Modays – Manic Again.

Economically Syria is about on par with Greece now. Sanctions, the import ban, ongoing chaos, the price police. There are theoretically 45 Syrian Lira to the dollar, but it hit a low of about 104. but a month ago it was up to 68, and, theoretically again, I’m pleased because it’s good for Syria*. Things have got a bit cheaper on the street, and I do still have 22 theoretically nonexistent lira in my wallet. Of course, it is a bit annoying that the only thing about the situation that is improving is the only thing that benefits me by being rubbish – I have been driven back to the world of work.

It hasn’t improved in my absence. In my previous teaching jobs we could just get on and do it. Not here. We have to use the in house method, which is similar enough to the one that was inflicted on me when I first came to Syria for me to be having flashbacks. The teachers hate it, it doesn’t work. The center is papered with dire, ungrammatical, threats detailing the punishments for not using the method, all signed by the director. Hes got a network of spies and is always popping up unexpectedly, promising new wonders from the headquarters in London and threatening to withhold parts of peoples saleries. Hes worried that we might steal the method, nothing to do with teaching is allowed out the building.  At the same time, its strangly difficult to hate him. It’s Syria in miniature. Like the big Syria, the beuacracy is pointless, and emploies 5 clueless people and one person that does everything. No problem is ever solveable, I might think I can cover a coulleges class, they might think it, but the 5 clueless people know its not so. Again, like in the big Syria, nothing can ever be explained. If the students say ‘a orange pen,’ I must tell them they’re wrong, but not why. Given my low tollerence for both rules and stupidity its not suprising I’ve become a little dissident. Students I’ve given cover lessons to have requested I replace theire standered teacher, which is embarrassing, and others have asked me to do privet lessons, which is forbidden, but with the current shortage of native speakers in Syria i dont think little Syria can knock on my door in the night and fire me, which is a great pity.

*My flat mate studies economics. He reckons it’s a disaster. At 104 L to the dollar Syrian exports were incredibly attractive internationally, fueling economic growth. This is the kind of willful stupidity that I’ve come to expect of economists. Aside from the war, ‘made in Syria’ means ‘will break immediately.’ Abers agony uncal got it right when he described the profession as a pestilent sore on the vagina of humanity

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God, Syria, Freedom

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.

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DnnaDnnaDnna Dnna CATMAN

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.

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Explosions and Elections

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.

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The romantic entanglements of my Iraqi roommate

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.

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Smashed heads and Blackouts.

Musy, an Iraqi friend, is homesick. We don’t really know what to do to cheer him up, we tried wearing fake moustaches, but it only worked temporarily. We think it’s all the killing that’s making him miss Bagdad, but it might have been footage from the Arab league. He’s spending an unhealthy amount of time curled up on the sofa in front of Ash Shaksia, an Iraqi TV station, listening to his native dialect.

‘What are you watching, Musy?’

‘Umm, in Iraq you only get electricity for a maximum of 12 hours a day. All the neighbourhoods have massive generators, that can supply you with electricity when the government electricity’s off, but its expensive, maybe 40$ a month. They are poor people, and the channel is asking them stupid questions. The winner gets 24hr a day electricity for 3 months.’

‘Kinda like who wants to be a millionaire, but for electricity?’

‘Yeah. The private electricity used to be really, crazily expensive, but now the government won’t let them charge more than a certain price and sells them cheap petrol.’

We watch together in silence.

‘You know, Baghdadi is incomprehensible.’

‘Yep. Oh, that is a hard question. Who started wearing wristwatches first, the British, Italians or the French?’

Ash Shaksia broadcasts other programs that are grotesquely distorted by Iraq’s social reality. They take home makeovers a bit more seriously, instead of varnishing the floorboards they knock down small, illegally and dangerously built houses belonging to poor people and replace them with safer, more structurally sound buildings. They don’t do a weight loss show, but they do go round poor neighbourhoods asking how much people weigh. If the contestant knows their weight, within five kilograms either way, they get the same amount of dollars. Instead of ‘I slept with my wife’s brother,’ shows they use DNA testing to try and find people lost in the invasion or under Saddam. Musy says the soaps are really good, but he has shitty taste in movies. We often watch their news broadcasts.

Musy is also a bit of a hero at the moment. Tuesday was the 5 month anniversary of the protest at the private universities. The guy who organised the one at Musies’ has been missing ever since, and on Tuesday the anti students stood in silence to honour him. The 10 percent of students that support the regime apparently started screaming ‘Allah, Syria and Bashar.’ The protesters started chanting ‘freedom’ and the pros shut the doors, phoned the Shabiha and attacked. As 40 percent of the students want change violence wasn’t going to get Assad’s supporters very far and the university security could handle things. Until the Shabiha arrived. According to Musy administration and security both assured the Shabiha they had everything under control, but the Shabiha don’t negotiate. Some pro students let them in, and they indiscriminately lashed out at people with clubs and rifle-butts.

