Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Day Out

I spent most of the day today out, for a change. Given the fact I am here for a couple of years at least, I don't feel rushed to do anything.
In the morning we went to start the process of issuing a new driver license. This required getting a "non-convicted" form. It turns out I am not!!
I also decided to start cleaning out the bookshelves of all that is unnecessary. I did a great deal. Arabs are known, I guess, for liking to keep things way long than they would serve anything useful. Not because we like antiques, but it seems that we can't part with things we paid for and may have the least possible memorable connection to insignificant events. I threw out lots of books eventually, and more to come. Part of this energy comes from the fact that I did the same in Cleveland before arriving here. I got rid of enormous amount of stuff. Phil, Wael, Hassan and Muhannad know that very well.

One of the amazing things here is that lots of girls seem to be "inflating" their body parts. Good for plastic surgeons. Everyone I see seems to have some lip collagen injection at least (to be honest, it may be wrong, but you will never know).
A funny thing related to this is that the other day I was with my godfather, who is a plastic surgeon, and he got a call for an "emergency" lip collagen injection before a wedding next week. Is this how low we got? Emergency collagen injection?!! Lord, help me.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


In the beginning lots of adjustments may need to be done. Some are simple some are not. Huge differences exists (those who have been to Syria before know it well) in comparison with the States (or any other first world country). So, a little of what I should get used to now is the following:
JET LAG: amazingly I didn't have any yet. I sleep a bit late at night and wake in the morning.
FOOD: is a constant question. Do you want this, how about that and that and… I am used to two meals a day, at most. But the food is better of course, authentic. I will need to try some local filet mignons here. I am starting to crave one.
DRINK: it seems that there should be alcohol everyday, and no age restrictions. The other day, when I arrived (there aren't many days yet), people where over, we were having dinner and such. I asked for a beer initially and so did one of the women and a girl in her 14th year of age. The guys asked for whisky. And as I was told that "the ladies are drinking beer" and "the guys are having 'hard liquor'" I was like… hello no. let it be Arak.
TELEVISION: I really pity them here (and myself later). There are like 200 channels through satellite. They are summarized into either news (essentially the same everywhere) or music channels featuring every unknown performer with a bunch of half naked girls, terrible voice, lyrics and tunes. Half the screen is filled with mobile messages to the channel representing the utter nonsense our people has gotten into.
DRIVING: I will talk about that after I get my new license and start driving. So far walking has been hazardless (unless walking under the sun… in fact it feels like on the sun)

Friday, July 29, 2005

My First Day

I woke up at 7:30 AM. I slept only for 5 hours, on a firm mattress, well I might add. Unpacking was quite easy. After that the coffee marathon began. Here in Syria, coffee is more important than bread. After I had the first cup I was invited, with my folks to the new place around the corner called "Steed". Well it is not new, but new to me. This was a long waited visit to this place because everyone from here and in USA who ever been to Syria talks about Steed. The location is great, one minute away from home and strategically located for people watching. I had a breakfast. In fact I was forced to have it. It was ordered for me, and I don’t even know what the menu is like. It was good though. And I drank the second cup of coffee.

Afterwards, I went with my dad, godfather and a colleague of my dad (she invited us) to drive in town to run some errands. I forgot what driving in Damascus is like, (I didn't drive yet as my license had expired). I remember it being bad but this is really worse. There are a lot of new cars in town, some I haven’t even known they existed. Small ones usually, and they function as taxis. I will get some pics of these in the future. It is as hot as hell; I wonder whether it was right to complain about Cleveland's weather. Moving forward is very slow in certain areas in the city. There are lots of new constructions. I will take some photos of these too.

Needless to say, I was called by every single one I know or don't to congratulate me on my return. It ain't funny. The conversation will be something like this, universally:
"Hi" (This is me)
"…" (And this is what others might be saying. You can fill in the blanks with appropriate questions)
"Allah ysallmak/ek"
"I missed you too"
"I am doing good thanks"
"The flight was rough, but I eventually arrived"
"My health is OK"
"Nothing much, just finished training and I am here for a while, then will see what happens"
"Maybe next week, after I rest a little bit"
"Sure, I am looking forward to it"
I could record that and play it with ease.

Of course the first thing I did (or rather my dad), after breakfast is buying a cellular phone line. That is more important than eating and drinking. I got a new number hooked to my old cellphone. But the seller somewhat stupidly erased all the contacts I had saved from before. Luckily enough I have recently saved them to my computer and had to re-download. Not to mention that in spite of that I lost some recently entered data. I will try to get them.
My new phone number is: ......
Did you think I will publish it? Email me if you are interested.

The afternoon was dull and spent practicing the conversation mentioned above.

By the way, you can send comments or questions and such. Ghunwa did one already. It is a great way of keeping in touch.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The journey home

This is an account of the travel (or adventure rather) to Syria. You know how sometimes your heart starts telling you things before major steps like the one I took. Today was not an exception but it did prove right.
This was one of the few things, in addition to packing, that made me wish I didn't have to move. I don't wish this for any of you, but if it happens, know that you were not alone. Part of this was my own fault and the other is probably luck against me (or even with me). Regardless, I deserved it, and because I am a bad guy, I am still as sweet as you knew me (if that is how you did).

I said the final farewell to my roommate, Hassan, the day of travel (quasi-roommate is more like it). After extensive instructions, I took off with Phil to the airport. Hassan is supposed to stay in the apartment for another month, after which he will be Abdul Al-Shahed guest. I wished Abdul to be "alone" when I return.

At the airport, I checked in, sat and ate something as a breakfast, and talked a little bit with Phil, my twin friend for two years now. We said goodbyes and hugged (I don't know why no kisses), then I went through security. Which went well and quick, a full body search (including cavities, LOL, just kidding) was done. Things were so smooth I took one of the books I had, The Hobbit, and started reading it. The flight to Cincinnati was on schedule, arrived on schedule, and was eventless.

