A Syrian Message To Rabbi Krinsky: My Heart Goes Out to You

Moshe (2 years) was orphaned by terrorists in India on 26/11

Moshe (2 years) was orphaned by terrorists in India on 26/11

Sara (2 years) is one of 7 siblings and 20 cousins all under 16 that were orphaned by Amrican terror on 26/10

Sara (2 years) with her 7 siblings and 12 cousins were orphaned by terrorists in Syria on 26/10

By Abdulsalam Haykal

Dear Rabbi Krinsky:

I changed my plan and stayed in the hotel room in Chicago to watch your press conference on Friday following the horrific tragedy in Mumbai.  Your commitment to adopt the innocent toddler Moshe, Prophet Moses’ namesake, spoke volumes of the solidarity of your community, and the sense of responsibility you have towards them.

My heart goes out to Moshe in as much strength as it denounces the terrorist attack on the Chabad house and scorn the evil perpetrators. Perhaps what makes a child’s life so precious is the promise of a better tomorrow that lies in it.  What an impression is the daunting idea of having parents killed by terrorist going to have on Moshe? These cold-blooded terrorist have not killed only Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg but also Moshe’s future ability to be a peacemaker.

Gavriel (29) was a man of peace who dedicated his life to the serving human beings. So was Faisal (34), father of Sara, also a toddler of 2 years, and her 7 brothers and sisters. Gabi was killed by terrorists in India, and Faisal was killed by American “hellcopters” in a raid on Syria one month ago. The orphaned Sara and Moshe remind us of Moses, a Man of God whose story and heroism has defined justice. You are a servant of God, Rabbi Krinsky, and probably you recite everyday: “Justice, justice, you should pursue.” The essence of that sacred text is that when we are concerned about others’ justice, they will be concerned about ours.

I worry just as much, like you must do too, about the numerous children that are orphaned everyday in Iraq and Palestine- also by terrorists regardless if they are dressed in a uniform and work under the umbrella of an official flag.  It’s not only when terrorists kill a child that they kill a brighter part of the future. It is also when terrorists kill a father or torture him at Guantanamo or Abu Gharib, or widow a mother, or demolish a home, or besiege a people within a wall…

From Damascus today, I do not have strong enough words to condemn the horrendous crime that orphaned Moshe, and the crimes that do that to countless children in the Middle East and around the world. My fears however are not of terrorism per se, but of its consequences that prevent us from giving future generations the foundation to prosper and live safely, right at home in our region rather than in Brooklyn. My heart goes out to leaders like you who carry on their shoulders the cumbersome responsibility of stopping the terror campaings everywhere, trying not to end as a failed Messiah.

Profile of a young photographer from Syria: Mais Shourbaji

Mais Shourbaji, Forward MagazineMais Shourbaji photography

Mais Shourbaji photographyMais Shourbaji photography

It doesn’t take one a long time to realize the young woman, holding her camera and getting busy searching for good angles, is a talented one. Born in 1983, Mais Shourbaji is one of Syria’s self-taught photographers; ready to snap a picture with great ingenuity and passion as long as she is in love with the experience.

Her regular office working hours – as executive assistant in a multi-national company – take up most of her day, but after 5pm every evening she is ready to change into casual dress and join her friends at concerts, Jazz festivals and the theatre. That’s where she fulfills her heart’s passion and spends many evenings taking snapshots of Syria’s buzzing cultural life.

Mais is popular, very active and has a lot to say about women in her country. She advocates freedom and adventure, two aspects that define her photography. Recently, she has taken part in a documentary to be released in the near future about the changing face of the Syrian society, the contradictions young women of today are facing, and the ambitions someone like Mais has.

Photo Passion

mais shourbaji

I met Mais last year, on one of
Music Matbakh‘s stops in the region. She was the photographer assigned to take photos of us while we performed at Qasr el Azem. I had the pleasure of meeting Mais again when I relocated into Damascus and joined Forward Magazine as its associate editor-in-chief.

The young woman with a lot of zest believes “success is to love what you do, to persist and never give up no matter what obstacles you face, and to keep on developing your skills in order to excel.”

That’s indeed an indication of a very driven person. But where did Mais get her inspirations from?

“My father is one of the most influential people in my life; he’s an artist, a cultivated and quiet man. He’s my friend… he hears me out and supports me in everything I do, at the same time he is a harsh critic who wants to see me stand out. My dad has a great role in shaping my personality; he helped me liberate myself from one-track mindedness and taught me to look at life from different angles with open mindedness.”

