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.
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.