Minnesota-born, now Chicago-based, actor and writer Kim Schultz was in Syria in 2009 to interview refugees when she fell into her own unlikely love story.
Schultz was among a group of artists a New York organization commissioned to visit Damascus, interview refugees and bring their stories back to the USA. Her refugee work took an unusual turn when she fell in love. Her book, “Three Days in Damascus,” was inspired by the play she wrote, “No Place Called Home.” Her play was staged at the Illusion in Minneapolis, Kennedy Center in D.C. and off Broadway. Her website 3daysindamascus.com is devoted to the romance that flared during an epic journey to safety amid cultural devastation.
A New Prague native who grew up in Minneapolis, Schultz has performed at some of the Twin Cities’ most well-known theaters. She is currently in rehearsals for “A Christmas Carol” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, where she is playing the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: I wrote this book to get it out of my system and to draw awareness to this hugely ignored refugee crisis. But most of all, I wanted to humanize refugees for people in a world hellbent on demonizing them. I wanted people to see refugees, as I did, as people just like us, caught in a terrible situation for which currently there is no answer.
Q: Describe Damascus.
A: Damascus was the most magical city. Of course, I fell in love there, so I’m partial. But it feels ancient and mystical. It was like stepping back in time while being fairly modern at the same time. It was gorgeous. Damascus had a feel that I’ve never felt anywhere else. And now, the country is in shambles. The mosques, the artifacts, the history, the people. What an amazing loss. Startles me to think I was there right before it all fell apart. We should be ashamed.
Q: Syria hasn’t been safe, if I am to believe media accounts, in a long time, so what did your parents think?
A: Syria was “safer” in 2009 certainly. This was before ISIL, before the Syrian civil war. Not the safest though, of course. But much safer than today. Today it would be impossible to travel there. But in 2009, my mom [her dad is deceased] was just worried sick. I was thrilled. Syria!
Q: How in the world did you fall in love with an Iraqi refugee?
A: At the end of the monthlong trip to the Middle East, wrecked from the secondhand trauma of it all, I met Omar. There was an instant connection. I write in the play and the book about his eyes.
Q: You and Omar were in a long-distance romance from 2009 until 2012. What happened?
A: We fell in love and had a fiancé visa to bring him to America, but then he agreed to an arranged marriage with an Iraqi woman at the behest of his family. He was about to leave the region and his family and his culture, so he felt it was the least he could do, to say yes to their request to marry within their religion and culture. It devastated me, as you can imagine.
Q: Is there more obeying of him in an arranged marriage than him obeying you? And I feel compelled to tell you that I am not big on obeying unless it’s job-related.
A: No obeying. He was very Western (except for agreeing to the arranged marriage with the Iraqi woman). Most of Iraq, before we destroyed it as a country, was very secular and modern. Women worked and were often equals. Our misconceptions about Iraq are sweepingly large. Iraq was very much like any Westernized, secular culture. It was our invasion that allowed religion to become such a major player again.
Q: Where is Omar now?
A: We are not currently together. Omar was finally resettled in Canada. Thankfully, he is safe. He never went through with his arranged marriage. He is still single, ironically.
Q: Canada is a lot closer than Syria?
A: [Laughter] Yes, C.J., it is.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.