Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two Tales of One Minaret

Recent months have led me to think a lot about perspective. As I watch politicians use half-baked truths to justify their agendas, it’s hard not to remember that every tale has two sides, or more. I could go on a rant about US politics in the Middle East, but instead I’d like to offer up a couple of entries about historical perspective.


The first entry is a story about a minaret that sits on the southern edge of the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.



I first heard about this minaret while watching the documentary series Out of Egypt. In that series, a guide [Nimrod Luz] stands in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and points out the minaret as it broadcasts the call to prayer over the neighborhood. He explains to the series host,

            “we’re in the middle of the most important Christian site…you can take a 
             naïve approach and say, “he’s just calling to prayer.”…[but] there’s no
             mosque that actually needs this here. This is a challenge. This is saying, 
             “we are here, we are stronger than you, our voice is heard more than 
             your voice.”” … “I’m sure they [people in the church] know what it’s all 
             about and they feel intimidated when he calls to prayer.”
It should be noted that this man was serving as a general guide and commentator, he was not a representative of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Having grown up in a conservative Muslim neighborhood of Damascus, the vitriol of this interpretation was suspicious to me. In our neighborhood we had at least three mosques in a one-block radius and probably close to a dozen within a kilometer. My Christian mother and I particularly enjoyed the gentle tone of the early morning prayer call.



Generally, for Christians in Damascus, hearing the Muslim call to prayer was not considered a confrontation with Islam, but simply a call to prayer, which Christians were free to answer within the context of their own religion. I think it is possible some Christians in Jerusalem feel the same way.

 
A minaret on the west side of Umayyad Mosque (in Damascus, Syria), where Christians and Muslims shared the facility for roughly 50 years, and which is located in the old city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together for centuries.




By contrast, the Muslim version of the story of the minaret is everything but confrontational. In fact, it’s quite romantic.



I first heard this story in the documentary series East to West, and have since found a couple of other versions. It goes something like this: In 637 C.E.(a.k.a. 637 A.D.), when the Patriarch Sophronius (a.k.a. St. Sophronius), ruler of Jerusalem, surrendered the city to Caliph Omar I, he invited the caliph to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While the caliph was there the time for prayer came. The patriarch invited the caliph to pray inside the church, but Caliph Omar I refused. He feared that future generations of Muslims would venerate the spot where he first prayed within the walls of Jerusalem. He thought there was a risk they might claim the site for Islam and create a monument for Muslim pilgrims. So, he went outside the church, and prayed there instead.



Caliph Omar I was correct. Muslims considered him very important, they still do. He was a companion to the late Prophet Muhammad, he was the second caliph ever to exist, and he was known for being a just man. So, in 1193 C.E.(a.k.a. 1193 A.D.), a Muslim Sultan (Al-Afdal ibn Salah ad-Din – one of Saladin’s sons) built the Omar Mosque on the spot where Caliph Omar I had prayed. The minaret in question is part of the Omar Mosque, which to this day is used for prayer only.



These two views of a single minaret are arguably opposites and each fueled by a specific view of Islam. Your view of Muslims or Arabs would be deeply affected by whichever version you heard, unless you had also heard the opposite version.



A couple of things that sway me in the direction of the Muslim version of the story are:

            a) Under the Muslims, Jews, who had been exiled for centuries by the 
                Christian rulers of Jerusalem, were allowed to return to their holy 
                city, and Christians were allowed to stay, confirming the Muslim 
                commitment to religious tolerance portrayed in the story.

            b) General Allenby’s official proclamation of marshal law upon taking 
               Jerusalem from the Ottomans in 1917 C.E. indicates that the story 
               of Caliph Omar I was known to him. He wrote:

                        “Guardians have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel’s 
                            Tomb. The tomb at Hebron has been placed under exclusive 
                            Moslem control. The hereditary custodians at the gate of the 
                            Holy Sepulchre have been requested to take up their accustomed 
                            duties in remembrance of the magnanimous act of the Caliph Omar

                            who protected that church.

Allenby’s reference even implies there is more to the story than I have found so far. I’ll have to keep looking. For now, I choose to like the idea of a church and a mosque being so close. Perhaps that is because I am Damascene!


                                     *     *     *     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The second story I want to share is about a famous Syrian general, Yousef al-Azmeh. I will cover that in a separate blog entry, coming soon...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Misquoted and Misused!

