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Posts Tagged ‘Damascus’

A View of 2012 From Syria

In At home, Middle East, Syria on January 2, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I was thinking about 2012 in retrospect as that’s what you do in the last days of the year.  I have so many things I’m grateful for:  family, friends, an awesome apartment, my first car!!, a good job, enough food that I need to keep my fat jeans in the closet, great travels, and a re-found appreciation for my every day surroundings.  Then I received an email from a friend of mine who lives in Damascus; it outlined 2012 from her perspective, living in constant fear and strife, how she and her family cope day to day.  After reading her take on the year in review, I asked her permission to publish it here for the benefit of any who choose to read it, because one more thing I’m grateful for is the wisdom and insight of people who are brave enough to put their views, hopes, dreams, struggles, and thankfulness to paper and share it with the rest of us.  She knows it’s being posted and for obvious reasons I’m not printing her name.  But if you do read it and are affected by it, please leave a comment and a word of encouragement so she knows that she, her family, and her country are not alone going into 2013.  Prayers for Peace on Earth and a Happy New Year to all!

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Prayers Matter

In Middle East, Syria on July 18, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Minaret of the Umyyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria (2007)

When you watch the news and think you can’t do anything about the world around you, know that people in the midst of the crisis are grateful to know others are thinking about them and praying for them.  My friends in Damascus are living in hell right now, this is the post from one of them after today’s fighting in the capital:

Thank you all [for your prayers and messages].  It’s davistating and scary.  My dad doesn’t want to leave the house and we can’t leave him alone.  Now we can’t leave the house at all.  Out side is a mess .  So the best thing either to stay home or go down to the basement.  I don’t know what to do.  My heart is in my mouth.  I am trying to pray and sometimes I walk around the house can’t even sit.  BUT SOOO GRATEFUL TO YOUR PRAYERS


In Obituary on March 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hussein al Farakh, d. March 17, 2012

Hussein al Farakh was a security guard at the American Language Center in Damascus when I worked there.  I didn’t know him very well but he always gave me his serious head-nod whenever I passed him on my way into the building.  Quiet, unassuming, but charming and clever.  On March 17, 2012, he was one of the 27 casualties resulting from double explosions in the capital.  It didn’t matter that we weren’t best friends, or even good friends for that matter.  It still went straight to the heart to find out that an innocent civilian was in the wrong place at the wrong time and this time “it” had a name that I knew.

Every time I read about another explosion ripping through the capital I worry about my friends and former students that are still there.  I check facebook right away to see if the usual people have posted something to let us all know they escaped this one.  And this time there was the announcement that Hussein was a victim.  I wish I could write more about him and give people a name and face to a situation that is miles away for most of us.  Instead, my friend, Yakoob, wrote a piece that came from sadness, but also admiration and friendship.  It’s worth taking your time to read it, not only because it reminds us that life can be ripped away in a second, but also because it’s a beautiful story of a many faceted gentleman who made a lasting impression on those around him.  Read the story,  Hussein, by Yakoob Ahmed.

First Visit to the Hammam

In Middle East, Syria on March 2, 2007 at 11:43 am

WARNING: there may be some content in here that makes people squeamish or they might take offense to.  This is my apology for any damage to your mental health.

I’m not a big fan of spas, I think it’s a little weird to spend a lot of money for people to slap seaweed on you or massage your face.  Nevertheless, the hammam (public bath) is a popular past time in the Middle East so I decided to go check it out.  I’d been once before in Turkey with a friend – we were the only ones in the hammam and I assumed I might encounter something similar here.  Not so…

Arab women have an aversion to hair anywhere on their body apart from the head so I thought I might get my hairy western arms waxed just to see what all the fuss is about.  The waxer looked as if she had just emerged from the steamroom, straggley hair plastered against her forehead, old track suit hanging yet clinging to her.  A cigarette dangled out of her mouth as she went to work on me, tut-tutting at the state I’d let myself get into.  They wax you in public, in front of everyone else who’s come in to hang out for the afternoon.  The portraits of the former and current presidents hang overhead staring down with creepy grins.  They don’t use hot wax here, instead it’s like a thick paste they rub between their hands to warm up.  Then they slap it on you and start ripping away again and again and again.  I’m gritting my teeth, the waxer grins and grunts with her cigarette lodged between the gap in her teeth where at least two other teeth should be but have fallen out.  She’s doing my forearms and then horror of horrors, she moves to my biceps and shoulders.  Now I know for certain that I do NOT have hairy upper arms and I try explaining this to her but she is convinced I must be cleansed.  Then she starts trying to rip it out of my underarms where the hair is too short.  I’m yelling “la la la la” (arabic for ‘no no no no’) but she must think I’m singing and makes it a mission to get rid of whatever is there.  Finally she quits and the next scary lady comes over and grabs my arm to lead me to the next stage of bathing…

