My life in Syria

My journey to a new land, a new people, and a new me.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Caucasian Vacation Part III: The Real Armenia (Day 1)

Armenia was a suprisingly short flight from Aleppo. We arrived in no time, and were in no way prepared for the spectacle that was the Armenian International Airport in Yerevan. Once you are off the plane you walk down a long hallway out into a customs area, just like every other airport. What wasn't like every other airport were the girls in old Russian uniforms and miniskirts that were the greeters. Both Chris and I started laughing as soon as we saw them. I mean really big cold war dress caps, and really tight miniskirts. Bleached blonde hair, a smile, and a little wave; the were stewerdesses for mother Russia...I mean Armenia. Once you get over the novelty of this pair, there was another pair in the visa booth. And another pair in the checkpoint booths. And another pair in the exit booths. Are there any men in this Army? The men were outside the gates. Lugging luggage on the inside of the airport, and fighting for taxi fares on the outside. Luckily Chris made a friend with the people he was sitting with and they helped us negotiate a decent price to go into town. From the airport the city looked like any other. Not as nice near the airport and nicer towards downtown. We couldn't really tell was like three or four in the morning.

We found the student dorms/hostel place that was listed in our Lonely Planet and rang the bell. There was a guy sleeping in the room right off the door. Chris spotted his feet. We rang again. Finally this old guy got out of bed. I felt bad for waking him...he looked like he needed the sleep. He let us in and shortly a woman scampered down the stairs to see what we wanted. "Did we have a reservation?" she asked. Of course not; that would take planning which is a skill we seem to lack. She made a few phone calls wnd within fifteen minutes a tiny little women hobbled down the street to take us to some apartment for two nights. All in all they were very efficient in finding us a place to stay, and gave us a very good price. Our abode was located just across the street, up about four flights of stairs. We had running water (which I guess can be a problem), hot water (debatable), and the place to ourselves. She even gave us a key. Chris and I talked for a while about our plan of attack for the next day and hit the sack. I took the bed and he took the couch. We were out like a light.

The next morning I don't remember what time we awoke, but it wasn't too early and it wasn't too late. We decided to explore the town. Chris and I have always been big walkers and went off to explore on foot. We rounded about a quarter of downtown when we decided to cut into a park. By then we were looking for an ATM to exchange some money for the next two days. In this park we say the most amusing statue I have ever seen. The two fingers you give some when you tell them to "piss off." Or the European equivalent of "the bird." The statue was of the two fingers from the wrist up, and the other hand was cupping the palm while the two fingers were up. It was odd and it became our hand signal for the next week. Not just the two had to cup the palm also. A sort of cryptic fuck you. People were really amused and befuddled everytime we did this to each other. It's thier damn statue and they don't even know what it means.

After getting some bad sandwiches and coffee we explored further into the center of town. Yerevan is on the build. There were many large buildings being constructed, and many old ones being renovated or destroyed. It had the sense of something coming. Like spring, things were growing. It also had the sense of old eastern block buildings and Russian architecture. For every nice building there were three or four that were straight concrete with random stuff hanging off the balconies. There were plenty of nice cars and new restaurants mixed in with old cars and businesses. We wandered into the Marriot to ask for directions and learned something very important. Actually we learned two things: do the math conversions before you buy the five dollar cappucino, and whenever you need help finding something go to the Mariott. The girl at the service desk in the Marriot was awesome. She explained stuff to us, and gave us directions, called people to find answers for us, and had a great smile to boot. We must have been amusing coming to town with no idea about anything and asking questions that your average Marriot patron wouldn't ask. We should have asked her about the statue.

