I would like to recount my experience during my visit to Damacus, Syria, when I attended my good friend’s brother wedding.
Having faced the death-defying car rides and me mistaking the suspect Arab’s bidet plumbing for a muezzin’s call for prayer at 2am, the capital still captivated me. It was the most violent jerk from one culture (British) to another that I ever had to go through. Despite being turned away from the local public bath – simply for being of white skin and of Western World’s origin – the Syrians are, in my view, the most hospitable and amicable people you can come across. The culture. I could go on about it if only I could harness into a titbit of Tony Nicholas’ eloquence, to express the sum of my visit to Syria and how…..and by God, how it does compares to the British culture.
The main highlights of my visit was the wedding night – to put it all in the nutshell, it was sword fight, pricking the groom’s bum with needles as a rite of passage, bribing the police to keep the main highway of Damacus free so we can hang out of cars and scream our heads off, turning up at the Hilton among its sheer opulence, dining in style in a banquet room with so much gold that it dripped, glistening thrones were laid on for the married couple, partying among seas of amazingly beautiful Arab women that would make Hugh Heffner forget himself. There was me, in my striped cricket blazer, pink shirt, chinos and a plaster cast arm – I was a local curiosity for the night. It was a night that I will treasure for a long time.
Before the wedding night, we often go to the Hilton swimming pool and I would get waved through due to wearing a tight fitting forest green ribbed t-shirt that I was wearing at the time. I passed myself off as an UN observer, on a break from watching the Lebanon-Israel border. I befriended a blonde-dyed Arabic woman with a most devastating bikini you can have and I am surprised you can get them in this part of the world. Such sheltered life that I lead! I am talking Jessica Rabbit here. Once, she asked me how am I Deaf? Before I could answer, “Is it because of Allah?” Boy, I had to humour her. “Yes, it is because of Allah!”. She gave me a look of pity and, on this occasion, I didn’t mind cos she gave me a hug “to spur me on”. I didn’t complain.
Anyway, the nub of this post centred around a family dinner time which was back of my friend’ mum house. My friend got 4 brothers and the youngest is deaf too – the 2nd, 3rd and 4th are not. Because of the region is rife with conflict and one of the brothers was moaning about having to be conscripted into the Syrian Army very soon, Israel cropped up in the conversation. Although they all spoke very good English but they would converse mostly in Arabic, pausing now and then only to explain in English for mine and my friend’s benefit, who have spent his formative years in English Deaf school education system. I asked what if Israel invaded Syria and surprisingly 2 of the brothers said they would put on bomb jackets and head straight for the front line to die for the their country and brothers, taking as many Israeli soldiers as possible. What strikes me the most, is how calm and matter of fact they were when they made that statement. I didn’t pursue the conversation any more out of fear of questioning their motive over family dinner and disrespecting them. The very statement itself left me quite startled and disturbed because we had been playing footie and smoking hookah under the star-light sky the night before and I felt really at home with them – until this came up. After about an hour, it didn’t bothered me anymore because they are still people although they are living in a completely different circumstances than mine and they live by different values. Also, they are not radicalised. Just normal Syrian people.
I don’t know if I can draw parallels with this experience to what the Deaf Culture are facing, but I feel this touch on the intolerance that have been expressed towards the Deaf Community and the Deaf Culture because, for some, it goes against the grain of the life that is normal to them and Deaf Culture is extreme. Back in Damacus, I felt it was wrong of me to judge the Syrians because I haven’t lived their lives. You either leave these people alone or persevere to embrace their culture. Something are just meant to be and it is really down to the tolerance of people to embrace diversity and improve, rather than impose their values onto other who holds different values altogether and hold us all back.
“Though all society is founded on intolerance, all improvement is founded on tolerance”
George Bernard Shaw