Walking back from another part of Damascus this afternoon, I paused to ask a couple of men curbside which road to take to Bab Touma (Thomas Gate). “It’s far from here, you’re better off getting the bus,” they said. The bus is dirt cheap, about 25 Lira. “Ertahi, sit and relax,” one said, gesturing to a chair by the way. “Biddek, meyye?” he asked if I wanted water. The other appeared with a banana. Not yet having eaten today, I was grateful for it.
We chatted. The first man mentioned there was a mortar a street away from Baghdadi street here, earlier today. Two, actually, he said. He was in Jaramana yesterday and a mortar fell 100 metres from him, hitting a building, he said [Sana news reports: “Five civilians, including two children, were injured as a mortar shell was fired by terrorists on al-Akaybeh neighborhood near al-Amara area in Damascus…a mortar shell landed on a garage in the neighborhood, wounding five civilians, including two 4 and 5 years children…“]. Looking at a map, I see Jaramana is just over 1 km from Mleha, from where “rebels” are known to launch mortars. Similarly, Jobar, another mortar launching area east of Damascus, is just over a kilometre from Bab Shraqi (East Gate) and Bab Touma.
Another mortar blast not far from Bab Shraqi this morning. Everywhere I go in Damascus, the mortar attacks are a part of casual conversation. In the cafe I sit in now, a couple is discussing the mortars, the murdering of civilians, children.
The younger man, Kamal, saw my Palestine necklace and said, “ana Falastini,” I’m Palestinian. He’s not been there, nor his father, who Kamal said was still in his mother’s womb when she was expelled in ’48.
He pointed to the cart behind him, stacked with crepes and tubes of toppings…and, in typical hospitality here and in Palestine, insisted on making me one. Tahini, sesame seeds, date syrup.
Back in the old city, I took the small lanes, catching more glimpses of life. Small barber shops, the narrow wooden or metal doors of homes open, revealing broad, tiled courtyards with greenery dangling from walls.
I’ve been largely confined to Damascus for the past week, waiting to extend my short visa which I was able to do today. Hopefully in the coming days I’ll be able to visit other areas and get back to taking testimonies of average Syrians outside of Damascus, who have stories to tell, many of which are sordid but need to be told.