A general surgeon by training, Fouad Mohamed Fouad is currently an assistant research professor of public health at the Faculty of Health Sciences. A native of Aleppo, Syria, Dr. Fouad is also a poet and book collector who recently donated his large collection to the University Libraries at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
On February 27, the University for Seniors hosted a book signing event in College Hall for Dr. Fouad’s most recent book of poems, “Once Upon a Time in Aleppo.” A large group of friends, University for Seniors members, and poetry aficionados gathered to celebrate this collection of prose poetry, his fifth publication.
In addition to writing poetry, Dr. Fouad has been teaching poetry appreciation courses for AUB’s University for Seniors (UfS). Although they originally approached him to talk about public health, he suggested instead a course focusing on reading classical Arabic poetry. This turned out to be extraordinarily popular, gathering a record number of attendees. In late March 2017, Dr. Fouad will teach his next UfS course, this time focusing on the poetry of love.
In an interview before the signing event, Dr. Fouad spoke about displacement—his own and that of his book collection—and on being a physician, researcher, and poet.
“I don’t see any controversial aspects of being a physician or general surgeon or public health professional, and writing poetry. In contrast, I feel it is very natural. In my case, as a surgeon or as a physician, you deal with the human from the inside: you go there, you deal with the pain, with the suffering, with all those issues. And it’s very similar to the poet, to the writer, who is also dealing with the human. The tools are different, the pen or the stethoscope, but it’s also addressing human pain and suffering; so it’s a very similar concept and for me it’s very complementary.”
Dr. Fouad left his hometown of Aleppo over four years ago, finding a safe haven in Beirut to continue his work in public health. His research focuses on the Syrian crisis, conflict and health, the change in health systems during crises, and issues related to displacement and the movement of people. “Being displaced personally, I think I can say something on that,” noted Dr. Fouad.
His most recent collection of poems also addresses war and its complexities, focusing on his hometown of Aleppo. Dr. Fouad is an award-winning poet, having gained accolades in Syria and internationally. In addition, he began collecting books while still a teenager. By the time he left Aleppo, he had amassed a personal library of well over 7,000 books.
“Because of war I moved here, and I came without any belongings. My books were distributed in three settings: my clinic, the house I lived in, and other apartments,” said Dr. Fouad. “Suddenly I started thinking this is a major problem because the situation became worse and worse, attacking homes, looting things inside,” he added.
This is when he thought about the possibility of donating his collection to AUB. After discussing the matter with University Librarian Lokman Meho, AUB helped arrange for a transport company to move the books to Beirut. Thus began a harrowing 7-month journey for Fouad Fouad’s book collection: moving all the books from different sectors to one area of Aleppo, crossing multiple checkpoints, and gathering all sorts of official documents.
“They also did some censorship; they were cautious about having political books or books talking about religions. And through these checkpoints, many of the soldiers or security forces looted those books. I don’t know how many; I have no idea because they just let the driver put down the boxes, they opened them, and so they took whatever they wanted,” recounted Dr. Fouad.
Eventually getting to Damascus, the books underwent another round of official hurdles to get across the Lebanese border. Finally, the books arrived at AUB, refugees from war-torn Aleppo, having suffered many setbacks and indignities along the way.
“Finally they are here, they are at AUB, and hopefully someone will enjoy reading them. I will be happy to tell this story to others: because books, like people, have their own life and they also suffer and they also want to have a safe place to live. And actually they even live longer than people, so in many cases they are more useful than people,” concluded Dr. Fouad, saying that he hopes others will consider donating their vulnerable collections to AUB, not only to save them but to give them new life.