Mais photos on Flickr can be found here.

Writer: Ruba Saqr (associate editor-in-chief, Forward Magazine. Damascus, Syria)

Syrian & international artists, musicians, media gurus, entrepreneurs and politicians meet up here!

A rocker from Aleppo (son of Syria’s top singer, Sabah Fakhri, Anas Abu Qaws) meets up with a second generation Syrian PR managing director, Karim Mardam Bey, whose life’s dream is to come back to motherland Syria. They both peer over a few pages to find two Syrian inventors who most recently put together “intelligent robots” in Canada, both in close proximity with pages hosting Sarhad Haffar, general manager of Emaar Syria, and AUB’s director of choir, Paul Meers.

Jordan’s leading entrepreneurship scientist & Aramex CEO, Fadi Ghandour, gives us an exclusive interview while consultant to the Syrian Enterprise and Business Center (SEBC), Yusuf Mansour (PhD), speaks about what, he believes, brought about the Credit Crunch in the USA and the world.

All of those people (and more), make up this month’s issue of Forward Magazine (November 2008). Check out our cultural, entrpreneurship, business and political features and opinion articles on www.fw-magazine.com .

Political pages include an exclusive full-text speech by our country’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad, as delivered in Italy at an awards ceremony where she accepted the Gold Medal of the Italian President. Next to it you can find our special file titled, To Our American Readers, with articles by leading writers, historians and political figures… click the images below to take you to more Forward mag articles…

Women beside men

Syrian media activists make a difference on Obama’s website! – a Forward Magazine scoop..

We are glad to have Camille Alexandre Otrakji, a Syrian residing in Canada and the founder of creativesyria.com, as a guest writer on Forward Magazine’s blog. His post, below, discusses a very interesting story about a recent interaction he had along other Syrian activists with Obama’s transition-into-presidency website & team:

Syrian media activists make a difference on Obama’s website - Forward Magazine finds out

One of my American friends, who happens to be a die-hard democrat, sent me a link to President Obama’s slick transition website at www.change.gov.

When I realized that the transition team offered the site’s visitors a “contact us” page, I could not resist the temptation to “say something” to the Obama team. Knowing fully well that they already received thousands of other messages so far, I realized that if my message was to be read by anyone other than the first-level junior assistants who judge the usefulness of these online comments, my message had to standout from the rest.

So I remembered a story I heard from a foreign journalist who visited Damascus last week about Obama T-shirts in Damascus selling equally well compared to the classic best seller Nasrallah T-shirts.

So I started to fill Obama’s online form with the required fields … name, last name, email, address, city, state, country.

Country… They had a drop down list that included almost every country on planet earth. Even Sudan and Iran were there.

But Syria was not on that list!

That was not the end of the world but … then again, why is Iran, a fellow “axis of evil” member in that list, but not Syria?

I decided to write to 25 of my Syrian friends on Facebook – who are eloquent writers in English. After I explained to them the bizarre and unique absence of Syria from Obama’s online list, quite a few of my friends joined me in writing polite and friendly messages to the Obama team to congratulate the new president and wish him luck and … to ask why is Syria not on that list?

I’m happy to report that the Obama people, no doubt busy with a million other tasks these days, responded to our request within few days.

No, they did not add Syria to the list. But they removed all other countries from that list.

So I guess we … did a good thing? : )

Storming back onto the world stage

President Basha Asad meets UK's MilibandBy Sami Moubayed

Former British prime minister Tony Blair showed personal interest in the domestic reform program begun by Syria’s new President Bashar al-Assad in 2000. Blair wrote an article at the time, saying that Syria was “a power in the Middle East, a leader of Arab opinion, central to any comprehensive peace deal with Israel, and a member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council”.

He visited the capital Damascus shortly after September 11, 2001, to recruit Syria into the international “war on terror” that was being launched on Afghanistan. The two men could not agree on a definition of terrorism; with Assad saying, “We should differentiate between combating terrorism and war. We did not say we support an international coalition for war. We are always against war.” The Syrian leader added, “We, and I personally, differentiate between resistance and terrorism. Resistance is a social, religious and legal right that is safeguarded by UN resolutions.”

London’s Guardian newspaper then reported that following this conference, Blair confided to friends, “I was saying to him [Assad], you have to help to renew the Middle East peace process. He was saying to me, if you want moderate Islam to defeat Islamic fundamentalists, I also need your help.” The newspaper added that Blair had been “dressed down” in Damascus.

When Assad went to London in 2002 it was generally believed the reason was to extend a friendly hand to the Western world in a public relations campaign aimed at polishing Syria’s image following 9/11. In London, Assad portrayed a very civilized, classy and well-groomed image. He met with Syrians living in Britain, visited businessmen, politicians and held a meeting with both Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles, who promised to soon visit Damascus. Assad found time to visit his former classmates and professors who taught him while he underwent his medical residency in Britain in the early 1990s.

The Syrian leader was showing the international community that Syria was a modern nation and that he was with the civilized world and not with the terrorists. To make his point clearly heard, and show that Syria was as far as possible from fundamentalism, he brought along a large business delegation composed of Syrian women entrepreneurs.

According to one observer who is close to both Syria and Great Britain, “They [Assad and his wife] were charming, modest and warm with just the right touch of informality that the British appreciate.” Another Syrian objective was to explain the Arab perspective with regard to the then-impending US war on Iraq. Some in the West, however, speculated that Blair would use the visit as an opportunity to recruit Assad into a war on Iraq.

But Syria worked against the US war on Iraq and relations with Britain remained lukewarm until Blair left office in 2007. Before leaving, however, he watched the US-imposed isolation on Syria crumble when Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Syria in 2006, right after the end of the Lebanon war, followed by Javier Solana, the European Union’s chief foreign policy negotiator, in March 2007.

Solana offered the Syrians a series of economic incentives, including the signing of the EU Partnership Agreement, in exchange to finding a solution to the crisis in Lebanon. London’s perception of Syria began to change, as well as that of Europe. The British – as Foreign Secretary David Miliband clearly said this week from Damascus – now see Syria as a problem-solver, rather than a problem-seeker in the Arab world.

Among other things, it was reasoned that getting rid of Hezbollah in Lebanon through military force was impossible – as Israel found out in 2006. Israel clearly could not do it, and nor could UN Resolution 1701, which distanced the Lebanese group from Lebanon’s border with Israel. The only way was to get the Syrians to cooperate on changing Hezbollah’s behavior, either directly through their considerable weight in Lebanon, or indirectly through Iran.

Syria, for example, helped release the 15 British sailors taken hostage by Iran in 2007, and also helped release BBC reporter Alan Johnston from the hands of an Islamic group that was reportedly close to Hamas in Palestine. Syrian cooperation on Iraq and Palestine paid off, but the real breakthrough came when Syria started indirect peace talks with Israel, and helped solve the crisis in Lebanon last May.

The fact that Syria was willing to enter into indirect talks with Israel – under the auspices of a world-recognized honest broker like Turkey – was proof that the Syrians were not as bad as the world had thought since 2003. Before that, the Syrians had gone to the Annapolis peace conference in the US in 2007, despite objections from allies like Hamas and Iran, aimed at showing the Americans that they were in fact serious about finding solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The turning point came when French President Nicolas Sarkozy began engaging both Damascus and Hezbollah, to find constructive solutions to the presidential crisis in Lebanon, in 2007. When the Doha agreement – which had Syria’s fingerprints all over it – was hammered out in May, Sarkozy invited Assad to Paris in July. In September, he went to Damascus – signaling a clear break from the policies of his predecessor Jacques Chirac – and met with Assad to discuss the indirect talks between Syria and Israel, via Turkish mediation.

Miliband steps in

Based on the above, Miliband arrived in Damascus on November 17 for talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem and Assad. His visit, the first for a senior British official since 2001, signals a new start in Syrian-British relations.

Speaking on his arrival in Damascus on Monday, shortly before visiting the historical Umayyad Mosque in the heart of the Old City, Miliband said that Syria had an “essential role” to play in securing Middle East peace.

The young secretary (43) was clearly pleased by his visit, being taken to the famous Bakdash ice-cream parlor in the Old City, and given a chance to meet with Syrian statesmen and activists in civil society. Miliband, who had hosted Moualem in London in October, hailed Syria’s “new approach” to dealing with Middle East problems, saying, “I think it is important for us to find ways for Syria to play a constructive role in the future of the Middle East. Syria is a secular state in the Middle East. It has the potential to play a stabilizing role in the region.”

The secretary added, “In a significant way, there has been an important change in the approach of the Syrian government, notably the historic decision to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon.” Miliband’s Syria agenda revolves around four topics: cooperation in combating terrorism, Lebanon, Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

He noted, “We have been consistently emphasizing the importance of Syrian cooperation on all four of those dossiers,” and acknowledged Syrian cooperation on border security with Iraq, adding, “The funneling of foreign fighters and arms into Iraq over the last 15 to 16 months has certainly been curtailed.” This is new talk from London, in light of an upcoming change in US policy towards Syria, after the victory of president-elect Barack Obama.

In 2006, Blair sent senior diplomat Sir Nigel Sheinwald to Damascus, where he presented five British concerns to Syria after having met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington. They were: support of the political process in Iraq, backing for Mahmud Abbas in Palestine, combating terrorism, Iran and ending the political tension in Lebanon. Syria immediately responded by sending Walid al-Moualem to Baghdad, where he extended his country’s support for the US-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He talked Hamas into accepting a Palestinian government and relinquishing the post of prime minister. That declaration was specifically made by Hamas statesman Musa Abu Marzkouk from Damascus, telling the British that the initiative also had Syrian fingerprints on it. Syria’s performance in combating terrorism was already advanced, given its own national interest in doing so.

More recently, it showed that it can provide results as well – such as during the sailor crisis with Iran, and in Lebanon through the Doha Agreement. David W Lesch, a Syria expert who teaches at Trinity College in the US and who authored a biography of Assad, told Asia Times Online, “Foreign Secretary Miliband, who is an ambitious politician jostling for possible leadership of the Labour Party, is striking out in the hope of enhancing his own personal stature as well as paving a path London hopes the new Obama administration will soon follow.”

Lesch, who recently wrapped up a meeting with Assad, added, “From Syria’s perspective, it continues the more than a year-long process of breaking out from US-led isolation, and clearly sends positive signals to the new US administration, and offers an opportunity to, perhaps, assess the possibility of a new US policy direction in the Middle East through the eyes of a trusted US ally.”

It is also reported that the main focus of Miliband’s visit was the reestablishment of high-level intelligence cooperation between Britain and Syria, which apparently began in secret a few months ago, before The Times of London broke the story. The newspaper reported: The newly revived intelligence relationship could be hugely beneficial to Britain. Syria is known to have one of the best intelligence-gathering systems in the Middle East, in particular in tracking the movements of Islamic extremists into Iraq and around the region.

Syria is certainly storming back onto the world stage.

Sami Moubayed is Forward Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Syria.

VOTE NOW: Will Golan Heights return with Obama?

"What? Syria?"

How can you allow people, journalists, opinion writers, and decision makers from other nationalities, better understand Syria, to see the true fabric of this society, the different dimensions that this country has, the different kinds of attitudes, mentalities and opinions Syria harbors? The key is: Media & Communication.

Do you think Barack Obama’s Middle East policies will help restore the occupied Golan Heights to Syria?

To cast your vote, please visit www.fw-magazine.com . Go to the right-side column to visit our online Polling center.

Forward Magazine will be sharing the outcome with readers in our upcoming print edition (as well as on our website and blog). If you have extra comments you’d like to make about the matter, please do so here, and we will be quoting you in our article-in-the-making about The Golan Heights. We are conducting off-line surveys to complement the off line ones through different mediums.

Why vote?

Our magazine reaches crucial decision-making hubs around the country, the region, Europe and the USA. We believe the media machine elsewhere in the world has smeared Syria’s image for long. Many people (bloggers included) have a defeatist attitude towards an English-speaking magazine published in Syria. Some question English publications by saying things like: “Who will read an English Magazine? How many Syrians read English?”

"How charming? Is it Urdu?" "Huh?" http://flapsblog.com/category/politicians/fred-thompson/

Aha, well.. The important thing is to have publications that talk to the World, with the same language, professional standards and commitment that other World publications have. Dubai, Amman, Beirut, Cairo (and most of the Arab capitals) have English publications dedicated for creating bridges with the world, communicating the country’s cultural, political and personal stance. Those countries have started with state-owned newspapers that come out in English, and then opened up the market for privately-owned English publications that helped create many mirrors through which the country is reflected. Many state-owned publications have succeeded in creating false images about their country portraying it as a democratic, economically brilliant states – when in reality it is Marshal-Law-ruled with collapsing economies – all because they have started to master the global media game. We, on the other hand, don’t plan to deceive, but to “communicate” and get Syria’s many voices heard.

