Sunday, July 22, 2007

Assad and I

Coming to Syria means getting aquainted with the president - Bashar al-Assad. You see his picture everywhere, in shops, on the streets, in people's homes, etc, and you think 'do people really like him that much? Or are they just scared not to like him?' And after being here for a month I can say that this picture thing is really quite an effective policy. I really feel some sort of afinity for him and feel like he's my friend or relative or something. He has done some amazing things for Syria since his father left which has endeared him to most Syrians, the most visible being allowing foreign banks to enter the country. Now the average person can get loans to buy cars, build houses, restaurants, stores, etc. So in a country that was once known for it's old cars, three out of every five cars are now brand new european or japanese imports, new hotels are growing up around town like weeds (although I can't imagine who is staying in them, since I only see a few straggling european and asian tourists around town), and there are new restaurants with flat-screen tv's, water misters, and remote control roofs all over, and they are full of young people with disposable income!

I went today to the suq al haramiyya - the theifs bazaar, there are two of them in Damascus, one near abasiyya and another near the old city. They're not as exiting as the grand one one in Cairo, but you can find some stolen goods, some broken electronics, bikes, your basic animals, home improvement supplies, etc. I also went with some friends to the tekiyye sulimaniyye market where there are some more traditional handicrafts for sale. I't so hot right now in Damascus that it's not that much fun to go out and do anything, so mostly I lay in my hot bedroom and sweat the days away.

Vanessa is in Seattle visiting friends, and then goes down to Peru with her Parents next week, and I'll get to see them in about three weeks! Can't wait.
Below is the tekke sulimaniyya - the handicrafts bazaar, a quaint place with some different products and better prices than some of the other main bazaars.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I falafel

What was once a quite enjoyable experience - eating, has become a chore I don't always look forward to. The once great food, when eaten everyday for three meals without variation starts to become bland, and I find myself craving such delicacies as cereal and frozen dinners. Of course there is quite a bit of variation in the restaurants, but the fast food available on the street that everybody eats when they are out and about is only of four sorts, shwarma, falafel, saaj, and fatayeer. First, shwarma, (chicken and lamb) - how long has the meat been on it's spindle is anyone's guess. It is eaten slathered with mayonaise and pickles and dipped in a puddle of chicken grease. I just get it with plain meat and bread.

Second, falafel, with it's distinctive Syrian donut shape. The part I like is when they smoosh the falafel into the bread with their fingers they just finished smoothing their hair back with. It comes with tahina and cabbage and some yogurt.

Third and fourth, saaj, fatayeer and it various bread-like brothers and sisters, is usually a pancake like bread with cheese and murtadela (the spam of the east), or fatayeer is a small pizza like bread with either cheese on it, spices, or ground meat. I don't have pictures of it to do it justice, but believe me, I have these four foods coming out my ears.

Whenever I have time to go to restaurants in between studying and sleeping it is a treat, and I get kebabs and hummus and rice and other great things that make me happy. But since I am so tired of eating the other food, I often just don't eat during the day, and have one meal at night. In between I eat slushes, fruit juice and ice cream.

This last weekend we went on a trip to Bloudan, a beautiful mountain resort of the rich and famous in the middle east and swam at a French hotel that has been 5 stars since 1950. We also went to the source of the river Barada that runs through damascus, and ate lunch in a cave in a mountain that has a restaurant in its caverns, and boat rides through the pools that fill it. Someday I'll post pictures of it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


I went to see enrique iglesias in concert the other night and it was priceless. He is the first big western pop star to come to syria in over 30 years. There was a turn out of about 10k people, even though the tickets started at $80 and went up to $200. I guess it shows you the size of the emerging middle class here. Anyways, I bought tickets on the street in front of the show for $4, and that might account for a portion of the crowd.

Once I entered the concert venue however, there was no organization and my friends and I just walked right up to the $200 section.While he was singing all of these scantily clad women, along with the conservative veiled women were all going crazy yelling and screaming and crying and fainting, etc. I had no idea he was so popular here. Then they started rushing the stage and climbing all over him when he was singing and trying to kiss and hug him while the security guards just stood back and watched. Finally some order was established, but throught the concert guys and girls kept rushing the stage to try to touch him and the bouncers had to keep throwing them down. It was hilarious. Then for one song he picked a girl from the audience and brought her onstage and sang to her, and at the end of the song totally kissed her on the mouth, which, while most people were cheering and clapping, there was almost an audible gasp, and she was obviously pretty uncomfortable. That's just not something you do in a Muslim country, and my friends and I were joking that nobody's going to want to marry her now, which, sadly, is probably true.

The below picture is of Bakdash, a famous Syrian ice-cream institution. It's always packed, day and night until it closes at midnight, and they 'supposedly' were the first people to ever make ice cream. The more I talk to people here it seems like everything that happened in the world somehow happened first in Syria. Anyways, the ice cream is full of gum mastic and pistachios, and is almost a mix between taffy and ice cream, and has a unique flavor from pounding it with cedar clubs when they make it.

Vanessa is having fun in South Africa and comes home this weekend. She is at a biological reserve of some sort and has been on safaris and seen a ton of wild, nasty animals. Alexa is supposedly making a larger variety of noises and using her hands as real hands instead of just something to suck on.