But there's ease, and then there's quality. And the quality here is very, very good.
The best part is, I would have been able to write that sentence in all earnestness, based on our previous experiences here, even before we arrived on Saturday afternoon. Before I saw the No Smoking signs in the airport actually being observed, and experienced the taxi drivers obediently using their meters and their seatbelts. Before I noticed the increased amount of green areas, and the shiny, brand-new, colorful playgrounds for children that have sprung up all over the city. Before I found out that mobile phone SIM cards now cost only 50 lira ($1) instead of the 1000 lira ($20) we paid six years ago. Damascus was good to us when we lived here, and it's an even better place now.
Some of this positive change comes at a price. Specifically, a taxi into the city from the airport now costs a whopping $30. It used to cost $10, and that was if you overpaid. Apparently, one company (rumored to be Budget Rent-A-Car) bought out all the taxi interests at the airport and then, having established a monopoly, raised the price. Sure, the taxis are much nicer now, but not $20 nicer.
On the whole, though, Damascus is brighter and more dynamic than ever. It's been three years since we were last here and I must have let the Syria boogeyman get to me a little bit in the meantime. If Syria gets any time in the press, it tends to be negative press, and my image of the country we once lived in somehow grew gloomy without my even realizing it.
That gloom dispelled immediately upon arrival...or possibly immediately upon exiting the airport and its gauntlet of immigration procedures. And even those have been improved since we first came here. We were helped along by the fact that strangers kept giving our kids candy. We totally let the girls eat it, too. I've always thought it was funny that Parenting Rule #1 in America (don't accept candy from strangers) is in direct opposition to Helpful Family-centered Society Tactic #1 in Syria.
It's great to be back.