Sunday, November 19, 2006

So what do you say to someone when . . .

A while back work arranged for some of us to have Arabic lessons, provided by the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam. I've always wanted to learn Arabic so I attended the classes, which were taught by a nice Iraqi gentlemen. Now, when you get free lessons from a place called the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam, needless to say you shouldn't be too surprised if you get some discussion about Islam mixed into the class. In the end it turned out to be about 50% arabic and 50% Islam discussions. Now after a while I found the Islam part more interesting, after all how often does one get the opportunity to pitch questions on Islam to a Muslim without him getting upset? We discussed all sorts of things: why two women's testimonies = one man's testimony in court (and for witnessing contracts), vegetarianism, styles of dress, why everyone in Qatar has massive homes and new cars when the Qur'an says to live modestly, first-cousin marriages, etc. Our teacher was always pleasant and tried to answer everything as best he could. The lessons ended right before Ramadan, and we hoped that we could get another class organized after the Eid holidays.

Recently we contacted him to see if he could give another lesson. He couldn't right now, here was the key part of the response:

"I am so sorry for not contacting you for a long time due to the hard conditions I am passing in both on the personal and family levels. I lost two of my family members and two of my relatives in one month. Most of my family members and relatives have fled their residences to other safer places, inside and outside Iraq . . ."

Um. Wow. What can I say in response to that? Seriously, four relatives dead within a month! He didn't provide details as to what exactly happened but did insinuate later on that it involved US troops. His relatives lived in Ramadi, an almost purely Sunni city, and doesn't experience much Shiite vs Sunni violence like in Baghdad. Ramadi is also one of the most conflict-torn cities, with daily attacks and gun battles by insurgents against US soldiers. Maybe they got caught in a cross-fire or hit by a stray shell/grenade, who knows?

Responding to that email was hard, really hard. They don't make Hallmark cards that sympathise with having relatives killed during a war y'know. I won't post my response, but after many hours of wracking my brains I just replied about how hard it was to respond and why, and to offer support.

By the way this post isn't about my feelings on the Iraq War, it's about a personal tragedy. I couldn't imagine what it would be like if members of my family were killed in some kind of conflict. It would tear me apart.

A similar experience happened a few months ago when the Lebanese manager at my compound and I watched Beirut getting bombed a few months ago. His wife and kids were still there and there was nothing he could do but watch his city being destroyed, and hoping that the bombs didn't hit his home. Every day he just sat at the TV and watched. For me it was just surreal. I tried to picture what it would be like if Vancouver was being bombed while I could do nothing but sit there and watch it on TV but I couldn't - I just couldn't imagine what that would be like for me to go through that. (BTW in the end his family was fine and as soon as the bombing stopped they moved to Doha).

So last night I went out with some friends to a dessert buffet at the Ritz. I originally declined because I'm trying to shed a few pounds but you know what - you only live once and for all you know it could go to hell the next day. So I went and had a great time, and will hit the treadmill more over the next few days to work it off instead. Life's too short to count calories.


Anonymous said...

I have a lot of reading to catch up on, welcome to the blogosphere Goo-ren

Glen McKay said...

Hi magnus. The blog is mostly just random thoughts and events right now. Occasionally I delve into something more substanial science-wise but that can get onerous.