Monday, December 25, 2006

A tiny reminder.. Life IS beautiful..

Every now and again, things happen to me that restore my optimism... things that remind me that life is, after all, beautiful.. Very few can rival this one..
Thursday was my last day at work before my long-awaited Holiday.. As I was going to be away for two weeks, I decided to get in much earlier than I normally do, in order to try and make some impact on the mountain of paperwork that I simply must finish before I go away.. (Oooh, how I hate paperwork!!..).. I knew I had a full day ahead, and once the rat race starts, any chance of tackling that pile would simply evaporate..
As I drove in towards the Department, I could not help but notice something very odd... What on Earth is that car doing, parked right in the middle of the Ambulance Bay.. doors open, and a screen around it!!???..
As I opened my car door, I heard some muffled screams.. coming from that car!.. I ran to the car to find a young woman, in the final stages of labour!!... I noticed that her husband, along with two Nurses from the Department, were running back to the car with a trolley, to carry the mother into the Department.. However, to my horror, I realised that the baby had other plans.. It was not going to wait!.. Thankfully, the Nurses brought with them some sterile gloves and blankets, along with a pack of some basic instruments... and before I know it, I was in action, helping the young mother deliver her first child, on the backseat of her car!..
I don't know how long the whole thing took, but it felt like eternity!.. "OK.. Push, sweetheart.. you're doing fine..".. The baby is out.. the cold air sends it screaming!.. So far, so good.. Cord clamped and cut, baby (a healthy, bouncy little boy) wrapped in warm towel, handed to Nurse, who rushes him into the warmth of the Resuscitair and the awaiting Paediatricians... Mother crying with emotion, I am trying to control mine!.. Despite the freezing morning air, I was sweating buckets!.. My clothes, by now, were soaked through.. The relief of knowing that the baby was well, and hear him cry, was simply indescribable..
I am delighted to report that both Mother and Baby are doing fine... As for me, I am still recovering!...
But what about that mountain of paperwork??... Well.. After all that excitement, do you really think I was going to be bothered??... I mean, I was not even supposed to be there!.. I only went in at 07:15 to do some paperwork, and I get the unbelievable good fortune to be part of something so amazing!.. And people still ask me why I love this job so much!!...
In the end, I stayed till after 9pm to finish all the administrative rubbish.. and you know what?.. I really did not mind.. Even by the time I eventually got home after 10, I was still buzzing from my experience over 14 hours earlier...
I really should sign off.. I have a flight to catch in a few hours...
Photograph by Jennifer Loomis

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year...

I started writing, thinking that this will be a brief post.. just to wish you all Eid Mubarak, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Prosperous New Year...

I know it is still a few days away, but you see, I am going to be away from Christmas Day, all the way through to after the New Year.. (You may recall the dilemma I was in, trying to decide where to go for the Holidays (A Christmas get-away.. the forbidden destination).. Well.. it is going to be Rome!..) Anyway.. I digress...

I was suddenly struck by the irony of it all.. In the year when violence in the name of religion has reached astronomical levels, the most important religious festivals for two of the World's great religions fall within the same week... This will not happen again until 2039.. not for another 33 years that Eid Al-Adha and Christmas will be this close..

Wouldn't it be great if humanity, somehow, managed to utilise this coming year to shed its increasing tendency for self-destruction, and be able to embrace peace for everyone?..

Wouldn't it be great if, this time next year, we were to celebrate the end of all violence across the globe??..

Wouldn't be great if, this time next year, we were able to declare our Earth a Planet free from tyranny and injustice??.. A Planet were all Nations live in harmony and mutual respect??.. A Planet free from all nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction??...

Pipe-dreams, I know.. but hey, what's life without dreams?!.. and what better time to have great dreams than at the run-up to Christmas and Eid Al-Adha?...

Well, I will put my proposals for saving the Planet on hold until I come back from Rome.. I shall report on this trip when I come back..

Take care, all of you.. and don't get up to any mischief while I am away!...

Picture by SB: Winter Scene

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What's in a name?...

