Damascus, Syria

This Post Is For My Friends In Syria

Derek Perspectives, Syria 61 Comments

Damascus, Syria
Last night I was sitting here in my room in Bucharest at 12.45am. I was exhausted from not being able to sleep the night before due to a severe headache. But despite the exhaustion, despite the headache, I turned on my laptop. I really wanted to try and reply to a few of the emails in my inbox, emails that had piled up quickly over the past few days, before I went to sleep.

However, before I started with the emails, I decided to open up Tweetdeck and send a few tweets out on Twitter because I hadn’t paid much attention to Twitter as of late. I did this for about ten minutes before going back to my email inbox once again where, somehow, another four emails had arrived in that short period of time. I felt my arms tense up for a moment upon realizing that I had received 74 blog- and work-related emails over the previous 24 hours.

After a big yawn, I attempted to answer the oldest message, but as I started replying, I suddenly began to think of all the work I currently have on my to-do list. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am quite inspired these days to accomplish many of the goals I’ve set for myself, yet I still find myself a little overwhelmed from time to time.

If a day goes by without me spending a good chunk of it working on my projects, I quickly fall behind. And last night, as the emails continued to pile up, as another day passed without me finding time to work on my new eBook, as my to-do list grew, as I neglected Twitter and Facebook for yet another day, I simply felt frustrated. So, I just stared at my computer screen, unable to do anything except shake my head in disbelief at the sheer amount of work I had ahead of me.

I then went into the kitchen, sat down and drank some orange juice. I washed the dishes. I folded two shirts and then unfolded them and then folded them again. And by the time I felt ready to sit down one more time and try to answer a few emails so that I could finally go to sleep comforted by an inbox that was down to a reasonable level, it was already 2am.

Thinking to myself, “I must go to sleep by 2.30am”, and with sleepy, half-closed eyes, I opened the next email and typed out a reply. And then I opened another…but before I could even finish reading it, I heard that all too familiar ‘bling’ sound coming from my Facebook page that I had accidentally left open. Someone wanted to chat with me and I swear to you, I was just not in the mood.

For a few seconds, as I let the increasing frustration of not being able to get anything done sink in, I thought about closing my Facebook page without even checking who had sent the message. But then, as if I needed to see who I should blame for interrupting my work, I decided that I should at least find out who it was.

NOT WHAT I EXPECTED

After angrily switching over to Facebook, right then and there, at 2.10am, as I was about to hit a low point and thoughts of tossing my laptop into a river began to resurface, I saw a message from a Syrian friend of mine whom I had met during my travels to Syria at the end of 2010.

He just wanted to say hello.

Naturally, I responded to his message and given the current situation in Syria, in which the government is attacking and killing its own people, I asked him how he was doing.

His response was short yet powerful. In fact, as I read his words, the entire frustration that I had felt up until that point instantly disappeared. My friend told me, “We are all just sitting here wondering when we are going to die”.

Clocktower, Aleppo, SyriaHere I am complaining about emails and Twitter and my friend is worrying about being killed by bombs that he informed me were “falling every day” in Aleppo, the city where he lives. And knowing how peaceful and beautiful and full of warm, friendly people this city was when I visited, enough so to keep me there for five weeks, it is simply heart-breaking to think of what’s happening right now.

My friend and I ended up chatting for about 45 minutes but to be honest, the entire time I felt quite embarrassed. After all, how can I respond to his question of “So, how are you?” while I’m sitting in an apartment in Bucharest, working online and trying to decide if I can squeeze in another short trip to Istanbul in the near future…and he is dealing with such a terrifying situation.

We continued to exchange messages, but they were quite basic given my friend’s fear of discussing any specifics. However, one thing was certain…by the time we finally did say goodbye and I proceeded to log off Facebook, I was without a doubt a different person than the one who was exhausted and upset at 2.30am. When I went to check my inbox again, and I discovered that another 8 emails had arrived while I was chatting with my friend, I no longer cared…at all.

Big deal. They’re emails. Unfinished eBook? Big deal. I’ll finish it eventually. Neglecting Twitter? Big deal. Life goes on.

All I could think about was my friend, sitting in his home in Syria, with nothing to do but listen to the bombs and wonder if today will be his last day of life.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re in a much better situation in life than my friend and countless other Syrians as well. And that is something we should all remember. We should remember that fact the next time we get frustrated with our own daily happenings or the next time we get upset about something as stupid as our overflowing inboxes.

I know I’ll remember that from now on. And I will also remember to spend a great deal of time each day thinking about those who really do have something to worry about.


