Today is my 100th day in Damascus! So I thought an appropriate way to mark the occasion would be to write and update you on my stay.
The term at my college has finished now so I am enjoying the Christmas holidays and not having to get up so early in the morning anymore. Since I haven’t had to go to class these past few days, I have been able to spend more time with my Arab housemates, William and Simon, who have been helping me with my Arabic vocabulary learning.
After being here for what feels like longer than 100 days, I find myself taking many things in Damascus for granted. Occasionally, if I am working on my computer or watching a film in the comfort of my living room, I forget for a moment that I am in the Middle East. I am soon reminded, however, when in the distance, over the noise of the TV and the traffic outside and the neighbours’ music, I can hear, only ever so slightly from a minaret far away, this tone, almost eerie in nature, that rises above all the other noise, like an angel soaring over the city, singing in pure, seamless Arabic; “God is most great.” For a moment, not only are you reminded that you are in the Middle East, but that, like the tone rising above all else, God is above everything and everywhere and He is the one in control. It is quite humbling really and for a moment life is put into its proper perspective. I particularly enjoy walking out onto my balcony during the call and looking over the city, thinking to myself how surreal it feels to be here in Damascus, in a different culture and so far away.
I have started to take a lot of things for granted now. Men standing around with AK7’s, trash lying in piles along the streets and the smell that comes with it, wild cats fighting and the noise they make as you try to get to sleep. Men shouting or tapping against gas cans from the streets advertising what they are selling, Arabic subtitles on all the films, Arabic writing everywhere, the rats that live in the entranceway to our apartment building, sometimes no drinking water in our apartment, women wearing the hijab, men wearing 70’s fashion, slow internet, crowded minibuses, crazy maniac near-miss driving, incessant honking of horns, kids throwing small rocks at each other, kids trying to sell you a packet of chewing-gum, soldiers walking about in scruffy uniform, getting stared at because you are Caucasian and surprising them with Arabic.
The other day, when I was in a minibus, I noticed another strange tradition in Syria. Some of the drivers here let the fingernail on their small finger grow out and don’t cut it. I thought this was rather odd (as well as pretty disgusting) and asked a local about it and apparently it is a way for the man to show that his job does not involve manual labour and that this custom is somewhat of a class indicator. It is quite ironic really, because he still has to drive the bus 12 hours a day.
Well, it will soon be Christmas and I look forward to seeing most of you this holiday, when I can tell you more about my adventures in this strange place!