New year. New hope.
No poverty. No unemployment. No corruption. No prisons. No injustice. No intervention from outside. No micro-buses. No pollution. No immigration. No loss of national pride.
No occupied land. No besieged people. No killings. No refugees. No uprooting of olive trees. No burning of palm trees. No lies. No brainwashing. No threats from superpowers. No superpowers.
No Arab disputes. No visas. No long lines on borders. No borders. No blind nationalism. No cultural invasion. No English replacing Arabic. No cheap culture. No Haifaa. No Ruby. No immorality. No religious intolerance. No religious fanaticism. No bashing of Islam.
No 2004 again. Have a Happy New Year.
Missing this Christmas:
1. Arabic Christmas carols by the wonderful Fairouz, especially Laylet Eid (Christmas Night- the Arabic version of "Jingle Bells") and Najmet al Eid (Star of Christmas- the Arabic version of "Angels We Have Heard on High"):
Ya sama tetloj ash'aar oo salaam
"Oh the sky is snowing poems and peace!"
2. Walking/driving around the beautifully decorated Al-Qassaa' neighbourhood while people walk to the churches for the midnight mass.
* Picture: Al-Zaitoun (Olive) Church, one of the oldest in Damascus.
Thawra (Revolution) Street is that pollution-stricken street in downtown Damascus, with a ceramic-walled tunnel and dull concrete buildings, the ugliest being a beige 19-storey tower. It is named after the "March Revolution," the coup that brought Baath Party to power in 1963.
Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi (1868-1932), known in the Arab World as the 'Prince of Poets,' wrote:
My homeland, I pity you when comes Eid festivity
And I cry, passionately and remorsefully
I will have no Eid until I see you
A nation that is glorious and morally superior
Palm trees in 'Adnan al-Malki street are decorated with lights as Damascus prepares to celebrate Eid el-Fitr which starts tomorrow.
Christmas-like decorations for Ramadan and Eid are the latest trend in Damascus. The new tradition is spreading rapidly as more people decorate their windows and balconies with strings of light bulbs and colourful illuminating stars and crescents.
In Syria, Arafat was considered a traitor when he signed peace accords with Israel in 1993, but he gained some sympathy after he became an enemy of Israel again and was besieged by the Israelis in his headquarters in Ramallah almost three years ago. However, the fact that Israel and the US wanted to get rid of him, the extent of Palestinian grief, and the TV biographies that reminded us of his previous image as a young guerilla leader who won the hearts of Arabs during the late 1960s and 1970s, all this made most people here watch his funeral in sorrow. I feel sorry he died before seeing an independent Palestine.
No moon sighted tonight. One more day of fasting.
"We have indeed revealed this message in the Night of Power. And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the spirit by God's permission, on every errand: Peace! This until the rise of morn." The Quran (97:1-5)
Damascus mosques are full of worshippers who will spend the whole night praying till the early morning hours. Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, is the holiest night of the holiest month. On Laylat al-Qadr, the Quran was revealed to Mohammad (PBUH). For Muslims, it is a time when the gates of heaven are open and prayers are all answered. Blessed be your night.
* Picture was taken inside the Omayyad Mosque; on the left is the shrine of Prophet Yahia (St. John the Baptist).
I don't think I can find a precise translation of the Arabic word na'iman. It is what you say to someone after he/she had a new haircut, a shower or a bath. I don't actually think that other languages have special expressions to greet people coming out of the barbershop or the bathroom! Anyway... Na'im in Arabic is comfort or bliss, but the expression na'iman probably means something like "may it be a bliss for you". The response (of the one with the new haircut) would be: "Allah yen'am 'alek" - "May God bestow bliss upon you".
Two offers from downtown Damascus:
"Magnifying medical glasses for reading and writing, different measures, original rassors and joints, with a free leather glasses bag and a cleaning tissue. Only for 100 Syrian Pounds."
"Telephone with caller ID, time display, key, and other features, plus a free phone plug: 425 Syrian Pounds."
Latest currency quotes
"While Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, he was knocked off his horse, struck blind by a heavenly light"
Here goes the whole story: Paul, whose original name was Saul, was sent by the Jews of Palestine to hunt for Christians in Damascus and bring them back to prison in Jerusalem. On his way to Damascus, he was struck by that heavenly light which left him blind. He then heard the voice of Jesus asking him why he was going to prosecute his followers. Saul managed to get to Damascus with the help of his companions. After three days, a Damascene believer called Ananias, had a vision in which the Lord told him to go to a house in the Street Called Straight (today's Souk Medhat Pasha) to meet a man called Saul. Ananias went there, laid his hands on Saul and his sight was restored. Saul converted to Christianity and began to preach in the synagogues of Damascus. Jews plotted to kill him, but he was smuggled safely out of Damascus in a basket that was lowered from above the city walls (at the site of today's Bab Kisan). Saul later carried the name Paul and traveled to Europe to spread Christianity there.
The illustration above is displayed in the House of Ananias, which today hosts a small chapel.
... A little girl would return to her home happy, in her hand a plate of Jaradiq, "oh, transperant bread, blown by the wind," delicacies of Ramadan, sprinkled and decorated with threads of molasses so they would taste delicious when crushed between the teeth...
