Today is day 284 in Damascus and I’m happy to report things are going well. I’m still enjoying my new apartment and getting to know the area better. The electricity has been unusually good recently – with no power cuts for a few days now. Knowing Damascus, however, it probably won’t last and soon enough there will be power cuts again – and probably when the weather’s hottest!
Teaching is going well. Every week I have new students joining my classes. So far, since my arrival in Syria this summer, I have been teaching thirty different students, including two private students, one of whom I teach three times a week. So teaching is keeping me busy, but I’m also fitting in some Arabic – in fact, one of my students is an Arabic teacher and has been giving me private lessons, which I’ve found to be very useful.
I’m still chatting with locals and the shopkeepers are getting to know me quite well. Each of them have gotten used to my usual order or purchase – for example, I walked into one store once and, before I could say anything, the shopkeeper informed me they were all out of Mountain Dew! (Guess whose fault that was!) Also once, in another shop, I was buying some cool-aid flavouring and usually I get the lemon flavour but this time I decided I’d go for a bit of variety and try the ‘tutti fruity’ flavour. As I went to the counter to pay, the shopkeeper said, “Not lemon today?” and as I paid I looked back at the cool-aid boxes and realised the shop keeper had ordered a new box of lemon flavoured cool-aid, just for me – so the next time I made sure to get some lemon cool-aid and the shopkeeper was over the moon with delight!
It’s great how close all the shops are. I particularly love how I can go downstairs, walk to the corner of my apartment building and right there is fresh bread for sale, still piping hot from the oven. Sometimes I like to improvise myself a hot dog using the fresh bread, tomato ketchup, mustard, and some Heinz sweet relish that I managed to find at ‘Sham City Centre’ mall (the only mall in Damascus), where they stock all kinds of western foods, including British and American products.
I’ve noticed it’s quite a noisy area, too, particularly during the day. Somewhere next door, it sounds like someone is either simultaneously playing ping-pong and air-hockey or is hammering something over and over again. Then from the street, apart from the consistent honking and random bangs that sound scaringly like gunshots, there’s often this beggar who sounds like she is right outside my window, asking for money through some kind of incomprehensible Arabic chant that sounds more like a wailing cat than anything else.
Today, Friday, is my day off so I have been taking time to relax. This morning I attended the same church again with my colleagues. This time there was a huge BBQ afterwards, hosted by one of the members of the congregation. The host was an American working in Syria for an oil company associated with BP, so naturally his house was ridiculously amazing, with a large backyard and outdoor swimming pool. The food was absolutely delicious and there was lots of it, with hired cooks manning the BBQ as well preparing freshly squeezed juices of all kinds. I discovered at the BBQ that one of the members of the congregation, an American fellow called Chuck, whom I was sharing the same table with, is here as an ambassador and is actually one of the main advisors to the US President on matters in the Middle East and, more specifically, Syria. He just so happens to be a Christian and upon arrival in Syria, apparently just asked for the closest Anglican church and found this one, which is called ‘All Saints International Community Church’.
After a long afternoon nap, I decided to relax in front of the telly and enjoy one of my latest hobbies; watching one of my favourite channels, called ‘Zee Aflaam’, which is non-stop, 24/7 Bollywood films! The thing I like most about the channel, apart from the catchy singing and dancing, is the fact that there is no English, so I am forced to read the Arabic subtitles in order to know what’s going on, which is fantastic practice for my language.
Speaking of television, this one’s especially for Dad: I happened to be watching some Arabic music videos and guess what was in one of them… a Citroen DS! I think the singer’s name is Nivine and in her music video she’s singing from the back of a shiny blue DS! I will have to try and find the video for you.