Out of the Old Town (جرمانا)

Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jaramana — a district in south of Damascus — which initially had a population of around 100,000 Christian and Druze Syrians, doubled its population to 200,000 with the influx of Iraqis, largely Iraqi Assyrians.

After a month studying in Damascus, my rent was up with the family with whom I had been living in the Old Town. I heard of an apartment that would be free in Jaramana and so jumped at the chance to take it.

The guy renting it had told me he couldn’t wait to get out; he spent most of his time commuting up to the Old Town or to University, and Jaramana lacked the luxuries he wanted in life.

I couldn’t wait to get in. For me, being in the Old Town for my first month facilitated many things, but I didn’t feel like I was getting a real experience of what life was like here. Every time I left my house, I would bump into people I knew from the University, the shop-keepers all spoke English, and the winding alleys in the Old Town were full of cafés and shops aimed at the tourist market. This was not why I was here.

The first evening I was there, I went out to pick up some food, and the first fruit & vegetable store I entered, I was greeted not with “Hello, Mister”, but “Ahlan, habibi” (roughly, “welcome, my dear”) — things were looking good.

Jaramana’s main street, where the twenty-minute ride on the servees would drop me, consists of hundreds of shops, yet they all fall into perhaps two categories: clothes & shoes, or kebabs & patisseries.

This first night there I heard pounding Arabic dance music, and set-up outside a clothes shop there was a sound-system with a DJ and a huge spot-light sending a column of light into the night sky. A few people were hanging around next to it, with some children dancing. Only a block away, the same scene existed. Tuesday night entertainment was not at the disco, but outside the local butcher.

A few more photos of Jaramana here.