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)


Sean Carter said...

Syrian, it's truly sad that you can't go back to your own homeland but you shouldn't yourself down... Probably you could take your kids for Eid in Damascus or the other options you have thought about... I hope you enjoy Christmas also as much as Eid... Good luck on your vacations... Peep into this amazing Christmas Blog to check out some really cool stuffs and unique ideas

Abu Turath said...

I can't believe the archaic fashion in which the Syrian state functions - this supposedly in a progressive and revolutionary Arab republic.

I met come Syrians who explained about the COMPULSORY military service that MUST be done and all the different ways of dodging it!

I really sympathise with the Syrians.

Why can't Syria have a professional and trained standing army, rather than relying on compulsory military service?

IF you decide to go to India, try to visit Delhi (esp. the Old City), Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state. Of course, you must not forget the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Lolo-UK said...

correct me if I'm wrong, after 21 years can't you pay "Badal"! I think it's $15k for people living in Europe.

any way, enjoy your Eid (I've managed to have the 2 weeks then off but have the family coming over instead:-) )

Yazan said...

I wouldve loved to say "Tokyo" ;)...
but i'm going home on christmas...
anyways, I do wanna go to andalusia sometime,

or why not cairo?? cairo has a nice eid festive atomosphere...

Anonymous said...

Most of Syrians lost two years of their life. Intelligent people like you (no doubt that you are)know what they do. I think it is fair to tell your readers here, that Syrians will be free from military service, if they pay money for the time they won. Seems something is limited...the love or the money. BTW, our beloved syrian people deserve good doctors too.

The Syrian Brit said...

lolo-uk and anonymous (@ 3:48pm)
When the dictat allowing people like me to pay 'Badal' came out, I was not in a position to afford it at all.. then when I could afford it (albeit with great difficulties), I felt that the money is much better spent on my children, particularly that I was supporting the three of them through University at the time.. Now, it bacame a matter of principle, really.. I am nearly fifty, and in just over two years, the matter would be irrelevent.. but more importantly, I object to the concep of having to pay ANY amount of money for what is, at the end of the day, my right... It is particularly annoying that others can bribe their way out of the whole Military Service, and even more annoying that well-connected individuals don't even need to worry about it..
I entirely agree with you, anonymous, that the Syrian people deserve good doctors, and I assure you, they have them in abundance back home.. but please don't be too quick to judge me.. you don't know my whole circumstances...

Anonymous said...

Syrian Brit,
It's really saddening not to be able to visit one's home country when the everything else is set-up for such a visit.
If you are really considering Dubai, I would recommend it, it's a great place to visit. I would liken the atmosphere here during the Eid to that of our own cities back in Syria, specially in the Arabic quarters. I also believe that airfares are quite cheap to and fro the UK.
If you are in need for more information, do drop me a line, would be more than happy to help.

Fares said...

Michel kilo is Finally Free

Thanks everyone for your support and your help in trying to release him.
This is a great day for Syria. Congratulations for everyone who is happy for the news.

SB, It is really a sad story indeed, this stupid military service. It would me next of my list of things to change. No need for service and no need for badal: it is money they don't deserve.
Caribeans or Venezuela would be a great vacation around that time. Dominican republic is just great, the people there are just very nice and hospitable. If it is of any consolation, I have not spent any holidays in Syria since 88/89. I just have everything in my memory.

Rime said...

SB, I think you can imagine how I feel about this "badal" issue: it infuriates me that Syrians are being blackmailed - yes, blackmailed! - by their own country: you either pay us, or you can't come ... and if you insist on coming without paying, then we'll grab you at the airport and throw you into the army/jail, holding you to ransom until you can pay.

The fact that different amounts were imposed for people in different countries shows how well the regime can do economics when it wants to. But they obviously think that Syrians in some countries are automatically making more money than others, a ridiculous generalization.

The 1-month a year visit came up when too few people took the bait for the badal, so they devised another way to make money out of people who were homesick.

Like you, I am opposed in principle to the payment, and I have family to whom this applies. So hang in there, and hopefully it will soon be a thing of the past.

Anyway ... if you can't make it home to Damascus, may I suggest Vienna out of the places you mention? It is simply magical during Christmas, especially when fresh snow has fallen and the Christmas markets are thriving. The decoration and the Christkindlmarkt in front of town hall, the Rathaus, are enough in themselves to justify a visit to Vienna, but there's so much more. I should know as I lived there for many years. Should you decide to go there, email me and I'll be happy to make suggestions. It would be a huge change from Britain, where I don't find the holiday season very inspiring. But I digress again! :)

Happy Eid in advance!

Abu Turath said...

Muslim Response to the Pope: New Article by Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna Institute:

Anonymous said...

Well, there is always Australia!!
Where else could u spend Christmas on a beach..

Or if you prefer u can watch the Brits get beaten in rugby.


The Syrian Brit said...

Thank you for all your kind suggestions.. I must warn you all.. I may well take you up on your offers of help and advice!!..
As for you, Amr.. wishful thinking, mate.. wishful thinking!!..