She was a 15-year-old Muslim girl from Dubai. I saw her taking photos across the pond. My dog jumped up beside me on the low wall. That’s when she took our photo. Then slowly and shyly, she made her way towards us until I said hello.
She told me she had never pet a dog before and was afraid. I told her Leo was a gentle puppy. I promised her he wouldn’t bite.
She told me she was afraid of all animals, not just dogs. Like the animals on her grandfather’s farm. And of spiders, which her younger male cousins — who ran faster than she did — would throw at her precisely because they terrified her.
She told me she liked to take photographs and videos of nature and hoped one day to be a nature photographer. She said she wanted a real camera but her parents said an iPhone should be enough. She said she would save up and buy one. She said that she loved the woods in Europe, which were rich and green, and so different from the barren desert she knew back home.
She showed me videos she’d made of the Chamonix woods and one from a trip she took on a visit to Switzerland. The videos were slow and moving and suggested a good eye for color and detail.
We spent about 30 minutes together, me waiting for my husband and daughter to sail over the pond on a zip line. Her sisters and parents somewhere nearby. She said she was always getting lost but didn’t mind.
It was only later back home that I thought about what I might have said to this bright and thoughtful teenage girl. Sometimes a total stranger’s words can be exactly what someone most needs to hear.
I wish I had said that it was obvious in the short time we spent together that she was a kind and creative soul who should follow her passions. That artists are only as good as what they produce. And she should produce lots of photos and videos because the more she produces, the better she’ll get.
I wish I’d said that while she should follow her passions, she should also do things that make her afraid because it’s often the things we fear doing that can help us the most.
I wish I’d said that everyone’s afraid of something. Actually, I think I did tell her I was afraid of frogs. And that boys I grew up with used to throw them at me because they knew how much I feared them.
I wish I’d said that just because her boy cousins were faster now, didn’t mean she wouldn’t outrun them in the end.
Then again, maybe it’s good I offered no advice, but simply listened. That’s probably what she needed most, and maybe why she walked around the pond to meet me and my dog.