Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How Damascus has changed. How I've changed.

Damascus has changed.

That scrolling marquee on top of Mt. Qassioon? The one that I always worried was broadcasting messages like "flee the city at once" and I would miss out on survival because I couldn't figure out the Arabic in time? It's gone.

So is the grocery store that was in the basement of City Mall (near where Hessfeld lurked with his Surprise in the Ball). When we lived here, it was the best grocery store in town as far as selection of goods and size. This, despite the fact that it was no bigger than your average 7-11. I know there's a big grocery store now at Town Center (located conveniently 10km outside of, you know, town), but it looks like nothing big has taken root in Damascus itself.

There are ATMs everywhere. When we lived here, there were two ATMs, total, in the entire city. Now they are all over the place.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, smoking in indoor public places is all kinds of prohibited (and yes, that was a hubbly bubbly pipe in yesterday's picture). Compliance with the law seems to be pretty good so far. I do wish the 1000 lira ($20) fine could be assessed by regular old citizens, "on spot," and we got to keep the money. That would be awesome vengeance.

The young women here don't dress quite as modestly as they once did. I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, increased personal freedom is great. It really is. On the other hand, I wish increased personal freedom didn't necessarily equal increased inches of visible shoulder.

I am amazed at what you can buy here now. Wisconsin cheddar cheese (what the?!?), rice cakes, Activia yogurt, and tortilla chips. In other words, everything I craved while I was pregnant with Miriam but had to go to Lebanon to get. No fair.

The Baramke transportation hub (where Charlie used to hang out) is gone, which I already knew, and they moved it to Mezze, which I already knew, but the funny thing is that they call it "New Baramke," instead of naming it after its new location.

There are other changes in Damascus that I've noticed, but the thing is, I've changed too. Sometimes I have trouble distinguishing between the two.

Like how there seem to be fewer uniformed men with kalashnikovs standing idle on street corners. Are there really fewer of them, or am I just used to them now? Admittedly, I haven't been near Malki lately so I don't know if the heat-packing suited men still dominate that neighborhood.

Aside from Facebook and Blogger and YouTube being blocked, there seems to be a greater sense of social freedom here. Everyone seems less suspicious of everyone else. But maybe that's just me, since we're here on vacation and I'm only dealing with the happy smiley side of society instead of the permit-obtaining side.

The final change I'll mention is that I don't get nearly as much attention as I used to. I'd like to think this is because Syrian dudes have finally realized that making kissy noises at me, calling me baby/foreigner!!!!!/beautiful girl/hot stuff, and getting as close to touching me as possible are not acceptable courting methods (never mind that I'm married). In reality, I think it's because these days, I'm walking around with two little blonde girls and all attention is thus deflected from me to them. I feel so emancipated. I always tried not to let the harassment get to me - if you get upset, that means the dudes have won - but it definitely affected me on some level. Now I feel practically invisible, and it's absolutely liberating.

There's also the possibility that I'm still getting the attention but I just don't care anymore and refuse to expend the energy to bust out my righteous indignation.

I guess we can safely say that both Damascus and I have changed. Perhaps there's no need to draw a line and figure out who changed exactly how.


Suzanne Bubnash said...

In a way I'm sad to hear that Syria is evolving, because I liked the way it was in 2005 on my first trip there. Yet stagnant cultures are not healthy cultures, and societies are not quaint museum pieces.

5 years ago, at a time when American females were dressing the worst possible manner--low rise pants, high rise tops--it was peaceful to the senses to walk the streets of Damascus without seeing flab and flesh at every angle. Syrian women, whether veiled or clothed in modest Western garb, seemed more confident and serene. A simplistic view on my part, sorry, but it is an impression that has remained with me.

Susanne said...

I read your post to Samer as I read it today. Since he lived in Damascus 25 years (in Mezze, in fact), I thought he'd appreciate hearing how it changed to you. :)

He was surprised about the modesty comment, but he was comparing it to the "underwear" he has seen the German women wear now that it finally is warming up in Giessen! :) He said Syrian women will never wear such things. I guess time will tell, but I really hope not. I agree with your mom. I rather like modest cultures and wish ours was modest as well.

Realllllllllly loving these Syria posts. I want to go back! Samer said the police officers have changed their uniforms since I was there. Also we walked in the Presidential neighborhood and DID see many suited men, but I can't compare to your experience to know whether more or less were present.

Great to read that you aren't having problems with the men this time! I never had that problem, but I'm not blond or as cute and young as you so maybe that's why. I found everyone very respectful. Of course my 6'3" husband was with me all the time PLUS usually one or more Arab guys. Maybe that had something to do with it. *shrug* Or maybe they have just evolved over time! :D

So happy to read of the no-smoking ban and it being enforced! That's one of the things I didn't like in Damascus -- all the smoking.

Sorry for talking so much. Loved the post. I read it with great interest! :)

Anonymous said...

I lived in Damascus last year. I never got harassed while my daughter was with me but ALWAYS received catcalls when she wasn't. In that sense, I think the little blonde girls are definitely helping you.

Steve said...

Only two ATMs? Aren't you being a bit stingy? Maybe only two near your house. There were at least like 10 of them, which is admittedly not very many. But I could walk to more than two in just my part of town.

Bridget said...

Seriously, Steve?? I only remember the one in City Mall and the one downtown. There was one at restaurant square that didn't work. Maybe by the END of our time there there were 10...or maybe you're right :).

In any case, now they're EVERYWHERE.


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