19 January, 2006

I take issue with Ahmedinijad

OK, I know Iranian President Ahmedinijad is persona non grata these days in most of the world, but I have to take partcular issue with him today. He's in Damascus today to talk with Bashar. Yeah, we're on a first name basis.

Anyway, because of the throngs of traffic cops lining the streets and the ensuing traffic congestion, Abu Muhammad couldn't get out to get more maamlou!

Ok, first, Abu Muhammad is the guy that runs the snack stand in the languages building at the University. He sells all sorts of cookies and candy, makes you Arabic coffee and tea on the spot, and is always willing to let you practice your new words on him. Second, my favorite thing he sells is maamoul, a delicious date-filled cookie. So, in addition to this nuclear debate, Ahmedinijad caused me to have to get some crummy faux Ritz cracker today during break.

So, I am sitting here in the cyber, trying to take short breaths to limit my second-hand smoke intake. I need a photo of the "NO SMOKING" signs here. Especially with the accompanying group of chain smokers standing right in front of said sign. Ah, well...

I have, thankfully, moved into new digs. I moved in with my former tutor, who is lovely, and two other students about four days ago. We are in a nice apartment up on the top floor overlooking a sports center and all of Damascus to South and East. My hostess is a wonderful cook, as well, so it's a good thing I can get in a run at the stadium each day.

Being up above everything is lovely. I can look across the city and watch the winter clouds roll across the hills on the south side of town. At night the minarets of the mosques are lit in green neon. Sort of like God's version of Krispy Kreme's "Hot, Fresh, Now!" signs. I love hearing all the muzzeins' adhans blending together, sometimes competing, five times a day. Really beautiful. This morning I got up at 6, just in time to hear the call to sunrise prayer, then watched the sun rise over the city as I ate khobz arabi (Arab bread - think thin pita), fruit, and leben in the kitchen.

The weather's been downright pleasant these last two days, though I hear we are in for another round of cold and rain the next two days. Yes, they have winter in this part of the world. And, yes, I am glad I brought a heavy coat.

For a nation's capital, Damascus is not as big as you might think. When I look out from our place I see barren hills in the distance across town. Atop the mountain to the east of us, behind our neighborhood, stand the newer presidential palace, which looks more like a museum of modern art to me. All glass, steel, marble and clean lines.

As for politics and such, right now I am focusing on learning the language. The better to engage people in substantive conversation with. Most people here seem very hopeful about Bashar, but realistic about what anyone faces while still surrounded by so many of his father's people. One woman said she believes Bashar, who was never intended to take over, was sort of divinely given to the people of Syria, in that it was already written out by God that his older brother Basil should die in an auto accident. Mostly they just want Bush to leave their country alone so that they can figure things out for themselves. Yesterday, Bashar freed several political prisoners who had been in jail for five years for various offenses against the government. Sadly, while most people here are quick to say they love Americans, just not the government, they are equally quick to ask me why so many Americans hate Muslims, Arabs, etc. I do my best to say it ain't so, my best effort being how I comport myself while here.

My class is moving a bit slowly. A few of the students still can't read the letters or tell the difference in the sounds, so we're not going as fast as I would like. I seem to be way ahead of everybody, which is better than the alternative. Most everyone is wonderful, though the two young men from Armenia are impossibly immature. Anyone who won't try speaking and then makes fun of those who do but stumble immediately gets on my bad side. We're a bit like the UN: two Germans, one French, one British, one Turkish, two Armenians, One Spaniard, One South African, one Pakistani, and me. Other than the Armenians, we've hit it off great.

I actually managed a real conversation with one of my neighbors this afternoon. Turns out he plays piano at the Cham Palace and a few of the other fine hotels and I told him we would come for a listen sometime.

Ila Leeqa.

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