What´s the story, Ms. Halaby?
Business as unusual
In war-battered Syria, Managing Director Khulud Halaby ensures that DHL Express Syria is available to serve its customers – and protect its employees.
War started in Syria in March 2011. In 2013 I started dividing my time between Damascus and Beirut in Lebanon, where I was able to guarantee the smooth transit of Syrian shipments via Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport. It’s only about a two-hour drive between the cities along a very safe road.
On a ‘normal-as-possible’ working day in Syria, I travel between our country office in Damascus city and our 12 sites across Damascus state. I can’t visit them all in one day because the streets are now blocked with massive traffic jams due to the large number of security checkpoints. A trip across town that used to take 15 minutes now takes one and a half hours. Occasionally, I visit the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus.
Late in 2012 we relocated our operations from our new Syria Country Office near the airport to the city because snipers were shooting at vehicles, but now the roads are safe again. In this facility we have now 30,000 square meters of warehousing. Even though we have a generator for electricity there is still no internet connection, so we can’t move back yet.
The situation in Damascus is not particularly dangerous, but there are occasional unpredictable explosions. Last spring in Tartus and Latakia – two cities on the Mediterranean coast, where we operate warehouses for international humanitarian aid organizations – 150 people were killed in five bombings in just one day.
At DHL Express Syria we have people from every religion. I’m proud to say that we have Muslims – Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Sufi; Christians – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant; Jewish Syrians; Kurds and Charkas all working together. This is one of the few Middle East countries where mosques and churches sit right next to each other, where Christian priests and Muslim sheikhs preach peace.
Most of the danger is in the north – near Aleppo and the North-East– where Islamic State (ISIS/DAESH) is in control of the oil fields, crippling the national economy. But the DHL Express office in Aleppo refuses to close, although there’s no longer a lot of business there.
The most important thing for me is that over the past five years we have had no casualties among our DHL Express staff. Thank God! Our people are my eyes and my soul.
During the week, after closing the office I usually go home to relax or have dinner with friends. On Thursdays – when the weekend begins in the Middle East – we might even go dancing till 2:00 in the morning, if we feel like it. In safe regions of Syria, restaurants and bars are flourishing. What we have learned is that life goes on. At the beginning of the war we didn’t go out, until we realized that we had the choice between being unhappy and sad all the time or enjoying ourselves as much as we can, because we can’t change the situation. Should I die today, at least I’ll die happy! — As told to Rick Demarest
Published: November 2016