The Eid of Dead Sheep (New, improved version)

Its Eid al Adha again, the feast of the sacrifice that forms the culmination of the hajj and commemorates Jacobs willingness to slit his sons throat. Christians say Jacob was asked to murder Isaac, the important one in the biblical tradition. The Quran is more interested in his brother Ishmael, and it’s his not quite being sacrificed that we’re celebrating. This year Syrians said “kul youm eid kul nas shaheed”-every day is Eid, every person a martyr, meaning that with The Situation it’s inappropriate to celebrate. Others said beforehand they couldn’t get into the spirit and it would just lead to more killing at the mosques.

None the less Damascus is at her best. Everyone is walking around in there new eid clothes, the young boys all strutting like gangsters in miniature shiny suits, or playing protesters and government with incredibly realistic BB guns. The girls have all been given winter clothes and are slightly too hot, but are flaunting their finery anyway. The Druze celebrate this eid (though they don’t go on the hajj) but Jermaana is pretty low key. In the mokhem, though, the Palestinians are making up for any lack of enthusiasm. The mini fairground rides are being swung energetically and the men who usually sell veg from horse drawn carts are giving the kids rides or hiring their horses to the shabab. Intellectually I know that galloping an Arab stallion down the Jermanna high street into incoming traffic, or taking it onto the ring road for a spin, is not a good idea. Physically I’ve got scars from the last time I rode a horse without a helmet. Emotionally the young men are clearly enjoying it more than their steeds, and I want a go anyway. I can’t decide if I’m being sensible or boring not going horse riding, but as this is theoretically the last day of Eid I probably won’t make up my mind before it ends. (One of the things I love about Sham is the way people have so much fun during eid that they just don’t stop at the religiously mandated end)  The next two paragraphs are pretty graphic, you’ve been warned.

This is the Eid of the sacrifice, traditionally people sacrifice sheep outside their houses and throw the blood around, but it seems to be acceptable to get ones butcher or sheep seller to slaughter it if one doesn’t have the know how. Sheep are penned up at the sides of roads, the blood stained fleeces of their dead brethren in the gutter next to them. The Sydia Zanab high street, which has a high concentration of butchers, is practically an open air killing line. Theoretically its haram, forbidden, to let sheep see their flock-mates last moments, and Syrian national pride is built on, among other things, adhering to this rule. None the less they do not always keep it. At the far left a pen of living sheep. Next, slumped in the gutter a meter away, a headless body. Besides that a sheep strung up on a hook, being skinned. To the right a butcher cheerfully de-gutting another sheep, waving around sheep guts (who knew that sheep had such thin intestines?) and wishing everyone a happy eid. Further to the right the meat on the hooks doesn’t resemble sheep, other than the stomach in the bloody gutter and some artistically arranged heads. Then another sheep pen. Honestly, I must admit the sheep, unlike the flies, seem unphased by the death that surrounds them. I once saw two outside a mosque both very distressed by the slaughter of the first, in progress as I passed, but it seems that they’re only upset by sheep writhing as their throats are slit. Once their companion is actually dead they don’t seem able to connect what they’ve seen or the smell of blood with more of the same.

It takes quite a lot of thrashing around and more time for a sheep to bleed to death. The knife wielders either string them up before going for the jugular or stand on their heads as their lifeblood joins that of their brothers in the road. Apparently killing camels is actually quite dangerous as they lash out so much, for so long, in their death throws. I am not squeamish; I left Slaughter Street and had a lamb kebab. I’m less into animal rights than I was before spending a year in a country without human rights. None the less I whole heartedly support the Dutch attempt to ban halal and kosher slaughter. While it may have been the most humane method of slaughter when the Quran was revealed, technology has, elhamduallah, improved since the 7th centaury. Ijthad, independent reasoning, allows (depending on who you talk to) for flexibility in interpreting the Quran, and some well respected religious men, including one of the 4 rightly guided caliphs, argue that some of it is only relevant in the perfect Islamic state. We now have a way of slaughtering sheep that doesn’t leave them conscious and bleeding for the last 4 minutes of their lives. I think the sidewalk sacrifice is a good thing, if people are gunna eat meat they should know where it comes from, and the eid al adha meat is going to the poor. People opposing the Dutch ban should shut up and watch halal slaughters in action. They should learn that that 3/4 of ‘Halal’ chicken in the EU is killed by machines, whereas various schools of sharia insist animals must be slaughtered by a person, and that some Sharia schools argue animals should be stunned. Then knowing where halal meat comes from, they can see if they feel like talking.

On a personal note my life has changed radically. The Hairy One went to the Lebanese Border to buy a new Visa, border runs being six monthly events for Sham based language students. It’s never officially been possible to by a visa at the border, and its becoming an increasingly unrealistic proposition. The Hairy One got unlucky, but his employers tried to help him get back into Syria. For a mere 2000us they thought they could arrange for an unmarked car full of mukhberat to swoop down on Beruit, grab him, and drive him over the border very fast, but then found a cheaper method of getting him home. However Beirut is an expensive city and the hairy one was not well paid. He had a choice of hunting cats and eating them, or getting a job. He went for option B and decided he preferred being a waiter to an English teacher. He’s not coming home.

The Dutch, they do more than raw fish!

On Friday, some of us got together, drunk Araq, and listened to a friend play the oud. Good times. However, rather bad times had happened else where in the country that day, with the ‘big men’ admitting to 19 dead. We all, European, Kurds and Arabs, regarded the governments response as marking a kind of watershed. The Dutch embassy agrees.

Their line is that there is no need to avoid the country, but that expats and tourists should be prepared. Stocking up on water, food and candles might be a good idea. Equally withdrawing lots of money could prove to be smart. We should be aware of the situation and the capacity for cutting communications. Lastly, we should prepare for boredom. We should stock up on puzzles, books and games!


Climb like a cucumber, fall like an aubergine

As I looked through the text book and planned my lesson I got pretty excited. I love my students dearly; I worry about the ones I can’t get to engage with the course and I try to be the kind of language teacher that I wish I had. The book we’re working through had a reading exercise about proverbs. We could read it, and then discuss Arabic proverbs. My students would be using the new words to talk about their experiences, helping them to ‘own’ the new vocabulary and using old volcab about something new, stretching them. It would be easy to have a group discussion and we’d be able to do some good things with tenses! Plus I’d learn a bit about Syrian culture. Maybe one of them would explain the title of this post, which C and I found in the guidebook and have giggled about ever since. Oh yeah, as my predecessor taught my students to say.


The best laid plans of mice and English teachers…


We did the reading, explained the new words and then I asked them if they could tell us any Syrian proverbs. Blank stares all round, apart from Q, my favourite advanced student, who said this was a difficult thing to do. I asked them if they knew the saying ‘Climb like a cucumber…’ taking the opportunity to point out that students at the British Council bring their teachers (who earn almost 4 times as much as me) food. I don’t think my students will ever take the hint. Blank stares all-round, apart from Q, who said he thought it was an amazing proverb and asked me to write it on the board.


‘How about ”he who takes a donkey up the minaret must take it down again”,’ I asked, quickly drawing a minaret on the board. Q started laughing; he thought this was the best thing he’d ever heard. M, who I find rather harder to love, looked at me sorrowfully.’ Not a donkey, a girl donkey. A young one.` I dunno if it’s socially acceptable to leave elderly male donkeys up minarets, I didn’t want to confuse them. Instead I asked them when they used this saying, but the answer was drowned by Q.


‘Teach us more proverbs!’


‘It’s your culture (point, reinforce those pronouns), not mine. What about “we started trading,” buying and selling (complete with mime), “shrouds,” for wrapping (more mime) dead people in, “but people stopped” (they know this word, but I flail inelegantly anyway, teaching is my major source of exercise) dying!


