There should really have been a post in between my last two. I’ve moved (entirely in Arabic, I’m hoping that I don’t have any nasty surprises about the electricity bill) to a little flat just outside the by no means picturesque but none the less lively district of Jermaana. Its pleasingly foreign – I’m about 10 minutes walk away from owning a monkey!
On Friday night the whole neighbourhood turned into a pro-Bashar rally. Cars waving Syrian and Baath party flags raced up and down the road that forms the backbone of the settlement with whole families hanging out of them chanting ‘God, Syria, Bashar and only,’ and ‘my soul, my strength for you Bashar.’ Men stood on the roofs and bonnets of slower moving cars and a budget version was devised by three boys with a bicycle, who somehow managed to stand one of themselves on it. Religious minorities have done well in Assad’s Syria, and Jermaana is predominately Druze with a large Christian population. However like the ‘real people’ demonstrating at the mosque, the was a fair few headscarved women, including five in a car that also managed to get three men hanging out the windows and four children in the boot. Some of the vehicles were big, white 4x4s with tinted windows that scream ‘security’ in any language and some of the hooting was probably because of frustration about the traffic, which was stationary as people danced in the road. Others walked past the whole parade like it wasn’t there, or just stood and watched it. Al Jazeera is reporting that upper-class Syrian liberals are saying that pro-government rallies are theatrical spectacles arranged by the regime, and to an extent this is true. However the government does genuinely have a lot of support. Today I received a text message from ‘info,’ thanking me for my support but asking me if I could stop driving like a maniac and go home.
After getting bored of watching the rally some friends and I went to see a Syrian journalist. He didn’t tell us much that Al Jazeera and the BBC hadn’t, but he did confirm that Duma, AKA ‘Burkastan,’ part of greater Damascus, had ongoing anti government protests. We worked out from sources that this man regards as honest that 63 people had been killed on Friday. According to him security was spraying chemicals into activists faces in the room my friend and I had seen at the mosque before taking them away. The government spokesperson is a woman, but apparently some Syrians have been deaply offended by a female offering condolences for the dead, tradition demands the highest ranking man available offers them. I’ve also been told that a former collage of the ex governor of Dera used the word ‘bastard’ to describe him.
Saturday felt a world away from the troubles. My friend and I met up at the mosque, and chatted in the sun and turned down the beggars and street sellers that mistook us for the tourists that had taken the place of Friday’s demonstrators. We walked laughing through one of the worlds most beautiful cities, marvelling at how it felt a world away from the disturbances of the south or the day before. We had tea with a surgeon my friend knows. He was on call and his Fridays leave had been cancelled so he could treat four protesters rushed in from Dera. It was clear that officials had expected more people to be hospitalized. The surgeon told us there was talk of sending Chama doctors to the overwhelmed southern hospitals, and that none of the people he’d treated had abdominal wounds. We didn’t press him to tell us what was wrong with them, and he told us a story about a king with donkeys’ ears, whose barber was commanded on pain of death, not tell anyone. In the story he digs a big hole and tells his secrets to it. We’d all been kept awake by rallies in our widely dispersed neighbourhoods and eventually decided on an early bed time.
By the time I got home Friday’s rally had turned into a Bashar themed street party. People had managed to get chunks of drum kits onto car roofs and two sound systems were playing hastily recorded pro-government songs. Kinda Wagner does tinny Arabic pop.
I’ve got a job teaching English in a community focused but unorganised little institute in a Damascus suburb, something for which I’m totally unqualified, untrained, and as a dyslexic, unsuitable for. I do however enjoy it. One of my students assured me that the people singing ‘my soul, my strength or you Bashar,’ didn’t really mean it; they just enjoyed a good party. Dancing on moving cars does look like a lot of fun, but I quashed the urge to join in. Last week another of them told me how pleased she was that the international community was imposing a no-fly zone on Libya. She said Britain was wiping out her past mistakes, looked at me shyly and told me that ‘together we will write the future,’ to the equally shy giggles of rest of the class. This week one of my students had been stuck in one of the towns where people had been killed, they said, in a strangely neutral way, that the situation as ‘bad.’ They will all talk to me about politics, but not to each other. They’re scared of who they might be.