We’re sitting in the cafe of the ancient home-hotel I’m staying in, ridiculously affordable. I’m surround by arches, wooden beams, wrought iron decor, vast ceilings and windows, daylight and call-to-prayer and church bells filtering in. Fairouz graces the space, her lilting voice a morning ritual.
If it weren’t for the sordid reality of the various attacks on areas throughout Syria by so-called “rebels”…. pause, another round of mortar attacks just now…it would be paradise. As it is, the people I’ve been meeting the last ten days have been as lovely and gracious as the Palestinians I’ve met over the years in occupied Palestine. And similarly, they are living under a siege… sanctions on the state which are one of the reasons life has gotten so expensive here (other reasons being “rebels” taking over factories, particularly in the north, I’m told, taking over petrol stations, taking over medicine factories…), but in spite of the higher cost of living for these people whose salaries don’t now suffice (despite free education and health care here), they are generous, as the Palestinians under occupation.
I’m talking with Qamar (which means moon) Oudabachi, a Sunni woman who lives in the Mezze area of Damascus but works at the hotel. She is stylish, confident, not oppressed in the least. She speaks a bit of English, but we’re conversing in Arabic. The accent is different than my Gazaowi-accustomed ears can handle, so I have to ask her to repeat, slow down, many times, to make sure that I understand her anecdotes. At one point I jokingly ask her if anyone in the Syrian government has put a gun to her head, to force her to speak as she is speaking, to which she laughs and replies definitely not.
Following are snippets from our discussion.
Everything has gotten expensive here. What we used to buy for 50 lira is now 250 lira… our salaries don’t suffice now (she is not the first to lament this to me). The reason is the sanctions. Lettuce used to cost 10 lira, its now 100 lira. The farmers in areas which are not protected by the government are attacked by the “rebels,” and they don’t have fertilizer, because of the sanctions. Transporting goods is too expensive. the “rebels” have taken over petrol stations…medicines are expensive. Most factories are in Aleppo, and most are either closed or taken over by the “terrorists.” The factories here in Damascus do make medicine, but they have to sell it at a higher cost because of the effect of the sanctions. I have children, I worry about them going to school since the “terrorists” shelled a school last week. Last year, they shelled a school in my area, Mezze, a teacher was killed and students were injured.
One of my relatives lived in Hama. The “rebels” would knock on the doors of homes there and force them to participate in demonstrations against the “regime.” My relative is an old woman, she said “I don’t want to participate. My legs are weak, I’m an old woman” but the “rebels” said she had to join the demonstration. They would threaten her, “we’ll kill your son, your husband.” They fled Hama soon after, to Lebanon.
Our former housekeeper was from Zamalka, near Jobar (one area where the “rebels” are, and from where they fire mortar shells towards Damascus). Just before the “rebels” took over Zamalka, she fled, but her husband and 30 year old son stayed, to protect their home. Two months after fleeing, she saw on the news that the “rebels” had killed her husband and son by cutting their heads off.
My cousin had a car accident, two of his children died. This was on a Friday. One child died immediately, the second the following day. While they were praying in the mosque, “rebels” came and filmed the caskets and produced a video with the title, “Damascus prayer on the field of freedom of the child martyr Abdul Salam Musa” [google translated]. My aunt in Germany saw the video and commented “This is a lie, these kids are my relatives and they died in a car accident.”
Here is the video she referred to. As we sit and watch it, she points out her relatives.