Watched in Syria?

First, the rumors are true.

We don’t have Facebook.

It’ll be Ok. Really. Just email me at,  if you’re missing my updates.
Second, the food is delicious. I devoured a big green salad down the street from our hotel. Sharwma we bought at the souk for lunch (just over U.S. $1!) was less greasy than what I found in Egypt. We topped it off with ice cream rolled in pistachios–the production of watching us was a. Watching the men smash the pistachios was equally exciting as eating the ice cream.

And the unknown, i.e. absolutely everthing. Despite saying I had no idea what to expect. I’m surprised. I expected Syria to be another version of Egypt. It’s not.

The air feels fresh and a large part of Damascus lies on a mountain. I haven’t spent much time downtown yet, but it doesn’t seem nearly as crowded as Cairo. And or course, it’s much smaller.

When we visited the largest market in Syria we were not harassed as we were in Egypt’s Khan el Khalili. Some vendors greeted, “Welcome to Syria,” but no one followed us down the street demanding we buy goods or calling us names like spice girls or offering millions of camels. (Camels are traditional wedding dowries in exchange for daughters.)
Similarly, the cab drivers don’t yell and stop automatically–waiving one down is easy, just surprising after Egypt where they lined up for us.

Our guess is it’s because people don’t rely on tourism here, as they do in Misr. (Egypt in Arabic)
Also interesting, Canadian goods and little Canadian flags are everywhere. Wherever we go people’s first guess is that we’re French or Canadian. The cab drivers I’ve told I’m American were friendly and curious to know what I was doing here. Many people speak a little French, less seem to speak English. Though the dialect is different, I’m enjoying using my Arabic more than in Egypt.
On our first night our cab driver, (who took us Town Center Mall (ahh!) instead of downtown, would hardly utter a world to us. Did he not understand Asha and my Arabic? Was he ignoring us? When Nick Mendez pointed out pigeons flying around a man on a roof he jumped to life. “Police,” he said.

In Egypt security forces followed us everywhere. They carried big guns and often demanded space in our vans. When our groups subdivided we were amused as they pondered who to, very visibly, follow.
They never talked to us–would the Egyptian government really assign spies who couldn’t understand us? Despite tell-tale lack of coordination, it’s hard to believe.

In our debrief this evening we pondered where the government’s people are in Syria. Samantha Snuggard said she met an American in the supermarket who told her we should know there are always at least four plain clothes agents on the street who know who we are.
Thanks to Kimberly Jones’s class–Human Rights and in the Middle East, I’ve read about Syria arbitrarily arresting, detaining and torturing citizens.

Unlike Egypt where some openly criticize their, and most (I’ve met) will at least broach the subject, here people will not utter a word beyond national rhetoric. We love Syria we love our country, we want you to too, our tour guide, Osama said to us on the bus from the airport.

In response to a question Denis asked, another of our guides described the situation aptly. “Nothing is allowed here and nothing is forbidden.”


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