I have not been in the business of 'blogging' for long.. Less than a year, in fact..
It all started when my eldest daughter sent me a link to a blog she had come across, The Damascene Blog, and said that I might like its contents.. and she was right!..
Very quickly, I found myself exploring blogs that I thought might be interesting, and found myself getting involved in some heated discussions.. You see, I have some pretty strong views on certain issues, and I wanted to express them.. (I, for example, get very cross when people in Syria assume that expats like me left the Country because we have no love for it.. that our loyalty is, somehow, questionable.. that the decision to leave was easy, and driven by greed.. Some assume that because we live abroad, we are out of touch with what is happening withing the Country, and that we cannot serve it as well as those who are within it.. That really makes me cross... but I digress!..)
Aaanyway... I started making comments as 'anonymous', but did not want to be associated with comments from other 'anonymous' commentators, and started looking for a pseudonym.. and 'The Syrian Brit' was born, and the Blog followed later... I thought the name emphasizes the fact that I am, first and foremost, Syrian, and underlines how important that is to my psyche.. At the same time, it reflects my current position as a British citizen, living in this Country, contributing to it, and enjoying the rewards and benefits.. Nevertheless, I was not (and I still am not) entirely comfortable with it.. it is too impersonal.. too formal.. and, in these respects, nothing like me!..
I thought of several other options.. I could have called myself 'AJ' (my initials).. or 'Mr. J', as some colleagues call me at work.. but I thought that was too pretentious..
Because my first name sounds almost exactly like a particularly typical Irish name, some of my colleagues call me 'The Honorary Irishman'.. They assure me it is because of my name, and not any other attribute that the Irish are, allegedly, reputed for!!..
Some people at work call me 'Speedy Gonzales'.. because of the way I whiz around the Department when it is busy.. Others call me 'DisasterMaster'... because, often, as soon as I walk into a previously quiet Department, hell breaks loose, and seriously ill and badly injured patients come flooding in!!.. In fact, 'DisasterMaster' has become my 'official' middle name!..
I quite like these nicknames.. I think they are endearing, witty, and spontaneous... However, none of them really reflects who I actually am.. so I decided against using any of them as my cyberspace alter ego, and I was stuck with 'The Syrian Brit'.. and with time, I got used to that nickname.. until Naji picked up on it in a comment on Rime's Mosaics.. and now Rime also seems to suggest I should change it...
But as someone with a limited imagination, I am genuinely struggling to come up with a suitable alternative..
So, I now put it to all interested visitors of this blog.. Can you come up with a more personal, but still representative, nickname to replace 'The Syrian Brit'?.. or would you rather I keep it?..
Printable polite suggestions only, please!.. This is a 'family show', after all!..
(Those who want to be more personal or abusive, can e-mail me on the e-mail address that is listed on my Blogger profile...)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A salute to Abu Fares

For some months now, I have had the pleasure of following a most enjoyable and engaging blog, maintained by Abu Fares (abufares said...the world according to a tartoussi)..
Now, isn't the Internet just amazing!?...
I have never met the man, but through reading the posts in his blog, full of delicate, charming and sincere images of himself, his likes and dislikes, and 'the world according to a taroussi', I feel that I have really come to know, and like, Abu Fares... Not more so than after reading his latest offering...
As the title suggests, his latest post 'what I like', lists a number of things Abu Fares likes.. He then promises to list things he doesn't like in a subsequent post.. I eagerly await that...
In a comment in a previous post, Abu Fares mentioned that reading a post on my blog was for him like 'looking in the mirror..'.. Well, his latest post made me realise exactly what he meant!.. There are quite a few similarities between what I like and what Abu Fares likes (thinkers vs. talkers, good food, walking in the rain, good food, sports, good food, reading, good food, Syria, good food, beautiful intelligent women, good food, 'trains, planes and automobiles'... and did I mention good food??..), However, I must point out that there are one or two things on his list that I do not like..
For one, I am a tea-total.. not on religious grounds, I reluctantly admit, but more because of personal convictions, that were later underpinned by professional experiences (you only need to see once the consequences of a drunken rage on some poor helpless victim, or the humiliation and self-destruction that alcoholics degenerate into, to be put off the stuff for life.. even 'in moderation'...)..
While I like most things mechanical, I loathe motorbikes.. with a passion.. Again, that is probably a reflection of my professional experiences.. I guess it is not surprising, since I spend a sizable proportion of my working day trying to mend, often with frustrating futility, victims of motorcycle crashes!..
The next item on the list is more of a 'can't do' rather that a 'don't like'.. and that is cooking!.. I am absolutely useless as a cook.. In fact, only I can eat what I cook!.. I blame it on the fact that I am blessed with a wife who is, without any shadow of a doubt, the best cook in the entire Galaxy.. One of my English colleagues, having tasted my wife's cooking, often introduces me as 'the best-fed man in Lancashire', to which I reply: 'In the Western hemisphere, my friend!..'
Nevertheless, the similarities far outnumber the differences.. M*A*S*H.. the private space (now, a room in my house that I built to use as a gym.. in years gone by, it was my photography darkroom in my parents' house).. and most importantly, the privilege of being part of a phenomenon called 'blogosphere'..
So, my friend Abu Fares, I am honoured and privileged to have met you in cyberspace.. I am delighted to discover that, despite our differences, we have so much in common.. Who knows?.. Perhaps one day we will meet, be it in your beloved Tartous, in my beloved Damascus, or even in this 'Green and Pleasant Land' that I now call 'home'...
(Photo by SB: The Red Arrows, Royal International Air Tattoo 2002, RAF Fairford)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A soul-searching reply to a simple question..

A few days ago, Ascribo, of 'Thinking Aloud' ( posed a challenge for me.. He 'tagged' me.. whatever that means!.. As I understand it, if you get 'tagged', you will be asked a question (or a number of questions) by the person who tagged you.. These are often deep and searching questions, and their answers, I suppose, are meant to reveal about you a lot more than you perhaps want to reveal!..
In my case, the tagging question was:
"Which of your qualities you want your child to have, and which of them you do NOT want him to have?"

Now, on the face of it, this seems like a simple question.. surely, I can recognise some qualities in myself that I want my child to inherit.. or can I???...