‘Shroud, like Muqtada Sada wore,’ someone asked, referring to the Iraqi Shia leader. My students must have an age range of twenty years, but they all belong to the Al Jazeera generation ‘Yeah.’ Q always gets it, has a perfect student.


‘We use this about unlucky people,’ someone said. I thought about teaching them the English saying ‘’no shit Sherlock,’’ but I’m a nice teacher.


‘Can you think of any other proverbs?’


‘Umm, “When it was time for the sad girl to have fun, there was no more fun,’’ M supplied.


‘No,’ said Q, ‘this is not as good.’


I’m enjoying my new ‘hood. I’m much more of a novelty here, and there is much less English. I’ve found some people to watch Al Jazeera and chat in Arabic with. As always the guy who also speaks English is the one who understands me best. I know that in Arabic its Verb, Subject, Object, I know the conjugations for past and present and for the 13 different pronouns. I know the verbal noun is not the verb said really fast, though I don’t know nearly enough of them. Its just in practice that I insert Arabic words into an English grammatical frame work I put up with a baker who insists on confirming in English what I just said in Arabic, because he make delicious Iraqi bread. From the windows of my flat I can see the mountains, still snow capped, that delineate the border with Lebanon by day and the lights of the Old City and Mohajereen by night. From my balcony I can see a rubbish and rubble strewn square with a pylon. My first thought was, I admit, that Arabs don’t do scenic in the way Westerners do, but I’ve since decided that stupidity is universal and that building regulations are actually a really great idea. I console myself by watching the street sellers, a lot of whom have horse drawn carts, and trying to work out what they’re saying.


Politics are continuing. Word on the street is that Al Jazeera is being harassed. Apparently they’re only being allowed to film when they’re with the official reporters. On a more positive note everyone was given 60 minutes of free phone credit on Thursday (there are two mobile companies hear, and one of them is owned by the cousin of the president. Its offices were set on fire in Dera). This in a country where people never have units, and if they do will miss-call you in an attempt to make you pay.  Everyone called home, the networks crashed, and no one could communicate about the next days protests. Then after the danger hours were over the minutes were taken away from us again, and we were told that we could have ten each month, for six months. People will say that taking them back, that tightness at the cost of public goodwill, that lack of foresight is typically Chammie. I think it’s typically authoritarian. We can’t be trusted to make the right decisions about using our units, but that’s OK, Abu Hafez is here to make sure we make the right choices.


One of my students told me of their worries of sectarian strife (I love giving my students words in English, then stealing the Arabic off them). Another is worried about terrorists. A third works in a village (it was explained to me that if you have less than 500 people you’re not a village, you’re a farm) outside of Cham where the police station was burnt down. They say it’s much less exciting than it sounds. My students are all definitely less scared than they were before, but the guy who organized the thing at the mosque I mentioned in my last post is MIA, and the whole time I’m writing I’m worrying about identifying my students, my institute and the area I work in. And as I cant say anymore without doing just that I’ll go home to bed.


19 Green Bottles, Sitting on a Wall.

I was sat with some friends, 1 westerner and 3 Syrians, at about 10 last night when one of the Syrians got a phone call. There were protesters outside the Umayyad mosque, about a 1000 them. The police had apparently tried to disperse them, but failed. We started talking about government corruption, and how the government needed to get rid of people who use their position to enrich themselves, by whatever means that takes, even if they were brothers, mothers, or more pertinently cousins of the people who are supposed to make sure it doesn’t happen. Thinking about it now though, it was the other Westerner who did most of the talking, though he does like the sound of his own voice so this is hardly unusual. Pausing only to concoct a cover story (we wanted ice cream from Bakdash) the Westerner and I got a bus into town to check out the action. Two of the Syrians felt the protest was good news and were quite excited; the other seemed quite ‘whatever’ about the whole thing. None of them came with us, one of them on the grounds that if the revolutions come it’ll be there in the morning, which while probably correct, doesn’t seem to be the logic of a newly empowered youth, taking his and his countries destiny into his own hands. When we got the mosque nothing was happening, nor was it actively not happening like in Saudi, where there were police stationed every 5 meters. The piazza in front of the mosque looked its usual night-time self, with cars parked and a few street sellers. We repaired to the ice cream shop and discussed Ameya grammar while watching a woman in a face veil eating ice-cream. It’s not unusual to see veiled women with an ice cream, but I’ve never seen their faces while they eat and have no idea how they do it.


