Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Syria - at last!!!!

So the plan had been to blog about Damascus for the entire month I was in Syria. Now that I have been here for over a week it is clear that this plan has gone in the way of all my other best blogging intentions – down the Great Brown Tube. Still, in my defence, it isn’t the only thing to have gone the way of the GBT so perhaps a little leeway is in order.

I’m not even going to bother to give a blow by blow of the last week, perhaps just a few of the highlights ( or lowlights) to bring myself ( and my one reader – I know who you are!!) up-to-date.

Arrived in Syria last week loaded up with duty-free perfume to combat stinkiness - ready to live La Vida Arabia. Took me a few days to find a room to move into largely due to my trusty contact going to the beach/ to bed/ out instead of meeting me as arranged. It actually made me laugh. I wonder what it is exactly about Syria and Italy that I love so much. Probably not their respect for the appointment. Anyway I finally found a great room off a courtyard in an old Damascene house not far from Bab Tooma. I have the bottom floor to myself not counting the rabid, hungry tortoise (‘Bitey’)who has taken a shine to my red toenail polish. She lurks amongst the courtyard greenery waiting to ambush my toes and makes this gorgeous shrilling sound like a lost baby dinosaur when she wants attention. There is also a deek (rooster) living above me who likes to crow through the hours. I have decided not to bond too closely with him as he is off to the market this Friday.

The family living above me is very friendly and crazy in that uniquely Syrian way I have come to love. Susan is in charge. She speaks quite good English and likes to eat from dusk until dawn. As she said to me over a mouthful of biscuits “when you go to grave you can only take the stomach.” Her husband Mahjoun looks like Saddam Hussein (the reason why Susan fell for him in the first place). He is husband number three. He currently has no elbow after falling off the roof of his house and is waiting for an operation. All he does is smile and then wince; smile and then wince. There are five children – 2 boys and three girls. The youngest Ahmed likes to spend his days running to the mosque to read the Qur’an. Apparently the sheik gives him a sweet every time he reads a little bit more. Mahmoud the older son is fourteen and desperate to marry a European girl preferably one with a big bottom. The three daughters Ayah, Doha and Jemaan are very beustiul and sassy. Ayah is 15 and thinks Syrian men are very very bad because they just look at women’s bodies. She thinks European men are much better (must remember to burst that bubble pronto.) Today I spent most of my time in the courtyard with them and a visiting neighbour, a very old man with a penchant for beer. I taught him what a shandy was and he has been happily guzzling this ‘revelation’ ever since. He says that the shandy has ruined his heart forever for he will love beer even more now. I think because I am western he assumed I would drink beer and used me as an excuse to crack open the tins. Given I am currently on a potato and water diet I think I was a disappointing sidekick. Still he has promised to return with more tins and 7-Up (sob – I don’t even like beer.)

I actually moved into my room a week ago but am only finding my way about now thanks largely to the great bacterial beast who decided to visit me last Wednesday and then forced me to stay at Shifa hospital, Damascus, instead of my new home. I have never passed out on a bathroom floor before but when I woke up to find my head wedged beside the toilet and a vague idea that I must be somewhere in the world but no clue as to where exactly, I knew it was time to go (to the hospital that is although if you’d asked me at the time I might have thought the hereafter as well.) The hospital staff were great. They attacked me with all sorts of needles simultaneously which was actually a little terrifying (particularly when one of my veins wouldn’t work and they had to dig about for another) but then once I was tested and hooked up to fluids and drugs I could see how their terrifying tri-pronged assault had actually distracted me from the excruciating stomach pains for at least a solid ten minutes. My first nurse was a Palestinian called Mohammed. He was responsible for me in the ICU and had to spend a lot of him time shooing away the onlookers, which tended to be anyone passing by. My doctor, Dr Bishar, was brilliant and could teach other doctors a thing or two about combining the fine art of professionalism with bedside manners. He was so clear and compassionate and honest and it was very exciting when he mentioned my heart was a little tachycardic because I felt all my diligent study of Grey’s Anatomy and ER had finally found some meaning. He told me it was a bacterial infection and that as revolting as it was at the time I would survive. When I was stable I was sent down to the normal part of the hospital where I was given my own room with a lovely big window overlooking the city and out to the desert hills – apparently – I wasn’t in the mood for appreciation at that time. There was a full length sofa in the room which D was allowed to sleep on (D and I happened to overlap our visits in Syria just long enough for me to throw! He has now made a very thankful escape.)In the evening nurses came in and made up his bed and gave him a hummus ladened dinner. I passed! The night was long. I had an awful fever for hours and a Charlotte-esque moment ( a la SATC in Mexico) which was quite pleasing. In the middle of the night a patient in an adjacent room died and the corridors were filled with this terrible, broken wailing. It made me sad to listen.

Now I am home again. Chugging down drugs, imagining a day when food is once again friend not foe. Tonight I shall go to the market to find a fine potato and ‘Bitey’ and I will enjoy a quiet mangiare a mia casa.

ps today my family sang me a song about two moons. It goes something along the lines: ' When I step out my door I can see two moons. One in the sky and one in my eye.' The moon in the eye is supposed to be their lover but whether they are also standing rear -naked is probably a matter of interpretation.

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