I must say, it wasn't too difficult to identify the traits that I wouldn't want to pass on to my children.. I possess certain qualities that, for the benefit of the human gene pool, best die with me!... but let's not dwell on those too much!..

I tend to be quite forgetful.. I always maintain that I have a brain like a sieve!... My memory is as good as the piece of paper in my hand (nowadays, as good as my PDA!..).. In other words, if it is not written down (nowadays, jotted down in my PDA), then it will be forgotten!..

Also, I am messy and untidy, to the deep annoyance of my obsessively tidy wife!.. I have a sign on my office wall, saying: 'A tidy desk is the sign of a sick mind'... Need I say any more?!..

I am not very organised.. I tend to be a bit of a 'scatter-brain'.. I often start on a task, and find myself digressing, and getting involved in a hundred-and-one other matters, leading to confusion and delays.. Some kind souls might call this 'multi-tasking'.. but if I were to be truthful, I would call it 'avoidance tactics'!.. Interestingly, this only happens when I am forced to do administrative tasks, paperwork (which I loathe with a passion!..), or house work.. Thankfully, I always manage to maintain focus when dealing with clinical matters, mostly because I enjoy what I do so much, and not because of any great brain powers!..

I have a habit of postponing tasks that I hate... If I had to tell one of my kids off for something they've done, I would keep finding excuses to do it 'tomorrow'!.. I always end up handing in my Tax Returns form within (almost literally) hours from the deadline (God bless on-line applications!..). I somehow try to convince myself that if I ignore those tasks long enough, they would simply go away!.. Sadly, they don't.. and I should be old enough to know that!!...

On the good side, I am a hardworking and motivated person.. I have managed, against some steep odds occasionally, to maintain my sanity and my focus, and achieve things that I am very proud of..

I am a very tolerant person.. I always try to see the good in people, and find excuses for their acts.. (even though some of those closest to me disagree, and even though that trait had certainly affected me adversely over the years, I still feel it is a good trait..). Nevertheless, I become a vicious monster if any harm were about to befall my loved ones..

I am (usually) pleasant and sociable, and it takes a lot to make me angry.. but believe me, you don't want to be around when I am!..

I think I am caring and thoughtful, and I would go out of my way to help those who need my help..

I believe I am an honest and principled person, with a high sense of duty and purpose.. Now that is a trait that I would love to pass to my offsprings...

After writing all that, I paused a bit, and thought.. What traits have I actually passed on to my children??.. Let's see...

From the outset, let me tell you that I have three absolutely delightful children, whom I absolutely adore.. and although they are so different in many way, they are remarkably similar..

  • All three are very hardworking individuals.. They seem to thrive on challenges, and they give their best when under pressure.. Check

  • All three are highly principled and honest. They would say what they think, and they would stand steadfastly by their beliefs.. Check

  • Each in his/her own way, they are very caring and selfless.. Each of them would do anything to help others, even complete strangers.. Check

  • All three are very pleasant and sociable.. (although they do somewhat vary on the sociability score..).. and by the way, all three have a remarkable ability to sulk!.. Check.. on both accounts!

  • Much to the annoyance of their mother, they are all messy and untidy.. I can't think where they get that from!...

  • My children are proud of who they are... They all have a highly developed sense of belonging, and a deep love for their roots, something that my wife and I have tirelessly instilled in them.. (I know.. this is not an inherited trait.. but at least it is something that I can get the credit for!..)

Well, for someone who professes to being a private person, I am not doing too bad here!.. Here I am baring my soul, warts and all.. (and it's not a pretty sight, anyway!..).. Nevertheless, the exercise made me realise, yet again, how lucky I am, and how blessed I have been to have such great children..

So, for that alone, thank you very much, Ascribo...

(Photo by SB: A lilly in my garden)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rambling thoughts on a momentous day..

So the verdict is out!.. Saddam is guilty of 'Crimes Against Humanity'.. and as a punishment, he is sentenced to death by hanging..
There is no doubt in my mind that this ruthless butcher thoroughly deserves the death sentence (although, in principle, I do not support the death penalty, I am willing to make an exception in this case!..). Nevertheless, I was really troubled by a number of things relating to this..
Why on a Sunday, when that particular Court never convened on a Sunday throughout its 1-year's duration??.. Is it becuase Monday is the last day of campaigning for the Mid-Term elections??.. Am I being too cynical when I link the timing of this sentence to the Republicans' electoral troubles?.. I know I am not the only one!..
Despite my views that the sentence was the correct one, I cannot help but note that the trial was a circus!.. only it was the dancing bear who was calling the tunes, and not the ringmaster!.. To my simple mind, the fact that the trial was so farcical has made the outcome so much less significant.. Saddam's supporters can, justifiably, scream 'Foul'.. All the political meddling, and all the flagrant bias demonstrated by the Court and the trial judges take away from the phenomenal significance of this monumental event.. This is, after all, the first time a former Arab ruler gets to be tried in his own Country, albeit with the Country under occupation...
But what troubles me most is the way the Western media has reported this event.. Even the more 'high-browed' organizations , like the BBC, have shown unbelievable levels of ignorance, when they report on how the Shias are celebrating, while the Sunnis are protesting!.. As if Saddam did not kill, torture and oppress as many Sunnis as he did Shias.. As if his inner circles of cronies and co-opressors did not contain Shias, as well as Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.. Any 'observer' worth his/her salt would tell you that the curse of Saddam, and the excesses of his henchmen, have reached every corner of the Iraqi society..
At this moment in time, certain questions immediately spring to mind.. like 'who's next?..' , or 'when will other people be held responsible for their Crimes Against Humanity?.. People like Bush, Blair, and Olmert, amongst others?'..

