Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Trains Story

I had this conversation with an Oxford student:

- How are you going there?
- By train
- I see. By the way, Do you use trains that much in Syira?
- No. We usually go by bus. It's faster.
- Bus is faster than train. Why?
- Well, we have some very old trains.
- Why is that?
- Well. Before the Word War I, Ottomans were building a railway network. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, with the help of Germans, created a unique, narrow-gauge, railway network. One reason behind that was to prevent the allies from bringing their trains and using the existing network. That was supposed to make it difficult for the allies to take over the region if they won the war, and so they did.
- Do you still have that network?
- It's still there. With date of start as old as 1900, it's a kind of a railway museum. However, we are "trying" to build a standard railway network, because nobody makes the narrow-gauge trains anymore, even Germans don't.
- Why Don't you make your own trains?!
- We...it's....I....I don't know

That was a hell of a straightforward question that kept me awake all night trying to figure out: Why on earth don't we make our own trains?

I was reciting that conversation again and again in my head:

- Why don't you have fast trains?
- Well, Because the Ottomans....

Wait a minute. Who? and When? Why we keep blaming our own problems on Ottomans, who left us before our grandparents were even born? And World War I !! As if it took place last year. Imagine going to fictitious Germany and asking someone: Why your country is destroyed? --> Well, because the allies bombed it during World War II.
What a goddamn answer would that be?

And we have a nice list of things to blame:
because the Ottomans..Because the French..Because the Occupation..Because the war...Because the imperialism..because of Israel...Because the goverment..because the Hell......We can always find somebody or something to blame our own mistakes on. We blame it on the weather if we're left only with it, and we haven't got any English weather, you know! But still, we can say: Because of the heat, or the wind, or the change anyway!

Have you ever heard in our part of the world somebody saying: We or I? Have you ever said: "It's my own fault"?

So, let's try to find a descent answer to that question: "Why don't you make your own trains?"
- "well, because we're a little bit lazy and stupid. that's all"... Or "Because we had two failure generations, and the third looks even worse"...Or "Because we are the best people on earth in finding execuses"...Or "Because we never admit our problems, so we'll never be able to work out solutions". Can You think of better replies?!

Why don't we Build our own trains?!

I'm still waiting for a descent answer!


I love Munich said...

Ascribo - you have my highest respect for your openness, honesty and above all, rare(correct!) ability of self-criticism! Don't you maybe even a wee-bit overdo it? "Lazy" .. maybe, I can't judge that but STUPID? NO - that I don't buy!
This problem happenes all over - don't think we here in Germany are immune ... by God - NO! It happenes often enough that I feel like jumping at the throat of someone who again, the umpth-time, finds the most idiotic excuses instead of frankly admitting "Sorry, I screwed it up"!

The STRONG are able to do that - the WEAK have to lie and cover up by finding excuses with one being more stupid than the other ... it can easily be recognized who belongs to which group!

GREAT post Ascribo ... very much thought-provoking!

BTW ... are you aware you've been tagged (even twice)? ;)

Anonymous said...

ascribo, my friend sent me a link to your blog...being Syrian myself living in the US, she thought I might like checking it out. She was right, I enjoyed reading your postings. Are you currently living in the UK or Syria?

abufares said...

Why don't we Build our own trains?!

It's all the Italians' fault!
كله الحق عالطليان! ما هيك

For those of you unfamiliar with Syrian slang, this is indeed true. When we don't know or don't dare to point an accusing finger, we blame the Italians. It's simple, Italy has never been a part of Syrian history.
Anyway, Ascribo, you are right. I think the best course of action is to act, as individuals, the way we believe is right. To admit our own mistakes and even to take credit when its due before looking in every other direction to be sure that our positive action didn't in fact upset someone.
Great Post!

Ascribo said...

I didn't say we are definitely stupid or lazy... That was one of my suggested replies, and as I said, I'm still looking for descent answer!

I understand that finding execuses is a part of human nature, but that part of human nature is hypertrophic in our Syrian people, and in a malignant way. As abufares said, we look in every other direction before saying the truth, if we ever dared to say it.

Execuses is our way of accepting the reality as bad as it is, not of changing or trying to change. Another example: Why we have limited practical training at University? Oh, because of large number of students. and that's it! As if giving an execuse is enough to avoid taking any responsibily...

And to answer the question: I'm Syrian, visiting UK right now. That made me more aware of English culture, and more importantly, of my own.

Thank you all for passing by, and I'll try to answer the difficult questions of "the tagging thing" soon...

Rami the Merciful said...

Ascribo, it's Rami. I love this "Trains" post because it really does reflect the truth behind the tendency of a common population to gather around a despicable excuse in order to shun the blame away from them as a people. Great idea for a post, and as always, I really enjoyed reading it and getting your view on such a commonly found trait in many cultures...or shall I say, in the human culture.

Great work, Ascribo!

Ascribo said...

Thank you Rami so much for passing by, and for your precious comment. I really enjoy these intra-cultural "stunning" questions that make me think in a different way. Diversity means enrichment! But it's important, after all, to understand, and to accept, that eveybody is somehow different. It's important as well to learn how to disagree with each other in a positive, interactive way...

Thanks again!
Stay tuned!

Angel said...

Quality as always Ascribo!
This is really a "thought" provoking and inspirational post.
It was during a conference in Oxford 2002 when a British colleague asked me the same question regarding trains in Syria; My answer was really short "There is a train line, but the trains are very very slow!!! " I tried to explain the situation more by saying…It is true that travelling around Syria by rail is inexpensive, but it is confusing, time-consuming and, to be honest, the most problematic means of transportation in Syria!! ….Now, who is fault is that??? That was at the time another story :-)… I would say it is all the French's fault you see!!
I liked your sentence: "Because we are the best people on earth in finding excuses" … No one likes to take the blame, especially not a Syrian!!......
One of the threads running through my head recently is the importance of stepping up and taking responsibility…… I think too much of our society believes that "admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness"! We would rather let everything fall completely apart rather than change our minds. Only the strongest people can admit they were wrong. It’s the weak who cling to their self-image of infallibility in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Great post my dear.

Ascribo said...


I liked your idea that only the weak hide behind a mask of false self-importance...

Thanks for passing by