Syria in the Eyes of an Expatriate

Damascus! ... What is Damascus!

Damascus is winter with prosperity falling from the sky; it is snows and threads of rain which clean earth and hearts of people. It is rain irrigating plants as well as human beings. I believe that the rain of Damascus is different from the rain of any other city. We often say we don't deserve it, but God is Gracious.

Damascus winter nights are portraits of bright colors.

In one corner you find friends playing cards in a coffee shop divided into two groups, laughing and accusing each other of cheating, and plates of beans, pistachio and sweets scattered around them, and the bubbling of nargilas mixing with the voice of Um Kulthoum, diva of the East. Just as the mornings of Damascus are characterized by the voice of Fairouz, the famous Lebanese singer, its nights are always adorned with the voice of Um Kulthoum. When God, the almighty, extends his hand of generosity, Damascus wears its snow white dress. Here you can imagine yourself leaving your home in the morning, and guess what will happen?

Walking steadily and carefully, you will be surprised by snow ball swarming you from every corner, as a reaction, you have no choice but to snatch a handful of snow from the roof of the nearest car, and return the snow to those who attacked you, laving your reverence and gravity behind you and laugh like the others do.

Damascus is the great River Barada, which insists on maintaining life forcefully remembering its old glorious days in spite of the draught which is striking the region now...If this river can run with our love it would give prosperity and life to the thirsty Ghouta.

Damascus is represented in the picnics of the simple Damascene families who used to spend their spring and summer holidays in the orchards of alGhouta and on the banks of Barada in Ein alFijeh and Ein alKhadra. There you will see all members of the family busy; women preparing salads and Tabbouleh, men roasting meat, and children playing under the blossomed trees. Others preferred to practice another activity; to sing and play the darabucca or tambourine, while the chorus repeats songs of Damascene folklore songs. After lunch people resort to calmness, noises calm down, and from this place or that you hear crackles of dices on backgammon boards mixed with the bubbles of nargilas.

In the night people return home with a different mood. Tired and laziness drawn on their faces, all they can do is swapping jokes and giggles.

Damascus is the brown mountain of Qasyoun which once you see it, its image is printed in your memory. Whenever you recall this image your heart throbs because you know that you are far from the mountain guarding Damascus.

Damascus is the traffic jam of Beirut Street and the valley of Barada on Fridays ...It is Bloudan with the restaurants of Mora and Abu Zad ...It is Buquein of the mineral water, and Zabadani of the sweet cherries and peaches.

Damascus is Souk alHamidiyeh which motivates you to buy many things you don't need them, just because they are well and abundantly displayed....It is Souk alKabakbiyeh, Souk alBuzouriyeh and alNofara Coffee shop.

Damascus is the Tailors Souk, and Tfaddaly Khanom (where salesmen stand at the doors of their shops and invite ladies to buy their goods). It is alMiskiyeh Square with its pigeons, Damascus Castle and Saladin's statue and tomb.

Damascus is the streets of Bab Touma, alQassa'a, and alGhassani which turn into portraits of light in Christmas time when happy people adorn their balconies with colored lights and toys.

Damascus is Ramadan's rituals, the Iftar powder gun, starting fasting at dawn and breaking the fast at sunset... It is the sales men of Ma'arouk, Na'em and Liquorice, It is the empty streets when all people start eating when the Mu'azzin declares end of fasting.

Damascus is the minaret of Sidi Bilal, the night prayers, the day before the feast, charities paid to the poor, and Allaho Akbar calls in the Eid prayers.... It is standing in line in Samiramis and Nabil Nafiseh sweet shops to buy Ma'amoul, Kol Washkor, Kunafa, and the traditional greeting "Kull Sana Wa 'antom Bikheir".

Damascus is the 1.30 o'clock of Thursdays when all people, at homes, cars or shops, listening to the broad casting program Hukm alA'adalah (Jurisdiction) Damascus is when you slip in the street many people around you tell you: "May God protect you". Damascus is the cactus salesmen in alRawda Square, and the crowds of alHamra, alSalhieyeh and alCha'alan Streets.

Damascus is the Umayyad Square which took years to be shaped as it is now. Damascus is the crowds of people full of love, friendliness, intimacy and faith. Damascus is not all I have mentioned, because what I have said is just a small portion of what we feel. Now please tell me...Do we live in our homes? Or do they haunt us?


Haifaa Mafalani