Monday, June 7, 2010

Syria: Impressions upon arrival and buildings

Arriving in Damascus at midnight: an assault on the senses even in the dead of night. The traffic, the people, the buildings. The first two days were overwhelming: I wondered how we would survive crossing six lanes of traffic on foot with bicycles weaving in and out (often against the flow), services (micro buses, pronounced 'serveeces'), taxis, trucks, all honking to let each other know their intentions, needs, locations: no lane markers, traffic cops sitting and preening in their motorcycle mirrors, and everyone nudging their way around. After a few days, this seemed just so normal! and logical! All components of the traffic system were much more tolerant of each other's needs (want to turn left from the far right lane, four lanes over? no problem!).

People stay up very late at night, including children, to and fro a great deal during the day (high unemployment and underemployment assures lots of street life), smoke cigarettes continuously, stop at the juice bar, buy snacks (lots of junk food) at the corner store or in the souk, sweep continuously and still there is tons of garbage.

Seventy percent of the women cover their sin (head hair!), a direct opposite of the percentage twenty years ago. Ten percent of the population is Christian. Most women do not cover their faces. Head-scarved women can be found wearing a variety of fashions on the street: full-length trench coats (in 100 degree weather!), so thin in fabric, so tightly fitted, that not much is left to the imagination on body shape/size (photos to come in future entries). Or, they can be wearing the latest in tightest jeans with layered, fitted tops, stiletto gladiator sandals. And the underwear on display in the lingerie shops in the souk! Young men wear the latest in graphic t-shirts with amazing spelling errors: must be the seconds from factories in China...if they knew what their chests were saying!). But, more on people later.

The buildings. My husband described Syria as a multi-millennial construction site. There are ancient ruins upon even more ancient ruins. There are modern ruins. There are buildings left in a state of semi completion because if it not finished, you don't have to pay taxes. There are commercial buildings abandoned. And because most homes face their interiors (even if the owners are not wealthy enough to have an interior garden/courtyard), the streets look even gloomier. The goal of most people under the age of 60 is to leave Syria and the buildings give that sense of being on the verge of being abandoned if not already in that state. Here are some photos of various kinds of buildings:

St. George's Monastery nr Krak de Chevalier

Serjilla, one of the Dead Cities

New bldg nr Krak de Chevalier

Grand Mosque Aleppo

Courtyard Talisman Hotel Damascus

Bedouin tents below Marqab Castle

Azm Palace Damascus

Apamea, UNESCO World Heritage Site

40 yr old unfinished embarrassment in Damascus (this building is such a sore point for the dictatorship, that you have to be very careful taking it's picture!)

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