This afternoon, having been walking through crowded streets on an notably warmer day, I took a breather in the shade, against the wall of the old city, between Bab Touma (Thomas Gate) and Bab Sharqi (East Gate). The grassy patch is small there, but better than nothing. Ten meters away, the sidewalk, then the busy road encircling the old city.
To the east lies Jobar, somewhere just under a kilometer away, from where “rebels” have been firing mortars in all directions, including into the old city of Damascus and other areas. But I wasn’t expecting gunfire from there to here.
Shortly after 3 pm, as I sat along that wall, a dog near a tree to my right, couple and groups of friends ten meters or so away (closer to Bab Sharqi), bullets whizzed past me, half a meter to my right, to my left, and nearby. Everyone in the vicinity jumped up and ran, most looking panicked. We ran for about 50 meters, to a point which was apparently out of their range…since everyone stopped there. One woman, hyperventilating and unable to stand, took a good ten minutes to calm down, repeatedly making the sign of the cross as she wheezed. We brought her water, and eventually she calmed down enough to walk off.
Accustomed to bullets flying past me from Gaza days, being shot at while with farmers (who are daily targeted, lethally so, by the Israeli army), I was nonetheless surprised by these bullets, in an area I feel more or less secure in, mortars aside.
Later, as I stopped to buy my first meal of the day, I chatted with a man selling spinach patties, mentioning that I was surprised the bullets reached the point where I’d been sitting. “They reach as far as here,” he said, from his hole-in-the-wall bakery another 200 metres from where I’d been sitting.
This is life in Damascus, where people are trying to get on with life, go to university, celebrate occasions, work, be normal humans, and where the “revolution” is bringing them mortars and gunfire, where almost everyone I’ve spoken with (male and female), including the young woman next to me on the bus this morning remark “we used to be on the streets even at 4 am, 5 am, never felt any danger. Now, no way. People are afraid, they are afraid to wear their gold, they are afraid of one another.”
Sounds of ambulances for the past hour, every now and then a new chorus? Related to Jobar, not sure. A hotel waiter leans in my window and confirms my thoughts. “Today there’ve been a lot of mortars from Jobar.”
This morning, talking the young woman on the bus (from Jaramana, an area which is also doused with mortars) as we took the tedious one hour bus ride to a transit point for me, her universities studies for her, we discussed life here. She interjected frequently with non-political points about how she likes to speak English, how I was the first English-speaker she’d met, and lamentations here and there for the Syria of four years past.
During bouts of pensive (or bored) silence, I watched the others on the bus, noting the niceties that exist here, and in Palestine, and elsewhere, of course: people get off through the back door, seats clear up, a young man taps an older man on the shoulder and gestures toward the seat; the older man taps an older woman, and gestures toward the seat; warm greetings to familiar faces “ahlan ahlan ahlan” (welcome x 3), along with light pats on arms, shoulders, broad smiles…
We reach al-Midan. “This was such a beautiful place, many tourists came here,” she says. I was, myself, there last week, with a friend who was determined to keep me from writing and instead show me the area famous for its many sweet shops and markets. “People are afraid to come here now, because its so close to Yarmouk.” Why, I asked, would that matter? “Midan is safe, but people think that the “terrorists” in Yarmouk will fire mortars here. I used to go to Yarmouk all the time, but now, no way.”