She drags me through ancient hallways – this hammam is more than 800 years old – through the steamroom into the large hall where at least 40 women are lounging about in various stages of undress, throwing hot water on each other, washing their hair, and smoking.  This is where the women go to meet and talk, I assume they gossip and diss each other  but I’m not sure as I still only understand a few words.  Fruits and vegetables do not seem to be a popular topic.  I’m led to a smaller room where a young women is sitting with her mother and aunt.  They greet me with big smiles and begin to throw water on me.  Then one grabs my loofah from me and starts scrubbing my back with man-strength force.  After awhile the masseuse comes in to give me a massage.  This is no private room with pretty scented candles, Pachabel’s annoying Canon playing in the background accompanied by chirping whales, discreet and calm massaging of my back.  Instead I’m surrounded by chatty and yelling women, there is no music, the mother is still smoking, and I’m lying on my stomach while she pounds the crap out of my back.  I must point out, however, that this is the kind of massage I like, it actually feels like they’re doing something.  Then she starts yanking on my fingers, I don’t know why.  Then she pulls out my shampoo and starts washing my hair.  It smells nice when she’s done but it’s also in a billion knots.  Then some women from Lebanon try to take over our room and the aunt goes crazy on them.  You have to see a 70-something, toothless and topless woman running around tearing strips off people to know that this is not a North American spa.  So I took my leave and went out to change.

While I’m toweling off and putting my makeup on, the daughter comes out and we start talking in stilted English and Arabic.  Her mom also comes out and soon my purse is stuffed full of apples and oranges, and I’m drinking tea and eating pita with some olive spread on it.  I’m clean, smooth from finger to shoulder, I’ve made new friends, I’m fed, and I think I might just come back, minus the wax job.

Delicacies From the Pasture

In Middle East, Syria on September 29, 2002 at 6:36 pm

Hello again.

Yes, I’m still in Syria but found another internet cafe and decided it was worth the update.

This evening’s dinner… sheep testicles.  They taste a little like scrambled eggs but I must say it’s never been so hard to eat eggs.  The first bite was ok, the second was difficult, the third was an exercise in swallowing while gagging.  But hey, I tried sheep intestines last week and they weren’t so bad…

Today we arrived in Damascus after spending two days in the desert.  Our accommodations for that part of the journey were sleeping two nights in different dead cities.  The equivalent of ghost towns, just two thousand years older.  Last night I was enjoying the breeze from the desert at night as the daytime temperatures were up to 40+ degrees.  Then I woke up this morning covered in a few inches of sand and thought that maybe a breeze is not so great.  Sometimes when I see other tour buses going by I think “you all look so clean”.  And then I remember that the way we’re doing it is cheaper and infinitely more exciting.

The first day we were in the desert, Adam decided to let each of us try driving the truck.  Mainly because desert scenery is not so great after the first half hour, and also because there was little chance of crashing into another vehicle.  When it was my turn, I promptly and accidentally drove onto a military outpost.  We originally thought it was a desert house, but the soldier with the AK-47 gave away what it actually was.  He was nice though, nodded to our greeting and gave a hearty wave.  99% of me was going ALRIGHT!!!!! the other 1% said hmmmmm.  Today we got back onto the highway and although the signs said Iraq was only a hundred km away,we decided it was not such a great idea.

We’ll be here in Damascus for the next two days.  It is a different city from Aleppo in that it is the capital and a little more cosmopolitan.  The people are still amazingly friendly though and it will be good to come back here two more times.

I discovered in Aleppo that I could never starve in this country.  Everywhere I went, the men were literally shoving food in my face.  They’d laugh and not let me go til I’d eaten the fries/pizza/pistachios and then cheer when I finally ate it.  The women are much more reserved and you must greet them with an Arab greeting before you get any emotion out of them.  Last night in Palmyra at the dead city, the guardians of the tombs where we were staying came over to the camp for about an hour to talk.  The women were very nice and one of them spoke English very well so I was finally able to have a female conversation rather than the one that typically goes “Yes, please, hello.  Where you from?  Welcome.  You like Syria?”

I’ve had two marriage proposals so far, one from the man at the chicken slaughter stall who proposed while his friend was slitting the throats of the chickens.  Not quite how I envisioned it happening, but I guess you can’t have it all.  And yes, I was wearing a head covering at the time.  Just a scarf and I must say that I enjoy it.  There’s a degree of anonymity that cannot be had from going bare-headed.

Good news on the Iranian visa front – it’s finally been issued – to Holland.  Tomorrow will be a test of patience as I try and negotiate with the embassy here to get a faxed confirmation from there.  Not how I want to spend my day but like I said before, I am going to Iran.

Sorry the message is so long but I want everyone to know how great it is here.  Every day is perfect and each day is better than the last.  I thought my tan was getting darker but then I took a shower and realized I’m just really dirty.

So that’s it for now.  Thanks to everyone for their e-mails, it’s great to hear from home.

That is all.