Silent Syrian Hero Bids to Bridge Perceptual Gap about Pakistan
By Naveed Ahmad, Alia Turki Al-Rabeo & Ruzanna Tantushyan
Yousaf al-Barmawy (65) found a new homeland when he moved from Syria to Pakistan in the 1970s. And so has his son, Maath (44). Together they have been recruiting Pakistani human recourses and placing construction, oil exploitation, manufacturing and agriculture specialists with industry leading firms across the globe.
Leaving four sons and three daughters behind in Daraa, a small conservative town in Syrian which borders Jordan to the south, Yousaf al-Barmawy, a PhD in Business Administration, started recruiting manpower for Saudi construction and oil exploration companies.
Back in 1970s and 1980s manpower export business was at its peak. Dr Yousaf sought help from Maath, his son, then a newly graduate with business management degree from Jordan University. Maath landed at the Karachi International Airport with his young Syrian wife, Misoun, then only 18, to start his career as well as a family life.
Today, after 23 years, Maath is a happy family man and a successful business owner with enough work to keep him busy even on Sundays.
His human resources recruitment company, MYB International (Pvt) Limited, specializes in placing professionals mainly outside Pakistan. Maath has placed over 10,000 Pakistanis with construction and manufacturing companies in countries anywhere from positions in South Korea, Malaysia and Sudan to mention a few.
Placement of Pakistani specialists overseas contributes some 7 billion in USD every year to the country’s economy. With improved ties with the United States and EU, the Pakistani government projects increased numbers of Pakistanis leaving for work abroad to bring an estimated 18billion USD in years to come.
With the raging war against terrorism in Pakistan’s tribal areas and along Afghanistan’s border as well as frequent bomb blasts across the country the official estimates for an increase in manpower exports may sound too ambitious for many but not for Maath.
“One Pakistani works and accomplishes as much as three workers of other nationalities do. This is why Pakistani manpower is welcomed in emerging and growing economies,” says Maath as he lights his next cigarette with the tip of the other still burning.
Maath is about to sign an agreement with several European countries to place Pakistani agriculture laborers abroad. Most of 170 million Pakistanis live in rural areas and know how to turn otherwise unusable land into grazing and fruitful. Agriculture has been their way of life for centuries.
“We are working hard to bring a new boost to Pakistan and its human resource. At the same time we help improve the nation’s image and position Pakistanis as hard working and skillful people,” he explains his optimism in fluent Urdu, national language of the country.
The most rewarding for Maath is a visit from a candidate his firm placed to labor to. Occasionally Maath receives small gifts of gratitude.
Anwar Yuosafzai, originally from northwestern Peshawarity of Pakistan, brought Maath dates, sweets and a cellular phone from South Korea where he was placed for labor.
“I got employed six years ago and my standard of life has changed so much for the better that I have got married my two sisters,” says Anwar. He was also able to help his brother open a grocery store. Anwar says he got to know South Koreans very well during these last six years and says he respects Korean people as much as he loves his own.
Maath’s work is appreciated overseas as well. Letters of appreciation and gratitude from all over the world cover the walls of Maath’s office. Pashtun Pakistani labor force is in the highest demand and the best paid too, according to him. They are known for their hard work and honesty. And yet their Taliban-like attire causes suspicion.
“Anyone who has interacted with a Pashtun knows how committed they are to their jobs and how self-respecting they are. Suspecting every one with a beard as a Taliban affiliate is a sheer lack of exposure,” says a serving diplomat for an EU member state who requested anonymity.
The political situation in Pakistan is rather volatile. Since January 2010, a chronology of events shows that terrorists have struck Karachi over half a dozen times. Many died in gang wars and political violence. Paramilitary troops were summoned to some parts of this metropolis, which according to official estimates, houses 16 million people.
Despite that, Karachi remains a safe city for Maath and Misoun, his wife.
Although the family has adjusted perfectly well in Pakistan - generally perceived in the West as a volatile country - Misoun’s family in Daraa remains concerned for their safety.
Misoun tries to comfort these concerns and change often inaccurate impressions during her annual trips to the ancestral home.
“I tell them that it is a big and beautiful country . . . You should come and see it for yourself . . . I like everything of Karachi . . . I like shopping here . . . I like seeing the ocean,” says Misoun.
While Maath serves as a bridge between the Pakistani middle and a wide-range of nations where they go to serve, his ailing mother Mariam al-Barmawy (65) longs to meet her “sweet, quite and ambitious child”.
Perception of Misoun herself in Darra is different as well. “Misoun now looks like a Pakistani. Her dress, make up, behavior and way of talking . . . She cooks both Pakistani and Syrian dishes equally well,” says Omima al Barmawy (47), Maath’s sister who lives in Daraa.
Apparently Maath has gone through a considerable transformation too.
“I don't remember if any one came to ask about Maath . . . he didn't have friends. He was a calm but ambitious person who liked cars and wanted to have his own business,” recalls Maath’s brother, Asem al Barmawy (39), who lives in Darra.
Maath has proven his mettle not only in reaching out to the construction and industry giants in Middle East, East Asia and Africa but also has won the exemplary trust of the Pakistani people. Asem thinks that Maath’s new home has brought out the best of him.
It seems there are no boundaries to Maath’s multicultural life. In addition to his international recruiting firm, a new newly adopted home, Maath has married a British-Pakistani, Aisha Khan (44), as his second wife.
While in his first home Misoun lives in a predominantly Syrian way, Maath’s second wife, Aisha, brings a European touch to his life in her separate home. The bouquet of languages spoken in this household speaks for itself.
“Maath, my son and I speak different languages such as German, Arabic, Flemish, Dutch, English and Urdu,” she says while lighting her cigarette over a breakfast table which has the traditional labneh and Western donuts placed next to each other.
Middle East is one of the most multicultural regions in the world. It is home for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And yet the society remains family-centered and tribalistic with little celebration of other cultures.
“A nation such as Pakistan, that is multicultural by nature, tends to be anti-multiculturalists and curtails multicultural activities instead of promoting them," explains Professor Khalil Marrar Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at DePaul University.
However, the example of Maath portrays a slightly different perspective of cross-cultural communication and its dynamics.
Being a smart businessman, Maath also sends non-Muslim Pakistani manpower such as Christians and Hindus to keep his clients intact besides serving as an all-weather connection between cultures across the globe.
(Naveed Ahmad is based in Islamabad, Ruzanna Tantushyan in Chicago and Alia Turki Al-Rabeo in Damascus )
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