Year Abroad in Syria – Day #246

26/05/09

Day 246

I now have just about one week left in Syria before I come home for the summer. First I shall be staying at Brian’s place in London before my flight to Pittsburgh on June 10th.

On Sunday I taught my final lessons at the two institutes. My students decided to throw a small party to show their appreciation and it was very nice to get such positive feedback from the students. All of them are eagerly awaiting my return in the summer and I look forward to continuing teaching at both institutes from around July 17th – October 1st (about two and a half months).

My plan is to find a nice apartment for myself in the Damascus suburb, Jaramana, where I first lived at the beginning of my stay in Syria and where most of my students are based. It is a particularly interesting part of Damascus because of the wide variety of people living there, which include Muslims (Sunni, Shiite and Alawy), Christians (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) and Druze (or al-MouwaHidoun), from various parts of Syria, particularly from the south-east area of Asweide’, and there are also many refugees from Palestine and Iraq.

It has definitely been an interesting 246 days or so to say the least. Sometimes it has been very hard, being so far from home and adjusting to what feels like a different world. But other times I have had the time of my life. I have felt myself change over the last nine months, learning a lot of new skills, becoming more street smart, and learning more about how to deal with the real world – outside of the “Durham bubble”.

At the beginning of our academic year here we were all thrown in the deep end. I arrived at the end of August last year in the blazing summer sun, with just one change of clothes, my laptop, some books and a week’s hotel reservation at the “Damascus Hostel”. It was then up to us to rent a place, trying not to get scammed with tourist prices, and all of that in sketchy Arabic. Not forgetting having to deal with adjusting to Damascus food and enduring the “Damascus Stomach” multiple times! It has been a year of firsts – like renting my first apartment and at the same time paying the bills with wages earned from my first proper job (the paper-round I did as a teenager doesn’t count!).

Since arriving I have become intimately familiar with Damascus, like a second home (or third even?) and have become especially familiar with the bus routes throughout the city, having spent an average of two hours a day in the bus travelling to and from the university or work. I have met a wide variety of people, from different cultural and religious backgrounds and have learned a great deal about the Eastern mindset. I feel that there is still a tremendous amount to learn from the East and I look forward to continuing my Persian and Arabic, as well as continuing my Islamic Studies.

The other day I overheard a very pleasant piece of Arabic exchange and once again learned a little bit more about the Arab culture. I was in a shop and overheard the shop keeper ask another man, who had been placing various items to buy on the shop counter, if there was anything else that he wished (in Arabic: “gheyro?”), and the man’s response was simply “salaamtak”, which means “your peace/health”. I thought that was so cool. When do you ever hear a shopkeeper in the England or America ask if a person wants anything else and hear the person answer “only your good health”? They also have the same custom here for when someone is leaving the house, for example, and they ask the people in the house as they leave; “do you need anything?” and the response is “only your good health and peace.”

Last Friday I visited the Muslim family with which I have become very good friends over the period of my stay here, and one of the sons, called SaliH (which means “valid, or good in every way” and is the name of one of the children of Adam and Eve according to the Koran) drove me to the top of the highest mountain adjacent to Damascus, called “Qasiyoon Mountain” and showed me the amazing view over the whole city. It seemed like a fitting way to say goodbye to Damascus until the summer. (Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera since I didn’t know beforehand that we would be visiting the mountain. Perhaps I shall go again in the summer and take some photos for you.)

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