From Santa Fe to Bloudan

We had our reasons to be excited at home. Spring’s in the air. Blue skies, a gentle breeze and a mellow weather connived in making the outdoors ever more appealing. Fares’ birthday coinciding with the prophet’s (Mawlid Nabawi), Mother’s Day, the weekend and Easter joined together in a fine 5-day holiday bouquet. Our new Hyundai Santa Fe had just received her maiden carwash. She looked and smelled fantastic, eager to take us all on a thrilling journey around the picturesque Tartous countryside.

Then I got a call. I had to attend a 3-day workshop from the 19th till the 21st. Working well through the last couple of nights, I completed the required set of drawings and plans (45 in total) and headed to Bloudan in a minibus with a whole bunch of young colleagues. Leaving behind my disappointed family, missing my boy’s birthday for the 2nd year in a row and not getting a chance to enjoy the ride in my brand new SUV, I could only console myself in the prospect of visiting Bloudan after all these years.

It’s been 30 years. It was my last week in Damascus before leaving to the US. On an early December morning I headed with three dear friends (2 girls and a boy) to Bloudan where we spent the whole day playing silly games on the snow covered fields. Earlier, as a little boy, I used to spend parts of my summer vacations at my granddad’s home in Madaya, at my aunt’s mansion in Zabadani and my other’s aunt beautiful home in Bloudan. I have an abundance of child memories in these magical places. I remember the ice cream van making the rounds to distant villas in the valley, the kids lining up in waiting and anticipation. In the lazy afternoons and early evenings and from a balcony perched high on main street, my young cousins and I would watch the older teenagers, boys and girls, walking to and fro, enjoying themselves and celebrating life in an amazingly multi-colored ambiance that just doesn’t exist anywhere anymore.

I was a little thwarted when I almost couldn’t find my grandpa’s. It took a huge amount of luck, calm moments of memory resurgence plus my normally acute navigational skills to finally stand in front of its main gate. What was a solitary house with a large manicured garden around it has become a prisoner among a row of faceless houses, too close for comfort and all vying for that panoramic view of the valley and the mountains beyond.

The valley was filled with trees, apple, cherry, prune, almond, apricot, peach, plum and pear.

I strolled up the winding road at 6 in the morning, looking for something familiar but not finding any. Then on the front terrace of the hotel, while everybody was still fast asleep I closed my eyes yet again to render the original image back to life. My chagrin over the heavy loss of the olive and orange trees of Tartous was mirrored in Bloudan. I imagined myself a native of this once splendid little town returning from a faraway place after a 30 year absence. How will he cope with the vanishing of thousands of rainbow trees and vibrant foliage, how will he survive the devastating cancerous spread and takeover of concrete? He will shed a tear in vain, pack again and leave like I did on my third and final day.

I climbed behind the wheel of the silver Santa Fe. Boy she smells good! This baby needs some breaking-in and taming. I’ll take her somewhere up the gentle slopes, beyond the reach of cement and steel. I’ll take Fares along. May be he too will look back in time someday and remember the bygone trees.


The Syrian Brit said…
How terribly sad.. the loss of all those beautiful trees that were replaced by soulless concrete monstrosities...
What is even more sad is that the same is happening not just in Bloudan and Tartous, but everywhere in our beautiful Country...
How terribly sad...
Yazan said…
It is as SB said terribly sad. Cementing over our memories.

Happy Birthday to Fares, :)
Anonymous said…
Abufares, the price for the progress, till when,

Abufares said…
Is it really a choice between people and the trees?
Syria has an annual population growth rate of over 2.8% (among the highest in the world). Isn't it the root of the problem? Compounded of course by a total disrespect for the environment, inadequate education at the school level and an absence of a code of ethics at home.
I'm posing these questions without any offer to solve them. It seems hopeless I'm afraid.

That's what bothers me most about upbringing my children. When I consider what they're doing with their time I come up with the conclusion that they have very little contact with the environment . I'm (partially) living happily today off the vast reserve of memories I've accumulated being outdoors in my childhood. They play video games, they watch TV, they sit in cafés, they move around in air conditioned cars, they've never slept without a roof over their heads, they never climbed trees, they never got dirt underneath their fingernails, they never ate raw crabs, they never skinned frogs (to eat them not to torture them of course)... should I go on with my list!? What's there to remember later on in their lives???