What we found out that morning set our itenerary for the next two days. How to get to Lake Sevan, where to go that evening to drink, where was the train station and how much to get to Tbilisi. She was probably the most helpful person on our trip. We left to find the train station. It was a bit further than she mentioned. After walking for about an hour we found the station. Classic Russian architecture and empty. We actually caught the one lady the ran the place on her way to the bathroom, so she turned around and in broken English, worked out where we needed to go. Our tickets were pretty cheap. For a sleeper car I think we paid fourteen dollars each...or was that for two. Either way it was a cheap ride to Tbilisi for the next evening. I garuntee a bus ride and a hotel would have cost much more!

Having purchase our tickets we took a microbus back to our hotel and took a little nap before we attempted to go to Lake Sevan. When you mention Lake Sevan to Armenians they get all doe eyed and look off into the distance like they were remembering the best day of their life. I think this is actually the eyes rolling up to the part of the brain that creates fiction. Most Armenians I have met in Syria haven't been there. In fact, most of them haven't been to Armenia. Hence the fun of this trip was to put to test how beatiful Armenia was, based on accounts from people that have never, or rarely, been here.

The bus to Sevan was packed. When it pulled up people ran and pushed thier way on like it was the last bus on Earth. Again we both laughed. Whats the deal with pushing into lines. It's like these people think no other bus will come. Make a system where you buy a ticket with a seat number on it...even the Syrians figured that one out. We got on the next bus running and pushing (when you weigh 100 kilos you can really push your way onto a bus). We got on with a couple of other tourists. East Berliners that were on a short vacation. They had good English so we chatted the whole way to Sevan about Europe, Germany, the Middle East, etc. We arrived in Sevan after about an hour and we were all a bit shocked. It was really beat. Like an American Indian reservation beat. Worse than an African township beat. This place was grim. Grey, dilapidated, and old. Everything that was new was closed down...failed or bankrupted. The hotel the Germans were staying in didn't exist anymore. The guy, who spoke Russian, worked out with a taxi driver to look at a place on the lake he owned and would rent. First of all the lake is really big but there isn't anything there. Maybe there were a few nicer resort areas that were hidden away, but this place was pretty barren. All I could think of was Loch Ness...and I've never seen Loch Ness. I'm betting Nessy would turn her nose up at this place. The taxi guy's shack was laughable. Barely built, loose carpet laying on the floor, old shitty furniture. The German was trying hard not to show his disgust, but his friend was flat out not having anything to do with the place. I remember her saying something about crazy people and get the picture. So they started arguing in Russian and he thanked them over and over again and politely declined. The bright side was we were walking distance from the old churches on the peninsula and could easily get up there from the beach.

Little did we know we arrived mid-mass. The main church is still in use, and there were monks singing inside one of the churches. From the top of the hill the view of the lake just confirmed my Loch feelings, and Chris agreed with me. Not much to look at but open space has beauty all of its own. It was really nice to hear the monks singing from inside the church, and they merrily went down the hill after the services had ended. Oficially Armenia is the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, and subsequently has many old churches scatterd around it's small area. Chris and I had planned of visiting these, and visiting the most famous at Echmiadzin tomorrow - for Easter.

The Germans found a monk that knew a guy that had an extra room in the maintenance house for the monestary. They were happy to have a place to stay that wasn't some scarry Russian's shack, and we were now looking for a way to get home. Apparently buses don't go back to Yerevan from Sevan after a certain time (nobody will tell you when) and we had to take a taxi back into town. This guy drove a taxi that seemed to run off natural gas. He filled up on something at a filling station but it wasn't gasoline. And he would drive and then coast, and then drive and then coast. I guess we just got the pikey driver that didn't want to use any more gas then he had to. Like the arab taxi driver that turn thier lights off so they don't burn out their bulbs. Dumbass.