It is my sincere hope that you will join me in taking a moment to realize how lucky we are and that the hiccups and obstacles we face in our lives are often just plain silly in comparison to what some of our other fellow human beings are facing.

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Comments 61

  1. Lyne kawadri

    Hey! This was such a moving article to read to which I connected to personally. Being syrian as well, I feel the exact same way but nonetheless I also feel that the rest of the world simply ignores us while we are going deeper and deeper into a complex hole. Thankfully, some syrians were able to rebuild their lives elsewhere. Some have lost everything and some have nothing left but a little sparkle of hope. But I wanted to clarify that saying that the government is responsible for all of the killing is quite biased, given the fact that there are a lot of international interventions going on, on syrian land. Anyways, keep up the wandering! LK

  2. Santiago

    thanks to your feeling dude! it is a kind of strange to live the present syria and compare it with the beautiful syria, the real syria one day it used to be!

    our country is not the same anymore!
    life is not the same anymore!
    even death is not the same anymore! death nowadays is living with us, side by side, we hear its voice from time to time, we depict it other times, but we never know when we will be targeted!

    however, Aleppo is still way too much away from what is happening in other cities, such as Homs!
    Syria has changed dramatically the past 13 months!
    thanks for your kind and caring post, and Let’s pray for the revival of the original syria!

    regards
    Aleppo!

  3. Mark Mitchell

    Hey, not sure if you’ll remember me. This is Mark, we spent a few days together in Istanbul back in November, I was traveling Europe with my girlfriend, Danielle. I’ve been following the blog, back home in the U.S. now, caught this post today, and felt compelled to write you. If everyone had the epiphany you had while talking to your friend, and not only understood, but truly absorbed how lucky each individual is, and that no matter what the issue is, there is someone out there suffering far more then you, I believe the world would truly be a better place. Hope you’re doing well. Love the blog, let us know next time you are in Brooklyn and I’ll buy you a drink or two.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Of course I remember you…it’s hard to forget the beard! And I naturally agree with what you said in your comment and I find it troubling that so many people spend so much time complaining about such utter nonsense, acting as if their world is going to end because of some insignificant occurrence. Life truly is incredible for many of us when you compare it to the suffering that others must endure on a near daily basis.

      On a side note, I will in fact be in Brooklyn in 9 days from now. I’ll be there for 10 days so let’s try and meet up. I’ll send you an email and we can communicate that way!

  4. Stephen

    You’re right. Most of us should stop and recognize and be grateful that we live in peace. Really extremely sad right now what is going on in Syria. When I traveled there in 2007 I met so many friendly, warm, and hospitable people there. it remains to this day one of my favorite places that I’ve traveled.

    1. Earl

      Hey Stephen – That’s the thing, ask any traveler (myself included) who has visited Syria and I doubt you would hear one negative thing about their experience. Such a culturally rich land with such overly generous people…which is exactly why it is one of my favorite places I’ve visited as well!

  5. Bama

    Derek, the message delivered in this post is very powerful. Sometimes we do need to be reminded of how lucky we are compared to many people in different parts of the world who have to deal with life or death situation. I do hope that the violence in Syria end very soon and the best solution for the Syrian people themselves can be achieved.

    1. Earl

      Hey Bama – Since this post went up it seems that the violence has become even worse in Syria unfortunately. Let us all continue to hope that the situation turns around quickly and people are soon able to wake up without fear of being killed. Again, I feel quite lucky today.

  6. Caz Makepeace

    I read this after I sat with my Thai friends over lunch catching up on years between visits. I was thinking the same things, how lucky I am to be able to travel the world, while they work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and get not much in return…. and still be so happy, kind and generous.

    If we didn’t travel we would never know how great we have it and never stop the whining.

    I feel so much for your friends in Syria. I could not imagine the horror of each day.

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – I definitely agree about the value of travel in that sense. It’s no wonder that so many people complain about such silly things when they’ve never seen or experienced anything but the ‘good life’. And once you do travel, it becomes difficult to forget how many of our fellow human beings are forced to live every day…

  7. Lau'ren'tay Walker

    This is a very eye opening posts, it makes us think about some of the small trivial things we stress out about.That are so insignificant compared to what other humans are having to endure that might actually kill them. Thank you for writing & sharing this Earl.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lau’ren’tay – It is amazing when we stop for a moment and think about what actually frustrates us in life. Most of the stuff should be laughed at because they’re really no big deal at all…yet we are able to turn these small things into crises at times.

  8. Randy

    Some days are better than others Earl. None of us are saints. (At least I’m not.) That said your point is well taken. I have so much for which to be grateful and too often I take it for granted. Sending Love to Syria and all those other places worldwide where humanitarian tragedies are occurring. Please stop the madness.

