13 June, 2007

قلبي في الشام

I've been drinking lots of tea from my Turkish double boiler teapot and missing Damascus these days. What do I miss? Here are a few things......

The adhan here, the adhan there, the adhan everywhere. I loved the different voices of the muezzins rolling across my neighborhood.

The crop of green neon lights that sprouted in the evening and spread across the city marking the minarets. I always felt like they were little reminders to look up and look beyond.

"Stoh o themaneen khayzan" or the Mighty 86th, as I called it, and my little apartment with the huge balcony that overlooked Jbel Qassiyoun and most of the city.

Having to work really hard to convince a taxi driver that I really did live down the tiny alley near the souq in Kafar Sousa behind all the new high-rises. He kept asking if I was sure I lived there.

Takkia Suleymania. Hanging out with Omar the weaver, who made me tea whenever I stopped in. Also, eating lunch and preparing my lessons while sitting by the fountain. Also, having the caretaker let me into the graveyard to see the grave of the last Ottoman Sultan, who rests beneath lovely orange trees. My little oasis in the middle of the city where I could quiet my mind and soul.

Getting the offer of a "free" taxi ride across town, from a driver old enough to be my grandfather, if I would just give him my phone number. I paid the fare.

Getting a genuine offer of a free fare from a driver closer to my age after a long conversation about his wife and children and life.

The officials at the passport office, who gave me chocolate with my first residency stamp.

The officers with whom I spent (cumulatively) days with at the Bab al-Hawa crossing into Turkey. They never cut me a break, visa or no, but once after making me wait 14 hours they did find me a cab to Halab and insisted I sit and eat fresh watermelon with them before I left (well after 1am).

The efficient maitre'd at Chammiat restaurant with the Donald Trump hair. And the Lebanese family, in the city for the day on business, that insisted I join their table for lunch when I couldn't find a seat for lunch one day.

Two of my young students, both boys, who would walk with me to Jisr Rais to catch our services after class and ask me also sorts of hysterically bizarre things about the U.S. and life.

The kids I taught English to who would only call me "Teacher" and possibly never learned my real name. They were both fascinated and amused to hear me speak Arabic outside of class. To them it was my "dog & pony show".

The awesome, remarkable Syrian women I worked with at FIRDOS who are/were trying to change their country for the better.

Abu Muhammad in the canteen at the University. The man cared enough to buy mammoul, even if I was one of the few people buying it, and apologized when he was out. Just don't drink his coffee.

The Umayyad Mosque. One of my favorite structures built my humans. Every time I went there I found something I had missed. One of the best places to simply sit, watch, and take it all in for hours. Magic.

My friend Fatima's father joking that I would marry his son, Abudeh. He's not yet 10. Dad's plan included his young son moving to America and being elected President and, he said, "Then you'll be like Hilary Clinton."

Making taxi drivers guess where I was from. They never guessed correctly. Usual response: "You cannot be American. You speak Arabic!"

The top-heavy bodybuilder who ran the tiny shop downstairs from my apartment and always wanted to talk about anything and everything.

The Shi'a pilgrims who deemed me, the girl in the screaming pink scarf sitting outside the Umayyad mosque at 6am, more interesting than their tour guide and his portable amp and just stared at me and refused to smile.

The children playing in the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque. Pure joy.

Jogging at al-Jalaa with the soccer teams and house wives and old men.

Lunches in a courtyard that stretch into dinner amidst the narghile smoke and glasses of tea.

Walking the old city early in the morning, just me and the bakers, the smell of baking bread everywhere. Finding shrines in every nook and cranny.

Speaking Arabic.

The little old woman who lived next door to the hovel laughing when I said the dark carnelian sky of the sandstorm made me feel as though we'd landed on Mars as we stood in our shared doorway to the alley and marveled at the world turned to mud.

Seeing Zara in concert at the opera house and The Epic of Gilgamesh performed at the Workers Union Theater.

Showing up a day early and alone to an exhibit of paintings at the National Museum and being let in by the curator as she was setting up and who kept coming over to talk with me about the artists and their works.


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