After what seemed to be a very long time we eventually made it back to town. No what to do. We needed something to eat, and we wanted a nap. I can't remember what we ate, but we did take a nap, and then ventured out to go drinking! The girl at the Marriot reccomended a Jazz club to us that we found earlier and made out way to that evening. It actually had great Jazz, just not any girls to look at. Chris and I were playing this game where we timed how long it took us to find a girl that we would both give an eight out of ten to. A sort of "which country has the cutest girls" game. I can't remember how many tens of hours it took us to agree upon an eight in Yerevan but it was a long time. Armenians have pointy chins, eagle noses, and high rounded cheekbones. All of these things can be very cute if they are well blended and one or the other. Not when they are the predominant feature, and all occur at once. Needless to say it took us a long time to find an eight, and she deffinitely wasn't a pure-blood Armenian. Another small fact that we learned was that most Armenians speak Russian. The older ones mostly speak Russian. The middle aged ones know Russian and speak Armenain. The younger ones speak Armenian and know English. If we wanted to communicate with someone older our best chance was in German, younger in English. Anyone middle-aged we couldn't really talk to. With that said, our drinking was oriented with each other and and younger crowd. By the end of the evening we were drinking god knows what with this crazy bartender and were completely drunk. Almost stumbling drunk. We drank lots of water and tried to eat something...I don't remember much. I do know we felt like hammered shit, and looked like death warmed over. Which sets us up nicely to go repent our sins, on Easter Sunday, at the most famous Armenian church in the world...hungover.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Caucasian Vacation Part II: Armenia (TMBCITW)

With our plans set(sort of), and our tickets purchased, we were off to the airport with one bag apiece, a few hundred dollars, fully charged IPods, and a desire to see the most beatuful country in the world(TMBCITW). Getting to the airport is never really a problem in Aleppo as taxis love to drive out there since they can try to stiff you for more money. Lucky for us we knew the scheme and knew exactly how much to pay. Arrival at the airport was mildly amusing since it was Friday afternoon and everyone was out having a picnic in the median and sides of the road, next to the airport highway. The exciting youth were doing there best to wreck thier motorcycles showing off to one another(and anyone else who would look), as well as run into cars, people, and the random concrete object.

In Aleppo the airport is always fun becuase everytime you go inside, you just never know what will happen. Sometimes you can purchase your exit stamp at a window in the lobby. Sometimes at a window on the other side of the security check. Sometimes you can get it from the guy that is checking your passport. This time it was out in the lobby; we found this out after having gone through all the security checks and then having to walk all the way back out to pay two bucks for a stamp. The window inside had been covered in carboard and taped shut with no sign. The best part about this was that we just walked right back through all of the security checks without being checked. What's up gun or bomb! How easy would that be. We didn't even go back through the screeners. Eh no problem just go right ahead! Needless to say we felt EXTRA safe in the Aleppo airport. We arrived with about an hour and a half to spare and had to convince the lazy slacker behind the counter that we actaully DID want to check our bags, and that meant that he actually DID have to type on his little computer. AFter checknig in, and getting our bags checked, we took our carry-ons up stairs to the duty-free. On previous travels I had learned that a friend of ours from last year was currently working in this particular shop, and I wanted to go see if he was working so Chris could say hi. I also wanted to buy some crappy Ipod earbuds were buzzing and I wanted something that wasn't the size of an Air Traffic Controller's headset for my week long travels. After finding Salaam, and getting some headphones, Chris and I settled in for a short wait until our flight began boarding. So we thought.

When we walked upstairs we noticed on one of the screens that our flight would be boarding soon, and when we went back to check, the sign said our flight was boarding. The only thing was, the giant line of old russian looking ladies sitting and waiting told us that the plane wasn't boarding yet. We asked at the boarding checkpoint and they told us upstairs. Ok, so we went upstairs and looked for a gate. I didn't remember a gate upstairs but maybe they were adding on. Nope. There is no gate upstairs...they were telling us to wait upstairs. After pacing around for a while, and not seeing any planes on the tarmac, we decided the plane we were catching a ride on hadn't arrived yet. So there we were, in the airport, at the beginning of "three hour tour." We checked many times snd still nothing had changed. I asked inside the duty free (for aspirin first!) and they said the plane hadn't arrived yet, and the airline was buying everyone a beverage. Well hot damn a beverage! My time is deffinitely worth less than a two cent coffee! After sipping our "expresso" I overheard one of the employees say something in Arabic about something was coming after ten. Chris and I assumed that meant the plane and groaned in synchronicity. "Welcome in Syria!" Now we were scrambling for some entertainment.

