Thursday, 6 August 2009

'Ana Fattoush' - I am Fattoush

So I yesterday afternoon I went up to the fam to give them a box of dates I was given in Palmyra because I can’t fit them in my backpack and they asked me to eat lunch with them. I explained that I had just eaten and they asked what so I reeled off the usual suspects: fattoush, tabbouleh, hoummous, labneh etc and I said ‘oo-hib-boo fattoush’ (which means ‘I like fattoush’.) Mahroun (aka S.H.) who had been lying in a stupor on the floor rolled over and said with a big cheesy, moutachey grin ‘ana fattoush’. (‘I am fattoush and you can eat me.’) Racy Bugger. Susan started laughing so much she was like a little bowl of jelly fit to explode. Honestly this family has discussed cystitis, venereal disease, penis size - you name it - with such gusto I doubt there would ever be a need for ‘the talk’ with a child. I’d say it is pretty much covered by age four.
I had a nice day yesterday. I did a bit of shopping in the morning. Saw a very lovely heart pendant (to rival the heart of the ocean to be sure) but I don’t think my budget can accommodate it. Where is my smarmy Billy Zane equivalent when I need him? (I have Titanic on the brain because every child I meet seems to be gripped by the tragic romance of Jack and Rose. I believe that it is all their not-so-secret wish that their own love story befalls a similar fate - the odds of which are, ironically, probably quite high. Romeo and Juliet is also a big hit.) I met a nice American girl from Texas in the same shop as the pendant and we had a mutual bond about Syria. It’s interesting but I find most foreigners I encounter here tend to be very closed off. They wear this expression which says that I-am-currently-amidst-my Middle-East-experience-and-I do-not–wish-to- acknowledge-any-outside-influences (or inside for that matter - the number that glide past the Syrians with barely a smile or a word it is quite staggering.) I, on the other hand, probably smile far too much but I’m just making up for the times in my life when the smiles have flowed less freely.

In the afternoon I sat by the fountain behind the Umayyad Mosque and talked with some of the local shop-keepers. One of them was the Syrian twin of Jeff Goldblum right down to the pinstripe pants. They all spoke very good English but comforted me with the fact that English is very easy for them because they hear and see it from an early age whereas there are still many things of about Arabic they are yet to learn. They gave me a rather concise but lively account of what they referred to as the ‘non-shit history of Islam’ which they lamented was rather short but had some very good points. They said that 70% of what you and see and hear today about Islam is not true Islam but is the result of politics confusing itself with religion. Jeff Goldblum (aka Samir) also told me an amusing story about a trip he had to London where he met a couple of women on a bus. They asked him where he was from and he said ‘Syria’. They drew blank faces so he tried to describe where it was and as soon as he said it was next to Israel they latched on to the idea he was an Israeli and spent the rest of the bus trip telling him how wonderful Jewish people were and did he not agree it was great to be part of such a special race. Samir, himself has no problems with Jewish people from what I could tell, but he felt that by the end of the bus ride he should at least try to clarify his identity and said that he didn’t actually live in Israel but could be regarded as a very nice neighbor. The men also told me how sometimes they go to Europe to buy things to sell back in Damascus and how they once bought some trinkets in Austria for about 50 Euro and ended up selling them back to an Austrian here in Syria for 120 Euro. Really I should have been appalled at such sneakiness but there is something innocent and cheeky about the way they explain it that makes you want to forgive them of everything. Of course they then invited me back to one of their shops and I said ‘what so I can buy something from Austria?’ and they said ‘Oh no you aren’t from Austria. We will sell you something from some place else.’

In the evening Susan asked me to come on a networking excursion with her. She said it would only take an hour. Five and a half hours later we finally made it home after visiting a shoe maker, a light-fitter, a pet shop filled with jars of snakes – fifty maybe sixty to a jar squirming about in the water. Honestly my stomach dropped at the very thought of even one of these jars actually tipping over. There was also a parrot who said ‘salaam alaykum’. We then visited a coffee shop I know and a hotel I stayed in (which my story ‘The Fish of Al-Kawthar’s Fountain’ is inspired by) so she could meet the people I know and ask them to send travellers her way if they need long-term rooms. It is a very strange thing when I start introducing Syrians to each other for the purpose of business – I feel it is another step closer to my assimilation. I even thought about charging an introduction commission in true Syrian spirit.
I finally got home around 10:30 pm and went to Al-Nawfar to smoke nargileh -which made me thoroughly sick. I followed this with falafel and chocolate doughnut and went to bed feeling less than wholesome. Oh I also saw the most wonderful ‘yowl of cats’ lurking below one of the overhanging windows of an old Damascene house. I watched them for a while and then suddenly these huge meteors of meat scraps started hurtling out the window. Clearly they have an understanding with this house.

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