    1. Earl

      Hey Randy – Trust me, I’m not saint either and I know that I’ll continue to be frustrated about silly things from time to time. But hopefully I will stop and remember the situations of other people every now and then so that I don’t let the frustrations overcome me….

  9. Leah

    Great post. Thank you for this. I was just internally berating myself for being so unproductive lately and I’ve been worrying about where to get my next writing project (a.k.a. income). This post reminds me that I am in a better situation than most people and that I should really get off my lazy a$$. I hope for the best for people around the world who are in situations like the one in Syria.

    1. Earl

      Hey Leah – That’s alright, we all do it from time to time! Getting frustrated and worrying about stuff is simply a part of life, but remembering how lucky we are in the end will make sure that we don’t let those frustrations and worries control us completely!

  10. Forest

    Earl, that is pretty much where I am at (feeling like you) at lot of the time when I find myself getting frustrated.

    I was living in Egypt at the time of the uprising and saw some pretty evil stuff executed on the people by the government. I even ended up hiding in a building all night from police. If I was caught I probably would have been slapped around and left in the desert to walk back to town…. If I was Egyptian I may still be in Jail. The situation in Egypt is in some ways better but atrocities are still being carried out daily to Egyptian people by the army and various other elements.

    As for Syria, my heart bleeds every time a little news seeps out about the real situation there. I know how loving and amazing the people of the Middle East really are and how bad the Western media has painted them in general. The ‘towel headed extremists’ couldn’t be further from the truth. If I see a ‘towel head’ my face opens up into a smile because I associate these people with love, friendship and good human emotion. Sadly their position in the world, the greed of governments run by money and a genuine 1% at the top end of the scale continues to disregard the everyday human as a fly that can be swatted out of the way.

    I don’t do religion in general but I hope the Syrian’s prayers are answered and Assad will eventually step down and the violence will begin to cease.

    I have never been but I hope to one day visit a free Syria.

    PS, my captcha image says “teviti to faith”. I know it doesn’t mean anything but sounds like a pretty positive phrase!

    1. Earl

      Hey Forest – That does sound quite positive. Perhaps that should be copyrighted and printed on t-shirts 🙂

      I can only imagine that you had a very unique insight into the situation in Egypt and can therefore understand what Syrians are going through. You’re certainly correct about the way the people of the Middle East are often portrayed, as well as what they’re really like when you meet them. It is a terribly sad situation right now and I can’t imagine Assad will be able to hold on much longer. Enough innocent people have been killed.

      And when Syria is free…I’ll meet you there my friend!

      1. Forest

        I’m not sure how similar Egypt and Syria are (and don’t want to assume) but they were both run be oppressive governments. I actually met and conversed quite a few times with a Syrian ambassador in Cairo and I have no idea what he would be doing and what side of the fence he would sit on right now. He loved Syria and Syrians but wouldn’t agree the government was corrupt when I asked him about it (we all know that is bs).

        See you there.

  11. Matthew Cheyne

    Thank you for this article Earl. I was all stressing out because it’s my first week of university as a mature age student. This changed my mindset completely and makes me feel gratitude for all the freedoms I enjoy and the material things that I have.

    1. Earl

      Hey Matthew – It’s amazing how quickly we can put things into perspective. I certainly wish you luck with your classes!

  12. Dayna

    An amazingly-written post. It definitely changes my outlook on my own problems, and that’s something I’ve been trying to focus on lately – putting it all in perspective. The issues we think are so huge sometimes (and I can feel you on the occasional frustrating days with social media and keeping up with things, though on a smaller level)… are really and quite simply insignificant and irrelevant compared to others who truly know fear and suffering. Thanks for this.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dayna – I read your post on perspective yesterday and it was also spot on. It always amazes me how quickly people lose perspective and how we can allow such little things to suddenly seem so important to us. Our problems are quite tiny in the end when compared to so many other people’s problems!

  13. kerolizwan

    Hello Earl

    I doubt if you still remember me but gonna post a comment on this one anyway. Reading to your previous posts was kind of putting me in a position of one continent after the other. Even sitting by the chair’s making me flying abroad. Great feeling. Speaking of being a silent reader it occurred to me I should comment something on this one. I don’t know just something, maybe.

    So all of us live differently, at our best. Hopefully. Knowing someone who confronts with a lot of troubles outthere and here we are being whiny over say the undone laundry, or stupid series on tv or just about anything is making me even grateful. We live better, and I pray for better days for them, everybody. Especially to your friend in Syria. We all pray. I say pray hard.

