Filed under: Blog — annie at 3:22 pm on Thursday, January 30, 2003 Edit This

January 2003

Translation: Time moves quickly; I’m almost halfway through my stay. I don’t realize I’m in Syria because I feel so at home. Everything is going smoothly; I feel transparent..

The weather

Springtime weather. Cat are in heat and you can hear them courting

The exams

They ended today (January 18). I did pretty well. I’ll be reunited with most of my classmates next semester.
In the meantime, I’m going to treat myself to a real vacation because the pace has been steady for four months. However, stamina quickly increased use, and I was doing just fine studying six hours every day.

The Iraq War

In my class at the Institute, we decide to stay if the Americans invade Iraq. However, if the Belgian embassy told me to pack up, I would be forced to leave.

The Dutch received a pre-warning and the Germans have recensed their nationals in Jordan.

Saddam, and for that matter Osama, have few supporters here, but that doesn’t mean the Syrians support Bush.

The New Year’s Eve

I buried 2002 in a wonderful place, the Umayyad Palace, photos below.

What makes its charm is obviously the setting, but also Samir, the boss.

After restoring a real ruin, he wanted to turn it into a museum, but he finally decided to open a restaurant. Samir is Palestinian and his wife is Syrian. Palestinians are much better treated in Syria than in Lebanon, for example, where they are excluded from many professions. Here, although not having access to nationality, they have the same rights as Syrians.

This is the only place in Damascus where you will see a real whirling dervish. On the occasion of the new year, he is accompanied by his son who also spins.

Heart of gold, Samir is extremely generous, a quality much appreciated among Arabs. During Ramadan, he invites several groups of orphans to his restaurant. At his place, the atmosphere is simple, but the oriental buffet is excellent. For this New Year’s Eve, there were only Syrians accompanied by their families, including children.

Although frequented by tourists, the place was not deserted by locals.

One evening, I met a direct descendant of Charlemagne.

In search of Arabs

Who is an Arab here? You, my Syrian friend, you are Christian, but still Arab? No, I am Syrian.
And you, my friend, you are Syrian? Yes, but I am an Arab.
The others are Turks (500,000), Kurds (1 million), Armenians, Circassians, descendants of the Crusaders, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, a real melting pot in short. What unites them is the language, the nationality and for the 80% of Muslims, the religion. The great Saladin was a Muslim before he was a Kurd.


They are numerous in Damascus. Here is an Orthodox church, Holy Cross, near Bab Touma.

Working in the street

Mattrass “renewer

When I was growing up in Brussels, we used to take the woolen mattresses to him to wash and re-fluff them.

Carpet sellers

Besides the specialized stores, there are merchants who set up their business in the street before the first cold. In the houses, they clear the carpets when the heat returns.

A street office

We see small tables in the street where people fill out questionnaires. They are also public writers although the literacy rate is high.

The last hakawati0

He is a professional storyteller.
He reads an episodic story that can be heard every day at 5 p.m. at the Nawfara cafe. He has his followers who come to watch the show daily.

Here is the path to the Nawfura (it skirts the mosque of Ommeyades) and a view of its terrace.

The storyteller’s name is Rasheed El Hallak /Abou Shadee, which means father of Shadee.

After a long preamble in which he pays tribute to the great men of the past, he gets to the heart of the matter.

I can distinguish a few words, but there is little hope that I will soon learn the twists and turns of his stories about Sultan Beybars among others (one of the heroes of the fight against the crusaders; he took the Krak back from them . My brother-in-law, who knows Arabic very well, hardly understands it any better than I do because the hakawati speaks in popular Syrian Arabic with a strong accent. However, he sometimes reads texts in Fou-ha. After the show, he will let me look at his antique notebooks, all handwritten, which come down from generations of predecessors.

The show is worth it: watching Abu Shadee’s exchanges with the audience, seeing him interrupt to ask for a glass of tea or to look down on the chatterboxes, watching the regulars pull on their hookahs (did I tell you that we say “drink” a hookah in Arabic?) and ESPECIALLY waiting for the moment when he swings his sword and hits the innocent stool .
Everyone shouts HEY; there follows a delicious wait as there may be a second and third blow. Arabic coffee is served in small cups that are passed from one to the other.

Abu Shadee is unfortunately the last of his dynasty.
Wouldn’t there be someone to take over the torch?
My friend, a tour guide without work because of the state of affairs, asks him if she has a chance. He encourages her to go for it. And we are in Syria, and she is a woman!