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Happy Eid

This is a very brief post..
I just want to wish you all a very Happy and Peaceful Eid.. May it bring you and your families happiness, prosperity, and good health...

Picture by SB: Autumn Scene

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Christmas get-away.. the forbidden destination

I am the only non-Christian amongst the Senior Staff in our Department.. Ever since I took up my current post, I have always volunteered to do Christmas Day, thus allowing my colleagues to enjoy the festivities with their families.. I am delighted to say that this has always been met with appreciation from my colleagues, who would, in turn, try to ensure that I get time off during our festive seasons..
Our Clinical Director (whom I call 'the Clinical Dictator'... to his face, I hasten to add!!..) is, in fact, a very shrewd and wily man.. he is an enlightened and forward-thinking boss, who defends our corner very vociferously.. A few years ago, he came up with the ingenious idea that, because of our numbers, we can afford to have one of us off for two weeks around Christmas and New Year, an idea that went down very well with the Senior Staff.. So, we drew our names out of a hat (actually it was a standard NHS biodegradable bowl!..), to determine the order by which we will have our turn..
Last year, it was my turn.. but a quick calculation told me that it would be more logical for me to have the two weeks off THIS year .. After all, this year, Eid Al-Adha coincides with New Year's Eve.. It did not take a great deal of convincing to get the person next in line to have his two weeks off a year in advance!!..
So, for the first time in six years, I am off for Christmas.. and for the first time for as long as I can remember, I am actually off for BOTH Christmas AND New Year!!!..
To make the most of this opportunity, we decided to go away for the two weeks.. all of us... myself, my wife, and our three kids.. The difficulty is determining where to go!..
Our first thought was to go home.. After all, what is nicer than spending Eid with family and friends back home?.. However, if I go in December, I will not be able to go in the Summer.. as I am only allowed to visit the Country (MY OWN Country..) once every twelve months.. and even that is such a prohebitively complicated matter!.. It literally takes several months of palnning and uncertainty.. I have to get a special permission from the 'AlQyadeh AlQawmieh', through the Embassy.. There is no guarrantee that I will get it in time, and if I apply too early, the permit might expire before I am actually planning to go!.. (the permit is only valid for a limited period, and you cannot specify when!..).. Why??.. Because I have not done my Military Service (I am nearly fifty!..).. Why on Earth does a citizen of a Country have to get permission to visit his homeland??.. How can stopping me visiting my beloved City serve 'the Cause'??.. There is no doubt in my mind that this is yet another ploy to disenfranchise ex-pats like me, and make us feel that we do not belong.. Well, it won't work.. not for this ex-pat!!..
Nevertheless, sadly, this option is now ruled out, as much as I would have loved to go home for Eid.. I have not seen Eid in Damascus for over 21 years.. My children experienced Eid al-Fitr over there a few years ago when it coincided with the Christmas Holidays, but I was unable to go at the time..
We spent a few days trying to explore other possibilities.. Options from India to Andalusia, from Vienna to Dubai.. from Morocco to Stockholme.. are all being considered, but no firm decisions made as yet.. Sadly, the one place missing from this list is the place I would most love to go to...
(Picture by SB: A water lily in my pond)

Friday, September 15, 2006

In support of those who refuse to be silenced

The following appeal has been posted by Fares ( Like him, and like many other Syrian bloggers, I urge all fellow Syrian bloggers everywhere to voice their support for those brave souls.

"The updated high profile Syrian prisoners list include Mahmoud Issa, Michel Kilo, Khalil Hasan, Anwar el Bunni, Suleiman al-Shamar, Ali Abdallah, Mohammed Ali Abdallah, Kamal Labwani, Fateh Jamous, Habib Saleh and Aref Dalila.
It is easy to become complacent and resign oneself to the fact it all seems hopeless. But, at least, in honor of those few who believed that it is NOT hopeless, that this country has a better future beyond corruption and dogma.
We owe it to these prisoners of conscience and we owe it to the future of our country to keep pushing for their release.
We are all Free Syrians and We deserve a fair justice system, free speech and better policies."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sore throat?.. So what!..

