ultramarinus – beyond the sea

EPILOQUE, Middle East 2006


That night in Athens, we almost overslept and missed the prearranged taxi that was supposed to pick us up at 4am. We miraculously woke up five minutes before the taxi arrived. On the way to the airport, the highway was completely deserted and we ended up arriving earlier than expected. In Zurich, we had about 4 hours of layover time. Instead of staying at the airport, we took the 15-minute train ride out to downtown Zurich for a quick visit. We wandered in the commercial area, and stopped by a sport store. To mentally prepare myself for the upcoming 2006 FIFA World Cup in two days’ time, I picked up a Brazilian golden jersey. Perhaps we lose track of time while happy shopping, time was super tight when we returned to the airport. From security checkpoint, we ran all the way to the gate in order to avoid seeing our plane flew off without us.  After all the sweat and stress in the Zurich Airport, I brought the Brazil jersey home along with 60 rolls of camera films, a simple diary, and loads of amazing memories. Brazil didn’t win the World Cup that year and I only wore that jersey once before it ended up in the back of my closet. The world continued to move on and so did we.

Four months after we returned to Canada, one of the travel buddies moved to the United States to start a new chapter in his life.  In a few years’ time, another one would also left the country to pursue her future.  Some of us did, however, continued to travel together every now and then: Morocco, Peru, California, Cambodia, Western China, Tibet, etc.  A bit over a year after we returned from the Middle East, I also hopped on a plane crossing the Atlantic to London to turn a new page in my life. Then the 2008 Financial Crisis came, and later the Arab Spring and Syrian Civil War.  Suddenly I realized that the Middle East we briefly encountered in 2006 was forever lost.  For almost a decade, images of human suffering in Syria saddened my heart every now and then.  I would find some release for the unbearable sadness whenever I read about an encouraging story of survival, or watched a documentary depicting the humanistic courage against the brutal authority, or listened to the exile’s confession of love for their ruined homes and persistent will to rebuild them out from the debris when the chance comes.  All these personal stories made me believe that perhaps not all hope is lost, and one day a future of reconciliation would arrive upon the Middle East, where people with distinct cultures, religions, traditions and values may overcome aggressive competitions for resources and violent clashes for political control, and peacefully coexist under the same blue sky. 

The 2006 trip was my graduation trip, and that unique experience has become a part of me forever after.  This concludes the recollection of my 40-day Middle East journey in time of the pandemic.

Boarding the plane from Zurich to Toronto officially concluded our 40-day journey.
Bosra, Syria. 2006.05.15.

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