Monday, June 25, 2007

My first visit to Damascus in 9 years!

That's it! Come what may I'm going home this summer. I'm about to go to the embassy to apply for my visa and, should that be approved, fly off at the earliest opportunity. I'm not sure how I feel yet, apart from the longing during all these years, there is also apprehension. The once familiar normalcy of speaking Arabic everyday with everybody, watching television in Arabic. Not the coffee, I never was, nor will be a big coffee drinker though I do have the nostalgia for it's scent early in the morning as my family wake up.

One thing I don't intend to be is like those expatriates who throw in a word of English in each sentence to show how sophisticated they now are after living abroad. I viewed them with disdain when I lived in Syria and I continue to do so, but perhaps I was being harsh as I too fall for that trap sometimes. I have no friends from there that I've kept in touch with or care to look up, only family and neighbours. Getting enmeshed in our noisy, interconnected family with it's disputes, outings and celebrations is going to be a real shock but I still look forward to it.

They say the Shaalan is now overcrowded, noisy and dirty but I don't remember it ever being otherwise though I keep that to myself. I still miss it. I miss Booz al Jiddee, I wonder if Johnny Salem's video shop is still open, if NAI is still selling music and about the Zenbarakji up the street from us. The Mahata 1 and 2 were never great, but they were local and we liked them. Is Nora still open at the top of the road? What about my favourite bookshop at Sahet al Najmeh behind us? I feel like I've been stuck in a time warp. I still call gas stations Kaziyeh's and grocers as Samman. I miss the Ommayad too and look forward to praying there. Little things have lingered within me that family visiting me here have been struck by as odd. I guess I know now how Rip Van Winkle must have felt like and in many ways that makes me scared. They say Syria has changed since 1998 and I'm sure it has, I just hope it's been for the better.

14 comments:

Puppeteer said...

I don't know if it would dissapoint you or make you happy, but 99.9% of Damascus is the same as in '98. Funny, the year you left Syria was the year I came back. Bouz el Jiddi is there, so is Johnny Salem and Nai, as booming as ever. Nora is present too. Unfortynately the Family Bookstore is now a pharmacy, guess they thought reading isn't a profitable business here. Still, better a drugstore than a restaurant. Old town is now full of restaurants and hotels. Heck, there are so many that all names are taken and you start finding the most unusual of associations like :Sla7ie Nights (some tv soap opera, I guess), Bet Jeddi not to be confused with Bet Sitti, Omayad Cave (???), Rossini (??????) and so on. Well, I won't spoil it anymore, I'll let you discover for yourself.

Ihsan said...

Why do u need a visa?

The major change that you will see if the strange faces of all sorts of refugees. My friend went there this summer and he said that Syrians are becoming a minority in the streets of Damascus!

As for the "changes" you spoke of, you will be surprised how nothing has changed drasticly, same places, probably new restaurants, a lot of new restaurants here and there and that would be it! I have a dear friend back home that whenever I talk to, she will say that there are 2 or 3 new rstaurants and that I have to come and visit this summer and so we check them out...

I so agree with about throwing a word in english here and there. yet, you will see that you won't be able to help it, just because you will come across so many arabic linking verbs/words that are missing from your head and replaced with english ones.

Good luck, have a great time home.

Golaniya said...

Welcome home Wassim, I am looking forward to reading your reaction to Damascus.
I disagree with Puppeteer, Lebanon's politics has affected Syria very much, you don't see Pepsi or Cocacola till recently, you see KFC now in Syria not just in Damascus, you see people becoming more religious, in a fanatic way unfortunately, they are openly racist against Iraqis, they are becoming more like consumers, with the clothing labels all over damascus.
It has changed, for the worse, I am afraid. But it has also changed for the better, the cultural life is reviving again, and people are interested in art and buying tickets to know more about Syrian art.
But as puppeteer say, it is you to see things, that's how I saw it at least.
Its good to know you're coming. Nshalla raj3a bala ro7a :-)

Wassim said...

Puppeteer,
Glad to hear it, though I'm sad about the bookshop :(
I've heard about this restaurant phenomenon but I'm going to try to largely avoid it. Maybe I'll try one or two but that's about it, it's not the food I'll be getting my nourishment from anyway.

Wassim said...

Thank you Ihsan,
Actually the reason I need a visa is a bit simple. I've never been registered apparently. Don't get me started on the folly's of parents, I'm still overcoming these obstacles and not just with regards to passports.

Wassim said...

Hi Razan,
It's going to hurt me most, seeing the creeping wretchedness which is American globalisation, I think the racism was always under the surface but the consumerism is particularly sinister and I don't like it one bit. Sigh, let's see when I get there. Btw does anybody know if blogger.com is blocked in Syria?

PS. Razan why not try one of the Henna or newer "temptoo's" that are becoming fashionable here. This way if you change your mind in a few years you don't have to peel it off your skin with laser. You poser!! :P

Golaniya said...

Hahaha, ya alla, I like Arab men ya 3ammi, actually I tried Henna on my hair before I tried typical dye. And I tried Hanna on my body too, both looked ugly, on me at least:D

I don't know what tamptoos is…!?

The reason I picked a tattoo is exactly not to change my mind no matter what about the dad.