Why on Earth am I blogging?...
What can I say about the current events in Lebanon that has not already been said time over time??.. and far more eloquently than I can ever say it?..
I really do not have anything new to say.. and even if I did, I ask you, who is actually reading this or paying any attention?..
Is anyone reading this able to do ANYTHING to stop the ongoing destruction?.. Even more, would the collective action of all those reading this blog, posting on their own blogs, or commenting on other blogs, result in saving a single road from destruction?.. a single house from demolition?.. even a single child from being blown up to bits?... I put it to you, my friends, that the answer is a resounding 'NO'!...
I am not, by nature, a defeatist.. but I am so, so frustrated.. so overwhelmed by an overpowering sense of futility and irrelevance.. A beautiful country that I have lived in, loved and still love, is being destroyed.. its infrastructure decimated, and its people killed, maimed and displaced.. and all I can do is BLOG???...
Well.. I have, in fact, tried other things.. like writing to my MP (the Right Honourable Jack Straw, no less!..).. like trying to get colleagues and work-mates to do the same.. like canvassing support and starting petitions at my workplace.. and some good did all that do, I hear you say!!!...
A few days ago, I had a very heated discussion with a very good friend of mine.. She is a highly intelligent, very articulate, and extremely well-read (not to mention beautiful and charming!..) lady.. And what was the discussion about?.. Well, you guessed it!.. Lebanon, Israel, Hizbullah, and the God-almighty mess they have got themselves into!!..
Although she concedes that the Israeli actions are disproportionate, she is of the view that Hizbullah have brought this onto themselves and Lebanon.. She argues vociferously that Hizbullah have shown no respect for the lives of their own people and followers by mixing with civilians, and, consequently, they bear the responsibility for the killings...
Now, I am not a fan of Hizbullah or Nassrallah.. In fact, I am not a fan of any religious organization that proclaims political aspirations.. I firmly believe that God and politics should not mix.. but surely, this is a bit more than just a school yard tussle.. I really do not care, at this point at least, as to 'who started it?'... For me, the important thing at the moment is to stop the killing and the destruction.. on both sides.. and whether or not Hizbullah fighters are hiding amongst civilians, at the end of the day, it is the Israeli bombs that are killing the children by the dozens..
The argument branched into all sorts of other issues, such as religion and its role in politics in the Middle East, the love/hate relationship between East and West (I actually maintain that it is between North and South.. but I digress!..), not to mention women's rights and race relations within the UK.. amongst other hot potatoes..
I came out of that discussion with a few conclusions...

Conclusion #1:
It is very difficult to change someone's opinions. People make up their own minds and set their own views, based on their experiences, readings, exposures, culture, and background.. Even when you offer what you believe to be blinding evidence, they will probably retort with what they see as equally blinding evidence in favour of the opposite view!..

Conclusion #2:
Our ability, as Arabs, to argue our position is very severely hamstrung by the fact that our own rulers, singularly and without exception, are corrupt, oppressive and authoritarian.. These rulers and regimes (please don't call them Governments.. that term implies the existence of systems and methods and rules and regulations.. those people do not deserve that title!.. but I digress again..).. where was I?.. yes.. these rulers and regimes will hijack any cause that stirs the masses, and use it to strengthen their hold, and tighten the noose around our collective neck.. And trust me, those whom you engage in a discussion can see it, too!.. and they will use that fact to undermine your argument..

Conclusion #3:
Our ability to argue any position is hampered even more by the fact that our society is full of hypocrisy and contradictions, and until we look inwards and examine our inner selves, we are going nowhere.. We cannot blame all our ills on the regimes and rulers.. We must take some responsibility for our collective destiny...

Conclusion #4
A corollary to Conclusion #3, I think that our problem lies, partly at least, in our inability to accept that there is room for more than one view.. some of us want to impose their own opinion on everybody else.. by force.. brutal force, if necessary.. It seems to me that, deep inside, some of us cannot accept diversity in our ranks.. and one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.. Democracy and pluralism will only work if we all respect one another's right to freedom of belief and expression.. We have to agree to differ... Surely, we can accept that others are also entitled to their own opinion?..

Conclusion #5:
Once upon a time, I was an optimist...

Nevertheless, despite becoming an old cynic, and for what it's worth, I will not stop arguing my case.. or shouting against injustice.. knowing fully well that all I will get out of it is probably a hoarse voice and a sore throat..

Monday, June 05, 2006

Change of Direction?.. or Admission of Truth?

It has been absolutely ages since I have posted anything, a fact that I am not proud of!!.. However, in my own defense, I have been extremely busy with all manner of things.. be it work or family-related. As a result, I have not had any time for myself lately.. The mere fact that I am posting at 02:00am is proof of that, even for a self-confessed insomniac like me..

Also, in mitigation, I have not been totally absent from the Blogosphere.. I have been, almost compulsively and addictively, visiting my usual 'target' blogs, and actively taking part in the various discussions.. However, the lack of any 'original' thoughts, and the mental block that I sometimes get when overwhelmed and snowed under, meant that I was not really able to write anything worth reading for my blog.. And since my insomnia is, actually, largely related to being overworked, you can add sleep-deprivation to my list of excuses!...

When I first started my blog (or as one witty commentator put it, when I lost my virginity as a blogger!.. and, boy, what an experience it was!!..), I did not intend it to be yet another 'political' blog.. I did not want it to be yet another platform for someone fed-up to the back teeth with the 'situation' back home (even though I truly am!!..).. I wanted it a blog for personal thoughts and experiences.. mine and those of others.. (and 'others' includes any decent person who cares to visit the blog and leave a comment.. Syrians... Arabs... ANY human being.. even aliens and extraterrestrial life-forms are welcome!!..)..

