I started blogging on April 24th, 2006. Since then, I have posted fifty eight diverse entries. First and foremost, I am happy to have had the opportunity to tell you stories about Tartous during these past five months. Some of my posts included glimpses of my personal life, but always in a vague sort of way. I was lacking in conviction that this aspect is of any interest to anyone who reads my words. However, a few, a very few readers, asked me to write something about myself. As Ali the Expat puts it:
“… your writing style made me very curious about the education, life, and experiences you’ve had. Hence, I ask you to dedicate an entry to describe those sides.”
I need to be brief with this one from fear of boring everyone to death. So fasten your seatbelts, we’re cleared for takeoff…
I followed my heart when I made that decision to return home twenty years ago. I was in my prime with opportunities abound. My earliest childhood dream of flying had been fulfilled. I was working as a professional commercial pilot with my eyes set on the airlines. Two years prior, I have completed my Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and had already started on my PhD as a teaching assistant at the university. When I went for the flying job interview, my prospective employer asked me what was I to do with the doctoral program I had had already started. My answer was straight and flat. “You are offering me the opportunity to fly”, I said. “I wouldn’t let any title or degree take that away from me.”
So I flew!
My little office was a cockpit in the sky shuttling the airspace of the southern United States. New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Miami and many other smaller but no less wonderful American cities were my playground. In the evenings, with flying buddies over a cold beer, or with a girlfriend and a glass of wine, I would always express my amazement and disbelief that I was actually getting paid fulfilling my dream. I logged hundreds of hours of flying time, taught several students (most of whom are airline pilots today), delivered many shiny airplanes to small airstrips and flew countless corporate clients to business meetings and secluded cottages with favorite secretaries.
Then came that unforgettable flight with my mother as my copilot. I had to deliver a brand-new airplane to a client in Miami. My mother at the time was staying with me in Lafayette, Louisiana. She was leaving back to Syria in a a matter of weeks. First though, she wanted to visit with my sister in Florida. I was exuberant, thinking of flying her myself the next day. Although she had flown with me on numerous occasions before, I knew that this one would be a flight to remember.
Late in the evening, sitting side by side, watching television in my small bachelor apartment, she spoke softly as she sipped her tea:
“Why don’t you come back home?.. You’ve been away most of your life. I wouldn’t be living forever, you know... My dream is to have you near me… To see you married… To hold your children one day…”
I didn’t offer an answer. She didn’t wait for any.
I tossed in bed for an hour or two. Deep inside, I knew that this was decision time. There was a right turn and there was a left turn. There wasn’t any straight road ahead. The last time I took a left turn was two years earlier, when I decided to stay in the United States and work there. Another left turn was much more complicated this time. I had no idea how many years would pass, if ever, before I would even consider asking the question again: “Why don’t I go back home?” I was making my way to the crest of the wave of my advancing career. The further I would climb the tougher it would be to stop, retrace my steps and make that right turn and head back to Tartous. Too much was at stake. Like an athlete contemplating an early retirement while still ahead, I made up my mind and slept very well after all.
I left alone to the airport early in the morning to meet with my boss. He was more of a friend and he listened very intently. “Should you change your mind”, he said, “you’re always welcome to return.” We shook hands, patted shoulders and hugged. It was the last time I saw him, rest his soul.
In the crisp and cool early afternoon air, at 11,000 ft altitude, Air Traffic Control cleared me to make a right turn and follow an easterly heading. I told mom that I’m returning home with her. She was the happiest woman in the word. She laughed and cried. She silently prayed.
I went back after a couple of days to Louisiana, celebrated my last New Year Eve with friends and bid them farewell. After eight years and eight days in America, I packed my stuff and left. Up until then, I had spent more than fourteen years away from home. I have been several times since to the United States but always as a visitor. Most of my friends are there and we never severed the rope of friendship that tied us together.
Here I am in Tartous, twenty years later, sitting in my own private office, an architectural & consultancy practice, reminiscing over my wonderful days in Lafayette, remembering my late mother who had passed away seven years ago. I still fly to Europe regularly on business, but only in a back seat, I’m afraid. I got married, and my mother had her chance to hold my two daughters. My boy, Fares, she had never met. He was born one year after her passing. I look back into the past as much as I look forward into the future. Could I have done it differently? Possibly! Do I have regrets? Not really!
People who know me always express their surprise on how easy I fitted back in again. Myself, I was never surprised. “With your background, with your potential, with your dreams… How could you have ever taken that decision?” they would ask. As Bugs Bunny would have said: How come you didn’t take that left turn at Albuquerque?
In all honesty, it wasn’t that hard. That one flight in the crisp and cool early afternoon air at 11,000ft with my mother by my side was worth it all… and much more.