Imagine Monday night in Damascus. Someone’s playing gitare on the balcony. I’m crushing garlic and dancing like a loon with the guy cutting the onions, our arak is on the side. The head chef is requesting a malbrour light and changing the music. We haven’t had cooking gas for almost three weeks and we’re happy to be hanging out together. Inevitably over the food the conversation turns to politics. My Arab friends don’t have time for any news other than their own, and we’re arguing if it’s just the Middle East that’s going to hell in a hand cart.
‘Mate,’ I say. ‘Half of Spain’s under twenty fives are unemployed.’
‘Yeah, well that’s just economics. It’s only us that are doomed, cus only we have too much religion.’
Just then the chanting in the street started. ‘Allahwakbar, Alalahwakbar.’
We’re all tripping over each other running out on to find out what’s happening. The protesters change to ‘something something Syria, something Freedom,’ which rhymes in Arabic. We can’t see anything, but it sounds like maybe 50 people shouting. The Syrians over that night are both vaguely pro government, but even they look excited. On of the Iraqis was practically joining in. Our neighbours all either went out on to the balcony, or slammed the shutters down. Less than two minutes later it’s over. Since it became obvious that the regime had no compulsion about gunning down unarmed masses protesters have hit one street for a very short amount of time, then dispersed and reassembled somewhere else before anyone can phone security. There’s nothing new, except that we live 5 minutes away from the president.
If you can think of anything stupider than living on the edge of a war
zone with to kittens, it’s doing it with an additional rabbit. My
flatmates been away, and cat man wanted to organise a surprise for her
to come home to.
‘Do you think I should buy her a rabbit,’ cat man asked. We only talk
in Arabic, so it wasn’t until he’d hopped around my living room that
I could say to him, ‘verily I do not think that is a good idea.’ he
looked up at me, twitched his little nose and let his arm ears droop.
‘Why?’ he asked soulfully.
‘Because we cannot take a rabbit when we run away from Syria, and the
finding it a new home will be difficult and we already have cats,’ I
I forgot about our conversation until cat man appeared on our
doorstep with a paper bag. In it was an adorable little bunny. ‘I have
a rabbit,’ he said. ‘I see,’ I replied trying to look stern as my
heart melted. ‘Did you ask the Iraqi about it?’ ‘Fuck him,’ said
catman in English with feeling, disappearing into my absent flatmates
room. Shortly afterwards there was a high pitch squeal, and cat man was
back, bunny in one hand, potato in the other. ‘Can you look after the
rabbit,’ he said, looking a bit crestfallen. ‘The cats don’t
understand he is their brother.’
Personally, I saw that one coming, and I wasn’t at all surprised that
the Iraqi wasn’t pleased to come home to a rabbit. I was surprised to
see him shriek and leap onto the sofa like a madam aunt confronted
with a mouse though. Apparently in Iraq it’s well known that if a
rabbit digs a hole it represents the grave of its owner. His
grandfather brought a rabbit to eat, but it dug a hole and outlived
its buyer, so that proves it. We’ve pointed out that as we live in a
flat and have no intention of purchasing the rabbit one of those
drills for digging up roads it won’t be making any holes. He’s now
campaigning to pierce its ears.
As a present the rabbit was a bit of a disappointment, and it ate a
fair few cables before its new human returned and brought a cage, cat
man just having brought the cheap and cute part of the present.
Clearly the bunny wasn’t a bright idea. He may have raised the average
IQ of the flat though.
I wrote this on Thursday, but the internets not been working
My day started with a bang. The violence in Damascus has been increasing recently, although English language media hasn’t been reporting it. We’ve heard a few explosions, stood on our balcony late at night, watching dust rising from the suburbs and the lights of the Four Seasons failing. Damascus’ one way system has been funnelling more funerals under our balcony and it’s getting less unusual to hear gun fire. But this is different. The other bombs have been designed to minimise civilian casualties, but it was about 8 I heard the bang. Both explosions were on the opposite side of the city, but the second one shook the house.
Like most of Syria we are watching Ad Dunia, an independent but pro-government Syrian channel, that’s reporting live from the wreckage of the airport road. crumpled taxis and unrecognisable hulks of metal litter it. Corpses, looking like b movie zombies, still sit in the cars, legs and torsos have been blown across the road. People wave the remains at the camera, denouncing the Free Army, The US, Al Jazeera (whose Arabic language channel has interviewed an activist accusing Ad Dunia of faking the footage), Israel, anyone. A friend who’s own suburb is dangerous after dark and crashed at ours last night has managed to phone his sister. While the bombs were close to some Mukhaberat buildings they were also close to her college. She’s really tall for a Syrian, as soon as she saw me she promised me to take me to a clothes shop she knows that sells long legged jeans. The windows of the college have been blown in. Some of her classmates smoking at the gates are among the 100 Ad Dunia’s reporting injured. She was scared and shouted on the phone, unaware of how loud she was talking, but otherwise unhurt. None of us are excited about today.
On Tuesday Syria elected the mejlis shab, the ‘parliament’. I don’t really know what to think about it.
Apparently 10 million of the 24 million potential voters went to the polls. No one really knows how many Syrians the are, but 20 million is often the figure quoted. Some people were very keen for me to vote. While I assured them I wasn’t a Syrian the guys outside the polling booth didn’t seem to think that was a problem, particularly if my first choice was the one they recommended. I think they were joking, but I did go home with a pocketful of ballot papers. None of my friends really know what anyone was standing for, the candidates were pretty vague about how they were gunna ‘achieve the dreams of the youth.’ None the less, rigging elections that most of the opposition is boycotting to a powerless body seems a bit pointless. Theoretically everyone hopes the Annan Plan will work, but it’s the kind of hope that people have when they know it’s statistically unlikely.
Springs pretty much over here, the gap between too cold and too hot lasts about two weeks here. None the less love is in the air and my flatmate is suffering. When I went to Lebanon to see some family he was chasing a completely unsuitable Syrian girl. not only was she crazily jealous (not wanting him to live with women, or go out without her) she was also uninterested in him and uninteresting in of herself.
While I was gone he got us two kittens. They’re incredibly cute but hardly a good thing to have in a country which we’d all leave within the lifespan of an average cat even if it wasn’t for the war. His Iraqi friends all say he’s done it to get girls, needless to say the girls he’s already got do all the work associated with pet ownership. His whole attitude towards them is different to ours – he wants to remove their claws, we say its bad for them, he thinks they need washing, we assure him, with partial success, that they don’t. Our different perception of the kittens, their role in our lives and place in society has come to a head.
The is this girl. She’s the one. They got talking at a western coffee chain, and he showed her pictures of our kittens. Now, we think luring girls back to the house with the power of furry creatures is ok. He thinks that’s rushing things a bit. Clearly she does to, as she asked him to take the kittens to the coffee shop.
My other flatmate got a phone call. She was pretty pissed off about the way her help was demanded, and she said no, on the grounds that a girl silly enough to want a small kitten transported on a rattily old servicee to a packed coffee shop is too silly to be worth it. While he implied he wouldn’t do it, he did. The girl hasn’t called.
Politically we have all the fun of elections. I wouldn’t buy a used car from any of em, nor would I buy a single – most of them look like Arab pop stars, slightly greasy and entirely untrustworthy. One of my friends said he’s planning on monitoring them. I was so proud of his commitment to civic society, although admittedly worried about his naivety, until he told me he was getting paid 2000L for doing it.