Year Abroad in Syria – Day #292

22/08/2009

Day 292

Things are going well, it’s been another eventful week over here and Damascus still never ceases to surprise me with new experiences.

This week I got to see some more of the native wildlife, other than the humongous cockroaches that is! I was walking back to my apartment one night and suddenly something came fluttering by, almost hitting my head and quickly flying off round the corner. As quickly as it flew away it came back and this time I was able to get a better look at the creature. I could now see it was in fact a small black bat, who had decided to take a low surveillance of the street. It reminded me of the bats you could often see circling the Umayyad Mosque’s minarets at night.

Then another brush with the local wildlife came in my own apartment, this time when the power was out at night and I could hardly see anything properly without using my phone as a torch. I was by my fridge, about to grab something to eat, when all of a sudden something seemed to squirm quickly across the wall. Immediately I jumped, thinking it was some kind of horrific centipede or something like that crawling in the dark. After collecting myself I took a closer look using my phone and to my relief it was only a cute little lizard who had decided to stop by and say hello. The next day I saw another lizard, this time outdoors on top of a rubbish heap. The second lizard was significantly bigger, like the kind you’d only normally see in cages at the zoo or on the Discovery Channel. I stopped to take a look and the lizard perked up and tilted its head, staring straight at me from the side with its big round eye. It quickly scurried off and disappeared, camouflaged amongst the sand and dirt.

Like I predicted in my previous email, the power has indeed started to cut out again as usual. I knew it wouldn’t last. A couple of times it’s even cut out in the internet café, which is never much fun when you are in the middle of writing an email.

Right now is an especially important time in the Islamic Calendar; we are now in the month of Ramadan. It will last for one full lunar cycle, I think until the 19th of September, which in the Hijri Calendar is the 30th of Ramadan 1430. Things are much the same where I live, however, with only a small number of food shops closed, since the area is populated mainly by Christians. It is interesting to observe the traditions found during the month of Ramadan. One such tradition, which is perhaps difficult to connect with the religious meaning of Ramadan, is the soap opera craze that hits the televisions and most families. New soap opera seasons start at the beginning of Ramadan, including the popular Damascene series, “Bab al-Hara”, and many families gather at home in front of the television to follow the exciting new episodes. There are of course many beliefs about the meaning of Ramadan, such as the belief that it is supposed to be a reminder of the fact that everything we receive is ultimately from God. That would include our families, so perhaps spending time together as a family, even if it be in front of the telly, may be a reminder of this fact. I suppose the closest equivalent I can think of in Western culture is the tradition of Christmas movies that come out especially during the Christmas season, including ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘The Great Escape’ and other such films. Of course, to be closer to Ramadan, you would have to watch the films without any popcorn or candy canes!

As always, I’m keeping myself busy with Arabic practice, but especially these last couple days as I work towards completing my last year abroad essay, which I have to send to Durham University by email as part of the assessment for this year. In total we have to write three year abroad essays in Arabic, on various topics we can choose from, as well as collect various pieces of information corresponding to the essays, all of which are gathered in a year abroad portfolio. Upon arrival at Durham we will have a short Arabic oral examination, which will include giving a presentation on our year abroad portfolio and answering any questions. The examination then comprises 25% of our final year double module in Arabic. For this essay I’m writing about a visit I made to the main museum in the city, ‘The National Museum of Damascus’. It was really interesting to see the ancient artifacts collected from both Syria and the rest of the Middle East, including a tablet from the Ugarit, which is claimed to have inscribed on it the first ever alphabet. During my visit I was given a private tour by one of the museum workers and even though it was difficult to understand his Arabic, he did let me in to restricted parts of the museum, which was nice of him – of course, not without a small tip for his trouble.

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