However, I have come to realize what I must have known (but tried to ignore) all along.. You simply cannot separate politics from the very personal thoughts and experiences that I wanted to feature on my blog.. certainly not in the simple mind of yours truly, The Syrian Brit!!..

So, my dear friends, from now on, you can expect a mixture of personal thoughts, social and political musings, as well as various general topics..

Unfortunately, I cannot promise to be any more 'prolific'.. or perhaps I should say 'any less lazy'!..

Monday, February 27, 2006

Happy Birthday, my sweet little girl..

Today is my daughter’s birthday.. She turned 24, but she is still my sweet little girl… (and what’s more, she still has me wound around her little finger!!..)
Hala was born while I was working / training / studying in Beirut.. We were living in a tiny flat near the French Embassy in the Ein Mreisseh district, not very far from the American University Hospital where I was working.. She was barely 3-month-old when we had to leave Beirut in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion..
Over the years, I watched her grow up and blossom.. always radiant with happiness, self-confidence and ambitions.. I watched her brighten my life with her first smile.. I watched her anxiously taking her first steps.. I was there to comfort her and help her back to her feet when she stumbled.. In July 2004, Hala graduated from University.. That was, without any doubt, the proudest day of my life.. The sense of pride and fulfilment that I had when I saw her, looking million dollars, in her graduation gown was, simply, beyond description.. She is now a graduate student, doing a PhD in Genetics, and has already published a few papers.. (Did I tell you that I am very proud of her?..)
Since she was born, Hala has managed to fill my whole existence with love and laughter.. She is the most delightful and most beautiful little girl any father would have the good fortune to have.. (If you think there is a possibility that I just might be a little biased, well.. you’re damn right I am!!.. and I think I am entitled to be..)..
To my most delightful and most beautiful little girl I say ‘Happy Birthday, my sweet little girl.. May your life be filled with as much happiness as you have given us over the years.. May your steps be assured and confident, and may your path be bright and clear.. and most of all, may your days be happy and your dreams fulfilled’

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Of Humility and False Pride

My friends, I want to share with you a rather humbling experience that I had today..
Those of you who have taken the trouble to check my profile will know that I work in a Teaching Hospital in the North West of England, and that I am involved in medical education and training. One of my main areas of interest is the planning for, and the management of, major incidents and disasters.
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine, who works for Lancashire Ambulance Service, asked me if I would speak in a conference on Major Incident Planning and Management, which I gladly did. It was a well-attended affair, with delegates from all over the World. The positive feedback that my talk received made all my hard work completely worthwhile.
Last week, the same colleague rang me, saying that a delegation from Japan were at that conference, and they have contacted him to see if he could put them in touch with me. They wanted to ask some detailed questions that, clearly, I could not have answered at the time…
I was more than happy to oblige. I invited them to spend the whole afternoon in our Department, went through an extended version of my original presentation, and answered their questions. I took them round the Hospital, explaining the various components of our Hospital’s ‘Major Incident Plan’ (which, incidentally, I recently had the dubious pleasure of re writing). I was delighted to see that they enjoyed the afternoon, and that I managed satisfy their curiosity and their legendary Japanese attention to details.
The delegates were, in fact, three eminent Professors in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care. Each has a list of publications as long as my arm. Nevertheless, they felt that they still lacked some knowledge in the specific field of ‘Emergency Planning’, and were perfectly happy to seek that knowledge from a mere mortal like me. They came all the way from Japan, chasing one thing.. knowledge… They possessed the humility to enquire about what they did not know.. They never closed their minds to further knowledge. They never tried to hide behind their unquestionable status. On the contrary, they were actively seeking to widen their horizons and enhance their (already quite formidable) experiences..
Compare that to the attitudes of some fellow-countrymen!!.. A couple of years ago, I was approached by an old mate, who now is a prominent and well-connected surgeon in Damascus. He asked me if I would organize some courses, similar to what I regularly teach on in the UK, for doctors and other Health Care Professionals. I jumped at the opportunity.., I put at his disposal, and that of the authorities, my skills and experiences as a trainer, educator, and clinician. I offered to help train Emergency Care personnel in various aspects of emergency planning, trauma resuscitation, and other similar essential skills, free of charge, of course. I explained that with my connections in the UK, I could easily obtain permission to adapt existing courses, or develop new ones, to address the specific needs of my ‘target audience’.. My friend took up my proposals, and promised to put them to the ‘powers that be’.. He never came back to me!.. I later learned that this was done on his own initiative without ‘checking’ with the Big Wigs first.. and when he went to seek their approval and support, their reply was something on the lines of ‘Who the hell does he (yours truly, that is!..) think he is to come and teach US!!.. What does he know of the ‘systems’ (!!!) that we have here???... ‘
That, my friends, illustrates one of the fundamental problems with the Arab psyche. We are so insecure that we consider advice a threat. We are so unconfident that we view offers for help as attempts to patronise and undermine…
To my newly-found friends from Yokohama I say: ‘I am grateful to you beyond what my words can express.. You have taught me today a most valuable lesson. Humility is a sign of greatness. The ability to recognise one’s weaknesses, and to seek to address them, is the ultimate proof of strength.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Forgotten in the mayhem - the Red Sea ferry disaster

