Friday, May 24, 2013

A Dream Interrupted

It was a sunny day, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the shade created by the ever rising apartment blocks surrounding the street. I was walking swiftly back home back from an errand, passing by Ghada’s pharmacy at the top of our street, turning left towards our alley. I was carrying something in my hand, looking up towards our balcony. Home was merely a few steps away, and then just as I laid my eyes on our house door I was awakened by a text message. I was so close to reaching my destination. Annoyed by the text, I read it, purposely ignored it and went back to sleep. I thought to myself can’t I visit home even in my dreams?

Last time I was in Syria was during winter of 2009. I took the opportunity to go there for a whole month while I was between jobs. In fact one of the conditions of accepting my new position was being able to go home for an extended period of time. I had a routine whenever I went back. The first morning I would take a stroll in the neighbourhood, pass by my best friend’s house, buy some falafel and hummus for breakfast, and take in the sights and sounds that only an expatriate would miss. Sights like yellow cabs fighting their way through the traffic, sounds like the ones of the roaming fruit sellers, and smells, well, those of diesel fumes emanating from the infamous microbuses. On the next day I would visit Old Damascus, to go to the souqs and stop to smoke shisha and have tea at a café. Every day of the visit was planned without really being planned. I knew what I wanted to see and I just let my feet and heart lead me in whichever direction they pleased. Every corner I came across was a memory renewed, and with every forgotten sight seen again was a smile.

Every time I left Syria I know deep inside that next time I visit most things would have stayed put. Sure building got a little taller in our alley, the falafel shop owner expanded his restaurant, and a new pirated CD store opened up on the corner, but beneath all that everything stayed the same. You still have to fight your way to get onto a microbus, taxi drivers complained to you about the congestion, and the chaotic nature of government offices remained unchanged.  It was miraculous to see how a country could function given all the corruption.  Somehow though, the ever resilient Syrian meandered their way through the system and made things work. The country kept ticking, and I kept returning to a place that I’ll always call home, knowing that I’ll be able to visit that falafel shop, pass by my old school, and make a pit stop at the grocery store where I bought all my candy as a kid. Abed the grocer, still recognized me, and always asked me how things were in Canada.  

But for the first time in 40 years, things have changed, so dramatically so that I can’t fathom the feelings I will have upon returning home. I was due back on April 18, 2011, and just like before I had planned the trip between jobs. This time however the paper work didn't make it through the embassy, not because of the usual corruption but due to an event that many hadn't even imagined. Next week marks the last week at the job I started right before the revolution. This time however I’m sitting thousands of miles away behind a computer screen hearing news that breaks the heart, looking at pictures of rubble, the rubble of the falafel shop that I always counted on visiting on my first day back. 

A picture of a one of those familiar streets that lead to places dear to my heart.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

This place hasn't been abandoned..

When I start writing lines and boundaries disappear, and while I never viewed this as a bad thing, I don't want my writing to cause harm for anyone. For now, I'll let a much more eloquent man do the talking.


Monday, January 31, 2011

From a city divided to a city united

Soon after taking the U-ban into East Berlin, we found ourselves walking on Weichsel Strasse heading towards our hostel. We went through the usual motions of checking in, finding a bed, unpacking and of course grabbing a map of the city. On the back of the map was an ad for daily tours of Berlin offered in all languages. The tours promised a trip through the rich history of Berlin with a focus on WWII and the Soviet era. How could someone say no to that?

The tour, given by a 20-something year old Scot, took us over Hitler’s bunker and through the

streets of East Berlin, often walking with one foot on the former East Berlin, and the other over West Berlin. The footprint of the infamous wall is still marked on the street with cobble stone, a reminder to all of the dark days of division. We heard stories of dangerous escapes, about victims who hoped to get on the other side, and the daily struggle in a city divided. The suffering may have lasted a long time, but the will of the people prevailed at the end. All we’re left with now is powerful images of the wall coming down, and a few cobblestones in Berlin as a reminder.

