I thought I would write and let you know that I had a great birthday over here in Damascus. My friends and I decided to go to a restaurant to celebrate, called “Damascus Gate”, which is apparently the largest restaurant in the world and featured in the Guinness Book of World Records! Of course, I couldn’t just go to any old restaurant for my birthday! The place was pretty amazing and reminded me of Sea World in Florida because of the huge waterfalls and fountains surrounding the place. We were told the place can seat 6000 people! Usually they serve food from all over the world and I was very keen to have some nice Indian food (one of my favourite kinds), but because it was still Ramadan they unfortunately were only serving the normal Arabic food that you get everywhere else in Damascus. I did, however, manage to discover an Indian place yesterday and had one of the best meals I have had so far in Damascus. They even had Chicken Tikka Masala – my favourite!
Unfortunately, due to the end of Ramadan holidays, I have not been able to pick up any mail from the post office and wont be able to until Sunday. I can’t wait until the days here are just normal days, instead of Ramadan or the Eid for example (end of Ramadan four day holiday.) During Ramadan it was nearly impossible to get any food that wasn’t the normal “Iftar” Arabic food and because everyone was eating at the same time in the evening it was impossible to get a seat in any restaurant without having to wait for one hour to be served. So you would have to eat either really early or really late to avoid the crowds. If you ate early, most of the menu was unavailable because it was being prepared for the breaking of the fast (the “Iftar”) and if you ate late, all you could have was leftovers from the “Iftar”.
The day after my birthday I moved into my new apartment. I am now living in an area called “Mezzeh Gabel”, which means Mezzeh on the Hill/Mountain, so I have an amazing view looking down over the city. It is on the opposite side of the city to where I was living before (in Jaramana) and is much closer to the University. Now it takes only 10 minutes by bus to my college for only 10 Syrian Pounds (around $0.20). Mezzeh is also much quieter and I think much safer (i.e. much farther away from where the explosion occurred near Jaramana) which I am sure you are happy to hear! I am still living with the same Arabs, but only two of them this time, since one of the other two works in Jaramana and the other couldn’t afford the rent at the new place. So the two I am living with now are called Simon and William. We sometimes call William by his nickname, “qoh-qoh”, which doesn’t really mean anything, but sounds a bit like a bird cawing! I’m not quite sure how he got the nickname! Although he does do a very good bird-cawing impression! Both of them are extremely friendly and have also been very helpful with just about every aspect of living in Damascus – from finding an apartment for us to buying the groceries (and cooking for me!). Our apartment is pretty large and fully furnished with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a balcony, living room, kitchen and adjoining eating area. The bathrooms are particularly good, with showers that I would actually go as far as to say are better than the ones at my college in Durham.
Classes don’t start up again until Wednesday (because of the Eid Holidays). During the Eid everywhere is really crowded and gets pretty hectic, especially at the market places where all of the shops have been having end of Ramadan sales. Everyone is out celebrating, eating out, smoking shisheh in all the cafes and playing loud music in the streets. Also, all the children who would normally be in school are running wild in the streets and playing with BB guns, shooting at each other. Just sitting here now in the internet cafe I have almost been hit a couple of times by stray BB’s! Out of all the things I am wary of in Damascus, I think it is the wild crowds of kids that are right up there on the list! Just the other day one of my friends, who has also come from Durham, was hit by a firework that some kid threw in the street. Fortunately it only bounced off his hand and wasn’t too serious, but it could have been a lot worse. Forget about the maniac driving here, or the strange plain-clothes police with AK47’s, it’s the crazy children you have to worry about!