Cs’ impression of my life in Cham is marred by the fact I’ve got builders. Last month we all cleaned the kitchen together. Scrubbed the floor under the fridge, cleaned the windows, did it proper. The next day we came home to find some of the landlord’s friends and relatives had smashed up the kitchen, the toilet and the shower. The landlord, said it’d be finished in 5 days; H predicted it would last a month and upped sticks back to Swaida. A returned to Antakya and I borrowed Ps flat in Jermaana, but we’ve all had to come back. Landlord assures us daily it’ll be finished tomorrow.

C can’t understand why they’re attempting to ‘get the water out the walls’ (Damascus houses all, for some inexplicable reason, have damp problems) by tilling the outside of the kitchen rather than by replacing the bit of roof that blew off in a storm the other night or putting some glass in the windows. I see where he’s coming from, but I’ve seen too much of Landlord to have wondered this.

I’m pretty sure that builders being keener on the destruction part of the job than the construction stage is international. Likewise I know they never turn up to work before 11 and then have a cup of tea, before breaking for lunch. I’m less sure that Welsh builders invite their friends round for those tea breaks. I’m pretty certain that in Europe they don’t help themselves to the food of the hapless tenets and cook a nice meal for themselves and their mates. A’s Canadian girlfriend is visiting and, animated by fury, she asked the builders what the hell they were playing at.

‘This is the Arab way,’ they said over bowels of vegetable rice with tomato broth and salad on the side, bewildered by her anger.

This annoys me; the thieving of the teapot pisses me off. I’m not happy about the building noises (though actually these are not intrusive. They don’t do enough building for that). Going downstairs to use the bathroom is deeply inconvenient. What I’m furious about how middle aged I sound.

Everybody loves me!

Chris is still in Syria. Hes beeing wowed by things I find 100% routine. Yes Christopher, it is a Shwama spit (Donna kebab in Turkey) with a meter wide diameter. This is probably the highlight of his trip so far, despite  the Allepo Souk having a dead camel and us going to St Simeon Stylites monastery and hitched back. We also visited the dead city of Serjella which looks like the builders of a Byzantine ‘exclusive new development,’ got board halfway through and gave up, leaving houses with elaborate cavings over the doors and massive public buildings of grey stone marooned in a sea of bedrock and olive trees. Its got a guide who speaks no English, but got me to teach him the words for house, church, olive press, inn and the like, and another who put Chris and me on the back of his motorbike to get us back to the bus stop. We’ve also been to Crack des Chevaliers, which got TE Lawrance, who knows what hes talking about, excited, and wandered round Damascus, city of wonder. However none of these are edible and all have paled in comparison to the massive Schwama in Bab Tuma.

We have been joined by my mother and by grandmother, who have been ‘discovering Damascus’ with Jules Vern and supplying me with party rings. My unlikely trio of guests have done very well together, and Chris did an excellent job keeping my grandmother out of potholes and away from car wheels. The relatives liked Damascus very much, but have now departed. Hisham is extreamly disappointed to have missed seeing my grandmother. Hes convinced that girls like me never die, and sees my grandmother, who is in her late 70s as further proof of this.

The other person who left today is Sophia. Au Revouir, my French friend.

More Milk

One of the great things about regonal instability is the plumiting costs of flights. While my winged monkeys tell me nothing much happened in Cham on Syrias day of revolution I was in Aleppo picking Chris up and introducing him to the middle east so I dont really know.
A friend whos thing is religious groups and who has fantastic Arabic argues that Syrias religious tollerence is inforced by the regime and if Assad fell the secatarian differences could be exploited by a minoratie to create some serious Iraq type trouble. This is not what the majoraty want, so they are happy to continue with Basher.
Certainly it dosn’t look to me like people want to get rid of him, and none of my friends think that Syrians want him out, or certainly not enough o do what the Egyptians have done, and to pay the price they’ve paid.
However Chris and I are in Hama, having visited Halb and St Semyons, and its an odd place to museing n the regimes popularaty. Nice parks right in the city center for a reason thats not 100% happy, nice water weels.

Syria censuses

According to the BBC Syria has the lowest unemployment in its selection of Arab states, and the second lowest percentage of the population living below the poverty line, after Tunisia. I know some people working for UNICEF and the UNHCR here, and they say one of the most frustrating things is the total lack of any reliable statistical information about the population. No answer to questions like how many children are the in the country. Academic artical frequently bemoan the unreliable nature of regional sochial indicies. These are either made up or out of date or both, as are the ones for neighboring states. As a rough guess though they’re probably fairly accurate in relation to the neighboring states.

Practical everybody I know is planning to watch the Protests in Syria this Saturday, either just out of interest or with an eye to joining in if the are enough people for it to be safe to do so. I’m imagining a dense ring of spectators with about 8 protesters in the center.

Syria is relatively socially liberal, and far more politically liberal than it used to be. people know life could be a lot worse.

Intresting times

Peoples phones have been going off, the message – protest, Parliament building, Saturday. People don’t know how to react. Initially some people suspected that the governments behind it, in an attempt to find out who the opposition are. American newspapers (far more anti Syrian than their UK brethren, to the extent of implying Syria had a role in the Hararri bombing despite leaks from the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon seeming to clear Damascus of involvement) have decided its official. The message has got off the internet and phones andis doing a bit of word of mouth. Here though as a question. Have you heard? Or do you think its real? A big question is why Saturday, not after Friday prayers when frustration and anger traditionally boils over in the Middle East. Could foreigners be behind it? If so is it the CIA or Language students?  Its hard to tell how seriously people are taking these theories. I’ve been making a special effort to talk to all the Syrians I can, but everyone loves gossip and stuff. Lifes going on as normal, people are still prioritizing exams, love and work.This detachment makes it harder to tell how seriously the conspiracy are considered. I’m obsessed by the why Saturday question.

Thes also a anti-test planned on the same day, which makes the protest more real.

The may, or may not have been, solidarity action today at the Egyptian Embassy. As a Syrian friend said, this is Syria, no one knows anything.

The Jordanians got some political concessions, who saw that coming? Al-Jazera English and the BBC let me down.