Saturday, January 2, 2010

Return to Damascus

It is a balmy 15 degrees here. I'm not sure if it is normal, but I am far from complaining. The director here at the Danish Institute said that it has been cold in previous years - down to minus 11, with the fountain here completely frozen.

I am here at the Institute for the next 2 months, studying Arabic and also the mosaics at the Omayyad Mosque. The Institute is about as close to heaven as one can get - or at least a separation bubble - in this bustling city. Whereas before I was neighbour to two, 4-lane highways that were running 24 hours a day, here it is the eye of the hurricane, so quiet you could hear the echo of a pin drop. And whereas before I got up an hour before taking my morning shower to heat up the water, I now have the daily luxury of pre-warmed water. However, the illusion of normality only cushions the reality of my surrounding conditions. There are water restrictions here in this refuge of the desert, and government turns off the taps between noon and 5 am every day. All houses have water tanks, but I wonder how the hospitals and the hospitality industry survive, unless they have very large tanks.

New Year's Eve was good here. I had dinner with two other residents here in our kitchen, as we were naive enougth to make reservations at a restaurant on and for that evening (Thursday, and New Year's Eve). We had a delightful meal on a brand new tablecloth, one which was sold with a soulful recitation of the Koran. The meal included camel meat, lahme jamal, prepared with onions, cumin, and unseeded raisins. Camels are somewhat common in these parts as well as in Mali, although you don't see them everywhere. I have now camel bone jewellery from here and there, and also bags made of camel leather. But for the meat, like fish, we had it with lemon juice, which made it surprisingly very good if you ever get the opportunity. After dinner we joined the rest of the house - the director's family and their guests - for drinks in the winter qa'a (a kind of room). And we saw the partial lunar eclipse of the blue moon as it rose over the courtyard.

Generally it has been very easy to live in Damascus again, particularly shopping-wise. Although I momentarily forgot the word for "green olives", my pantry and fridge shelves reflect my food vocabularly as well as the bounty of Syria. It is amazing that Syria produces almost all of its fruits and vegetables. One day however, I may have to take a taxi out to Cham City Centre Mall to get some pesto. It's one of those things that Syria has all the ingredients for, but doesn't think or want to blend together. I have though still a few jars from my trip to Amman.

I have access to computers here at the Institute, which is great as now I am sifting through 9GB of photos. I also have a landline, which is a new development in my life here. I don't have a mobile phone here, which is fine. However it has been inconvenient a couple of times, as I had no access to a landline; landlines cannot call mobile phones (which all have); and there are no pay phones. I know someone that bought their very first mobile in Syria due to this hassle. But no, not me. Essentially I had to start up a Skype account to call friends in minor emergencies.

Now if Skype was not banned in Syria life would be easier, but anyways ...

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