And yes, Blogger is blocked in Syria, you can use this site to access your blog:

http://www.inblogs.net/
sometimes you can post comments, not always.


or you can use google translator, translate the page form Arabic to English and you can view the page and post comments.

Wassim said...

Tayeb good luck whatever you decide! Maybe you'll find yourself a good anglo-saxon male, they like their women with tattoos ;)

A temptoo is exactly like a tattoo, but the ink eventually fades away after a few months and it disappears.

sasa said...

Alf mabrook!! I hope it is everything you want it to be. For me, it may not be nine years, but it doesn't stop me being jealous! When are you going?

I prefer Mahatta to Rai. Rai is just too cool for me! I feel musically illiterate in there!

sasa said...

Alf mabrook!! I hope it is everything you want it to be. For me, it may not be nine years, but it doesn't stop me being jealous! When are you going?

I prefer Mahatta to Rai. Rai is just too cool for me! I feel musically illiterate in there!

DigitalOasis said...

The nice thing about these comments is you get to hear different perspectives. Mine are not great. After about 10 years overseas, I went back for an overdue visit. I was not impressed. I was hoping that I would find that Syria had modernized intellectually and culturally, socially, even politically to where it would make my decision to return easier. It didn't.

What I saw was rabid commercialism and designer label infatuation. There was a lot of cosmetic change, like makeup on an old withered face, trying to bring up some luster. I know all of the places you spoke of, and reading your post was nice in a nostalgic way. I did enjoy walking the streets, remembering where my friends and I used to hang out.

On a personal level, nothing connects me to that area anymore except for family. I have found more purpose for my life overseas, and have become addicted to the fruits of freedom. Abroad, I feel like my life actually means something, and that I contribute to society. I never felt that way in Syria, as if I was just passing time.

My conclusion is that, for an expatriate, Syria is very nice to visit and tour. However, it may be difficult to adjust. You may find yourself drawing endless comparisons of how things are done here versus there, how things don't make sense, and that only deepens the frustration. For me, Syria is an idea, a utopia, a memory, heritage, a past, God's Kingdom in Heaven that would never manifest itself on earth. I hold on to loving it just as I hold on to a beautiful dream, but I wake up eventually to my present.

Good luck and may you find what you've been looking for.

Puppeteer said...

Yes, Razan is right about some points. But I didn't find there is much racism. I don't know, but I find it hard having racism in Syria, not with the salad of our genetic pool. I mean, where else can you find two sisters, one white blonde European Arian type and the other as Arab as Yemeni? Maybe we are growing restless about massification and over-population, but, to say the truth, we are the biggest responsible for the high prices. We, or more likely, our greedy comerciants.
As for religion, I rather not talk if I don't want to be crucified for herecy.
And consumerism, well, I don't know, but my answer is no. No compared with, say, Lebanon, or even Jordan. We do have Pepsi and Coca Cola, and even KFC (which I visited two days ago with my Americanised sister, and which was empty, by the way) but this doesn't mean anything. All of us, even snobs, preffer Falafel 3ala Kefak and shoping at Abou Ahmad, the corner grocer.
The only thing I really miss about Syria is this old 60s and 80s atmosphere it used to have. That was the scent of Syria that I remember from before leaving, and with which I lived abroad and which I lost forever when I returned.
Now I'm getting nostalgic.

Golaniya said...

Sasa, I am sorry to say that there is an Italian restaurant which has taken the place of Mahatta…and it is very very expensive, but I guess we Syrians can afford it.

DO, Syria is like any other place on earth, is hard to adjust for those who want to change it for the better.

Puppeteer, you and I disagree on the racism issue, I think I am going to post on that some time soon.
We are not comparing Syria to Lebanon, we are comparing Syria with Syria. Syria has not been the same for the past three years. In that regard, Lebanon or Gulf countries consumerism is really irrelevant.
The thing is Puppeteer, is that the snobs might still prefer falafel, which I think they don't, but instead of buying Mandarin and supporting local economy, they will buy Pepsi which is supporting both, international and "partially" local economy.
Lebanon is as a huge market as it is of international labels is simply because it has an older history, compared to the three fresh years of Syria, soon enough, we'll see Starfucks, wa ma 2draki ma starfuck..
Syrian is one of the rare Arab countries that had managed to make its people rely on local brands as the "only" option, sadly enough, Syria wants to be "open" to Europe and its economy in a very European manner.

Puppeteer said...

Razan,
Well, Europe is ok. Or used to be. In 2001 when I went to Paris I was surprised in a very pleasant way by the quaint home-made products neighbourhood shops. In the same way I was shocked by Champs Elisee, which was infested (mam3uta ya3ni) by all the "starfuck" US of A brands.
That was 6 years ago, and ever since, France had serious plastic surgery.
The same goes with Romania, a country I know very well. Each year it's more consumerist. Each year small family bookshops and grocers are closing in favour of Virgin and Un-virgin Megastores. It's sad, as if their spirit were taken away.
However, I still feel Syria is far from that. I mean we have some malls and wossname brands, but the Syrian mentality is still "corner grocery shop" oriented.
And what do you have against pepsi????? It's the only global brand I like and take your insulting it just like this ;)