Today I passed the mosque shortly after midday prayers. Other than a denser than usual tour group presence, the mosque and Hammedya were pretty much the same as usual. The square in front of the mosque is used as a car park overnight, but is normally empty of cars in the morning, I don’t know if there’s a bylaw enforcing this. Today the cars are still in place, which could be a coincidence that signals how confident people are that nothing will happen and trash their vehicles, or it could be a way of making it harder for people to assemble. Nothing online about yesterday’s protests, but from asking around it seems that something, though no one knows what, happened.


Sex and Sensible Behaviour

Having C here was great. Running around with such a fine specimen of masculinity, however, did make it more obvious that I was a second class citizen. Some men wouldn’t talk to a mere woman like me when there was a man available. In Islam men become ritually unclean through physical contact with women. I don’t see why this means they can’t talk to me. The tout who wanted us to hire his taxi and addressed ¾ of his conversation, despite it being wholly in Arabic, to C would have been amusing, except I find it harder to understand what people say if they stare into my habib’s eyes, not mine. I think the tout thought my refusal was unreasonable, and was therefore appealing to a nicely rational man. C, very annoyingly, made a lot of excuses and denied this dynamic for two and a half weeks before a man came up to us on a bus and chatted to C. The closest he came to acknowledging my existence was standing on my foot.


R and I were walking through Jermanna the other day when someone asked us ‘how much?’ R said something in Arabic, and unless it was in deep Swaida Ameya he didn’t say ‘for you, a good price,’ but again the man asked ‘ardesh?’ At this point I lost it.

‘Who’s a prostitute? You pikey animal! How am I a prostitute? You son of a prostitute!’ I yelled in Arabic. ‘I’m a student, you seller in the street of overpriced, poor quality goods.’

It’s hard to know who was more surprised, the wannabe punter or R.

‘Sorry, sorry.’

‘O.’ R looked at me, ‘who taught you these words?’

‘Ibn Sharmoutas the name of one of the cats, H gave it to me. Hwain comes from the hairy one and D taught me the others.’

‘Did you make sentences?’

‘No. I remembered these words pretty easily, but I did write most of them down.’

‘One day, you will be good in Arabic. You are very good in these words. Fast, good lufzz…’

‘Shukran shabeb.’


Animal is pretty much the worst thing you can say in Arabic, street seller of overpriced crap is all one word, and I may have used the plural of pikey. It’s the total extent of my ability to be non-sexually rude in Arabic.


Most of the time I don’t really notice that I’m a woman in a man’s world. All the foreigners here get stared at, alot and I often don’t notice when it is a sexual thing. P does, my good lufzz (pronunciation) of these words probably actually comes from him vocally defending my honour. It’s not wise for me to randomly make friends with men when I’m out or smoking argelia like the boys all do, but I’m not a massive fan of random people anyway. As a woman I do get to have a closer relationship with Syrian girls though, a whole word that’s shut of to the guys.


What annoys me, and it really annoys me, is the way men think they have a right to talk to me. The winter here was hard, but it’s often warm during the day now, and there’s a bit of spring in the air. H calls it ‘the month of the cats.’ men in the street step out in front of me and say, in a tone that expects compliance, ‘I want to talk to you’ or ‘I want to be your friend.’ As they’re stood in front of me I can’t really ignore them. ‘I don’t want to be your friend,’ I reply in Arabic and walk round them. ‘Why,’ they ask. My Arabic doesn’t extend to asking ‘what do you think gives you the right to demand an explanation of me? Who the hell do you think you are to presume you can just talk to me? Bugger off.’