In the mayhem that followed the publication of the now-famous cartoons, the World has (almost) completely ignored the awful tragedy of the Egyptian ferry, that sunk with the loss of 1,000 lives..
A thousand lives lost.. Tens of thousands of bereaved masses are left without any help or support.. Hundreds of families lost their bread-winners.. and the Arab World has erupted over some images, awful and horrid as they are...
This is a tragedy of enormous proportions.. Not only in terms of the tragic loss of human life (which, if news reports were to be believed, could have been easily averted), but also in what it demonstrates in lack of any concern on the part of the authorities to the value of human life, or the suffering of the survivors and the bereaved.
I dare say this official stance, and lack of any support for those who desperately need it would be typical of the attitude of Arab regimes.. Back in the 60’s, when Amin El-Hafez was President of Syria, a commentator dared confront him saying that a large number of civilians have been killed in Hama as a result of the Army’s response to an alleged insurgence in the City, his infamous reply was ‘So what?.. women can still bear many children…'( ...ﱟﺍﺮﻴﺜﻜ ﻦﺪﻠﻳ ﺀﺎﺴﻨﻠﺍ )
A response not dissimilar to that of the Egyptian authorities was dished out by the Syrian authorities in the aftermath of the Zeyzoun Dam disaster in June 2002. The Authorities, by and large, stood by, watching the misery of the helpless victims, and ‘bestowing’ on them $200 for those who lost a home (!!!) and a $1,000 for those who lost a loved one!... It was only after aid (mostly from Italy, through the UNDP) started arriving some 12 months later, that the victims of the disaster got some relief.. (Although, to be fair, a number of Arab businessmen, mostly from the Gulf states, have donated significant sums.. God only knows how much of that aid went into secret bank accounts...)
The Arab regimes are too busy feathering their nests, to worry about a few thousands distressed amongst their people...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Not in my name

I despair…

What the hell is wrong with our People??...

What on Earth do they think they achieve when they burn flags and torch embassies??... What do they think this uncontrollable demonstration of venom and hatred says about Islam and Muslims?..

I tell you what they have achieved.. they have confirmed, in a most convincing fashion, to the whole world that WE ARE the terrorists.. that WE ARE the blood-thirsty thugs.. that WE ARE everything our enemies describe us as.. and worse..

Some have been blaming tis on the acts of the Americans Iraq and the Israelis in Palestine.. Let's not kid ourselves.. anyone who saw those pictures (many Arabs and Muslims included) did not say: 'Aah, the poor people are enraged by what happens in Iraq and Palestine.. That's ok, let them vent off their anger!!..'.. In fact, most sensible people would say 'what a bunch of idiots and hooligans...'..

I am enraged!.. Far beyond my words can say.. These acts will only serve to destroy any semblance of a favourable image Muslims and Arabs might have left.. These mobs totally undermine all the good work that many of us have toiled and sweated blood and tears over years to achieve, in our attempts to raise the profile of our distinguished civilization, and show the true meaning of Arabism and Islam.. and then, you get hoodlums like those mobs in Damascus yesterday, and Beirut today.. They did not only vandalize the Danish and Norwegian embassies, they destroyed the image of a Nation..

How can any of us now say ‘Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance’??..

It might be said that these hideous acts were carried out by ‘agents provocateurs’, It might be said that those who did it are regime puppets.. it might even be said that they are foreign agents with a different agenda.. Nevertheless, these acts were carried out in the name of Islam, under the guise of defending it.. What a sickening farce.. I say to all those bastards who attacked the Embassies and burnt flags and vandalised properties.. ‘Not in my name.. Never..

Yes, I am enraged.. and I am ashamed... I have never in my life felt ashamed to be Syrian.. I do now… yesterday was a dark day in Syria’s modern history..

I just despair…

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The ballot box is mightier than the sword

The World is just about coming to terms with the events of the last few days in Palestine.. the shockwaves are still rippling through the Middle East and the rest of the World...
The Palestinian Legislative Council elections have demonstrated the frustration and despair amongst the Palestinians. The masses have voted overwhelmingly against the status quo, and went for Hamas.. largely because the alternatives were so pathetic.. Dispossessed, oppressed and disenfranchised, people will always shift to the most extreme option, with little regard to the details of the manifesto or policies proposed by that option.. Democracy, the US must now realize, is a double-edged sword..
The reaction to the results also demonstrated the duplicity of the Western media and Western government.. what I often refer to as 'the prostitution of the Western press'.. What is 'extremism' on the Arab side becomes suddenly 'adherence to principles' on the Israeli side.. 'Terrorism' is what the Palestinians practice, but it 's ‘defending the right for existence’ if carried out by the Israelis..
I have just watched the Press Conference held by Khaled Mash’al, Head of the Political Office (to avoid terms like ‘Political Bureau’, as it is too reminiscent of Communist Russia!!..). I must say, I am impressed by his charisma, apparent open-mindedness, and call for pluralism and inclusiveness of all Palestinian factions. Only time will tell how true to his words the organization is going to be.. I would say, give the man a chance.. I do hope that Israel, the West, and Arab countries alike will demonstrate the same levels of open-mindedness.. However, I am rather pessimistic, and previous experiences have always brought out the old cynic in me...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A glimpse of the Levantine Dreamhouse

