|Offended | Architect||U.A.E.|
Re: ‘Syria is ...’
Perhaps you’d question the right of an expat to write about Syria while he lives most of his life thousands of miles away. I ask you, my dear readers, to hold your guns until I am finished. For you will realize that the images and connections we expats have with our home country aren’t less vibrant from what they were when we were still there.
One of the very first images that come to mind when I think of Syria is a group of very special and talented people seated in a semi circle formation in a TV studio (I know it was a TV studio because I’ve seen it on TV, ok?) The Show Host was hovering around the middle, managing a 60 minutes conversation with them. Trying his best to allow everyone the chance to speak. For me, the scene was surreal; this group of adolescents couldn’t be more different, more diverse. There were young women with head scarves; young women with plain pants and button-up shirts and coiffed hair. Some wore heavy make-up. There were few bearded guys; the rest were clean-shaven. Some spoke with timid voices; others were outspoken and fluent and hence were naturally given more air-time to speak. (You may tell me that such is the diversity of human beings. Agreed. But if you know a little about Syria you’d know the cultural implications of the scene, but I digress)
What brought these young, bright people together though, is the fact that they were the best of the best, the top twenty achievers in the Baccalaureate exam that year. For both scientific and literary branches. I listened intently. Literally savoring every word. Each one of them was capable of approaching a question from a different angel. Well, no surprise there. They’ve passed the Baccalaureate exam with excellence. They mainly talk about their visions: how do they envisage themselves in the near and far future. And what could be done to maintain their strong faith in their ability to create those visions. Syria has always been about these people, we pride ourselves on a free education that allows everyone not only the chance to learn, but to excel too.
Fast-forward few years; I am in one of Aleppo University’s many dormitories, where me and my friends escape the boring theory classes to play cards. The guy next room shows up at the door, quick introductions are made and I learn he’s from around the mid-region (or Al Mantika Al Wosta). Everyone entitled to accommodation at the dorms is decidedly not from Aleppo. Further enquiries are made and I learn that the guy is majoring in Theatrical Criticism. He leans on the door jamb and has a quick exchange with one of my Trix playmates (or classmates, if you like).
My colleague recounts the details of an encounter he’d had that day. The other guy listens intently and then he gushes into his own vision of how the scene could have been played out in a better way. A playwright in action. I am amazed at this guy. Not only he’s brilliant, he’s totally into his special field of study, and he loves it. I marvel at how this son of Homs country-side had moved 200-odd kilometers to a different city in pursuit of knowledge-based passion.
This is very unlike the common Syrian notion that nothing ‘feeds bread’ but the heavyweight studies like Medicine or Engineering. But it only takes special people to break the common notions, right? And this is why this guy epitomized Syria to me. He’s able to break the rigid social notions, and he couldn’t care less. He could very well have been one of those present in the TV studio, or one of those who were very close to being there. Or one of those who deserved to, if only slightly different metrics were employed. My impression grows firmer every time I’d meet him from then on on the campus (most often with the obligatory click-clack of the high-heeled shoes of one of his many female colleagues trailing along).
Even today, whenever I go home on a vacation, with the Big Chip of a Dubai Expat on my shoulder, I’d have a humbling experience of some sort. An encounter with one or two people who’d prove to me the incessant intellectual quality and clarity of this place. In my deepest and wildest thoughts I realize that GDP per Capita becomes irrelevant at a certain point. While I do hope for my country to be in a better shape economically, I know that whatever is the case, it’s not going to be detrimental to the growth of brains in this land. Fast-forward 20 or 30 years to the future, if fate wishes that I am still in my expat status then, I am quite sure that I’d meet my friend from the Theatrical Criticism class again. Or maybe one of his many metamorphosis and renditions. Probably the click-clack would have ebbed a little. But not the glimmer of the brilliant minds. One way or the other, scenes and events would be registered, analyzed and then recreated. Of this I’m certain, and because of this I’m hopeful.