Samia Madwar

Premium Writer

Samia Madwar currently works at The Walrus, where she gets to edit magazine stories about everything from political protests and science explainers to personal essays. Before moving to Toronto, she lived in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories—a long way from Syria, her home country—where she helped edit Up Here magazine, cross-country skied on frozen lakes in the winter, and canoed in the summer. When she isn’t typing things, she spends her free time trying (and failing) to grow cucumbers, learning about fungi, and making hummus.

As a StoryTerrace writer, Samia interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know him better by reading his autobiographical anecdote below.

The Shawarma Mission

I never thought I’d be so relieved to see a shawarma stand. I broke away from the group I was walking with and caught up to one of the chaperones.

“David,” I said, “I have a little mission. I’m going to pop into Yummy Shawarma for a bit.”

“Good luck,” he said. David knew that, despite our remarkable surroundings, I was distracted. We were part of a group of students and researchers on an educational expedition in the Arctic, and our journey began in Iqaluit, the capital of the territory of Nunavut in Canada. It was my first time there, and I knew I should focus on absorbing every minute of the experience. The expedition organizers had encouraged us all to unplug during the trip: most of our cell phones didn’t work here anyway, and who cares about email when you’re 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle?

But without internet access, I had no idea what was going on back home. And that’s where my mind kept drifting. At Yummy Shawarma, I figured, I’d get the news I craved. One lesson you learn in the Arctic: always be resourceful.

“Marhaba,” I greeted the man at the cash register. “I’m a visitor here and I’m from Syria,” I said in Arabic. “I haven’t had news from home in a couple of days. Can you tell me what’s been happening?”

“It depends,” the man said. “Are you with those guys?” he asked, tilting his head one way, “or with those guys?”

He wasn’t Syrian, but I could tell he was from the Middle East. And he was speaking in code, as so many do when they’ve grown up in a dictatorship and always fear they’re being monitored.

“Those guys” might mean the Syrian government, which at the time, in the summer of 2012, was still only one year into a war that even then seemed to have no end in sight. “Those guys” might mean the opposition.

“Those guys,” I said, mirroring his latter head tilt.

I don’t remember what news he shared with me. But I left the shawarma stand realizing that, for better or for worse, some things never change, no matter how far from home you travel. Still, I felt better, whether it was because of the news update or the familiar scent of freshly-shaved shawarma chicken. My only regret is that I didn’t purchase a shawarma wrap for the road.

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