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Worthington is home for Syrian native

ana anthony/daily globe Dr. Firas Farra is shown at the Avera Clinic where he has been working for about 14 years.

WORTHINGTON -- As a child, Dr. Firas Farra was aware of the expectations his parents had for him being the oldest of three siblings. He also knew he aspired to be a medical provider. What he didn't know was he would some day practice medicine in a town about 7,000 miles from his home in Damascus, Syria.

Farra, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Avera Medical group, explained his love for medicine was spurred by his father, who was also an obstetrician and gynecologist.

"When you're the oldest, somehow there is that indirect expectation that you are going to be like your dad," he said. "I grew up hearing about C-sections and my father being called at home for deliveries. I liked the medical field. It was interesting to me."

Upon graduating from medical school in Szeged, a southeastern city of Hungary, Farra embarked on a journey to the U.S in February 1992.

"Back in the late 50s, my dad came to the U.S. for his residency," he said, explaining he had several reasons why he chose to further his career in this country. "But in general, the U.S. is considered the promise land for any one who doesn't live here."

At Baltimore, Farra completed his internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology before uprooting again -- this time for Worthington.

A childhood friend who attended high school and medical school with him was working in Worthington at the time.

"He told me that there were two gynecologists here retiring and that I should interview here to see if I like it," Farra said about Dr. Bassel Bardan who is now a co-worker of his.

A weekend trip to Worthington caught his fancy. In the summer of 1998, Farra relocated to Worthington.

"I like the how humble and nice people here are," he said. "I came from the East Coast and not that I'm trashing the people from there, but I wasn't accustomed to the 'Minnesota nice' at first."

Living away from home, Farra made yearly summer trips to Damascus to visit family. He met his wife, Nai, on one of his visits home.

"She's been to America as a tourist, but she had never lived in America before," he explained. "She had never been to the Midwest or to a small town in the Midwest. It was a bigger shock for her."

Officially known as The Syrian Arab Republic, Syria is a secular Muslim country with a population of about 23 million. The capital and the largest city, Damascus, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Farra said.

Apart from the Arab majority, Syria has several other ethnic groups including Kurds and Armenians.

He explained his native country has Arabic, Turkish and Persian influence.

"In the past 50 years or so, there has been a lot of Western influence too," he said. "We were occupied under the French mandate until 1946."

Culture wise, he explained Syrians maintain strong family values.

"My grandparents, my uncles and aunts all lived about a 20-minute drive away," Farra said. "We hardly had lunch alone."

He continued to explain lunch is the main meal of the day for Syrians.

"We have a big meal for lunch and then people have a siesta," he said. "Then we wake up about 4 or 4:30 p.m. and have coffee. People who work, go back to work from 5 to 8 or 9 p.m."

The Farras have two sons, Anwar, 10, and Sammy, 8. Twelve years of living here has made it easier to call Worthington home, he said.

"My wife and I have lived in different places but for our kids, they only know Worthington," he added.

While he and Nai have tried to infuse the Syrian culture into their sons' upbringing, Farra admitted it is challenging when there isn't a strong Arabic presence in the community.

"We did an attempt in 2007 when my wife and kids went to Syria for a school year," he said. "We wanted them to be in a school where Arabic was the main language, so they could learn. They learned but they've forgotten."

The Farras have taken to celebrating a myriad of holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas in addition to Muslim ones.

"We still do a few things like we try to observe Ramadan as much as possible," he said. "We have Eid which is like Christmas or Easter for us. We make special food and buy presents for the kids."

Eid is a Muslim holiday which marks the end of the fasting month, Ramadan.

Although he and Nai have been away from Syria, they still keep up with the happenings in the Middle East, he said. In the recent year, the Syrian uprising has kept them on their toes.

"We still have family there, so every time there is an explosion or a crackdown, we call home because we worry about them," he said.

Farra's parents and younger brother reside in Damascus. His sister lives in Massachusetts, he said, where she is studying to be a health care administrator.

If the turmoil ceases in Syria, Farra said he is planning for a family vacation to there this summer.

Daily Globe reporter Ana Anthony can be reached at 376-7321.