It’s the assumption, implicit in the question ‘why,’ that their desire to talk to me overrides my desire to be left alone or to listen to music that angers me. It’s symptomatic of the relationship between men and women here. The sense of entitlement and superiority men have in their relationships with women.

People follow me, demanding ‘why won’t you talk to me?’ Syrian men are renowned for being pussies, its not really threatening, but these guys sense that they are justified in doing what ever they like is extremely unattractive.


There was no one around at 11.30 AM the other day in Jermanna when I walked to the cash point, and some how it was different. No one apart from two men on a motor bike, slowly idling along besides me. There’s not much pavement, but I pretty much managed to keep some parked cars between me and them. I could get a PHD in walking confidently while ignoring people, but that didn’t mean I liked it when, at the deserted junctions, they circled round me. Eventually I made it to the main road and lost them, but it did shake me up.


Jermaanas not the best neighbourhood and some horrible things have happened to women in it. Something like 8 women have been pulled into cars in broad daylight, raped and either murdered or tortured and abandoned in the countryside. When the police asked people why they didn’t intervene they said that they didn’t want to get involved, that they thought it was a family thing and therefore OK.


A friend is dating a girl who works in the justice department here. The above isn’t a rumour, it is fact. I’ve always assumed that, provided I don’t do anything stupid with sex or drugs I’ll be fine.

The problem is that people do sometimes assume I’m doing something stupid with sex*, or that I will do if they ask me enough. A taxi driver curb crawled me the other day, he started be telling me he’d drive me for no money, he ended up offering me money. Spring has its downsides, I’m telling you. Jermaana prostitution is an Iraqi thing, but there are Eastern European and Russian girls working in Cham. It’s important, as a woman, to establish that you do not come from Russia, ‘Ruski’ is one of many words that means prostitute here, but nowhere else.


People will say that it’s Jermaana that has the reputation for prostitution because it’s a Druze area the Druze have loose morals. This is just untrue, it’s because it has poor and desperate people in it. Besides, the Druze can be really conservative, R’s sisters barely allowed out, and he hopes she’ll get married soon although she’s 18 so she can have the greater freedom that comes with more responsibility. According to the woman who works in the justice department, Douma, a neighbourhood that’s name is used as shorthand for ‘extremely devout and traditional Muslims,’ has the highest rate of sexual abuse anyway.


R warned the other girls that there are some bad people in Jermaana. He thinks I can look after myself, he’s never said anything to me. I think that’s a complement.


* Unlike in Egypt people don’t attempt to sell me hash. Which is not to say it’s not available if you know who to ask. A significant number of language students think the worst that’ll happen is they’ll be deported. I think that A) they’re wrong and B) being deported would not be cool. One of my housemates goes to Turkey to smoke dope. He’s too scared of the mukhaberat to do it hear. A wise man in my opinion.


Arabic and art

Now I’m not at the Mahad any more I can study in bed until about 10am when the sun hits the veranda and Sophia or I go to the bakery on the corner and fight half Bab Tumas old ladies, then run home clutching warm bread which we eat with lebbna, hoummas and parsley. I have a side order of tea, Sophia takes matė (really this is South American, but lots of Druze have worked their, and they brought matė back with them. Its overcome sectarian differences, and now all Syria loves it. Rami prepared me some once, with elaborate ritual. Rami, I said. This is disgusting).