Musy ended up at our house with blood all over his shirt; if it was from a nosebleed then he’s an elephant. His eyes had the glazed look I associate with too much exercise. We fed him tea and beer and he told us what happened. After the Shabiha started ‘smashing’ people as many anti students as possible rushed to the busses that take the students to the university, miles out of town on the Dera highway. Inside the building their was blood everywhere, Musy carried people who’d fainted from the gore and watching people being smashed out to the clinic as well as injured students. Happily the universities impressive facilities include a good clinic, only the most seriously injured protesters needed ambulances. Pro students started directing the violence, telling the Shabiha which of their class mates were anti, and the Shabiha really beat them. ‘How did it end?’ I asked.’

‘The beasts arrested all the antis they could get. They weren’t soldiers, they were animals. They were enjoying it, the smashing. They really hated the anti students. I’m an Iraqi, I’ve seen violence, I’ve seen al-Qaeda, I’ve had to shoot someone, but I’ve never seen anything like that, that much hatred. They weren’t people. They were beasts.’

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The short life and strange death of the homeless cat.

Cat guy’s unfortunate adventure put him off pet ownership a bit. But at
the same time he was chasing cats all over Sham another friend of mine
was walking home when he saw an injured kitten. He tried to ignore
her, but she limped after him in such an arresting way he couldn’t
resist her and took her home.

This friend of mine is just inexplicable. Apparently he was in town to
collect some stuff he left here as a student ten years before, but as
it took him three months to collect it all and he then immediately
disposed; we all thought this was a cover story. Which leaves the question why didn’t he have a better one? He’s also way too rich for
someone undercover. Despite his flawless Arabic and connections with
Armajinadad, Nasrala and Assad he hates Syria and the Syrians. He
tried to live off the heath-food he’d imported with him, as there’s been too
much depleted uranium released around here for him to eat anything
produced in Syria. The nuts, iodine rich seaweed and Himalayan mountain
water having run out he’s not around anymore, and has taken most of
the mystery of the orient away with him with him. Needless to say we
hope he’ll return.

Instead of taking the cat to the vet he washed her tail stump and
suppurating wounded leg with homoeopathic silver water, which might
be, as he claims, an unrivalled disinfectant but apparently doesn’t
fix broken legs. He repeatedly forgot to buy her cat litter, so
removed the litter tray and put her on the balcony to live in her own
filth which is not one of the seven habits of the highly successful.
After he’d had her for a couple of months he ran out of food and we
went round to collect her. We were rather surprised to find our self
described green activist and animal lover friend had let the cat get
into such a state. After getting her home and washing the shit out of
her fur we could see just how bad her leg was and took her to a vet.
She threw up en route, needed a second wash and never ate again. The
vet said she’d be ok and we gave her lots of love, made her a nest and
brought her cat litter, but I think her trips round sham were just too
much, and after 3 days she died.

She chose a really inconvenient time for it. We woke up the morning
the mukhaberat were coming round to interview my flatmate (it’s
necessary for some kinds of iqamas, it’s a kind of employment benefit
for whichever goon gets sent) and found her dead. We didn’t have that
much time before the other girl and I were going, we didn’t feel like
unnecessarily bribing people nor did we want to cause problems with our
unorthodox living arrangements, but what to do with Mushys’ corpse?

We ended up on the mean streets of Mohajareen with a dead cat in a
plastic bag. We thought about burying her in a park, but didn’t want
to act too suspiciously or buy a spade. Cremating her was right out,
and the Barada is too low for us to bury her at sea in. Inevitably we
ended up putting her in a bin.

The Assad emails include Bashar’s I-tunes downloads. We can’t understand
why he’s bothered to break sanctions in order to pay for music
downloads. Why you’d respect copyright law but not human rights is
beyond me and I maintain he’s paying for that music with stolen money.
More important are the songs he’s downloaded, which include ‘Sexy and I
know it,
‘ my flatmates ring tone. In the same way that Assad doesn’t
seem like a blood thirsty killer, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy
who’d leap around yelling ‘girl look at that body, I work out.’ While
appearances are clearly deceptive according to the song he sent his
wife ‘The person that I’ve been lately, Ain’t who I wanna be’. We
don’t know whether he’s aware of the irony, but we spend a lot of time
making him a more suitable mix CD.

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