 Recently, I learned a harsh lesson about being misquoted. With a B.A. in Communication and Political, Legal, & Economic Analysis, I’ve always been keenly aware of how the “telephone game” sows the seeds of misunderstanding, but this instance left me feeling USED. That feeling is appropriate to the topic: Syria. As the crisis has become international, it has also taken a turn that is alarming to Arabs: once again the West insists it not only has the moral superiority to judge the situation but also the right to interfere even though the majority of the mortal cost will be paid by Arab civilians. What used to be called imperialism, the US now insists on calling “global policing” or being “the world’s conscience,” while it consistently works to undermine the United Nations who are the agreed upon agency for those things. Never mind that civil rights barely exist in the US anymore, or all those guys still imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay who haven’t had trials. The US doesn’t participate in the world court. They just want to be the world court.

On September 2, 2013 one of my godfathers e-mailed me asking for insights about the situation in Syria for a homily he was to deliver to his Roman Catholic congregation the following Sunday. He was particularly concerned about what he called the Christian minorities.

Because I do not have his permission to share a verbatim copy of his homily, I will only include his misquotes regarding me.  He made me sound juvenile and bent on Assad’s destruction. One is wrong and the other wrong as well as dangerous to my life and my family. He also made it sound like some of my Syrian relatives were Christian and that there is currently a rift between my Christian and Muslim Mahayni relatives!

After fuming for a long time, I’ve finally decided that I must at least set the record straight regarding what I did say to him about my feelings on the US proposing to bomb Syrian military sites at the beginning of September. I also have to defend myself because he posted his homily online with my name attached, so his misquotes are there for the world to see until he or his Roman Catholic bosses take them down.

Below are excerpts from his homily, followed by excerpts from what I really e-mailed to him.

What he claimed I said:
She said that bombing would “engender a certain degree of righteous general satisfaction…as long as nobody except bad people get [taken out] and the damage is done against Assad’s military assets, with maybe surgical strikes against one or two of his palaces thrown in.” But it’s awfully hard to control the purposed “limited intervention” to Assad and his supporters and assets only.”

What I actually wrote:
The US has no more hope of success in Syria than it had in Afghanistan or Iraq. The Syrian people, my father among them, are cowering in their homes, now, waiting for US bombs to kill them, not knowing where they can go for safety. No matter what claims the US makes about accuracy, there will always be stray bombs, "collateral damage."

And what would any strike accomplish? The military has apparently abandoned military targets, leaving empty buildings. And, if the US hits any of the Syrian infra-structure, Syria will not be able to rebuild it. They aren't as oil rich as Iraq. Instead, Syrians will freeze and starve in their homes this winter because of rationing and not being able to safely harvest foods locally. Even if they could harvest foods, would [the food] be edible? Ghouta is orchard country, growing peaches, apples, plums, apricots, etc. How much of Syria's food supply is now poisoned? Whatever the US has planned, will it really make Syrians safe, feed them, shelter them?

What he claimed I said:
Lemia continues by saying that if President Obama [and the US] had earlier armed the rebels while they were still “relatively respectable secularists” and before Al Qaeda and other Islamists murderers got so involved, there might have been some hope of an “Assad-free” outcome. We in effect have blown that chance.

What I actually wrote:
The crux of things at this moment is that while the US has promised humanitarian aid, they haven't done nearly as much as they implied they would, and yet they have also blocked a lot of UN efforts to define and address the situation. In this case, the UN is the only plausible authority that could have success…
One thing that the US could do, that they should have done from the beginning is to work with the Assad government to ferret out terrorist cells among the rebels. It would be easier to [evaluate] the rebels if the Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood type elements could be defanged or at least identified. It would also be easier to evaluate the Syrian government's reactions if we knew how much terrorists were involved in stirring things up. It is clear that some fundamentalist Muslims, some of them quite extreme, are eager to oust Assad. We can only guess what they would do if they replaced him. Otherwise, the US should stop dabbling in post-colonial imperialism. That's how [the US is] seen in the Middle East: imperialists.

What he claimed I said:
As far as the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, she has doubts and refers to an article by Peter Osborne of the “Telegraph” newspaper in London (August 29).