Usually I travel with many things, and a deck of cards is one of them. For some reason I left my cards at home when we were packing and had to go back into the duty-free for some cards. The only cards they had were some Heineken cards that came in a promotional pack of three cans of beer(who drinks three beers), or with a cheap bottle of whisky. The beers were the cheapest option (we could drink them later), and they also came with a pen, a notepad, and DICE! After playing a few games of cards I started explaining how to play craps to Chris(thanks Dave). Shortly we were rollin' the bones against a wall in the airport betting with our new cards that we had split for placing bets. Gambling in Syria is illegal, but playing for cards isn't! After a short while we gathered a crowd of seedy looking russian guys around us. All extremely curious about what we were playing, and wanting in on the action. I think they understood the idea that we were playing a dice game, and it was a betting game, but after that the concept was lost. We let them throw and chatted with them a bit, but then they started pulling money out and started betting in Armenian on each others roll. We had to explain to a young guy that had pretty good English that it was illegal and he should tell them. He was from Aleppo and knew already, and quickly told them to hide their money or they will get in trouble. They just took our cards and spread them over the pile of cash. By this time we were just amused by the scene and sat watching. Eventually they won/lost and went away. Back to throwing for cards. The young guy came back over to us and told us that these were bad men, criminals, and we should stay away. How fitting, the first people we meet on our way to a failed Russian state were considered criminals by thier own kind. SWEET!

Eventually we saw the old ladies start to rile and shift, signalling the arrival of the airplane. This was about ten-thirty in the evening. So after many hands of cards, many games of craps, music, Sudoku, reading books, and chatting to people, our plane finally arrived. Getting on the plane was a different story. When I first arrived in Syria I was amazed at how unorganized everything was. Nobody knew how to line up, stay within lines, or had any idea of taking turns. Everything was, for a lack of a better word, a clusterfuck. This how arabs are...Armenians are worse. I saw people climbing over each other to get in line, cutting, pushing; it was mayhem. Everyone was running like it was the last roll of toilet paper on Mother Russia's shelf. We just waited back and let everyone push ahead. We had been waiting all that time...what was a few more minutes.

Once we were on the plane it was more of the same. I actually felt really bad for the flight attendants. They were screaming at the passengers like you would an unruly class of children. Saying things like "we can't take off unless you all sit down!" I was half expecting the captian to shout over the intercomm "do you want me to pull this plane over?!" People were stealing each others seats, yelling at each other over luggage. At one point a steward just looked at me sitting there calmly, and shook his head. I couldn't help but start to laugh. I apologized to him and told him that I sympathized. He was oviously flustered, and for an Arab to be flustered with a crowd of people really says something. When all the "children" were put into the correct seats, and all the "crying" had stopped, we were ready for takeoff. What a mess, but I now know a group of people worse than Arabs at lining-up...Russians!

Chris was sitting ahead of me on the flight. Our ticket agent didn't book us together, so we just listed to music and worked on the same Sudoku puzzles. Racing each other in seperate seats as we flew through the night sky. Our competition was interrupted by an evening meal. We didn't expect that...and it was actually good(who would expect that)! After my meal I finished my puzzle ahead of Chris and promptly got up to rub his nose in it (he always beats me in chess). Then we started our desent. After all that time waiting, our flight was only just over an hour. The wierd thing was that even though Armenia is not located much further East than Syria, it was two hours ahead on the clock. Just one of the many ways, we were soon to find out, why Armenia was "special."

Tune in next time to find out why a statue of two fingers explains a mother's sorrow for her lost children...