    On separate note, being a traveller taught us so many things. I may not have gone everywhere, but seeing people’s custom other than us is such an eye-opening thing. Well reading to your blog itself indeed is such an eye-opening.

    Take care.
    -kerol-

    1. Earl

      Hey Kerol – I certainly do remember you! And I know (and appreciate) that you posted a link to my site over on your own blog.

      As for your comments, your words mean a lot and I agree that being a traveler does teach us a great deal, especially the fact that we are all citizens of this world and that we should all treat each other with respect, no matter where we live, what our religions or the color of our skin. Nobody deserves to go through what is happening in Syria and hopefully it will all come to an end soon.

    1. Earl

      @earthdrifter – I can understand that experience as well from the time I’ve spent in India. There are so many people in this world who live such impossibly difficult lives that, if we are able to visit those people in their own countries, we certainly can not complain.

  14. Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    I know what he means, although the Egyptian revolution went alot smoother, but I know the fear of living on the edge, not knowing if tomorrow will come, let alone being better.

    and for your friend, if he ever reads my comment:
    عاش النضال السوري، و عاشت سوريا حرة
    Take care brothers 🙂 and know that you have got all the support from your Egyptians brothers 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thanks for sharing that Mina. I’m sure my friends there are reading this post and knowing that others are thinking about them hopefully makes things a little easier for them.

  15. Nichole

    I am so sorry to hear about your friends situation. Lets hope he doesn’t meet his last day anytime soon. This was such a powerful post and it definitely puts things into perspective. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nichole – Hopefully the situation improves quickly so that more innocent lives are not lost. I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  16. Sandy

    Thanks, Earl, for being the man we thought you were when we began following your blog. If more of us stop and see the reality of ourselves and what this world had become, we will have to stop the madness — within and outside the US. Sometimes, we need a jolt. And you offered one quietly, sanely, and with such sweetness.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sandy – It always amazes me how people are unable to comprehend what this world has indeed become…violence and hatred and war has become so commonplace that it barely affects many people any more. And that’s a dangerous thing in my eyes. The world is full of madness right now and the first step to turning things around is to realize this, not to treat it as a normal.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  17. Cindy Thistle

    Thanks Earl. I was just bummed out about the rain in Fiji and the fact that all my clothes and bedding are damp and that the prices in the local market double when I walk by because I have fair skin. Your post helped me give my head a shake and put things into perspective. I don’t listen to the news anymore because I find it difficult to know what to believe so thanks for the insight and know that one more voice is praying for your friends and the innocent people of Syria tonight.

    1. Earl

      Hey Cindy – I was bummed out about the snow that returned to Romania! But that’s the thing, thinking about Syria obviously makes our ‘problems’ seem totally insignificant. And not listening to the news is a good way to go…sadly, it’s not a very reliable source of information any more.

  18. Ali

    This definitely puts things into perspective. It so awful to hear what’s going on in Syria, and I can’t imagine what people like your friend are going through knowing today could be their last day. It’s so sad. Thanks for writing this, it’s a good reality check. I hope your friend is ok.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ali – It is difficult to imagine living in such a situation and the fact that other nations can’t come to an agreement on how to handle the situation is also terrible. People’s lives are at stake yet that’s not enough to get things done.

  19. Scott

    well said, Earl. I think we all need to be reminded now and then what our blessings are, and how horrible it is at times for others. Thank you for writing that.

    1. Earl

      Hey Scott – Thank you for reading and I agree that such reminders are definitely important. Thinking about the suffering that some people must endure on this planet sure is one way to suddenly feel thankful for the lives we are able to lead.

  20. Bryan

    Earl, I’m really glad you wrote this. We spent a few weeks in Syria back in 2009, and when we first arrived, we didn’t know what to expect. But soon we discovered that Syria and its people were extremely friendly and welcoming. It often shocks some of my friends when I tell them that I had visited Syria, but it shocks them even more when I tell them that Syria is home to the friendliest, most welcoming, and nicest people in the world.

    It is truly a shame what is happening there. The Syrian people deserve so much more than the life they have been handed. When we remember what really matters in our lives, everything can be put into perspective.

    1. Earl

      Hey Bryan – That’s pretty much the same experience I had while in Syria. The people were simply wonderful, everywhere I went. Let’s hope the current situation comes to an end as soon as possible.

  21. Sam

    Earl, what a powerful post. It is sad how sometime we forget what other people are going through and complain or get frustrated about small and menial things that when put into perspective are not that bad at all. I do hope that you friends will be safe and our thoughts are with you and them.

    1. Earl

      Thanks for that Sam. And it is a shame that we forget so quickly, but at least we are reminded every now and then so that we don’t lose track completely.

