Monday, September 26, 2005

night life in Damascus

I live in Salhiyya – a term that describes a large area that creeps up the slope of Jebel Kassioun, northwest of the city center. The region was settled around 1100 by refugees from the crusader massacres in Jerusalem. My neighborhood is called Sheikh Muhiddeen (or Muhi Ad-Deen), named after the mosque of the same name, just 100 meters down the hill from my door. There lived and died the Sheikh himself (d. 1240), a great Sufi mystic.

I like the neighborhood for a lot of reasons – one of the biggest is the night life here. The space between "night" and "life" is purposeful, mind you. I'm not talking about restaurants, discos, or
hip cafes, (I hear that those can be found somewhere down in the center) but quite simply, the life that happens at night. There's a lot of it here, and it doesn't fit into any of my pre-existing

People stay up late – more specifically, families stay up late. I am often walking home, well past 11 o'clock, and a husband, wife, young son, and baby in the baby carriage are casually passing me. Stands and stores stay open late, and I see folks of all ages out shopping when I am headed home for an early bed. Children play in the street at all hours of the day and the night. Directly outside my door is one of the flatter sections of street; therefore a popular location for soccer games. As I write the boys are laughing and shouting as they play; their ball occasionally bangs up against my door. Even the littlest of kids are out in the street all day, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek.

This constant activity is a testament to the safety of the city. My neighborhood is not alone: you can walk anywhere in Damascus without fear of theft or violence. It is comforting, as well as impressive in this city of over 6 million. ("Theft" here comes a little more subtly in the form of overpricing for foreigners – a tolerable annoyance.)

It is always a pleasure to walk the souq at night. People are talking, hawking their wares, sitting, eating, and strolling. A portion of this life I do not see. Nearly every night as I fall asleep music is playing somewhere nearby. Sometimes that means the same-old, same-old pop songs on the radio, other times the music of a wedding party – complete with the stomps of dancing and the
celebratory screams of the women. Here, 5 minutes by microbus from the center of the city, everything else seems fairly distant. Life here is enough: what is the price of tomatoes here compared with at the next stand? Which is the newest, hippest, imitation Puma t-shirt for sale? And perhaps most importantly, who is winning the soccer match outside my door?


Anonymous Andrew Jones said...

I wonder why there's so little crime. A police force that is not to be trifled with? Or something else?

7:26 PM  
Blogger RCC said...

you know, i'm not exactly sure. the establishment here is certainly not one to be trifled with, but there are not huge numbers of police patrolling the streets. there are machine-gun-toting guards at all the embassies and the important gov't buildings, but beyond that, not so much visible presence of force. The government is well known for not tolerating (in a brutal fashion) any political challenge, but I'm not sure how that translates into a lack of things like petty-theft.

10:27 PM  
Blogger upyernoz said...

syria has a large number of secret police. the usual theory for why there is no crime to speak of in syria is because police are everywhere, or at least, they're believed to be everywhere by people on the street. even if there aren't any secret police officers around that belief is enough to deter

at least that's what i attributed it to.

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