Wednesday, October 07, 2009


hurricane katrina and the country of syria will always be linked in my mind. i left for my visit to syria in early september 2005, about 10 days after katrina hit new orleans. when i left that city was still very much dominating the news. throughout my travels in syria and lebanon, i was asked repeatedly about the hurricane, whether my family was safe, et cetera by the people i met. a few weeks ago, i was looking through a pile of stuff and found the notebook i carried with me on that trip. one page had a crude drawing of the united states that i must have used to show some syrian just how far away my home was from new orleans. the drawing had a dot for new orleans and an arrow for philadelphia, with a big spiral centered over the new orleans dot. i also remember returning to damascus at the end of my trip and hanging around with john, an american from new orleans. john had been traveling around the world for more than a year, but was being called home by his parents to help them salvage their house.

but while syria and katrina go together for me, i didn't think they did for anyone else. then i read zeitoun, the true story of a syrian immigrant and his family who lived in NOLA and what happened to them when the storm came, tracing the breakdown of society that follows the storm and the crazy kafkaesque traps faced by arabs in post-911 america. it's one of those nonfiction books that reads like a novel and is a real page turner. i highly recommend it.