HAITAM

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Your hairstyle belongs to the 1980’s. Let me change it to something that looks decent.
That was the very first Dialogue I heard several years ago from Haitam, the hair-dresser from Syria who worked in a Salon at The Mall of Emirates, Dubai.

Haitam was very good at what he did and he had that calm aura of someone who took his work seriously and had pride in his work. He had that perfect professional balance of someone who cared for the customer, but wouldn’t let the customer dictate terms. He had a very dry sense of humour and we got along pretty well.

One day, he wasn’t his usual cheerful self and I asked him what the problem was. He replied that he hadn’t heard from his wife and three children for several days. Their village in Syria had come under attack. All communication lines were cut off. He didn’t know whether they were dead or alive. I was too shocked to know what to say to him! I mumbled something conciliatory and went home quite disturbed.

A month later, I was back for another haircut. This time, Haitam was more cheerful. His wife and kids were safe. They had managed to flee their village just before the ISIS arrived. They had to walk for 3 days with whatever belongings they had, to finally find a phone to contact Haitam. They then made their way to Jordan where Haitam flew down from Dubai and met them. With whatever money he could bring from Dubai, they managed to rent a house in Jordan, and at least for the present, his family was safe. Haitam continued to work in Dubai and send money every month to his family in Jordan. A family that once had a secure life in their own country, now displaced to a different country overnight for no fault of theirs.

Haitam’s story is not unique. I hear stories of families affected by war virtually every day in Dubai. When we read about things like war and people displaced by it, we don’t really feel the pain because it doesn’t feel real. It seems like something fictional that is happening to someone far away. Meeting actual human beings displaced by war changes this perception. I’ve met countless patients from places like Iraq, Libya and Syria, who once were extremely wealthy, and overnight, were forced to leave everything they had and flee. The wealthy ones who have some savings abroad manage to move their families to Dubai. The ones who somehow get a job in Dubai leave their families behind. The ones who cannot flee are left to the mercy of the armies and terrorists. Many a times, these stories are so painful to recall, that the story-teller starts crying.  The listener has to be inhuman not to be affected by them.

People back home in India who keep screaming “Lets go to war with Pakistan” have no idea what war actually is, and how it dramatically alters the freedom we take for granted every day. When wise saints of the past wished “Peace be with you”, they really meant it.

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