An Occidental Syria
The combination of studying Arabic at the University of Damascus, and living in Bab Touma, means that one is exposed to a lot of Westerners here in Damascus. The shops sell items catered to Western tastes, and speaking Arabic requires an effort when the shop-keepers English is vastly better than the foreigners’ Arabic.
In my class every continent was represented: from Sweden to South Korea, Canada to Colombia, Senegal to Australia via Russia. We were a very odd bunch. I spent four hours a day in a classroom with these people, as well as more time socially with some.
Outside of university, I have also got to know quite a few Syrians, as well as people from Iraq & some Palestinians.
I have been to parties resembling those of European Erasmus soirées, with beer & spirits flowing, couples hooking up in the corner, and La Bamba played on a guitar.
At the other end of the scale, parties held in small apartments in the Palestinian Yarmouk “Camp”, where alcohol still presides (but in the form of arak), where the table contains tabouleh, houmous & pickles, and where the guitar is playing oud rhythms accompanied in Arabic.
Even the mix of Arabs within the country is great. As well as the predominant Muslims, Damascus has a large Christian community, Iranian Shi’ites flock here to visit holy shrines, there are around 1.3 million Iraqi refugees and half a million Palestinians.
“Ahlan we shaman” — welcome — is the most common word on the street.