Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Syrian Airplane Friend

I have to take a few minutes here to write and remember about the guy I just met at the airport in Istanbul and sat next to on the plane to Dubai.

He is basically the same age as me and from Syria. He has been living in Istanbul for 2 years while studying. He pays about $5,000 a year for school. Since he knows Arabic and English and thus can talk to most tourists, he works as a salesman at the famous Egyptian/Spice bazaar to pay his way through University (he just finished his degree in International relations).

But the most interesting part of our discussion was learning about how things really are in Syria right now. He hasn’t seen his family since last year, and not exactly by choice. His father, until things get better, is telling him not to come back to Syria. If he goes back, he could be arrested. The government believes that everyone that has been living abroad and that is coming back could be against the interests of the government. Therefore, he is scared of being arrested if he returns and anything else that might happen thereafter.

His dad owned a construction shop but basically closed it about 4 months ago. He lives in his house now and doesn’t go out much. In fact, since he is not working, he is being sent money from his son working in Istanbul.

He said it is all about religion. He is Muslim but extremely open to everything. He was fasting on the plane for Ramadan, but did not mind when I ate lunch (in fact offering me some dates that the airline gave him to break his fast). I even asked him for awhile what he accomplishes out of fasting himself and it was really interesting… But back to their government, which are people who are followers of a particular type of Islam that I don’t think I have heard of, which represents about 10% of the population. 80% of the population is Sunni. The last 10% are Christians.

So that 10% that is in power believes their way is correct and is ruling with military rule. He said they have killed about 2,000 protestors since it began earlier this year. Just yesterday, on the first day of Ramadan, he said they killed 100 people. But he said every time someone is killed, more people join in on the protesting. When a family member dies, their close family and friends feel the pain and are inspired to join in. So thus the more people they kill, the more join in on the protests. He said these 10% in charge have most of the money in the country (goes without stating I suppose). They have kicked out most of the independent journalists, as well.

Then he went on to talk about how he met an Australian girl in Syria awhile back, and they dated for a few years (even a year or so after she went home), and got married in Jordan. But she went home to Australia, and he tried to move there. But the Australian government said no. Of course, he was going to work and was going there legitimately for his wife. So, after 2 years, they gave up, he couldn’t make it to Australia, and that was the end of their marriage.

And the whole reason this guy was on the plane was that 4 or 5 months ago he met a girl from Dubai. A real Emirate (she was actually born there). She was in Istanbul for 2 weeks and somehow they got along real well and when she left started communicating daily, and so she invited him to come to Dubai to get married. So 4 months later, after he received his degree, he was on the plane sitting next to me ready to start a completely new life. He had known this girl for 2 weeks in person (though he was also looking for a new job).

More interesting also is that if she chooses to marry him, in the UAE, she must give up her passport and accept a Syrian passport. Because she is a woman. However, an Emirate man can offer citizenship to a women. So maybe they will go to the UK or Jordan for the marriage. That is just screwed up. Male dominated society throughout the middle east to say the least (he agreed with me).

So in the end, I took a few things away. One, that we are damn privileged not to have to go through anything like this in our lives coming from our part of the world. I just can’t imagine really. But this guy takes it full on positively and makes the best of it. It pretty much makes me not want to complain about much. And two, this is the great perspective you can get travelling that BBC and CNN and Fox just don’t give you. Love it.

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