As the events unfold in Egypt I can’t help but dream about the day where the protests will be shown to kids in history classes, the same way that the fall of the Berlin wall is shown nowadays. The video would show images of men and women chanting in the street, brave protesters challenging heavily armoured vehicles in Cairo, and a dictator fleeing the country. I reflected on the time I spent in Berlin on that tour, and daydreamt about what the Egyptian equivalent would be like. Perhaps the tour would start in Tahrir Square, the symbol of the revolution. The tourists would then be guided through the streets of Cairo, where they will see burned down police stations, kept untouched as memory of the oppressive regime. They would make their way to the ministry of interior, where protestors were shot at with live ammunition, and where the police state was directing its last attempt at survival. Egyptian state televisions and radio stations are next on the tour. The tour guide would tell the tourists about the last pieces of propaganda uttered by state media. The tourists chuckle, much as I did in Berlin. Next stop is the presidential palace, which has now been turned into a museum to commemorate the revolution, and which includes relics from Mubarak’s Egypt. His heavily armoured car is on display, as well his solid gold cutlery, ancient Egyptian artefacts he used for decoration, among many, many other items. The tour would conclude back at Tahrir Square, although now the tourists are brought to the centre, where a statue stands tall and proud. The statue includes 15 people representative of the Egyptian population, with some holding up their hands in protests, a mother carrying her child in one arm and a poster in the other, and an old man with a faint hope in his eyes.

I hope it won’t be long before the day dream becomes reality, and we can all go to a free Egypt and take the tour. Egyptians have all it takes to deliver: determination, bravery, hope, and vision. It’s only a matter of time...

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Jurse

There is a lot that I hate about winter. The freezing temperatures, driving issues, lack of sunshine.. I can go on forever. But in the midst of darkness of winter a hidden positive comes to light. You see, unless you are in a man Europe, carrying a man’s purse (murse) is not fashionable. While Seinfeld took a stab at popularizing the European carryall, his effort led into nothing but a popular episode. Men still have to struggle carrying the necessary trio: a wallet, a cell phone, and keys . All of these things have to fit in two mere jean pockets, leaving most men with bulging pockets and depending on the thickness of their wallet, lack of circulation in the legs.

This is where winter comes in. With winter comes wearing heavy jackets, and jackets come lots of pockets. I can now carry my wallet, keys, cell, and even a pack of gum and extra Kleenex, all while keeping my jean pockets free. Of course, my jacket can’t compare to a woman’s purse in terms of capacity and variety of items, which from what I hear can have things ranging from Band-Aids to collapsible cups, but it does the job. So my fellow men, on a cold winter day, with your hand in your pockets and head tucked below your collar, rejoice in knowing that you have all you need and possible a little bit more contained in your jacket. You no longer have to stuff your things in your pockets, that is until late spring of course, at which point we’re screwed.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Honour of Mohamed Bouazizi

Last night I slept a happy man. The news of the day left me and millions of other Arabs reflecting on events we thought we would never see. The brave Tunisians’ protests finally cracked the dictatorship that had ruled them for well over two decades. The president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was forced out of the country flying from place to place until he finally found refuge in Saudi Arabia. Before going on any further, I think we have to pause and pay tribute for the brave man who gave his life, and started the revolution.

Mohamed Bouazizi’s story is similar to the story of millions across the Arab world, a young man full of potential, let down by his country and forced to make ends meet by way of street vending. He had purchased a farm which was confiscated by corrupt officials. He then turned to street vending where his fruits and vegetables were confiscated repeatedly. Desperate to feed his family, he had borrowed money to buy fruits and vegetable to sell, this time after the police confiscated his wheelbarrow, he went to complain to the Governor. No one listened to him. Enraged, he decided to set himself on fire, dying from his burns on January 4th. How desperate, and powerless does someone have to feel before going to such measures?

The bravery of Bouazizi was in no doubt the catalyst to the unimaginable change we’re witnessing today. A sweeping change that no one expected. After Tunisia’s protests, others started to protest in Algeria, and Jordan. Could this be the awakening that many had thought, and dreamt about?

Unlike me, the handful of corrupt leaders across the Arab world most likely had a little trouble sleeping last night. The lessons from Tunisia’s revolutions are simple and clear. With today’s technology protests can be organized, documented and broadcasted across the world, by individuals. There’s no need for official media organizations to cover a story, as clearly demonstrated with this revolution. I can’t speak for European media, but North American media stayed largely silent during the past few weeks, a stark contrast to the coverage that Iran’s protests received just months ago.

The second lesson is that the people are not far from the boiling point. This was clearly demonstrated by the protests that erupted in several other countries. Once the protests develop a certain critical mass, it becomes next to impossible to stop them without a massacre. While history shows that massacres are not far from the imagination of certain dictators, the development of technology which I talked about earlier makes their actions impossible to hide.

