Egypt Vs Syria. 3 differences.

Egypt finds American wrestling hypnotic. I never saw a Syrian cafe with wrestling on TV.

Syria doesn’t have the idea that one can where flip flops outdoors. This is reflected in the language, they call them slippers. Syria is as surprised to see ‘slippers’ in the street as we would be to see some one whereing their pink, fluffy numbers on a bus. The only person in Egypt not wearing flip flops is Llwyelyn, who says he’s traveling so lightweight he can’t take any.

In Syria women were everywhere. Even in early June one saw rich girls in posh cafes and students flirting with each other, despite the revolution turning into a war. Cairo has women. Aswan and Luxor have children or mothers, nothing in between. Hear in Alex their are trendy young things, but even so womens hair surprises us in a way it didn’t in Damascus.

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More dead sheep-part 1

Egypt has been a bit too amazing really. Sight-seeing takes up most of our day, then in the evenings the Egyptians that adopt us in which ever place we happen to be take us on all sorts of adventures. If local hospitality doesn’t end up with us eating sheep’s guts or climbing mountains under the light of the full moon we collapse into bed, too tiered to turn adjectives into sentences.

During Eid al Adhar things really got a bit out of hand. We spent most of the holiday in Luxor, where we woke up with the Mezzuien on the Friday, the 26th and the first day of Eid. Prayers were broadcast over the loud speaker, but both the size and enthusiasm of the congregation made this unnecessary. Like anyone right at the beginning of a major holiday people were too excited to sleep and, instead of going back to bed, after prayers they cranked up a sound system. When the boys gave up on bed and joined me on the balcony they were amazed by how small the crowd outside was, but what was lacking in numbers was compensated for by feeling.

Except for the solitary sheep, hobbled up outside. It didn’t look at all keen on the water and grass the local boys, all wearing new galabayas, were trying to interest it in. When we went down for breakfast the lovely man who owns the Fontana Hotel told us it was his sheep, and he’d sacrifice it just as soon as we’d eaten breakfast. I thought maybe he waited so as not to put us off our food, but it turned out to be so we could watch. Gerard doesn’t like dead things.

I was impressed that they put the sheep over a floor drain in the hotel before doing the deed. Even so the was more than enough blood for everyone to dip theire hands into and print them on the walls, something I didn’t see in Syria.

We headed out in search of coffee, but instead found a sheep being skinned. We stopped to marvel at the high standard of butchery on display, but also to listen to the music that soundtracked the sheep’s dismemberment.

We love Egyptian music. Despite it being everywhere we cannot get enough of it. Not even deep pro Syrian prejudice can make me say Levantiane pop is better. Egyptian music is just so dammed dancy. And we ended up dancing. A lot.

We were about 15 years older than anyone else dancing, until three lads got bored of lounging against a car looking cool and jumped into the circle. They had a routine that they must have really practiced; they were extremely good.

The sun continued its journey across the sky. The patch of shade we danced in shrank and the mud and blood started drying up. Women gave me water that tasted of Nile and I’m too polite to refuse in an attempt to stop me dieing of heat exhaustion. Someone had the sense to pull the plug, and we were sat down and fed tea. The dancing turned out to just be a prelude to our Eid adventures, but as the moon is now well across the sky and the internet cafe is shutting the rest will have to wait.

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Egypt


Its the 12th and I’m getting cold feet. Egypt seems fine, the demo that greeted me as I got off the bus in Tahir square was pretty small (and since then its looked a lot more dramatic on TV than in the flesh). But I’m one day, 2 hrs and 24 minutes late for my roundevouz with Gerard. We said that we’d return to our chosen cafe every hour on the hour, or at lest I said that in a message I hope he received, so inshallah he’ll turn up soon. meanwhile Llwyelyn is still in the UK, possibly dieing of viles disease. nether of these little things can be categorized as good omans.

On the plus side I’m doing better with the local Arabic than I expected. I understand, except when I don’t, in which case i completely, comprehensibly, unconditionally fail to understand. admittedly the Egyptians laugh, and if they can switch into English, when I lisp the Arabic exultant of ‘forsouth, i beg of you enlighten me as to the location of…’ Syrian dialect has, so far, done the trick.

Even better, while in 2007Ciro overwhelmed me as much as she beguiled me this time I’m complicatedly in love. The city would remind me of an old woman who’d been beautiful 60 years before, were it not that she is so alive. No matter how beautiful her streets are they are filthy and even the goats in the Ally made of the wreck of glorious Mameluke buildings seemed to eat plastic bags with vitality. The places outside the maelstroms of hooting cars seem some how intense, like a lot of enagy is going into chilling out.

It is impossible to tell how much the revolution has changed Egypt since I was hear before. The almost complete absence of low denomination notes that complicated everything has been circumvented by minting a load of coins and the citys fleet of aging pergots seems diminished, the fallen war horses replaced with Dewos. I doubt the Arab Spring is responsible though.
People are willing, although not particularly pushy, to talk politics. Everyone says they’re disappointed by the revolution, but other than jobs and freedom cannot say what they expected from it. Someone said that drinking in the street was allowed now, but he neither approved nor though that it was enough for the price Egypt had paid for the revolution.

In the same way its hard to imagine Ciroas ornate architecture getting the scrub it needs and the pipes rerouted underground its hard to imagine how her uncountable children can create the jobs and improved living standards they revolted for. But then overthrowing
Mubarak took quite some imagining, and yet it happened.

In Cairo the weather isnt as hot as I’d expected. My personal conditions and forecast is ‘slightly over clouded, set to clear.’ I hope that Gerard shares my sunny outlook. As he hasn’t emailed I assume either his cool hasn’t melted, or some disaster that makes my endless hours in Gatwick pale into insignificance has befallen him. maybe the is a place in the sun for Egypt as well.

***

One of the reasons I thought Gerard would make a great travelling companion was his self reliance. we’ve crossed Tahir square a few times en rout to the Egyptian Museum and the Nile a few times, and seem to have hit it when its been calm. Certainly it hasn’t been stormy enough to dislodge the touts. After staggering out of the Egyptian museum thinking 3000 wasn’t that old after looking at things from the dawn of history, it was refreshing to stand at the center of contemporary events. The are some fantastic murals commemorating the martyrs of the revolution. I couldn’t help wondering how meany miles of wall will be needed to remember Syrias dead as I looked at them.

While we’ve been sight seeing Llwyelen has decided to delay his demise. Barring disasters, and I’m not sure my luck has recovered enough for it to be safe to bar disasters, he’ll join us tomorrow evening.

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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
said.

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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