. When the planet becomes smaller, less scary and more accessible — both emotionally and psychologically — we can become more compassionate and understanding citizens of the world.

When many Republican governors — and a few Democrats, too — called for shutting Syrian refugees out of our immigration process, despite that the vetting process for those fleeing war in Syria currently takes about two years, I took to social media for solace, context and support.

And then Donald Trump said he'd support a database to track all Muslims; Ben Carson likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. And Jeb Bush suggested we only admit Christians from Syria. I posted about my own family's immigration story, and encouraged others to do the same. Soon I had a long string of American immigration and refugee stories posted from friends and acquaintances. It is a simple — but direct — action to change the narrative about what it means to be an American.

There is a photo from Doha that my buddy posted last week that continues to resonate with me. It is a cityscape in relief at sunset; the buildings are black against an exquisite cadmiumcolored sky. The sun looks weary, heavy from the day. As I write, from my home on South Main in Brattleboro, I watch the sun, bright with promise, tug itself above Wantastiquet Mountain, the landscape in dark relief. It is the same sun.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.


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