What I actually wrote:
While perfectly well-meaning people want someone, anyone, to step in and end decades of oppression, there is clearly more going on than a simple rebellion. Some things attributed to the "Assad Regime" simply don't fit the pattern of rationale or serve a strategy for keeping the regime in power. [For instance], why would Assad ask the UN to come and inspect the earlier alleged gassing sites and then launch such an obvious attack while everyone was watching? The pattern of the [Assad] regime that has been firmly established is to OPENLY retaliate against dissidents so that others [will] learn to keep quiet, know exactly whom they should fear most.


What he claimed I said:
Many of her family members are Muslim and although historically they have gotten along, lately there has been a good deal of tension because of the rise of Militant Islam thoughout the region.

What I actually wrote:
Old time Damascenes have been proud to call Christians their neighbors, but in less educated areas, there might be problems that I haven't heard of. In Sunni Islam, all "brothers and sisters of the book" are to be respected (i.e. if you believe in the basic tenets of the Old Testament, [Christians] are equal with Jews and Muslims who follow the same God). It is only the statuses of the "Prophet Jesus" and the "Prophet Muhammad" that separate the three religions. I hear that this has changed because Christians are perceived to be on Assad's side, but I think that is a double-edged propaganda tool. There are a lot of villages that have a mixed population, so the damage of such a propaganda-generated rift might be minimized by intimacy or doubled. It's hard to say how people react.

            Note:
             [This is born out by the recent rebel attack on Maaloula. Although it was
             later found that some Muslim youth from the village participated in the  
            attack, Muslim neighbors did not attack the Christians in the village,  
           “Muslim” extremists attacked in the name of the rebels. In fact, Muslims 
           in the village are reported to have been shielding their Christian 
           neighbors from rebel harassment for months.]

         I believe ALL my Syrian family members are Muslim, and none of them
         approve of extremists, so there is NO TENSION between me and my  
         family!

Well, I’ve learned my lesson about trusting someone else to represent me accurately. I pray each day that Syria remains a place safe for mixed faiths and that the Syrian people will work together to find a solution that paves a road to a brighter future for all of us. It sounds naïve, I know, but I do pray for the best case scenario, nothing less.

God’s Peace be with you.

Salam!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Introduction


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Performing at school on International Day, wearing a Druze costume.

Hi!

I’m Syrian-American. If you’re geographically challenged, that’s a flavor of Arab-American. This is my blog about my father’s native country, Syria, from my own personal perspective. I was born in Eugene, Oregon, but I spent the majority of my grammar school years living in Damascus, Syria, in an old, conservative Muslim neighborhood: the real deal, not an ex-patriot enclave. 

Saad e’Din in my neighborhood, Midan (2007).
When I was growing up, whether I was in Oregon or Syria, there was always something that made me feel like an outsider. The gap could be subtle like pop-culture references and idioms or plain like wearing clothes that stood out, or mean kids at school calling me “Siberia” because they didn’t know how to find one of the oldest countries in the world on a map (thank you, Cold War). At one point in my childhood, I described myself as a citizen of “no man’s land,” but as I got older, I came to respect and enjoy my perspective between two cultures. Today, I relish my Syrian heritage as much as my American heritage for giving my life more dimension.

Videotaping the Tkiyyeh at Suleimanniyyeh Mosque (2007).
Once, I overheard a shopkeeper explaining who I was by referring to me as “the foreigner’s daughter.” True old Damascenes will place you on your family tree immediately upon meeting you. It had not occurred to me before that I was so unique among thousands of Mahaynis. At the time, apparently I was. In fact, at the time, even without giving out my last name, I was conspicuous. I was the blond girl who spoke Arabic with a Midanese accent - Midan is a borough of Damascus - and who was invariably accompanied by her red-headed American mother. Consequently, in a city of millions, I couldn’t do anything in public that wasn’t eventually reported to my grandfather. However, the name “the foreigner’s daughter” amused me, so I embraced it.

In 2007, on summer break from university, I visited Syria after an absence of nine years – the longest absence in my life. Friends old and new were excited for me to share pictures and stories of my “exotic” vacation. I didn’t have an internet connection at my father’s farmhouse where I was staying so I began writing form letters to send from internet cafés. Since form letters are usually general and impersonal, I tried to make mine detailed and entertaining, including pictures whenever possible. The seeds for this blog were sown.

The Suleimaniyyeh Mosque in Damascus, Syria (2007). 