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Caucasian Vacation Part I: Leaving for Armenia

I never in my life thought I would attempt a liesurely road trip through the Southern Caucus states, and yet Chris and I made a bum rush through three countries in seven days. Unfortunately we were unable to fit Azerbajian into our limited time table, but tune in next year for our trip of "The Five Russian Stans."

We started out originally planning to travel by bus into Turkey, through Eastern Turkey to Lake Van, up into Norhteastern Turkey, and then across the border into Georgia. We were then either giong to take the bus or the night train to Tbilisi from Batumi, depending on the cost of travel and how much time we had left on the clock. From Tbilisi we deffinitely planned to travel to Yerevan on the night train, view local Armenia by bus, and fly home by plane. Ambitious I know, but deffinitely do-able.

First I must say that what Chris and I lost in forward planning, we made up for in zeal. We had both done limited reasearch on visas and travel to each of our destinations. Knowing that it was a possibility to travel with very little planning, we basically left our critical planning for when Chris arrived in country(Syria), from where we could arrange flight and visa detail. The first problem we ran into was the Armenian Visa. You can apply for a transit visa for cheap, but they would need your passport for a week. Not possible. They can expedite the service for a wad of cash, but one of the reasons for this trip was that it was affordable. So were not paying for chochky service. You can cross the border into Yerevan with no trouble, but the visa is turning out to be sticky (pricey) business.
We then looked into flying into Yerevan instead of leaving from Yerevan. To be honest the reason we didn't want to fly into Yerevan in the first place is becuase we knew we would get lazy and enjoy the "Western" culture after being in Syria, and end up just hanging out and drinking for a week. But now we didn't have a choice. As it turned out, we could fly in and get a three-day transit visa at the airport for just twenty bucks. The problem was that we had to leave the evening of the day after we wanted to begin. So we can get a cheap visa, get into the country, but we lose at least a day. Better than nothing!

Materials: we had a Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East, the first ever printed Lonely Planet guide to the Caucasus(this is the worst travel book I have ever seen - rare for Lonely Planet), and no phrasebooks of Turkish (Chris can say a few words), Kurdish (I can say please and thank you), Georgian, Armenian (I know random numbers and yes/no), and Russian. Obviously I have watched "Red Dawn" a million times and feel I know Russian extremely well. Chris has decent French, I have passable German, and between the two of us we can get by in Arabic.

Budget: Not including the airline ticket, we wanted to spend no more than thirty dollars a day - gifts not included.

Reason: Living in Syria you have no shortage of Armenians telling you Armenia is the most beautiful country on the face of the Earth. To hear them tell this conjures up images of angels on high over giant rolling fields of happy frolicking people. We decided to put this illusion to the test and see Armenia in all of it's failed communist glory. Unfortunately my Spring Break is only one week long so we had a decision to make. We could either tour just Armenia and come home, or take a peak at Armenia, and also take a peak at Georgia and Eastern Turkey. We decided it would be better to turn the trip into a "Caucasian Roadtrip," rather than just visiting Mother Armenia.

Final Plan: We now have seven days to visit Yerevan, Sevan, Georgia, Batumi, Erzerum(maybe), Dogubyzit(maybe), Van, Lake Van, and Diyarbakir, before we return to Syria, on only thirty dollars a day minus airfare.

Ready, set, go!

We went to the airlines and reserved the tickets, went to the money changer and got the official reciept for changing money for the tickets, bought the tickets, hashed out a schedule of where we wanted to be on what days, looked up some cheap hotels/hostels, and got our visa and money out, stuff packed, and got our minds ready to go. Actually, then we went to a friends house...and then a bar.

