Damascus, from the West

Damascus measures time not by days and months and years,
but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin.
She is a type of immortality.

She saw the foundation of Baalbeck, and Thebes and Ephesus laid:
she saw these villages grow into mighty cities,
and amaze the world with their grandeur –
and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted ,
and given over to the owls and the bats.

She saw the Israelitish empire exalted,
and she saw it annihilated.
She saw Greece rise,
and flourish two thousand years,
and die.

In her old age she saw Rome built;
she saw it overshadow the world with its power;
she saw it perish.

The few hundred years of Genoese and Venetian might and splendor were,
to grave old Damascus,
only a trifling scintillation hardly worth remembering.

Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth,
and still she lives.

She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires,
and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies.

Though another claims the name,
old Damascus is by right,
the Eternal City.

- Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

طوق الياسمين

Spring is when cotton clouds hug the sky, when the birds sing hailing the arrival of life, when the warmer winds tug at the unfolding leaves on the trees, when the light drops of dew make fragrance of the jasmines that give Damascus its fame.

Spring is the only season I have not seen Damascus in. At the age of 24 I have finally seen what the season Spring is, and in Damascus.

Spring is when I stepped out of the airport in the early morning and breathed in a fresh wisp of cool fresh air. Though dry, it never became fractionally as arid as the dampest of Dubai’s air.

I frequently blog on my visits to Damascus, and each becomes more special. The light green color of the leaves made this visit significantly different from the rest. Each tree on the street was just sprouting, and they gave a wonderful contrast with the evergreens spread everywhere, even made more apparent when the lighter green brightens and the darker green dampens after a shower.

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The streets of the Ancient City where more vibrant than customary. With Easter celebrations, the relgious harmony in Damascus became quite visible. All seven churches in the Ancient City (each of which follows a different order) shared in the celebrations, when at the same time the mosques (most of which are adjacent or wall to wall with the churches) where performing Isha prayer. It was a wonderful feeling to be in a city where I can comfortably say I am Muslim with Christian family without getting weird looks. It’s the only city where you’re not asked what religion you are to begin with, where I can walk in a church (and people know I am Muslim) and silently pray, light a candle, eat bread, and chant with my friends, and where I am not asked to make wudu2 before thinking of touching the Bible by a bearded man wearing a kandora to his knees and holding a stick to break my neck with it.

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And the Damascene girls. Yaaaaaa bayyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii ma a7lahon! They’re getting prettier every year. They’re standing up to the competition abroad. I walked through the parks and gardens of Damascus, spotting young and old couples sharing their love and whispering their desires between the folded leaves and jasmines.

The food… the food… I will say nothing but Allah y6awwel 3emrek ya sitti w ye7sen 5atemtek

She gave me two bars of saboon ghar (bay leaves soap). I showered with nothing but them there. My hair became silky smooth from the second day. The oils became balanced, and my hair naturally flowed and folded, and it smelled great. My skin became healthier. I can’t believe we buy all this commercial crap, soap that dries our skin and then lotions to moisturize, and same goes for hair. I walk into the store here and there are shelves of shampoos and body wash when they can all be replaced by one bar of soap.

And it makes the wool smell great too. My grandma stuffs the beds with them, so that the beds always smell clean and fresh.

I miss my bed.

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Noura’s Eid Post

I want to dedicate this post to Noura. At first I did not want to write “yet another Eid post”, but we all love and support Noura and let’s face it, long distance sucks! So below is a long and detailed account of everything I ate during my stay in Damascus.

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I went to Damascus with really one thing in mind: to eat. I missed food. I didn’t care wether or not the food was healthy. It is home made food, with love from my grandma and mom. Except for shawerma of course, but it’s shawermaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

My grandma 7ayati spends most of the day cooking one meal. She goes into the kitchen at around 10 AM and we don’t get to it till 4:30 PM. But trust me when I say it’s the best dish you’d eat in your life! So for the first day I was treated to “shei5 el me7shi” (شيخ المحشي) which I was told was called “ma5shi” (مخشي) by Palestinians (correct me if I am wrong). For dinner we had whatever was in the house – cheese, eggs, shankleesh, and whatever smells weird and has been in the cupboard since last year.

The next day we were invited for breakfast at mom’s friend’s house. Too bad I was fasting because I missed out on “fatteh”. If you know me, this is without a doubt the most sacred meal to me. So not eating fatteh would hopefully be accepted as a sacrifice. But of course, if it were only fatteh. No no. They had to have everything that makes you fart for ages – fool mdammas, fool blaban, makdoos, some weird thing I tried to avoid and could swear was moving, and of course tabbouleh, fattoush o debes and that horrible creation called mtabbal.