Western Media

Syria is not one dimensional, it is not backwards, it’s not the tight-fisted, narrow-visioned country that the West portrays us as – in every single news piece about Syria. On the contrary, Syria has a generation of people with great potential, and very plausible achievements on so many fronts – the least of which are cultural. Syrians are misunderstood all over the world. There are world-adopted stereotypes about Syrians (and Syria) that we want to break, influence and change. You can help us get your views across by being part of the change we aspire to achieve. Yes, there are flaws, like everywhere else – local, personal flaws… Those don’t make us the monster that Western media likes to portray us as.

Syrian Flag UK Flag Here is an example of how one blogger’s website is getting Syrian views heard. Sasa, an active blogger, was recently quoted in the Telegraph (one of the major publications in the UK). Click here for more about “Syria News Wire makes it into the Telegraph.”

Wishing you all a good day.

"Can't hear you, dear!" "Excuse me? I don't understand what you're saying?" "What?"

Ruba Saqr (Associate editor-in-chief, Forward Magazine, Damascus, Syria)

Breakfast at Mora’s



Sami Moubayed


Around this time of year, expatriate Syrians start planning their Christimas holidays in Damascus. For the past 15-years, I have watched some of Syria’s finest young minds pack up and leave, for careers in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US. Some left to pursue their education in the West. Others went for professional reasons—for better salaries, searching for career enhacement. Some went to places like Canada to get foreign passports. Many left to evade forced military service in the Syrian Army. All of them—almost with no exceptions—went through the same cycle. I embraced them all on the night of their departures, wishing them the best of luck with their new lives, promising everybody “to stay in touch.”


Once settled abroad, Step One is to boast of their successful careers, with many claiming that it was wise for them—professionally speaking—to leave Syria. They claim that had they stayed in Syria, they would have never collected the money, or achieved the glory, that they attained in the West or the Arab Gulf. Step Two starts when they become disenchanted with their new lives and long to return to family and friends in Syria. They often become too sentimental, watching Syrian TV, ordering DVDs of Syrian drama classics, or rushing to attend any concert or event that reminds them of home. I have then seen them break down during their lowest moments, weeping at times like little children, because of how homesick they feel. They start envying those who stayed behind in Syria. Step Three is seeing them come back, one after the other, to get married in Syria, to raise their children in Damascus. to work in Syria. This November, I got numerous emails from friends, saying that they were coming home for Christmas and wanted me to help them find jobs, now that Syria was “opening up” and “providing opportunities” for young people with their experience and talent. Those who had left with a vengence were sometimes too embarassed to admit that they were considering a comeback, saying that they wanted to spend some time in Damascus “to explore opportunities.” It was their own way of saying, “I have had it abroad. No more expatriate! I want to return to Syria!”


With all the difficulties of day-to-day life, the bureaucracy of setting up a business, or the cost of purchasing a house, these Syrians are willing to do what it takes to re-live their nostalgia of Syria. It varies from person to person. Breakfast at Mora Restaurant in Bludan, enjoying the breeze of Syria’s famous summer resort, warm tea on a rainy day at Rawda Café on Abid Street, and late night walks in the narrow alleys of Old Damascus. A late night ‘sabbara’ meal, a famed Damascene fruit, at one of the numerous vendors dotted around Rawda Square. A smell of mother’s cooking at 2:30 pm, ‘fool’ at one of the street carriages on Baghdad Street, or watching black & white classics of Duraid Lahham. Listening to Sabah Fakhri live, driving to work with Fayruz playing on every radio channel on the airwaves—while the streets of Damascus are covered with rain—or smoking a Turkish pipe at a Damascene summer night, playing cards with friends, with the strong voice of Um Kalthoum ripping through the evening sky. Nostalgia includes meeting up with friends, and remembering “the good old days” at Laique, Dar al-Salam, Sami Droubi, or al-Fajer (four major high schools in Damascus) and repeating stories that have probably been said more than 100 times since these Syrians graduated from high school. They always manage to bring out a roar of laughter at any gathering, often spiced up with anecdotes that make the story—if anything—more colorful.