Theoretically I earn lessons from Rami by modeling for him, but he taught me a rediculious amount of Arabic before my exams so now I owe him about a month and a half of sessions. Now its my tern to give:

I’m really enjoying the modeling. We listen to music, taking it in terns to choose the album, When I get too stiff or too cold to sit still any more we have coffee and that matė and talk about Ramis problems (which, other than financial, haven’t made it on hear), particually his

girl problems. He really likes a woman that is neither obtainable nor halal. One thing that is becoming obvious in my counciling sesions is that formal english isn’t a particually good language for talking about this kind of stuff. Arabic isn’t going to be any better; it has only word for ‘I quite like coffee’ and ‘I love my boyfriend more than anything else in the whole world, ever.’ consiquently Rami has added such concepts as ‘get over’ ‘move on’ ‘man up’ and ‘I’m hear for you,’ to his vocabulary. The boys both seem to think that I’m some kind of wise older sister. perhaps they  should tell to James.

I also have a specific Fosha teacher, Hossam, who I pay for. Ullin’s one of his graduates. I’ve read my first piece of Arabic literature for Hossam. It took all day to translate the 16 sentences in it, and I’m a bit confused about some of the finer detail, but its basically about a crow that goes to school but doesn’t work, only sings. Then it fails its exams and ‘is sad and doesn’t sing no more.’ Is Hossam insinuating something? I told Ullin about it, but he interrupted me in gales of laughter. Apparently it was his first story to.

I think Hossam would like to be the trainer of Jedi nights or something, breaking down the ego and preconceptions about how things are suposed to work, to buld up the traini Jedi again, in a new, force understanding, way. I spend my whole life lerning vocab, translating Arabic and writing sentenses useing spechial grammer pattens, then going round for Hosam to abuse me. I’m waiting for him to turn to me and say ‘now my son, you can start lerning arabic,’ and give me a copy of the Hans Ver root dictionary or something.

Rami Again

After his January exams Ramis going to drop out of collage, work from 9am till midnight 6 days a week and save money so he can try and move to France and study art in Paris.

Rami earns 50 SY an hour – 68p.

‘But Rami, you’ll be even tireder than you are now. And you won’t be able to chill out, or paint, or anything.’
‘that, is the life.’

I’d brought some beers and munch over and chilling out was framing the lesson, which was a particularly good one. France isn’t really where Rami wants to go, he’d prefer Italy, but as France has relatively good ties with its ex colonies and is deepening its relationship with Syria Rami says it’ll be easier to get a visa. I dunno if he knows this, or just thinks it.

I tried to warn him that Europe hasn’t got the answers, and although it’ll be easier for him to fall in love with someone who loves him to nothing else will be easier and might be harder. Rami looked at me like I was totally failing to comprehend life in Syria, and I looked back at him in the same way, a gulf of experience and expectation separating us despite Ramis English.

Personally I think Rami wants to move to Europe for the girls. not for the sex, but for the opportunity to fall in love with someone who loves him to. I think he wants to be able to wander around hand in hand talking about everything and nothing without having to think about whos watching him (Syria is allways watching) and what they’ll say, without the girl hes with thinking about how they should be behaving. Rami, being Syrian, can’t dip in and out of Syrian culture like I can. Its not optional for him.

Rami would be great at living in France, or in the France of peoples imaginings. He smokes moodily and does that Gallic thing of shrugging his shoulders while making a comment that would sound banal with an English accent, but as it seems profound. I can imagine him on the banks of the Sien, betraying his francophone sophistication by putting Arab quantity’s of sugar in his coffee. he’d be really good at being incomprehensible and intense, someone for girls who want him to give something away to have ill advised affairs with.
But even if that Paris still exists, if it ever did, its a Paris of student loans and daddy’s money. Ramis Paris would be working long hours in a restaurant (hes a sous chief in a French restaurant hear) or sweeping the streets with the Algerians in between classes, living miles out on the metro that costs an hour and a half’s work on Ramis Syrian wages to ride.
I find myself switching from trying to explain that European life is hard and that its incredibly expensive to enthusing about Paris’ art gallery’s and telling Rami he should visit me in the UK so I can take him to the Hunters.