Kiss Ikht such progress. We lost our natural treasures and we still stink from backwardness. We got the worst of both worlds I'm afraid. If the green areas in Syria keep disappearing at the same rate because of human desertification our uniqueness (the fertile crescent) will be merely a historic term like Mesopotamia. We will have a land similar to the gulf region but without the fucking oil.
KJ said…
You know what's interesting Abu Fares, is that despite Syria's inconsideration the the environment, all of its nature snapshots look on par with other well-cared-for environments.

Even if every single person is corrupt, our land's soil feeha barakeh. And this is God's, not ours.
Abufares said…
Souria Allah 7amiha!?
Lujayn said…
Abu Fares, I remember a similar conversation (about Tartous I think) in one of our first conversations here on your blog.

Sad, but inevitable, remains my point. You yourself have had 3 children, and so have my parents. We all contribute to this high population growth rate. The country's shrinking countryside and natural resources aren't really on anyone's mind when they're starting a family.

In fact, I have recently contributed to the encroachment of cement onto the countryside, having bought a house in the mountains near my fiance's village where we might spend the summers sometimes. The land on which our flat stands used to be an orchard. We still bought the flat. Should I have said no? I dont know. I want to be able say that I'm a responsible citizen, but I also want to stand on my balcony and gaze out on what remains of the mountain, until someone else comes along and plonks a house right in front of mine. Then I'll lament the loss of MY countryside. Few of us think beyond our immediate needs and desires, Abu Fares, and I definitely stand guilty.
The Syrian Brit said…
Touche´, Lujayn.. We are all guilty..
We all contribute to this disaster, but I disagree that it is inevitable.. What is fueling the problem, as well the collective selfishness (is there such a concept, or is it an oxymoron?. but I digress..), what is fueling the problem is the insatiable greed of those who are in power, in partnership with those who have financial interests... Forests are being deliberately burnt to give way to barren land, on which houses and hotels can be built..
But you are right.. we are all guilty.. one way or another..
Abufares said…
@Lujayn & SB

I can't argue with that. Yet so much has happened in the history of humanity since WWII and the effects on the environment have been no less than devastating. I'm all for the introduction of global family control and I agree that we're guilty in a way.
Yet in Syria, no significant effort has been put in place to urbanize the desert and accordingly an area such as the governorate of Tartous which comprises 2% of the total area of Syria has over 11% of the population despite the fact that the local annual population growth rate is 1.7% (significantly less than the national 2.8%).
Industrialization should have never been introduced in the green coastal areas and the belts around the major inland cities (such as the Ghouta of Damascus).
KJ said…
point taken
Anonymous said…
This sad turn of "progress" is not only seen in the Middle East, but all over the world. My grandfather used to talk about cristaline turqouise beaches at home; I tell my children how one could sail and anchor in an almost deserted beach; and my children have to "enjoy" an overcrowded dirty little piece of coast land and think it is wonderful. We might all have contributed to this state of affairs, but we can also try to make a difference and teach our children to respect mother nature. There should be a balance between progress and preserving the environment, and we should all strive for it.

w.b. yeasts
Lujayn said…
Abu Fares, I agree that the root of the problem lies in government policies that did little to develop rural areas, which naturally led people to seek better opportunities in existing urban areas. However, I dont think that explains all migration to urban areas. I think its a worldwide trend, and involves more than economic opportunities. People, armed with better education and greater knowledge of the "outside" world (TV has been a monumental driver), no longer want to live within the confines of their villages and social systems.

But what sort of industry exists around Tartous? Would help understand why people gravitate towards Tartous.
Abufares said…
What you're saying in essence is true and universal. However, in a way, I'm upset that Tartous has turned into a major urban area in the first place. The port was the primary force in changing the social character and the cultural heritage of my little town. It was later followed by a disastrous cement factory, warehouses followed and the numerous Government owned and operated BIG TIME LOSING Companies. Tartous became an employment magnet and lost her character forever.
A port of such large scale should not have been built in an existing city anyway. An empty stretch of beach should have been picked and an entirely new city designed from the ground up for that role, to be a commercial port city.
I'm fighting a losing battle against reality and against your arguments dear Lujayn. Yet this is how I strongly feel. Despite my inherent contradictions I wish that time has stood still in Tartous.
Abufares said…
@ w.b. yeasts
The only thing I can do at this stage in my life is exactly what you've suggested: teach my children to respect and treat the environment properly.
Because I talk of the good old times so enthusiastically, my son Fares has asked me once whether life was in Black & White when I was a kid (like the movies I'm so fond of watching).
Dubai Jazz said…
Abu Fares my friend,
First of all mabrook the new car. May it be the safe and enjoyable drive you're looking for.
Now 45 drawings? That's a little bit more than what I thought a project in Syria would take. Must be that professional Abu Fares does it his way ;-)