Abu Kareem,
I have just paid a visit to your blog, which I found genuinely interesting..
You said in your latest post ( lot of what goes in my own mind about the intricate relationship between Syria and Lebanon, and the Syrian People and the Lebanese People.. (I tried to leave some comments, but could not find a way to do it.. Am I missing some obvious way to do that?.. Is it just my lack of experience in blogging etiquette?..)
I think the large majority of the Syrian people empathize with the Lebanese people on the issue of the hardship they endured under the oppressive boot of the Syrian army and mukhabarat.. After all, as you said, who better to empathize with a sufferer than a fellow-sufferer?.. (I personally felt deeply embarrassed and humiliated when the Syrian Constitution was amended in less than 15 minutes to to pave the way for Bashar Assad to succeed his father, creating the first 'hereditary republic' in the modern Arab history.. I felt exactly the same embarrassment and humiliation when the Lebanese Constitution was manipulated and meddled with, to allow that unbelievable folly of extending the tenure of President Lahoud)..
In fact, I suspect that quite a few Syrians today secretly envy the Lebanese, now that they do not have to suffer the kind of oppression that the Syrians still endure.. (I fully appreciate that Lebanon has its own set of very complicated and un-enviable problems, though!..)
I lived in Beirut in the early eighties (1980-1983), and lived through some of the worst episodes of the Lebanese Civil War.. While I do not, in any way, want to belittle the suffering of Lebanon and the Lebanese at the hands of outside forces (wherever they came from), I too could not help but feel that the Lebanese were always more than happy to find faults in others and forget their own.. they always saw their problems as a result of 'external forces'.. never their own doing..
Like you, I was not at all surprised by the way events turned in Lebanon.. I think everything that is going on today, including the rampant xenophobia (or should I say 'Syriophobia'?..) is understandable (However, that is not to say it is acceptable or justified)..
While I can understand why some Lebanese harbour so much hatred towards everything Syrian, I do wish they can differentiate between the true oppressor and fellow-oppressed.. I do wish they would look at their own shortcomings, in order to start to address them..
But more than anything, I wish I would live to see the day when the Syrian people are free of oppression, and are allowed to achieve their full potential...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pity The Nation

I was tidying up my office this afternoon. I came across a sheet of paper on which I had, a while ago, printed up this poem by Khalil Gibran, from his book, 'The Garden of The Prophet'..
How true it is today, as it was seventy years ago..

Pity The Nation

”Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
”Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.
”Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
”Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.
”Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.
”Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
”Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings once again.
”Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.
”Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Garden Of The Prophet

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Eid Al-Adha

So, it is Eid al-Adha today..
I went to the local mosque with my son this morning.. it is a small terraced house converted to a mosque.. a far cry from the grandeur and the splendor of the Great Ommayyad Mosque in Damascus..
I listened to the Khutba, half in Arabic, and half in Urdu (which I do not understand at all).. I remembered with affection listening to the beautiful Khutba's at Salat el Eid in Damascus, and so wished my son could experience those serene feelings.. As a child, I could hear the chants of 'Allah u-akbar, Allah u-kbar, Allah u-akbar.. Walillahil hamd..' streaming out of the Rawdah mosque near our house, as I make my way hurriedly to the mosque.. I must get there early to find a place indoors.. otherwise I might get my new Eid outfit soaked through if it rains while I am standing in the outer court.. Happy days, eh..
Over here, Eid is reduced to a quick exchange of good wishes outside the make-shift (and make-believe) mosque, before rushing off back to work.. The lucky ones (and the more organized ones) would have remembered to book a day of Annual Leave for today... Never mind.. We are meeting up with some friends tonight for some scrumptious Middle Eastern feast prepared lovingly by my wife and her friends.. It will go some way to make up for having to celebrate Eid away from home..
Happy Eid to all of you and your Families, wherever you are..

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A new kid on the Blog

I am the Syrian Brit.. and this is my blog.. I want it as a forum for all Syrian ex-pats, living away from home.. I welcome postings from anybody. However, I am particularly interested in hearing from fellow countrymen (and women) living in the UK..
As you may well have guessed, I am very new to the game of blogging.. virtually a 'virgin blogger', if such a thing exists!..
I have been living in the United Kingdom since 1985.. 'Longer than I care to remember' is my stock answer to the question 'How long have you been in England?'...
Don't get me wrong.. I am not complaining.. I love England.. England has been good to me, and has given me a home, security and peace of mind, and professional contentment.. And in return, even if I say so myself, I have been good to her, in my own way, through my hard work, achievements and professionalism..
Nevertheless, there is no place like home.. and home is where the heart is.. My heart is, and will always be, in the narrow winding streets of Old Damascus.. in the cacophony of its bazaars and the fantastic chaos that rules its existence.. My love for the Old Country can happily co-habit with my appreciation and gratitude for the one that I live in..
I would be delighted to hear from anybody about their experiences, good or bad, of living away from home..