This was Thursday evening after school...we left for the airport in twenty hours.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Philosophy of My Mouth

Laying in the "chair" at your local dentist's office doesn't bring up exciting memories for most people. At best you'll remember the beautiful Dental Assistant that brushed her breasts up against you as she scraped away on your teeth. I imagine if you are one of those people who has been blessed with good teeth you may even enjoy going to the dentist for a cleaning or some trite conversation about dental hygenics. I, on the other hand, am not blessed with good teeth. When I say good teeth I really mean strong teeth.

I had the untimely misfortune to be born in the American southwest at a time when there was an overabundant amount of floride in the water. The long lasting effects of this imbalance left my adult teeth (buckteeth to make matters worse) stained a random hue of light to dark yellow in spots. The buckteeth could be fixed and eventually were. The yellow wasn't bleached out until I was in high school and new technology made "bleaching" teeth affordable. While the yellow was gone the mark remained.

I distinctively have two memories of Sarah Lewis. The first is her vehemenently telling Brandy Morowski to say "No" when I asked her out at Skate Castle in the Sixth Grade. The second is her asking me why I never brushed my teeth. Ouch. I brush my teeth twice a day! Nothing hurts a kids ego more than a mean girl. I never did like her.

With trauma aside, I have never really been good with my teeth. I brushed mostly because our mother made us, but I can't say I ever really enjoyed brushing my teeth. Spanish inquisitors should have used braces to get information from the Gnostics. "The Iron Maiden is for sissies...put some braces on those heretics." I took care of my braces but I didn't accessorize them. I brushed and flossed and scrubbed in between them with that little crooked brush. I had plenty of bloody gums from them, and once was speared in the side of the mouth by a wire that broke loose. Some people put little colored bands around them. I didn't care.

Before braces I had a Frankel. I have no idea how to spell the name of the genius that made this thing, but it was big, it was pink, and I couldn't talk with it in my mouth. What a horrible thing to do to a Sixth Grader. I think I dug that thing out of the trash at school at least once a week. There it sat on my lunch tray all wrapped in tissue because no one wanted to look at it. I didn't want to look at it either, but my parents paid some masochist to make it for me. It was only a step up from headgear on the freak scale. I was really afraid of having headgear. What kind of social life could you ever dream of having if you wore head gear to school. I present my case: the only girl in our Elementary School who had head gear was a band geek in High School and aspired to be a librarian. Now that I am older I wished I played any instrument better and I love the library, but when I was young that stigma was a flaming pit of hell.

I had my fair share of cavities. I went from not brushing all the time and getting no cavities, to brushing all of the time and getting two. There was no right or wrong; no matter what I did I may have cavities and I couldn't really do anything about it. I have bad teeth.

Now imagine you are like me, maybe you even had a Frankel, and you have bad teeth. The last time I went to the dentist was when I was in Bootcamp. I had one cavity. Suprisingly they gave me novacaine - I was half expecting a guy to rip it out with a K-bar and then someone would run in and brand a tooth on my arm. Hoorah. It was on the up and up. But in my country if you don't have dental insurance, going to the dentist for a cleaning isn't cheap, let alone going in for a cavity if you know you are probably going to have one. Let's skip to the chase. Bootcamp was a while ago and I need a cleaning to say the least.

What brought me into the dentist a month or so ago was a broken tooth. I think it was decaying from the side. A gray, pulpy mess of decay that had weakened my already sub-par tooth. I actually got to see the inside of my tooth last time I was in the "chair." It was awesome; all beat and decayed. It's broken edges shot out like a Swiss Alp. COOOOL! So after the drilling took place I got to see the cleaned up version of my dental peak. Actually it looked like Mt. St. Helens when the dentist got done removing all the crud. So I had a Cinder Cone Volcano in my mouth. Good to know.