The progress is enviable of course, but the mess and the haphazard developments surely are. We are not the only nation in the world which is growing fast, neither the only nation where people are scrambling for a spot in a scenery place like Bloudan. But other people (some of them at least) plan their growth reasonably. It's not so damn hard to come up with a master zoning plan that is considerate to environment and satisfying for the demand at the same time. For heaven sake, we've got teachers at the architectural schools who have been stuffing students' minds with theories for decades; couldn't their talents and wisdom be put for a better use?
Anonymous said…
Abufares, LA TESHKILI BABKILAK, thats why I go fishing as musch as posible, I don´t know how long will last, do you want to go fishing with me this afternoon ?
gone fishing
Abufares said…
Thank you for your wishes re. my new car. I'm indeed enjoying the ride and the extra comfort. As a matter of fact, and after about 2 weeks, I only have nice words to say about the Santa Fe. It's all I've expected and more.
The 45 drawings document the current situation of an area of Tartous under study and were the final requirements of the first phase of the project. BTW it's an urban planning project financed and guided by the EU and which I'm part of as a "local expert". I'm working within a team made of of professional urban planners (international experts), municipal engineers, architects and planners and a local expert or more (consultant) in each of the 6 cities the project is involved in (Damascus, Aleppo, Deir El Zor, Homs, Lattakia and Tartous). Phase 2 will be about presenting proposals for the areas under study. The project runs till then end of November 2008.
Hopefully, and if some of the recommendations introduced are ever implemented, the whole approach to urban and regional planning in Syria should benefit since the environment is on top of the priority list and of equal importance to the social and economic wellbeing of the people.
Abufares said…
I would love to go fishing since I haven't done so in a long, very long time.
It's exactly how I feel about the environment: I don't know how long it will last :(
Abufares said…
Nice photo BTW... Cool, very cool ;-)
Lujayn said…
Abu Fares, I feel with you. I wish time stopped still in a city that I grew up in and love with a passion. It has remained a sleepy "undeveloped" city for decades, but recently woke up and decided to become the Dubai of North Africa. I absolutely hate what is going to happen to that city. Its a case similar to Tartous maybe. Haphazard planning and ill-fated business ventures are going to forever change it, but many people think its a necessary evil. I guess I'm guilty of your same nostalgia - last summer I visited for the last time I think and said my goodbyes. A bit melodramatic maybe but I wanted to see it for the last time while it still looked like the city of my childhood.

Damn post, Abu Fares, I'm homesick now!!! :)
* said…
Congrats on the new wheels Abuares. I am sure she is a real beaut, and a pleasure to drive.
Yes, much has been lost in the name of modernisation. But relish this my friend. You saw it once, and the beauty will always remains in your hearta nd your soul. All you have to do is close your eyes, and taste the sweet sour of the plum, amd feel its juices dribble down your chin.
Nowaday the horrible plums one gets in supermarkets, are so artificial and dry.
so know this , its better to have tasted heaven, and to live to tell the tale, then to simply wonder about it from books and the stories told.
Anonymous said…
Humour me again and please accept my latest tag :)
Dubai Jazz said…
Well, I was about to suggest a post about one of those ooy-gooy, drool-inducing recipes, but I think I'll have to stand in the queue behind Arima!
Abufares said…
You see we're not really disagreeing. We just have different priorities that's all.
In the long run we are all losing out to relentless and mindless urbanization. Our cousins, the animals, our distant relatives the plants are losing as well.
It's a a no-win situation, alas.
Abufares said…
thanks for the wishes. I'd love to take you for a ride (just the 2 of us without the hubby, missus or kids ;-)
you're so right, i'm fortunate to have had experienced all the goodies of the good earth among other pleasures.
Abufares said…
my pleasure to oblige. may be a little later on this evening...

My next one, I promise.

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