From "Daughter of Damascus" by Siham Teregman
"President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday issued the Law No. 43 for the year 2004 which provides for paying a one-time grant of 50% of the fixed salaries and wages to the public employees and military soldiers and officers working in the state ministries, administrations, institutions, public facilities and companies..." - SANA, November 4
"...Market activity in Ramadan has slowed down compared with previous years due to economic difficulties and rising prices of food and other basic commodities. "In the past two years the market was mostly stagnant during Ramadan, although the prices did not increase a lot and meals for fasters remain quiet affordable," said fruit and vegetable vendor Khaled Safra. He said in the past his sales used to double during Ramadan, but that was no longer the case. Average citizens and limited-income earners complain that prices of food have increased by 15 to 25 percent during Ramadan this year, eating up their purchase power. "Basic food commodities such as fruits and vegetables increased by 15 percent, whereas the prices of eggs and chicken hiked by 20 percent," complained 43-year-old Abu Anwar, a taxi driver (...) "Family expenses double during Ramadan because special care is given to the fast-breaking meals which are more varied and generous than usual, and this adds financial burdens on limited income earners," Abu Anwar added..." - UPI, October 23
An Australian newspaper comments on the reaction to Bush's victory in the Middle East:
"Israel, the Iraqi interim Government and the Arab states aligned with American interests are rejoicing, while nations in the US's crosshairs, such as Iran and Syria, now realise their hopes for a more tractable White House have been dashed. The sharply ideological US view of the region, shaped by the war on terror, will continue for four more years with Mr Bush at the helm."
Reuters quotes a Syrian political analyst, Imad Shueibi, as predicting "four years of nightmare again".
But let's look at the bright side: SANA proudly breaks to us news about electing a Homsi as a governor of a US state! Mitch Daniels, a Republican (i.e Bush guy) of Syrian origin, was nominated as the Governor of Indiana after defeating his democratic competitor by 54% compared to 44% for ex-Governor Joe Kernan. Homsis must be rejoicing too!
Surprisingly, Syrian TV started special live coverage of the American elections, with analyses, discussions, interviews with correspondents and journalists from Syria and the US, and also an elegant news ticker running at the bottom of the screen all the time! For those who do not think this as an improvement in our national screen's news covergae, be reminded that last year, while Baghdad was falling and TV stations all around the world were airing the event, Syrian TV preferred to broadcast a documentary about Islamic Architecture.
Anyway, all Syrians are closely watching the elections today. But most of them either do not care about who will win or want a Kerry victory; and nobody, absolutely nobody, wants Bush to win. It's not only about his notorious image as the one who invaded Iraq and gave unprecedented support to the Butcher of Israel. The general feeling here is that if Bush wins, he will increase pressure on Syria, impose tougher sanctions or even use military force. Of course, Kerry will not necessarily be better, and no one actually expects him to change US policy on issues like Iraq and Palestine. But there can be nobody worse than Bush, Syrian supporters of Kerry simply argue. I agree.
This is a traditional Damascene artwork by the late Abou Soubhi al-Tinawi, showing Antar, "father of all knights," on his horse al-Abjar. Antar is a pre-Islamic Arab hero and poet. His father, Shaddad, was a respected member of 'Abs tribe, but his mother was a slave; so he was also considered a slave by the tribe. Antar fell in love with Abla, his cousin, but because he was a slave, the rest of his tribe would not approve their marriage. When the tribe needed his assistance fending off another tribe in battle, his father Shaddad acknowledged him as his son and granted him freedom. Antar wrote many poems that are considered best of the best in Arabic poetry. Most of them describe battles he fought and his passion for Abla. The two poetic verses at the top of this painting are from a poem considered to be one of the greatest in the history of romantic classical Arab poetry (well, the first verse might sound violent, but look at the second!)
"I remembered you, even when the lances were drinking my blood
And bright swords of Indian make were dripping with it
And I wished to kiss the swords
For verily they shone as bright as the flash of the foretooth of your smiling mouth"
Read full poem in Arabic / English
One of the things I like most about Ramadan is that feeling of "unity" among people. They all fast at the same time and break their fast at the exact same time. During the last minutes before sunset, Damascus streets are usually bustling with cars and traffic jams; and by the time a cannon shot announces iftar, the whole city comes to a complete standstill. It's amazing how calm and peaceful Damascus looks at sunset... try taking a quick peak out of your window during your next iftar!
Kassioun is a 1200-high mount that overlooks Damascus and dominates its skyline. On its slopes are some of Damascus' main residential quarters: Mohajireen, Salhieh and Barzeh. The ridge at its summit is lined with cafes and restaurants that provide a wonderful view of Damascus. Kassioun has always been a source of pride and legends for the people of Damascus. Damascenes believe that it is where Cain slew his brother Abel, and where prophet Mohamad (PBUH) caught his first sight of the beautiful city. Some claim that it was the resting place of Noah's Arc. Another common belief is that the cave mentioned in the Quranic story "Fellows of the Cave" (the same Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers, who escape prosecution of Decius by hiding in a cave; they are sealed in and emerge alive 200 years later) is actually in Mount Kassioun. Some Damascenes believe that Kassioun was where Prophet Yahia (St. John) and later Jesus (PBUH) and his mother sought refuge from the oppression of the Jews. Others say that Abraham (PBUH) was born on the mount's western slopes. Some of these legends are obviously false (especially the one about Jesus and Mary!), but to some proud Damascenes, they are firm believes that cannot be challenged.
Cars crowd the streets around Saad Ibn Muaz Mosque for the Friday noon prayer. People go to mosques more often than usual during the holy month of Ramadan. Every evening, worshippers flock to the mosques to attend Tarawih prayers, which are only held in Ramadan.
Souk al-Hamidiyeh is covered with high iron vaulting, but light still filters through bullet-holes that were made during wedding celebrations, protests and demonstrations. The oldest part of the souk was built in 1780. It was expanded in 1883, and was covered in 1911. It is 600 meters long, 15 meters wide and two-storey high.