DUPREE, Ind. — Residents of this small Indiana town report feeling disappointed and more than a little hurt by the growing pattern of neglect they say they’ve experienced in the past two years from their Middle East sister city, Aleppo, Syria. The abandonment reached a peak on Tuesday, when, for the second time in a row, a large contingent of Dupree citizens showed up with flags and signs at the town’s single-runway airport to greet a visiting Aleppo delegation – a delegation that never showed up.
“The whole high school choir came out, and Mrs. [Charlotte] Hewitt baked some of her famous rhubarb pies,” said Dupree Mayor Greg Flenderson, as he solemnly held a framed 2006 photograph of himself grinning with Aleppo Mayor Jalal Maan Jabiri, who has not been seen alive in eight months. “They could have at least called. I mean, it’s almost as if we’re the only one in this sister city relationship that really cares.”
Initially paired with the Syrian hub due to a clerical error by Sister Cities International in 1995, the town of Dupree, population 6,004, was thrilled to discover a friendly and gregarious partner in Aleppo, whose residents topped 2 million in 2010, though that number has since dropped steadily. Officials came playfully to call Aleppo “our big sister.” Over time, however, the regional capital grew preoccupied and distant, and barely word one has been heard from “big sis” in 26 months.
Second-grade teacher Megan Hewgley, head of the Dupree’s sister city committee, said “if [Aleppo is] going to be this selfish,” then she’s going to tell her students to ignore the ancient metropolis right back. As Hewgley angrily took down a series of her students’ drawings showing smiling stick figures holding hands inside an outline of Syria, she rattled off the sins of negligence her comfortable farm town has suffered.
“First they start asking for more ‘samples’ of Midwestern food – like, by the ton – and then they want cell phones and medical supplies too,” Hewgely said. “Then my pen-pal Asu [Al Naram] starts sending me letters full of blacked-out text. Is this a game? Are you giving me clues?
“The worst though was last Fourth of July: We sent over a dozen of our biggest, strongest 19- and 20-year-old boys to set up a nice Indiana barbeque for the Syrians. Haven’t seen neither hide nor hair of them since.”
At press time, a gift given to Aleppo by Dupree—the latter city’s corn-based ethanol fuel—was under investigation by the International Criminal Court.