Sophias was going out with a French artist – she knows just how much work being an artist is and how few people get lucky. Rami comes from a culture where representational art was banned for 13 centuries and the French are very ‘exsactamant. I do not know the word in English,’ as Sophia puts it. We both know how much of the wealth, freedom and time Rami envies we have because although we are of Europe we are not in Europe. Although our hearts are breaking over the unfairness of the world were trying to talk Rami out of this plan. For all his western ways, his innate goodness and his coolness Rami earns 15 Syrian pounds less than a Euro an hour.


I’ve just lernt an important new life skill my friends. If in Syria you want to sample some Lebanese wine (Sophia, who is ‘tress exactamont’ about wine says its almost as good as the french stuff) but you do not have a corkscrew you dont push the cork into the bottle with a lighter, alla UK. Oh no. you get a pillow, hold it to the wall, then bang the bottom of the bottle against it. The cork flys out! Amazing, and prahaps an explanation for why the lighters are all the wrong shape for the bottle pushing thing.
Sophia and I went round with some wine, Rami got Sophia to translate his extensive collection of french music, I read everyone TS Elliot poems, Rami (who it turns out, spells his name Ramy. i’m trying to do so as well, but failing) coped us some Fayrouz and the three of us danced allot. Oh yeah.

Random love storys

The defining woman, that relationship, in a friend of a friends life was a colleague. He really liked her, everything about her. on her half day she left the office to go home and he stood up and followed her out the building and onto the bus. half way back to Bab Tuma the person sitting next to her got off and she shifted over so my friends friend could sit. they talked until they reached the end of the line, where she asked him where he was going. he admitted he didn’t really know and invited her for a drink. when they got to Abu Georges he realised he’d left his bag and money in the office forgotten in the daze he’d followed her in. They had a couple waiting for a work mate to drop it off and they talked and talked and talked.
everyday for a couple of months they had a drink and a chat after work. then they’d go home and talk on the phone. eventually he admitted he wanted more. she agreed she did too, but that it wasn’t possible. hes not seen her since.
they never even kissed

My friends Syrian girlfriend, lets call her Nisreen, had had one previous boyfriend, who she was with for 6 months or so. Then she ended it because it wasn’t possible for it to go anywhere without getting married. they used to hold hands, and talk. Shes in her 20s but has to be home by 11pm, and they didn’t have anywhere to go to be alone. While sex was defenently not on the menu it meant they couldn’t do anymore than kiss shyly and slyly, without tongues, in deserted alleys with Nisreen being caught between doing what she wanted to do and the consequences of doing it. needless to say those consequences would have been far worse for Nisreen.

One of my European friends hear is going out with a Syrian guy in his mid twenty’s. initially he got other guys to buy condoms for him. now he buys his own, but only after going half way across town to a mall. Is that normal at home to?

The less said about my big exam the better, I think. My friend Shareen attempted to write hers in the persona of a Georgan girl that her teacher really likes, but discovered half way through that she couldn’t spell ‘Georgia’ in Arabic. R came round after he finished work at midnight to give me some last minute grammar; he clearly thought two days of exams, back to back, without some of his support would kill me. That paper was hard, but good. we do this thing called ‘imlah,’ its basically dictation. The person reading ours was a level 4 teacher and she went really fast and kept on making mistakes. Sometimes she put tanween (little lines at the end of words you don’t normally pronounce) on, sometimes she didn’t. half way through the director and his henchman came in and glued down pits of the exam papers we were writing on, pretty distracting. my class is pissed off, especially as  other classes say it was read really slowly with the long vowels (you don’t write the short ones) and stressed letters (which have a spechial mark) emphasized. tomorrow is the oral. I’m really looking forwards to ‘Mahad Wednesdays,’ our study group that will meet weekly at the Mahad.

The soot from my sobias stove pipe has just discovered Newton. I’m sat watching the fine black particles fall out of holes in the pipe like snow. like the real thing its beautiful as it falls but a real mess. Damascus is under a sobia induced smog, the city has a whole new way of being filthy. I keep on removing soot from my ears. I had an indoor BBQ at a friends flat for new years and a really good time. R and I practiced talking about it for my oral several hours before it happened