-->If you are looking for objective political analysis, you won’t find it here. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an archeologist or a historian either. I’ll write what I know, from my perspective. As with my other blog, “Fractured Optimism,” I will endeavor to share personal experiences and insights while entertaining. If you are not Syrian, you will have fun finding out things you never thought about. If you are Syrian, you will find out a little of how a “foreigner’s daughter” views our country.

Feel free to post questions. They may inspire a future blog! But, please be respectful of others. I’d like this to be a safe space where people can bring their curiosity, not animosity.

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

Saha!
-Lemia
June 9, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

My First Feature Article!

I'm really happy to announce the publication of my first feature article in an online magazine.

It's called Contenders Magazine and my article is Filming El Hijab.

Check them both out! 

Here's the link to my article.

http://contendersmagazine.com/blog/filming-el-hijab/

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tabbouleh and Other Salads

Baba is adamant that my stomach can’t handle the local parasites after such a long absence. Apparently Parsley and Watercress are “water processors” which means that if there is infected water (cholera, typhoid, “the local stomach bug”) they hold it inside rather than outside, so no amount of soaking them in 'precept' or 'milton' will make them safe for a non-native. Or at least that's the gist of what I've been told.

The worst temptation was when we went to a friend's house and they served the biggest, most beautiful plate of tabbouleh I've seen since grade school and I couldn't eat a single bite. It was the torment of tantalus to have my very favorite dish so close and not be able to eat it. I considered throwing caution to the wind, just suffering the consequences, but I was flying back to the states soon after. I can’t imagine anything worse than flying while you have “the local stomach bug.”

 Tabbouleh. Sorry it’s blurry, my hand was probably shaking: I wanted to eat some so badly!
Tabbouleh 101
It’s pronounced tabboolae. It’s a long a sound on the end, not a short i. I don’t know where that other pronunciation comes from. In the west, the US especially, people focus on the cracked wheat in tabbouleh far too much. Authentic tabbouleh, is mostly chopped parsley. There are other key elements as well. If there isn’t enough lemon juice or diced tomatoes, it just isn’t right. Then there’s the lack of dried mint in the dressing. If the proportions aren’t right, you miss an important and delicious experience.

You really are missing out if you’re eating tabbouleh that isn’t made right. Put it this way: if your reaction to a spoonful is “hmmm, interesting. How different,” the proportions aren’t right. If, however, your reaction is, “wow, can I have more, please,” you probably had the real thing.

Still, every family has their own recipe. I’ve seen one recipe that called for a whole cup of cracked wheat (burghol) and four bunches of parsley and another recipe calling for three tablespoons of cracked wheat and six bunches of parsley. I’ll add a note when I find a recipe that suits me.

 Cucumber and tomato salad.
Here’s a tempting favorite from my aunt's feast (featured in the post "I Ate An Ouzie. Two, Actually"). The juice from the diced tomatoes is captured and used with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and water to make the freshest tasting dressing you can imagine. Fresh chopped or dried mint and some parsley are also mixed in throughout. It’s like the taste of summer in a bowl!



If you add Arab watercress, green onions, garlic and fried pita bread chips, it would be fattoush which rounds out my top three favorite salads.


Radishes, green onions, fresh mint and sometimes fresh tarragon are on the table to munch between dishes to clear your palate, or to add to whatever you are eating: as you wish.



The wonderful thing about living in the “fertile crescent” is that produce tends to be locally grown and therefore fresh and ripe. If you go to the market rather than a government cooperative, you will likely buy produce that was harvested early that morning before the farmer drove his cart - horse, donkey, or motorcycle engine powered - into town. You’re often putting money into the hands of the very person who grew the produce. Yes, there are produce sellers, but if you want the good stuff, you get up early and go out to the source.



NOTE: When I returned in 2010, I did throw caution to the wind early and often with no ill effects. Somewhere in my system, I must still have some immunities from my childhood. Of course, I only ate salad in family houses where they had washed the greens and at the Four Seasons Hotel complex, where they cater to a foreign crowd. If you are in Syria and are dying for some greens, my top pick is Shakespeare and Co. in the Four Seasons complex. They serve a large Caesar Salad that is wonderful, and you can get the dressing on the side. There are also good greens at the terrace dining in the same complex, not to be confused with the café in the southern courtyard, where the food was either unmemorable or bad: I can’t remember which.


6/27/2007

I Ate An Ouzie! Two, actually.

