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.

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