  22. Jaime

    Earl, I am not going to lie I had been waiting for you to post a post on Syria. I remember when we met in Playa you had nothing but great words to say about Syria and even before then I couldn’t wait to visit. Now with the current situation well no one can go. I know the events that are happening there right now are horrifying… they literally break my heart and I feel so helpless to not be able to anything. I am here an Egypt and have learned so much about their revolution and see how different they both are. You are right we sometimes get upset or worked up about little things like not having WiFi in the apt I am staying at when in reality their are people who are much worse off. Thank you for a dose of reality. My thoughts and prayers are with your friends in Syria.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jaime – It’s always great to hear from you and I’m sure being in Egypt right now gives you a different perspective on the region. You are right, I do have nothing but good things to say about my visit to that country and I’m confident that you’ll have a chance to see what I was talking about one day as well. But in the meantime, let’s hope that the killing comes to an end so that Syrians don’t have to spend their waking hours worrying about whether or not they will be alive tomorrow.

      Safe travels Jaime…

  23. Patrick Hearn

    You raise a very good point, Earl. Those of us in America are ridiculously blessed, given the safety and security we have even in rough economic times. It’s nothing at all like it is for those poor people in Syria.

    After reading travel blogs and essays over the years, keeping an eye on the news, I get angry when people complain that they are having the worst day of their life because their father won’t buy them a new iPhone or something similar. I just don’t understand how they can be so blind to the realities of the world, that they are lucky and blessed to live in a country where the sound of bombs dropping is an unfamiliar one.

    I pray that your friends will be safe, and that the madness in Syria will come to an end soon.

  24. Patricia GW

    It sounds like the conversation really put life into perspective for you. I’m so glad you shared this and gave readers a dose of reality. My heart goes out to your friend and his family, and I hope they are able to safely ride out the storm.

    1. Earl

      Hey Patricia – It really was an intense conversation, even though it was so basic in terms of what we were able to discuss. Just that one line alone about ‘waiting to be killed’ was enough to help me get rid of my own frustrations!

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Sorry to hear you’ve been sick…hopefully that’s coming to an end. But you’re right, even being sick is nothing in comparison to what those in Syria and many other countries around the world must deal with on a daily basis!

  25. Giulia

    So sorry to hear about your friend’s situation.
    I understand, even if in Egypt the situation was much “better”, I have been worried about my friends’ lives and realized to my cost how scary it is to live with gunshots sounds coming from the streets, etc. – things most of “the western people” will never understand since they’ve never been in the same situation.
    In the last couple of days I’ve seen people posting disturbing videos about the Syrian situation and other people commenting that “it’s just propaganda” or blah blah, when I was just crying watching those images – politics are politics, but I think about the families that found themselves living this situation from one day to the following one, or children that will bring this trauma forever, and everyday life that doesn’t exist anymore for the population…
    It is so sad, and it puts all our “minor” problems in another perspective. Since I experienced the Egyptian Revolution, since I traveled and saw other people’s living conditions, I tend to minimize any other problem, I hate people that complain about the weather or stuff like that.
    When I was in Egypt, baby sitting an ultra-rich and ultra-spoiled kid, I remember getting mad at him because he was crying for silly stuff and on the same day Libya got its first bombing, and I was thinking about THOSE children.
    Everyone should know what other people are going through in such places before complaining about anything, because if we think again, most of the times ours are not problems at all.
    Sorry for the super long comment but this post really spoke to me.

    1. Earl

      Hey Giulia – No need to apologize and I really appreciate you adding your thoughts here. I’ve seen those ‘it’s propaganda’ lines as well, which is really shocking that people can actually spread such nonsense or even believe it (which I fear many people do). But you’re right, it is easy to lose focus of the people on the ground, the people who must wake up to the sound of bombs and go to sleep to the sound of bombs every day. Their lives are altered forever as we continue to live as we always do, complaining about things that really don’t deserve to be complained about.

      I agree with you that before we do get frustrated and upset about something, we should take just a few seconds to remember those who are out there living in conditions and situations that many of us will simply never have to face.

  26. Matt

    Hey Earl, this was a great post. Sometimes we really need to put things into perspective and realize what the situation is for others. We often get blinded. This post was a helpful reminder for me to think of things I am grateful for more often. I hope your friend is okay and that things there soon pass.

    1. Earl

      Hey Matt – Thanks for the comment and I too hope that things change quickly over there. And I’m glad that this post helped put things in perspective for you as well…just the fact that we’re able to have this conversation without fear of who might read it is reason enough to be thankful.

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