 Ouzie!!
I got to eat ouzie at my aunt's house the other day. She had the usual spread of EVERYTHING, but also had ouzie, which is one of my favorites. Ouzie is rice, mutton or lamb, pistachios, and peas wrapped in a filo dough crust. Because of the rice and peas, it tastes a bit sweet even though it is basically a meal in a filo dough shell. This is one of those wonderful Arab dishes that use cinnamon as a savory spice. Cinnamon goes really well with lamb and mutton.

Baba had already refused to serve ouzie at our end of school party earlier in the summer because ouzie are often used for funeral banquets. So I had resigned myself to not having any ouzie on this visit. Instead of ordering them from a caterer, my aunt made these herself, so they were particularly good. They were less greasy than catered ouzie can be and probably made with lamb rather than mutton. My aunt also made them small enough to be a regular helping (a small fist). Catered ouzie are usually meant to be a whole meal on the go, so they are about the size of a large tea saucer. My aunt did another unusual thing and actually gave me a doggy bag. Normally, in Syria, when you eat at someone’s house, you're expected to stuff yourself within an inch of hospitalization and leave the rest there. This time, I got to eat two ouzie at home a few days later. Yummy!

Here are some of the more standard dishes at the same feast:

Boiled mutton over steamed barley, topped with almonds and cashews.
I have to admit that I haven’t had this one before. Baba was surprised by that. I guess it’s usually not included in feasts but eaten frequently in the home. Apparently no one taught it to my mom.

Two Kinds of Baraq (meat, and cheese), Spinach Fatayer (tricornered with ridges), and Kibbeh Balls.
Baraq are sometimes made with filo dough. They are just pillows with a little bite of filling. The cheese ones have goat cheese and parsley inside. The meat ones have a similar filling to the Kibbeh Balls: minced lamb, onion and pine nuts. The Kibbeh Ball itself is made from cracked wheat. Sometimes, as a treat for children, some of the Kibbeh Balls will be stuffed with boiled eggs, whole boiled eggs if the cook is skillful enough. The Spinach Fatayer, are one of my favorites, with enough lemon juice to give the spinach a little bite, while the dough crust is sweet.

 Koosah Mhshi 
Stuffed zucchini are practically a staple. The variety of zucchini in Syria is larger and the skin more tender, not to mention lighter colored, than we grow in the US. It’s closer to a Magda Squash. Each one is hollowed out by hand (using a special tool) and then stuffed with a filling of spices, rice, lamb and an occasional chickpea for a surprise. Our family boils the stuffed zucchinis in a tomato based sauce, which is to spoon over the rice filling once you slice the zucchini open with your spoon. Yes, I said spoon. The zucchini is very tender.

Yebra’
Women in my family usually fill at least a four quart pressure cooker with rolled grape leaves when they make yebra’ or yalangi. For a large banquet, the entire cooker is over turned to form a tower of neatly stacked cylanders. I think these are yebra’ which are usually served hot as opposed to yalungi which are served cold (similar to dolmas, but less oily). In our family, yebra’ is usually served with a tomato lemon broth for dipping and pita bread. But not at banquets. I’m told only children eat yebra’ with the broth and bread, but I prefer it that way

No matter how much you like them, only take a couple yebra’ onto your plate at one time. Forcing food onto a guest is a required show of hospitality in Syria. Your hosts – this can sometimes include everyone at the table – will insist on adding items to your plate once you have eaten your first serving, sometimes sooner. Pace yourself. Take the smallest portions possible and eat slowly. Tell your hosts that you want to savor each dish by itself. If they see helpings of every dish on your plate at the same time, they will later claim you only had a taste and must have a proper helping.

It’s considered rude to refuse, but eventually you must. That is usually when the hostess busts out the “from my hand” trump card. Just when you are bursting at the seams, your hostess (the cook, presumably) will beg that you eat one last portion “from my hand.” This does NOT mean that she wants to hand feed you. It means that you must eat one last serving that she dishes up for you, personally, to honor the cook/hostess. This is truly the rock and the hard place, when you’ve already been force fed three helpings of everything on the table. Generally this is when I eat stuffed grape leaves. As portions go, they are smaller. When the hostess begins to dish me up that last morsel, I say, “just some grape leaves, please, they are my favorite.” They are, actually.