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But I didn’t eat any of that. I busied myself by taking photos of the food.

Then I told mom to replicate that breakfast for iftar. I couldn’t say which tasted better since I didn’t have a reference, but eating fatteh (which I only eat in Damascus) made me a very happy man.

The next day my dad decided we would eat breakfast outside, much to my resentment. So that meal was totally forgettable and I do not wish to discuss it further. As an apology, my dad took me and sis to the Old City, where I usually spend my time in summers anyway.

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I love the Old City. It’s simply a brilliant spot of land. You could literally hear the walls and cobblestones talking to you. Though it was a bit quiet with most stores closed for Eid, بياعين الفستق remained open and I was obliged to take samples until I decided on the best, and I let my sister handle the price negotiations. No one says no to nice sweet girls, and ياما تحت السواهي دواهي (if this is the last post you read from me, I love you all).

At night we walked arround the Qassa3 area, one of the most beautiful spots in Damascus and a festive place. As a Christian community, everyone decorates their homes – interior and exterior – with a wonderful display of lights to celebrate Christmas and New Year. When I was there only a few were up, but I am sure by now everyone there is in FalalalalaLand.

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Then I had to invite Qabbani, who was in town, for breakfast. Actually he invited himself but then I invited him after his invitations to feel that I have a word in this LOL! So he came over and he had to eat from MY fatteh el 7aywan, bas mashi bmoon. So for revenge I had mom force him to eat lots of ma3mool and weird Arabic sweets which names I cannot be bothered to remember. They all taste the same to me – mushy sugar and nuts down my esophagus.

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Then came the big meal.

Kibbeh.

وما ادراك ما الكبة 

There is absolutely nothing more wonderful than have the whole family eating kibbeh next to the صوبية. And a pot of tea slowly being brewed on it and socks  hanging around so they can dry before we wear them to bed.

But it wasn’t tea, it seemed. It was ميرامية. I craved some مته right then but I’m the only one in the family with that acquired taste. So since mom doesn’t approve, it stays out. *sniffles*

I stuffed my suitcase with whatever food I could carry – roughly 6 kilos of food. I consumed half of them within a couple of days in Dubai and saved the rest for a rainy day.

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Trip to Syria pt 2 – Sightseeing!

My photoblog is ready but just needs a little brushing up, therefore I thought it best not to postpone this post here and I would be posting some other photos on my photoblog once it is read (should be done in these two days – I just need to edit the header now that my hair has grown back :D )

Alright, anyway, on to the important stuff. I stayed in Syria for 5 days only. I spent the morning and the late nights with granny, and the rest of the day I was out with my best friend, his fiance and all of the rest of the gang… well, not all of them since most of them were out of town. I will post on my best friend later as part 3 of this trip.

I went one day to Safita, my village. I called up Abu Fares and said hi, but apologized for not being able to make it to Tartous which is incredibly close to Safita (and on a clear sky is visible from the Safatly mountains). The other Kinan was also there, and he SMSed me that it was raining. At that time I was under the rain taking photos on my way out of the village. I was only going to Safita for 3/4th of a day and I had to spend it seeing my family there. I saw dad’s side of the family (mom’s side is in Damascus). They were all nice and jolly as usual, which is what I like about brief trips. Staying there for prolonged periods inevitably surfaces many pending family issues, so it was a great idea just to make a brief visit and enjoy the moment.

My grandpa’s health has improved. He has been suffering with some issues in his hands, which made him very sad because it made him stop his job, what he likes doing best – his blacksmith business. Yup, my grandpa is a blacksmith! He has been hitting with the hammer since he was a kid. He’s a pretty strong man ;) Funnily, at the age of 90, he still didn’t stop smoking. He has been smoking for 80 years, he makes and wraps his own cigs. I told him several times to stop smoking but there is little you can do to convince a 90 year old to stop an 80 year old habit.

Back in Damascus, I spent half a day at the Ancient City itself, which was a bit sad because I had little time to take photos and enjoy the place (I usually spend most of my summer holidays there). I didn’t even go inside the Umayyad Mosque to take photos. In fact I didn’t take any proper photos of places, because I didn’t bring my tripod with me and because most of the landscapes I wanted to shoot were now occupied by the military (and my dad is paranoid so I didn’t take a risk).