Today I had my volcano reclaimed. I nice mouth full of Amalgamum or whatever it is that they put in the hole. I kept wondering how they put this metal stuff in soft, and it harden quickly to last for years. It's the opposite of "melt in your mouth but not in your hands." I guess it's a chemical, but the scientist in me is always curious about these things. As I lay there staring at the cieling pondering such pearls of wisdom, I had a moment. I was looking beyond those working over me at that spot in the ceiling. You know that spot where every dentist hangs the picture of a kitten frolicking, or Garfield saying "hang in there." I found myself remembering every one of those horrible posters every time I had a filling. I remembered the creaking noise the filling material made as it was smeared into my tooth. The scraping noises, the suction hose. I had a lot of dental memories that have been stagnant for quite some time. And then I thought about something else. My dentist speaks English well and his associate speak ok. When they speak to me of course they speak in English. But as I was being worked on I was witness to a strange scene. Lights, creaking, spit and metal. Two people standing over me talking to each other in a foreign language that I only understood randomly. I started to think "what would it be like to be laying on a doctor's bed on some foreign battlefield, while someone you don't know and can't understand does his or her best to patch you up." At that point you're helpless or else you wouldn't be there. You just watch and listen while your fate may rest in the hands of a total stranger.

At that point I realized we put our faith in each other ever day. I know my tooth is no big deal, but having that experience just reminded me of how much we need each other. Everyone. Nobody can do it all alone. I can do a lot of stuff, but I couldn't operate on myself. For instance I can't teach myself Arabic. I can do some of the work, but someone else must fill in the blanks. I suppose on a grand scale we need each other to "fill in the blanks." Being in a foreign country and surrounded by different cultures and opinions, it's kind of nice knowing that somewhere here I am filling in. Like Syria has some sort of cavity and I am the wonder-metal. I'm not saving anyone's life right now, but who knows what will happen from all that I have done! Fillings of the world unite!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Now opening for nobody...

I went out with a few friends the other night to one of the activities the French counsel sponsors for a week every year. It was a "blues" concert performed by some southern French band named Blues & Trouble; namely how you felt after hearing them play. In all fairness the percussionist that played random odd sounds and created moods was really good. The pianist was also a horn player and was excellent. The guitarist was technically sound as well as bassist, and the drummer had more of a Ringo role. The singer. Well she sort of had the air of an old French madam who was immitating Liza Monelli, who in turn was imitating Celia Cruz. It was heartfelt but not very good. They could maybe open at the Davenport Ramada, but when you are starved for ANY activity, the performance was an oasis in the desert.

I met a really cool guy from Aleppo who did his studies at U of M. At first I thought he was Danish or something. He carried himself different from other Syrians, and he was amazingly well spoken. I came to find out that he grew up here, taught himself most of his English, went to the states for his masters, and came back. The whole coming back thing really amazes me every time I hear it - I'm sure hey was sent back not by choice, but I intend to find out. It's not like Syrians are all that welcome in the states, and if they are, it is for a period of schooling and no more.

In other news, there is an official KFC in Damascus now. They have been working on getting it opened and sanctioned for a while, and a few months back they finally made whatever deals they needed to make for it to open. Even being in the axis of evil we can still get Kentucky's finest chicken! I thought the US wasn't doing business with know, sanctions and all. Kind of like the way Cheney wasn't involved in oil deals with Iraq, through the nineties, with Haliburton. I guess an off-shore P.O. box is still a viable option these days as it was back then. Finger lickin' good all the way to the bank. Hipocrites the whole lot of 'em. I can count my weapons of mass destruction over a bucket of extra crispy thighs. Now THAT'S progress!

Did everyone see the Syrian woman who went head to head with some Islamic cleric about how Islam is responsible for the backwardness of the Middle East? Thanks for sending that website to me Erin! I thought for sure she would be dead by now, but as it turns out she lives in the states and everyone supports her. God, if she lived here she would be shot. Maybe not here in Syria. Here she would have a car accident. In Iraq she'd be given the choppy-chop. In Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and many of the Gulf states she'd be hung...maybe shot, maybe even stoned old-school style. But she lives in the states so she gets a parade...or at least I hope she did; that woman has balls! I haven't heard much about it in the news here. The people here probably deny she is Syrian. Denial is the order of the day for most things. It's like like the whole society can somehow socially repress bad memories. What lady? She will come back around in a few months like that cartoon of Mohammad did. Nobody notices now, and then someone will stir the whole thing up into a frenzy. I don't see any Syrians fire bombing their own embassies. What's up with that?