Salads were also served at this meal, but the entry got so long that they are posted separately as “Tabbouleh and Other Salads”

 Damascene Baklava #1

In the west, many people think of baklava as a walnut treat, but in Syria, walnut baklava is just a junior member of a family of treats using filo dough crusts and pistachios. In Damascus, if you speak of baklava and you are not specific, people will think you are talking about shredded filo dough that has been stuffed with fresh cream (almost like a pudding), quickly deep fried, drizzled with rosewater syrup and topped with cream and pistachios. If you haven’t left room for this dessert, you’re in trouble! More pictures of baklava in an upcoming post.

I didn't get a picture of this but did you know that you can stuff turkish delight with fresh cream pudding and pistachios...? Yummy...I doubt anyone could eat more than two. They are small, but, wow, how rich!

Good luck. I’ve gained several pounds in a single afternoon while being shamed into eating one last bite of this or that. I think of it as the price I have to pay for not visiting more often. If you are invited to more than one feast, try to space them out no closer than one in three days and fast in between.

The meal is finished with fruits and tea or coffee, depending on the time of day and your intimacy with the hosts. If it’s afternoon and you’re like family, the fruits and tea may be served after everyone has a nap!

6/27/07  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Malls

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A few days ago Baba took me to a couple of malls. This is a new phenomenon in Syria. Apparently, after 9/11, when countries in the west penalized all Arabs by freezing their private bank accounts, Arabs looked for more hospitable places to invest. They found that Bashar’s Syria had become trade friendly. Add the fact that the local middle and upper classes were hungry for products and that many wealthy Gulf Arabs frequently vacation in Syria, and investors had the perfect recipe for a booming economy.

The malls vary from clusters of stores that were already located in one spot to full scale western style malls complete with food courts, game arcades, and escalators. Keep in mind that Damascus has been a center for trade for over two millennia. Souk Hamidiyyeh, and Straight Street are part of a labyrinth of markets that could easily be called the ancestors of malls. Of course there’s a difference. The old markets are adjacent to or inside khans (caravanserais), and therefore the street beneath your feet is dirty even if it is paved and you share it with whatever livestock was used to haul the goods to and from market. In today’s malls, the floors and walls are marble or look like it, and they usually have a parking garage too. Something most Americans will find unusual is that many malls here feature a supermarket (grocery store), some more super than others.


Cham City Center, a five story mall, is the nicest mall I've seen, here. Old Navy and Gap are out at another mall, and Kickers (mostly for kids) seems to pop up a lot. If you have the money, you can dress nicely and pretty fashionably without hitting the boutiques near Abou Roummaneh, or the comparative downmarket of Salhiyeh. It’s a big change from the plastic slippers and double knit polyester of my childhood, when quality “ready-to wear” clothing was hard to find.


I was tempted to Syrianize my look with this suit, but ankle-length skirts in 100º weather was too much for me to contemplate.
This is more my style.


Lost in translation, considering 99% of the people in the mall speak Arabic.
 
The other mall that is popular with my family is Towncenter, ironically located outside of town. It houses a giant supermarket and some clothing, electronics, and bedding stores. There is also a car dealership, and then an Arab style bakery named “Apple” in an adjacent lot.  

On cooler days, the shades in the windows of the bakery can go up, allowing patrons a view of the city.

That’s an elevator for cars! It’s a little creepy if you know the unreliability of regular people elevators in Syria.
 
Wow, can you tell it’s an election year?









 
By the way, there is no p or ch in Arabic. Vowels are different too. The Arabic equivalent of u, called wow, sounds like oo or w. The schwa sound is usually represented by a (alef). So, Punch translates to Arabic as "Bansh."

 In case you start to think everything in the west has been duplicated for your convenience, look closer. The Dairy case isn’t turned on; it’s just lit.


The freezers are turned on, but the boxes aren’t all labeled, so you won’t really know what you’ve baked until you bite into it.





This isn’t your typical corner market. So, rather than cartons or flats of eggs – flats are the norm in Syria – you can buy baskets of eggs. Really swank, but so expensive that they are likely to be rather old.

But, it wouldn’t be a SUPER market if it didn’t have everything, including things you can’t identify.




This is supposed to be for wine, or maybe tea? It would make for an interesting conversation piece, but if I bought this, I’d have to think for the rest of my life that I had better things to do with my money.

So, Syrians have put their own twist on the super market and the mall. I’m glad. As much as I like my western comforts, I’d feel robbed if I stepped into a real American grocery store in the middle of Damascus.

Saha!
[Cheers!]

 5/20/2007