Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Everyone woke up this morning to a white snowy Damascus. I was hoping work would be canceled, but it wasn't. It hasn't snowed here since 2004, so everybody was out playing and throwing snowballs, even the old men and women. You can just see at the top of the mountain in the picture a bunch of restaurants that overlook the city. It also got below zero and windy and frigidly cold so the already cold house is now an icebox. I have an electric heater in the bedroom so if I close the door it warms up in about an hour, but the shower room never really heats up and that's the one that really matters on a cold morning.

It started snowing just a few hours after I dropped Vanessa and Alexa at the airport. Vanessa was sad to leave me and to separate Alexa and I, but she was sure exited to get out of Damascus - she had said her goodbye's and been packed for almost a week. I think she almost had a heart attack though when she called me from the airport because they wouldn't let her through the gate without her exit form that she had left at the house. Can you imagine a country forcing a foreign citizen to remain in the country because they didn't have the correct form? That system wouldn't work in the US, every foreigner would purposely forget the form and stay in the US for good. But after pleading with him for a while of course they let her through. She's back in the US now and is planning on going to Peru in 2 weeks to stay with her Dad after his kidney transplant. She called and said she is in loving the luxuries such as a dishwasher, microwave, bathtub, and cigarette smoke-free air.

It's pretty depressing to come back to an empty house after school and work now, I even sniffed one of Alexa's dirty diapers in the garbage and it put a smile on my face. It's only for 4 months though, and I can get back to my nomadic lifestyle of exploring Syria after school and on the weekends. That's us on the left being sad at the airport when it was time for them to leave.

In other exiting news - we had been lazily using a handful of baby sign language signs with Alexa for the past few months and all of a sudden a few weeks ago she actually just started using them! I had just read a book to her and she all of a sudden used the sign for "more", then later that night she used the sign for "more" + "milk" with Vanessa, I didn't think all that crap was real, but now she is using all of these signs like a total deaf baby.

I'm still just going to classes and working at a PR firm every other day where we organize events for Syria's rich and famous. I realized that there are a lot of really big Syrian fish in a really small pool, or at least they all seem to think they are. This year Damascus was designated by the Arab League as the "Capitol of Arab Culture" (last year it was somewhere in Algeria) and they kicked off the celebrations last week with a huge party in one of the main squares - it was pretty impressive, but cold, see pics below:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


While Vanessa was spending the day at the Shell Oil country club in Damascus with a new group of mothers that she's met (the other big groups in town are the UN mothers and the Embassy mothers) I took the opportunity to visit the Golan Heights and the ghost town of Quneitra (pronounced "Guntra" in the Golan) that the Israeli's occupied for some time after the '67 war and then gave back to Syria after the '73 war. When they pulled out of it they bombed and bulldozed everything standing and plowed all the fields with mines as a kind of a finger in the eye, and then Syria used the opportunity to preserve the entire village as a kind of open-air museum to Israeli aggression. It lies in a beautiful green valley full of fruit trees and olive trees with a river running through the center of town and is surrounded by mountains on three sides. At the top of them you can see Israeli antennae and military outposts and giant wind turbines. All the buildings are pretty much flattened except for a part of an orthodox church, two mosques, and the old hospital. The area is now administered by the UN and you need to get special permission to go there, and once there a Syrian "guide" walks around with you through the city. By chance I got a ride home from a family that had fled there in '67 and was now living in Damascus and got to hear all of the old Zionist conspiracy theories for the thousandth time. I tried to point out the ridiculousness of most of them but I don't think I convinced anybody.

For New Years eve we were invited to dinner at the house of an embassy family who has a daughter Alexa's age and had a great big American-style dinner. They do all of their food shopping online and a weekly diplomatic plane brings it from the US right to their door. Actual New Years was sort of anti-climactic as we couldn't find anything on TV that told us what time it was, and all of our cell phone clocks were different, so we just kind of picked a time and said happy new year then went home to bed.
We were also able to visit an Armenian member of the church that lives on the outskirts of Damascus with the missionary couple and were made painfully aware of the cultural differences in house visits - trying to ingest the never ending plates of strange sweets and drinks, the uncomfortable silences as the visit stretches on for hours upon hours, relatives and friends arriving and sitting for an hour or so then leaving, etc - in the Arab world a house visit is an all evening (and sometimes night) event, and usually doesn't include dinner, so we were all starving and trying to leave without offending anybody.

Last but not least it was Alexa's birthday on the 27th and Vanessa made her a cat cake and we let her destroy it. The only problem was that she wouldn't destroy it, she just daintily poked at it with a pretzel until it had a few holes in the frosting. But she really enjoyed poking it. The candle that we found for the birthday cake shot flames. We're planning to have a party once all of her friends get back into town from Christmas vacation.
After that it's only three weeks until Vanessa and Alexa are going to give up Syria for Peru where they will spend the last few months with her father who will be recovering from an operation in Lima.