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A lifestyle lost

Mohammad Faham

From Aleppo, Syria

now in Aljaltoun, Lebanon

Left Syria April 2012

Mohammad Faham is a refugee in a home with marble floors.

Faham, a youthful 54, has a leather jacket as soft as his surgeon’s hands, a brand-new Ford SUV and an apartment in an affluent neighborhood high on a suburban hillside with a to-die-for view of the shimmering Mediterranean Sea far below.

His 10-year-old daughter, Lana, attends private school and has a new electric keyboard on which she plunks out a lovely rendition of Handel’s “Ode to Joy.” She is always on Facebook, she loves Selena Gomez and she watches the Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie” on satellite TV.

Before the war, Faham’s family was part of Syria’s elite. While the countryside was largely agricultural and poor, the cities of Damascus and Aleppo were home to business leaders, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, many of whom were fantastically wealthy.

Bombs and artillery shells are equally lethal to rich and poor, and among the more than 2.3 million Syrian refugees are many wealthy Syrians who have had family slaughtered.

“You don’t appreciate all that you have until it’s gone,” says Faham, who had a thriving plastic-surgery practice in Aleppo, doing nose jobs and breast enhancements and reductions for wealthy clients from all over the world who came for what he calls “Chinese prices and European quality.”


Faham knows that poorer refugees face more dire situations, but he says his losses are no less painful. He has enough savings left to support his family for another year, maybe a little more, but he worries about what he will do when the money runs out.

He says he has not been able to work in Lebanon as a doctor, because of extremely high fees required to register as a foreign doctor.

“We do appreciate this country for allowing us to stay. But what is the point of being able to stay if we can’t have any income?” he says. “I want to work. But I was told I would have to pay $300,000 to work as a doctor here.”

He left Syria 18 months ago and moved to an apartment in Beirut, where his rent was $1,500 a month and Lana attended a private school that cost $10,000 a year. Since they moved to their new suburban apartment and a new school, they have cut those costs in half.

Faham got his medical degree in London and speaks perfect English. He and his wife, Nourhan Haidar, a pharmacist, cheerfully offer guests tea and sweets amid the golden-trimmed furniture that came with their apartment. But Faham’s bright eyes turn sad and dark when he talks about the future.

“My friends in England who I studied with, they have private jets. I am living here. I have nothing. I have no security for my children,” he says. “Suddenly you find yourself out of work, and you have no faith in the future.”

Faham’s home in Aleppo, a six-bedroom place worth $2 million, has been taken over by government forces. His weekend ranch, where he used to entertain the French and Turkish ambassadors around the swimming pool, has been badly damaged in the fighting and is abandoned.

“If you wanted to sell it now for $1,000, nobody would buy it,” he says.

His surgical clinic is closed, and his brother and his family have been living there since their house was destroyed. “My beautiful operating room has been turned into his kitchen,” he says, adding that he had to sell six of his seven cars to raise some quick cash to bring to Lebanon.

Faham says the wealthy who stayed behind in Syria have become easy marks for kidnappers trying to raise money for their fight, both from the government and the rebels. He says that within the past few days an orthopedic-surgeon friend of his was kidnapped and his family paid a $100,000 ransom.

Three prominent Syrian doctors he knows have lost families on refugee boats that have sunk in the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa while trying to reach Europe. He just spoke to a neurosurgeon friend who paid smugglers $15,000 to get his family to Europe on one of the boats, then watched his twin sons and his wife drown when it sank.

“Every country in the world interferes in Syria,” he says, “and nobody takes care of the Syrian people’s humanity and dignity.”

Every day, about 3,000 Syrians leave the country.

Since you started reading, roughly ## Syrians have left the country.