Expatriates usually miss the humanitarian feeling of Damascus—or as one person recently put it, “the soul of Damascus” that is reflected in daily interaction between people. Stories travel fast in Damascus. People immediately hear if someone has suffered death, received a newborn, gotten promoted at work, fired, engaged, married, or divorced. They treat eachother accordingly; showing that they have heard the news (sometimes without even saying it). People rush to eachother’s side in times of joy and times of sorrow, abrubtly stopping their work day, for example, to attend a funeral, or leaving work early, to pay their respects if someone has passed away, at an all-male condolence service. People still have time to go out on a nighly basis, to catch up with friends, even on weekdays. They still pay neighbors unexpected visits—to drink strong Arabic coffee and spend a few minutes chatting each morning if they happen to bump into eachother, on the way to work. Only in Damascus would one expect an ellaborate answer to a simply question like: “How have your days been?”


People still joke with complete strangers on the street, or go out of their way to help someone asking for directions to a particular landmark in Damascus. “Follow me” they say, sometimes changing their route to drive by the specific location and make sure that the stranger does not get lost by verbal directions. People still walk into restaurants to be greeted by name from all the waiters on duty, and return the same personalized greeting to all the waiters—by name. Some things never change in Damascus, despite the passing of time. The policeman at the intersection of al-Reef Restaurant (now KFC) who greets everybody driving by; the newspaper salesman on Abid Street, the head waiter at Rawda, the janitor at one’s building, the neighborhood barber, and even, the street beggers at certain intersections.


These expatriate Syrians miss the old stone buildings scattered throughout these elegant residential districts, with their spacious balconies, and high-ceiling apartments. These buildings still ‘smell’ like Damascus. It is the beautiful parliament building on Abid Street, the old municipality in Marjeh Square, the original faculties of Damascus University, the Ain al-Fijja Waterworks Building, and the Hijaz Railway Station. They are real, elegant, proud Damascus.
My Damascus is the noise that comes from the streets at 7:00 am, along with a cold Damascene breeze telling us that winter has arrived, and students are back to school. It’s the sound of mosques at prayer time, and churches on Sunday.
My Damascus is filled with memories—as Elvis Presley says—that are ‘sweetened through the ages, just like wine.’ It is first car drive, first book, first friends, first little mischief, first romances, first kiss, and first exposure to the hardships of the real world.

My Damascus is that of proud men, beautiful and intelligent women. Popular culture says that handsome men are found in Lebanon, while beautiful women are found in Syria. That statement, which is half-true, does Syrian men and Lebanese woman an injustice. I lived for many years in Lebanon and will never forget the gorgeous, Cleopatra-eyed Lebanese. I have seen other kinds of beauty in the Arab World; melancholic in Iraq, brave and striking in Palestine, Oriental in Egypt. I still believe, however, that my countrywomen are the prettiest.

For many years, inspired by Nizar Qabbani, I was a fan of Damascene beauty. The Damascenes I knew were beautiful, elegant, smart, hard-working, three-dimensional, and career-oriented. Either my taste—or the beauty of the Damascenes—has changed. They do not look as natural or tender as they used to, nor do they come across as three-dimensional women like before, inspired probably by the flashiness of Arab satellite TV. The make-up, the hair, competition, and the urge to attract the opposite sex, have all done Damascene women a great disservice. In the past, they did not need an effort to look beautiful. It was a God-given trait. They had eyes that spoke volumes about their lives, personalities, and upbringing. They now have contact-lenses!
I returned to live permanently in Syria in 2004, and still see beautiful things in Damascus. I see them at every corner of town. No, its not the modern cafes sprouting all over the city. Its not the mushrooming malls, banks, and universities. The other day, I walked into a supermarket to purchase some merchandize on a Friday. The owner did not have any change to split my 1,000 SP. “You can pay me later Sir” he politely said. The man had never met me in his entire life. “What if I get a visa for Australia” I joked “and you never see me again?” He just smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and insisted that I walk on with my shopping bag. He was an old kind man from Damascus. Only in this great city would a shop-owner let me walk away without paying—and no guarantee that I would ever return.

Has anybody tried spraining their ankle while walking down a main street in Damascus? Has anyone tried parking, had an accident, suffered from a car break-down in Damascus? Can anybody remember how helpful these ordinary people are? Optimists would say ‘helpful’—pessimists insist ‘nosy.’ Regardless, that also is one of the few ‘things’ that makes this city so wonderful.

Expatriate Syrians are more than welcome to re-live the Syria-experience, and come back home. In as much as they need Syria, Syria needs them as well. Mora Restaurant is closed in Christmas, so there won’t be a breakfast at Mora’s for these expatriates in December, but there are millions of small memories, scattered all over town, that will perhaps, make them return, for good, and wrap up the difficult cycle, of being an expatriate.