I guess you choose your battles. If the society can repress their collective heartbreak, then they can also displace their anger onto something else like a consular office. Ahhh simple social psych in action. In a follow up to the whole banning Danish products fiasco. We took a trip to a chocolate factory where wafer bars are made. It was a prominant brand for the region, and the greatest thing about the whole trip was that they got there butter and sugar from Danish sources. I can just see someone chucking a molotov cocktail all-the-while eating a primarily danish confection. I take joy in the little things.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The grass IS greener!

I must say every time I travel to Beirut I confirm my belief that it is a very open and progressive city, for the Middle East, that has a lot going on. Every place has it's problems but this place can be physically and culturally entertaining while it is governmentally problematic. One of my gripes about Aleppo is "there is nothing to do!" I terminally feel like I am twelve wanting to live in New York City, yet I am stuck in Loveland with no way to go anywhere else. That is the difference between Aleppo and Beirut. I will concede what most of the westerners that I have met in Beirut have said. Yes Aleppo has nice history, architecture, and food. It's people are friendly and it has a slower pace that makes it feel more homey. In my world reality kicks in after you have been here longer than a week. It's history is history, you will probably know more of it than many people here. It's architecture is nice in the old city but nothing compared to Beirut, and the food is good but all the same. You can eat Armenian food here, but I can find Armenian restaurants there as well. There are Armenian clubs here but you can only get in if you are Armenian. Armenians are just as welcoming as Arabs if they think you are Christian...and lose interest if you aren't. The people treat most foreigners warmly, but hold class and status pretty firm when it comes to one another. And finally, the pace is slow becuase nothing works, not because people enjoy life any more. If anything people here are lazy because there is no incentive to work.

It's funny when people romanticize about places you wouldn't think twice about, but what are they really idealizing. I guess they are looking at what they don't have, and nicely assigning it a positive value. What someone see's as a livable pace I see as lazy cause I have been caught in that "livable pace" trying to get something done to no avail. I can't really say Beirut is "better" than Haleb because one man's trash is another man's treasure as they say. I have met people that hate Beirut. I have met people that would choose to live in a wig-wam over a nice apartment. I guess we all have different values of good and right. I find myself continually forcing myself to not judge or place value on things. I end up with caveats in conversations like "for me" and "in my opinion." I guess the more you banter on about how much something sucks you will eventually run into someone who feels devalued and a little bent 'cause you just ultimately labled them.

I have learned more about how much tolerance I DON'T have being here than anything else. I study history and discuss politics, religion and current events with a very static approach. Of course I have my opinions and someone else has theirs, but I have been placing my values on other peoples realities. I owe the world an apology for being an ass.

Today I will re-assert my heart felt attempt at understanding the world as it is and not as I want it to be. I definitely have ideas about what would make the world great, but none of them include whining and belittling places and cultures. I do try but I have a long way to go.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The little ones are the fiercest...

Today I witnessed one of the funniest things I have ever seen. The public school near our house just let out and the kids were making their usual commotion. I went out to the balcony to take in the sight and saw an older boy (maybe 8th grade) yelling at some younger boys (maybe 4th graders). I don't know what he said, or what had transpired before, but the little ones didn't care for it very much. They promplty took off their belts and collectively starting whooping this kids ASS! He was yelling and screaming at them, he got a few punches in too, but there were too many of them. They whooped the shit out of that kid, and eventually he had to flee. I have never in my life seen little kids gang up on one big one. All bullies in Syria take note; there is a mob of bad-ass fourth graders out there that you don't want to mess with!