Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

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Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
Updated 26 April 2018
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Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

  • Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014
  • In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil”

BELO HORIZONTE: On an otherwise quiet Saturday morning in April, a shaded street in southeastern Brazil hummed to the sound of Middle Eastern music. The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly — much like they have embraced a 28 year-old Syrian refugee for the past three months.

Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil.” He eventually finished in second place, racked up more than 2.5 million followers on Instagram, and walked away with US$44,000. He said he plans to use the prize money to extract his parents from the ongoing war in his native country.

A loud, smiley extrovert who changed his hairstyle on a near-weekly basis and charmed viewers with his occasional mispronunciation of Portuguese words, Kaysar worked as a waiter before entering the Big Brother house. He was accused of being disingenuous by some of the other 19 housemates, who insisted nobody could be so happy and energetic all of the time — especially someone who claimed he had lost a girlfriend and an uncle to war and was forced to sleep on the streets in Ukraine after fleeing Aleppo in 2011.

Yet to those fans enjoying shwarmaskibe and esfihas at the food festival, Kaysar proved a positive force, providing a different perspective of a situation they knew only from watching and reading the news.

“I voted for him to win,” said Brigitte Bacha, a dance instructor wearing a white t-shirt with “Peace in Syria” emblazoned across the front. “It is so important that he was on the show, because he showed the reality of the situation there. It was obvious he has a good character. He works hard and has integrated himself into our country. He showed that refugees are just like you and me, but they find themselves in a bad place just now.”

Lili Resende, a Brazilian attending with a Romanian friend, said she had not watched much of the show, but had been supporting Kaysar so that he could afford to save his family from war. “The perception of refugees here is already very good, but I was supporting him and wanting him to win because he and his family have suffered a lot,” said Resende, who shares an apartment building with various Syrians and helps them sell native food products at the local market. 

Brazil has long welcomed refugees from the Middle East. An influx of Lebanese in the late 19th Century resulted in Brazil being home to more Lebanese than any country outside Lebanon. More than 3,000 Syrians have reportedly arrived in recent years. Organizers of Saturday’s festival said they had expected around 3,000 visitors throughout the day, but the final headcount came in at 7,040. Entry was free, but each guest had to donate one kilogram of non-perishable food to a local charity. 

“Arab families gather together to eat, so we thought why not bring together the Brazilian people to eat Arab food together,” said the Consul of Syria for Minas Gerais state, Emir Cadar. As the smell of koftas and shish barak wafted through the air, flyers for Arabic lessons were distributed, vendors sold handmade chessboards, dresses and shisha pipes, and belly dancers swayed and jolted to live Middle Eastern music. 

“We dream of an end to war,” said Cadar — a statement in contrast to the official line that his government broadcast earlier in the day in which it was claimed “the Syrian people are happy” and that the country “is a victim of lies and fake news.”


Carpet Diem: Notes on a cultural icon

‘The World’s Ugliest Carpet.' (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Carpet Diem: Notes on a cultural icon

DUBAI: Five things we learned at Carpet Oasis, the annual festival in Dubai.

The biggest carpet on the planet

No surprise that the world’s largest carpet was created in Iran — Persian rugs are widely regarded as the global benchmark for excellence. No surprise either that it’s installed at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the UAE — a country with a hunger for breaking ‘world’s biggest …’ records that is probably record in itself. The big rug’s dominant color is green (Sheikh Zayed’s favorite, apparently, and — handily — the color generally associated with Islam). It consists of 2.2 billion hand-tied knots and 38 tons of cotton and wool, and was constructed by a team of 3,000 workers.

The most expensive carpet ever sold

In 2013, an anonymous buyer — believed to be from the Middle East — paid $33.8 million for this sickle-leaf carpet, believed to have been created in the early 17th century in Persia. The price was completely unexpected. Sotheby’s, the auction house, had estimated a sale of around $7 million for the relatively small (2.67 by 1.96 meters) ‘vase-techinque’ carpet from the William A. Clark Collection. But the phone buyer refused to concede, sending the price spiralling to more than three times the previous record.

The oldest carpet known to man

This Russian pile carpet survived from, at least, the 4th century BCE until it was discovered well over 2000 years later in the tomb of a Siberian prince. Who clearly didn’t have cats. As was customary at the time, the prince was buried with his most treasured possessions, the majority of which were stolen by grave robbers at some point over two millennia. But the hole they left behind allowed snow to pile up inside, helping to preserve the carpet until the tomb was found again in 1948. The carpet is now in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The alpha-carpet

Described at Carpet Oasis as ‘The World’s Most Famous Carpet’ — which is tricky to verify given most people can’t name a carpet besides “my living room one” — the Ardabil Carpet is actually one of a pair of silk-and-wool Persian rugs currently belonging to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They were created in the mid-16th century and come with an inscription from the work of Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi and the central design is based on the interior of the dome of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan.

The eyesore

Billed as ‘The World’s Ugliest Carpet’ — a claim that would surely be hotly contested by anyone growing up in the West in the Seventies — this monstrosity from Portland Airport in Oregon, USA has become something of an ironic hipster icon, its hideous pattern (based on the airport’s runways) and color scheme replicated on socks, hats and bicycle helmets. The carpet has its own website and social media accounts (yes, it’s more popular than you…) When the airport announced it was going to be replaced, online outrage ensued, and it was recycled into wall hangings and door mats. Rest easy though, its replacement is almost equally aesthetically offensive.