Day 5 – Meet The Baclava Man! – Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi – Downtown Vancouver

Meet Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi.

Who ?

The “Baclava Man!”

I had first seen him over a year ago, standing on Robson Street, by the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

He hadn’t yet become The Baclava Man.

He was vending Syrian Coffee and some sweets, but wasn’t having much of a go of it from what I observed.

What I missed observing was an Entrepreneur who was trying, testing, experimenting, tweaking, chatting it up with first time and repeat customers.

He tried picking a spot. A corner where he could always be relied upon to be found, Robson and Hamilton.

But where’s the fun in that?

Nowadays he appears and disappears then reappears on busy sidewalk corners throughout Downtown Vancouver.

His momentary pop-up locations are announced online with the giddiness of a child opening a birthday present.

And that birthday present is tasty, tasty, did I mention tasty, Syrian Style Homemade Baclava with pistachios, rose and orange blossom water, and honey.

A recipe from his cousin whose side of the family ran a bakery in Syria for three decades.

Alhomsi tells me his wife cooks the Baclava in their Burnaby Home. He then Skytrains into Downtown Vancouver and sets up his sidewalk shop.

That’s why he’s very often found within steps of a Skytrain Station..

Lugging around all that food in a homemade vending cart at the start of each day can’t be too easy for greater distances.

He’s a Canadian Citizen, today. But there’s a long winding story behind that.

He was jailed for five years in Syria for his Human Rights’ activism, escaped to Lebanon. He continued his activism there, so much so that Syria wanted him back so they could silence his voice. Upon the verge of Lebanon deporting him back to the Regime, The United Nations considered Alhomsi a bona fide Refugee. He now had his choice of 8 countries willing to take him.

His first choice was always Canada. He arrived here in 2010.

Reporter Christopher Cheung pieced together a fuller background on our Baclava Man, and I can only do justice to his research by quoting it, and not paraphrasing it, so, from The TYEE

“Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi was born in Damascus on April 8, 1956. His father owned a leather dye factory. Alhomsi followed in his footsteps to become a businessman as well, importing cars from a Korean manufacturer called SsangYong.

But Alhomsi had more than business on his mind. He’s always had a passion for social causes. It was an unstable time. Syria was under emergency law, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens and justified on the grounds of the continuing war with Israel and threats posed by terrorists. So in 1986, Alhomsi ran and was elected a city councillor of Damascus. Four years later, he was elected to Syria’s People’s Council, the country’s parliament, as an independent.

Trouble arose when Bashar al-Assad took the presidency in 2000. [Bashar] was attending postgraduate studies in London when he was called to return to Syria by his father and longtime president Hafez al-Assad to succeed him in power, and his rule was the beginning of a bloody reign.

Alhomsi went on a hunger strike to protest Assad’s human rights abuses. Then on an August morning in 2001, nine cars showed up at his office. Thirty police officers and a senior official arrested Alhomsi, and according to the Arab Commission of Human Rights, the regime began a defamation campaign against him through its controlled press.

“He was highly respected and popular,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, who runs a popular news and opinion aggregate called All4Syria from the U.S. “He won the elections as an independent and was not appointed by the Assad regime — really elected, that means he was chosen by the voice of the people. That’s very, very rare.”

Nour is anti-Assad as well. He has a personal connection to the president: they were classmates at Damascus University and one-time friends, until Nour felt Assad did not have the interests of the people at heart.

Alhomsi was imprisoned for five years. When he was finally released in 2006, he fled to Lebanon with his wife. His 16-year-old son was kidnapped and held overnight in an attempt to lure him back to Syria. From Lebanon, Alhomsi lobbied foreign governments to support democracy and human rights for his people.

He had the opportunity to attend the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague in 2007. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush was also in attendance, and said he was “looking forward” to meeting democratic activists like Alhomsi.

“This man was an independent member of the Syrian parliament who simply issued a declaration asking the government to begin respecting human rights,” Bush said during his conference remarks. “For this entirely peaceful act, he was arrested and sent to jail, where he spent several years beside other innocent advocates for a free Syria.”

Alhomsi still keeps a signed photo of him and Bush from their time in Prague.

Former Syrian parliamentarian Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi and former U.S. president George W. Bush in Prague in 2007. The photo, a gift from Bush to Alhomsi, is signed by Bush. Courtesy of Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi.

Former Syrian parliamentarian Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi and former U.S. president George W. Bush in Prague in 2007. The photo, a gift from Bush to Alhomsi, is signed by Bush. Courtesy of Mohamed-Mamon Alhomsi.

Over the many months, I have randomly encountered Alhomsi at prayer time inside Ajyal Islamic Centre and the Granville Musallah.

His is a Canadian Success Story still-in-progress.

Look who Baclava Man met with on the First Friday of Ramadan…

While his many fans have been worried about him getting busted by By-Law Enforcement for not having a proper vending license, I think we can all chillax.

Alhomsi and I had a conversation comprised of single words and hand gestures.

He’d point to his heart and say Kalb and then point up to the Heavens, indicating he loves God-Alone and if that feeling is mutual, that’s all that matters.

The Arabic vocabulary he chooses is so basic that even I, a non-Arabic speaking Muslim who only knows Qur’anic Arabic words, am able to understand and carry on a conversation with him.

Initially I thought I could video record a short interview with him, but, nyah, you simply have to meet and get to know this unique man in person.

I buy the smaller Baclava container of 4 Pieces for 5 bucks. This will be part of my Iftar tonight!

I ask him if not only Canada is now his home, but if (Metro) Vancouver is?

And yes, yes, this is now his adopted hometown.

So there you have it Vancouver, Baclava Man ain’t going anywhere soon.

But you have to find him first…

I found him!!! #baklavaman

A post shared by Jeff (@j_rai) on

#baclavaman dressed up today! #vancouverisawesome #vancouver #baklava

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I too now keep an eye out for Baclava Man

…Here he is in the Atrium of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch

…and again on Granville Street.

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