Another important consequence of the revolution is setting precedence. As Tunisia develops a democratic government, neighbours will want the same. An example has been set now, the steps have been laid out by the brave Tunisians, all that’s missing is the catalyst.

Lastly, Tunisia now serves as a prime example that freedom is not an American export. What the Tunisians did with the deaths of 66 brave protestors, America still hasn’t done with tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Freedom and democracy are not cars and Hollywood movies.

When we reflect on the events of the past few days, let’s not forget the bravery and sacrifice of Bouazizi and the other protesters. You will never be forgotten. You have entered history books from grandest gates.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Hummus and Aliens

The hummus revolution is taking Canada by storm. For one, Microsoft Word recognized the word, and did not draw that ugly, red, squiggly line underneath the word. Marketed as “healthy alternative” and “vegetarian certified” it’s not hard to see why it would be so popular. Plus, it tastes great.

But that’s besides the point. As far as I’m concerned, hummus is the latest victim of Capitalist bastardization of a great classic. Variations on hummus available in the supermarket these days inclu

de: spicy hummus, roasted garlic hummus, masala hummus, avocado hummus... among others. I told a friend of mine as I opened the fridge at work, seeing at least 4 varitites of hummus “we’ve been eating hummus for 3,000 years, recipe mainly unchanged. It only took a year for hummus to lose its identity.” This is the culture we live in.


I can’t help but think that as we get more technologically advanced our written culture is becoming less and less traceable. Most of what we know about the culture of ancient civilizations is through carvings, tablets, and other “concrete” forms of communication. As we start putting things on servers, CD’s, and USB drives we’re making our written culture less and less visible. It takes a pair of eyes to see the first alphabet ever created. It takes 100 years worth of technology to read an email. Soon enough the only way we’ll be able to read a Charles Dickens novel will be through a Kindle, or a computer monitor.

If a meteor were to strike our planet, and thousands of years later we are visited by extraterrestrials, how much of our written culture will they come across. I have a feeling those same tablets that we marvel at in museums will still be around, while my CD with 2,000 ebooks will be looked upon as some sort toy for children.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

How many letters do you have after your name?

Somewhere between the realm of meaningful education and “money grab land” lies the mass hysteria that seems to be engulfing every professional field. Everyone is in a race to add more letters after their name, no matter at what cost or with how much effort. Email signatures are laden with meaningless acronyms that are supposed to means something to somebody. People add these acronyms with pride and with the inherent expectation that whatever their email contains is somehow more factual, or should be taken as sacred text. With some emails the window has to be maximized or else the person’s credentials will start running on the line below. Is this a sign of a competitive job market, brilliant marketing campaigns by professional organizations, or has it simply become a new syndrome associated with our culture today, something I like to call “Accreditation Complex.”

.I’ll give one example of a meaningless acronym. The University of Waterloo offers a two year MBET program. The program is very interesting, and I’m sure is quite solid, but MBET!?! Why call it a Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology? Can you really teach Entrepreneurship? When one of the university staff was trying to sell me on the program I was turned off by the name. MBET translated to bulllshit in my head.

Of course not all of these acronyms are created equal. A BSc, MA, PhD, MBA, MD, and heck even a CPA demand respect. But what does BEMP, FMP, or a CSA really mean? Signing to myriad to 2 day courses will result in a myriad of certification. This reminds of a George Carlin line “not every ejaculation deserves a name”. Similarly, not every training course deserves a certification. Every specialization in every profession needs an acronym... are you a roof installer? We have an organization and a certification for you? Do you stack shelves in a super market? Well then you would be glad to hear of River College’s SMSCA, Super Market Supply Chain Analyst.

These certifications are of course not freebies. After the gruelling 2 day course the professionals are faced with certification maintenance. Every year or two you must pay some fee to some organization to maintain your name on some website. Sometimes you need to be retested, since in the information age knowledge is expanding exponentially and as a professional you need to keep up with the latest and greatest.

The sad part is that these useless acronyms are what someone’s experience is reduced to. While HR professionals go through resumes they Ctrl-F, at least mentally, one of the acronyms that are supposed to make a candidate better than another with more experience but lacking this or that credential. Our merit has been reduced to 3 or 4 letter acronyms, maintained by money hungry organizations. It’s the age of marketing, consumerism, and accreditations.

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