Upon arrival I started looking for the Immigration special registration office. This is a requirement upon traveling out of USA so I can come back. And we do that because my Syrian citizenship makes me a suspected terrorist by default!!!! I asked the first information center, the second information center, and the third. None was of any help until they decided to ask someone at customs.
They said: "sorry, but we don't do that here, this is not a designated exit port!!"
"And ..." I said.
"Did you write a letter for permission?"
"No, shall I"
"You should have"
I had no clue I should, and there was no supervisor or senior to talk to, or even send a fax. "So what should I do?"
"Try Atlanta"

2:15 PM (EST)It was as simple as that. Try to get to Atlanta and do something about the registration there. I had no other choice; I went to Delta airlines and explained the situation. The lady there was so helpful. At the beginning she was looking for Atlanta and had to probably bump me to the next day. Not happening. I called my travel agent, who can't do anything now since the flight is ticketed. But fortunately he gave me another option through JFK if they can do that.
The lady didn't agree as she thought that was not a 24 hour location. Well it was and after verification she issued another flight for me from Cincinnati to New York at 4:10 PM then from New York to Paris at 10:55 PM. I would have one hour and a half in Paris for connecting. The bags were taken care of too.

3:45 PM We still did not board, there is some talk about technical difficulties.
4:00 PM The problem is not yet solved, but they boarded us anyway
4:30 PM Attempting to fly. Engines are working, we start to move along to the runway, but the power is out. "We have lost our auxiliary power supply, we will try t fix it" the captain says. "Not now" I thought to myself, this is already looking nasty.
5:10 PM We take off one hour late, arrive an hour late of course in JFK, terminal 2. Then I had to go to terminal 4 for registration, then back to terminal 1 for the flight. I am already outside the airport by doing that, which means I have to be searched again, Urghhh.
8:00 PM I arrive at the registration area. An African (real African) lady is in charge of my case. She gave me all kind of bullshit before she registers me. Now that is done, I go to terminal 1 for checking in. There was a half-hour wait before I got my tickets and headed to the security check. Checking here was different, there is a machine that puffs and huffs and messes your hairdo (that is the best account I have for what it does). After that I went to the gate. By this time I needed medicine badly, I was starting to have a stress ulcer, so I decided to get alcohol. Alcohol was wine, and wine helps. It actually helped me sleep on the way to Paris
10:35 PM boarding started, which sounded promising. Boarding was chaotic, first come first serve. No first class, no business, no elite, just nothing. And believe me, there were a lot who came first. I got the window seat in the last row of the plane. That meant I was the last one to ever leave the plane. I have two carry-ons with me and after fitting the first above my head I tried to fit the other under my legs, it didn't. The boy next to me was apparently French, I told him (in English) that I want to try and put the other one in the top compartment.
"Je parle Francais" he said.
Ok then so I have to use my French now.
"Je….Urrrr" I said. Then I thought "screw it, use sign language". I discovered that my French is really rusty (and even that is a very generous description).
10:55 PM We should take off, we didn't.
11:15 PM Not yet, we didn't.
11:40 PM We took off to Paris. I was excited about getting an Air France flight instead of Delta, because their TV/radio program was fabulous. Lots of movies and music and miscellaneous. Unfortunately we can't use the entertainment monitor until we were in flight.
12:20 AM "Unfortunately you can't use the entertainment monitor for technical problems". Great, just what I needed. Maybe that was good because I slept. Wine rules.

My flight from Paris is at 1:20 PM.
12:20 PM (Paris Time) The plane lands. We wait for the shuttles, and of course I am the last one, almost, to ride. And I had to change terminals.
12:50 PM I get off the shuttle to the terminal. After I wasted 10 minutes in a line I shouldn't be in. I take another shuttle to the final terminal.
1:15 PM I arrive at the terminal and run like crazy with two carry-ons weighing 25 and 40 lbs respectively. Luckily enough I made to the plane shuttle on time. They were expecting me and would not fly without. I was all exhausted, all sweat, and breathless (I must have used all my lactic acid for energy in the process).

The flight to Damascus is scheduled for 1:20
1:50 PM We take off. No trouble during the flight. Miss Congeniality 2 was played. 5/10.
7:13 PM (Damascus time) Our plane lands in Damascus airport.
7:33 PM I step on Syrian ground for the first time after 4.5 years.
7:45 PM My bags got hand searched, my dad says they never so that to him. WHY ME!!!!!!!! Regardless, it is amazing after all this that my bags arrived, sound and safe.
7:50 PM I meet my folks.
10: 00 PM Food, glorious food...

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Countdown Begins

Damn it...
It starts with a disaster, I hope it remains benign.
After all the effort I put in typing this first blog, I erased it with a mistake.
So... Here we go again.
Here I am unemployed, unpaid, and bored. I have nothing but time, time that I should spend wisely. Three more weeks to go. Three more weeks to start. Three more weeks to find the answers to many questions that creates themselves everyday out of nowhere.
Should I have stayed or left? Left or right? Right or wrong? And so on...
Regardless, I am creating this blog for myself, for those I care for, and those who care for me.
This will be - at least an attempt - to narrate an account of what happens in my new life, new world, new adventures in Syria. I am pretty sure it will be intense at the beginning, but knowing myself I will give up after a while. So I will need encouragement.
I will try not to make this a boring diary of: "I ate, I went, I drank, or didn't". But rather an account of thoughts, incidents, and observations.
Those close to me will get this address. It is available for public, so no personal secrets are to be found here.
Awaiting the next couple of years, I start this today.