20 March, 2006

The Landlady Strikes Back, Pt. II

I knew my sahiba al-beit wanted me out, I just didn't realize how soon.
Thursday was a holiday here. Teacher's Day, not that it did me any good. My mobile rang while I was in an editorial meeting for some of our preliminary publications. It's the agency asking me to meet him in an hour to look at a room with a family near Amideast. I reminded him that I am looking for something in Mezza and he gently tells me that my landlady is "insistent" that I leave the house. That day. The immediate problem was that 4:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday is sort of like throwing somebody out at 11pm on a Saturday. Friday is a day off, the first day of the weekend, and being the day for gathering at the mosque, many things are closed. I also was not very impressed with his attitude that I had brought this on myself by staying out late with friends twice, ignoring my explanation that her not speaking to me predated my nights out.

I finally agreed to meet him downtown and went about trying to find a place to sleep. I sent a text message out to all my friends hoping to find a bed for the night (or two or three). It is very true that you discover who your friends are in times like these and I was quite happy at the quick and thorough responses from several.

I have a feeling that no room he would have taken me to would have suited me at that moment. I was rather angry, to say the least. The second was the most exciting, with an old woman and her daughter-in-law arguing quite loudly as to who actually owned the house and had the right to decide whether to rent the room or not.

luckily, I remembered my teacher had mentioned knowing a small apartment near her family's house in a neighborhood behind the University. So I called her and arranged to see it that evening before heading back to the apartment to pack my things. About the same time I got another call from my Turkish friend, Cheb, offering space at his place if need be. We arranged to meet at 8.

The "house" I looked at reminded me of life in Peace Corps. Now, I am not complaining about it. It was well above and beyond for my teacher and her sister, my former teacher, to find me a place to live, especially so quickly. This is definitely a little rougher than I've been living, but it's safe and dry and good enough for the time being. I have a room with a bed and small sofa, a galley kitchen, and a bathroom. Once you have lived without running water, electricity, and any form of heating, anything else seems quite posh. I accepted it and arranged to move in on the weekend.

With my anger at a bit of a boil, I headed back to Mezza to pack my things. My housemate from Spain later told me she thought I handled myself remarkably well and better than she would have. I climbed into the crawl space for my bags with the sahiba squawking behind me about her belongings, which to my eyes appeared to be a large mound of junk. I began furiously packing in order to meet Cheb at 8. Sahiba demanded I hand over my key despite my questions as to how I was going to return to fetch my bags. My two housemates graciously agreed to help when I returned. I threw a few things in my pack and headed for the U.

I must add a note of thanks to the Damascene taxi drivers. All afternoon they seemed to sense something was wrong and were quick with correct change (that alone a miracle) and a kind word. The driver that dropped me at the University would only accept whatever change I could find, well below the fare on the meter, and gave me a smile and wished me well.

Waiting for me at President's Gate were my friends Cheb and Fattoush. Fattoush, one of the other teachers at the University, explained I would be going home with her for as long as I needed. After explaining that I should call if I needed anything and that he would help me look for a house in coming days, Cheb left us for the night.

Two micro buses later we were on the west side of Jbel Quassiyoun, past the suburb of Dummar. At this point I only knew Fattoush from school and what my friends in the other class had to say about her. I suspected we would get along well when my friend from South Africa described her as, "sarcastic". And, indeed, we are "two peas in a pod", as my mother says. Not only is she smart, funny, direct, and fearless, she's a lot of fun too. As is her family. In the course of one evening, I spoke Russian with her dad, got "engaged" to her ten-year old brother (well, the agreement was for twenty years from now) and helped plan that same brother's "campaign" for the Presidency of the United States in 2008. Her parents and siblings are funny, warm, and intensely welcoming people. I ended up spending two nights with them, with a promise to return soon.

Friday night Fattoush, The Ottoman, a friend of his from the Turkish Embassy, and I went to see a play based on one of my favorite books, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Ottoman's friend is a military attache and because she initially couldn't remember his name, Fattoush kept calling him "Mr. War."

The play was an original creation of one of the staff at the French Cultural Center. The Ottoman expressed interest in seeing it because "it's a Turkish story." Of course, I had to point out to him that there was no "Turkey" during Babylonian days. He remains insistent that it is, somehow in its lineage, Turkish and that somehow endears him to me. Unfortunately, he has yet to actually read the story and I think that might have helped, since the play was in Arabic. The interpretation was broad and only focused on the story until the death of Enkidu, not Gilgamesh's subsequent quest, which I think is unfortunate since that's the heart of the story - seeking atonement. Or as Joseph Campbell points out "at-one-ment". Everybody go pick up a copy of Hero With a Thousand Faces, then we'll talk.

I moved into the hovel on Saturday. The amount of baggage I schlepped downstairs shocked everybody who came to help despite my constant reminders that I live here and am not a casual visitor. By Sunday I was a bit of a wreck, paranoid about failing my exam and having to repeat my second course in Arabic and finding time to make a mid-term for my students. I almost started to cry in my last Arabic class Monday when I arrived late and then looked at the reading in my book and couldn't recognize anything. Everything just sort of hit me, but I spent a little time during the breaks with The Ottoman, Cheb, and my British friend, Ringo, and they managed to make me smile. I managed to pull it together (with the help of lots of chocolate cake from the ladies at Amideast and a late-night nargila-laced study session with my friend from S. Africa) and I think I managed to do just fine. As always, "Insha'allah!"

This week we're off from University, but I will be working. Only, I just found out tomorrow is Mother's Day and in honor of hard-working moms here in Syria the government gave people the day off so they can stay home and make more work for mom. I declined the offer of a raging house party in the Old City tonight. I need to, finally, make the exam for my kids and get some sleep. And maybe fend off some of the many spiders that share the hovel with me.

Ma'asalaama, ya'll.

No comments: