Today was Mini-Ramadan day (before the real thing starts next week.) It has another name which I can neither spell nor pronounce so Mini-R will have to do. On this day people do not eat or drink during the day (the same as Ramadan proper) but this one only lasts one day. Some sort of rehearsal for the real thing, I suppose.
I didn’t know it was Mini-R until the late afternoon when I came up to see the family and found them all lying in various states of death around the living room. Listlessly watching the clock apart from Ahmed (aged ten) who was clutching his belly and looking rather hungrily at his mother’s ample arms. They invited me to come break the fast with them at dusk which was very generous of them.
Earlier in the day I visited an artist whom I had met the night before over a falafel roll near the Mosque. I really liked his art work. It was very beautiful and evocative but there really isn’t any room in my luggage for anything now I am stashed full of tea and pistachio-nougat sweets. I feel disappointed about this because I like to support the arts where I can and I also haven’t bought myself anything very special while I have been. (Apart from a night in Shifa hospital I guess and a very pleasing ‘I love Syria’ key ring.) But then I kind of don’t want to buy myself something just for the sake of it. Last year I bought myself a lantern and mirror that I cherish very much and I feel they are representative of my love for this country as a whole rather than any trip in particular.
I spent the rest of the day visiting my usual haunts – trailing my fingers over the crumbling walls, Moorish wooden doors, jasmine flowers and any rogue chocolate doughnuts that should happen to cross my path.
Dinner tonight with the family was very special. We waited for the Umayyad mosque to signal that the fast had broken and then the whole family dived in like frenzied piranhas. I kept all extremities close by. The dishes were simple but very delicious apart from a scary bread thing that smelt like a butcher’s shop and I tried to hide amongst my hoummus. After a few minutes the children started passing out on the floor because they had eaten too much too quickly but Susan-the-reliable kept the fires burning. I felt very honored to spend this meal with them. There was an air of excitement to the meal, a bit like Christmas, and after dinner there were sweets which were devoured in a manner not unlike Joanna J when she encounters a packet of peppermint slice. Tea was then drunk while Ayah told me how it is better to be a woman under Islam than a man. She listed things such asthe man having to provide a house, food etc all very wholesome until Susan chipped in and explained that if the husband is away too much working the wife can complain that she isn’t getting enough and the Sheik will remonstrate the man for failing her most basic needs. Hmmmm
Then it was time to say goodbye. Yes, I can’t believe my four weeks are up already. I feel I am only just getting started. I think the hospital escapade kind of threw me a bit but I know I will return – it is written in my blood. I had planned to spend my last evening in a maudlin manner wandering the streets but I am glad I spent it with the family instead. We had a really fun time and I feel really touched to have spent such precious time getting to know them and their country better. It isn’t all bad though as tomorrow I touch down in London (huzzah how Londrous) where I shall be meeting up with the pares and driving to The Lake District for a week ( because The Lake District and Damascus should clearly be twinned for their obvious similarities and the fact that they both begin with ‘D’ sort of.)
Oh, I also spoke to my Syrian Pal who is back in the desert now. It was his birthday yesterday - not that I think his current employers did anything of great merit to celebrate his life. I felt sad saying goodbye to him. He has a hard life – like so many people here. But I don’t want to end on a low note given how high I have soared while here.
Syria is a complicated, beautiful country and every day I spend in it helps me to know myself and my world a littler better.
PS – even though I leave tomorrow I am thinking of attaching some photos over the next few weeks just so I get more chances to yabber on about my current destination of choice! I have found Syria most conducive to blogging as you may have noticed.