Monday, September 19, 2005

Why a Blog?

Before traveling to Syria, I had great plans for a website: every few days, after writing some clever comments about my most recent experiences, I would take my fancy new USB flash drive to an internet café and upload the writing along with pictures from my fancy new camera – the result would have been a simple but comprehensive letter to all those I've left behind. Last week, however, (my third week here) I had pretty much given up hope: this vision of a website would never come to pass. "Sure," I thought to myself, "I might get some pictures up there eventually, but nothing especially descriptive or elaborate. I'm here in an amazing city, learning language, living life – I don't have time for the internet!"

Things changed last week when I read about continued pressure on Syria from the Bush administration. This was nothing new, really; they've been threatening like this for at least the past few months. Before coming here I had been somewhat unclear about why the US government was behaving so absolutely uncooperatively, as well as frustrated with hearing only this single thing about Syria in the media. Indeed, one of the reasons I wanted to come here (in addition to learning Arabic) was to get past the negative press about Syria's government.

Here and now, however, reading these articles about border crossings and harboring terrorists, I got very angry, and not because I disagree with the government's allegations. I, of course, have no way to really know if they are true or not. I got mad because of this quote from an administration official, saying the plan was to "continue trying to isolate it, as we have been. (NYTimes, September 13 th)." What we are seeing here is a deliberate attempt by the US government to completely dehumanize an entire country, to make no distinction between a government and its people. I am not an expert on why the Bush administration and the complicit US media are doing this, but I do know that it is wrong. The issue is not whether or not Bush's accusations are correct and justified or not; the issue is that nothing else is known about this country and these people in the USA (and I imagine other places as well).

What I have seen so far here in Syria is life: people being people, living their lives: laundry hangs out to dry; kids play soccer in the street outside my apartment; folks wearing trendy clothes go shopping for more trendy clothes; people sell grapes in the marketplace; men walk arm in arm (that's ok here); an acquaintance of mine doesn't give a hoot about politics or any of it – he wants to make money and meet girls. I could go on and on – I am continually amazed by the diversity of experience here, of which I have seen merely a fraction. What seems new and strange to me is the normal routine of so many.

This is why I want to make a blog: to show that yes, my friends, even here in Damascus, Syria, life happens. My sense is that nowhere else is anyone saying this, so I want to try to do it, even in this humble fashion. I aim to be a force of anti-isolation for the Syrian people, in contrast to the US government's policy of isolation. My writing may be about a person I met or a place I visited; it also might just be about my own everyday activities: not a native Syrian's life but nevertheless evidence that life goes on here.

Let me make a few things clear about what I'm not doing: This is not a political blog, though of course I might touch on political issues I encounter. I am not a counter-propaganda machine who only writes about the wonderful things of Syria. Naturally, in a place full of life there is a fair share of bad along with the good. Also, please do not read what is written here and think, "Oh, that's what all Syrians must be like." I saw one foolish journalist who came here for a few days and wrote in his own blog judging the national character based on a few folks he'd met in the marketplace frequented by tourists only. Even if I were to meet 10 people every day here for the rest of my 6 months or so, that would be less than 0.1% of the population of Damascus alone. I aim to show a sample of what is here, not to describe the entire place.

Of you (the reader) I ask this: keep in touch with me and let me know what you think, either through this website or just by emailing me. Also, if there's anything that you're specifically curious about, let me know and I'll see what I can come up with. Wish me luck in being consistent and writing here with some frequency. I hope I'll be able to keep it up, what with my studies and the exploring that is always begging to be done here. If we're lucky, I'll figure out how to get some pictures up as well.



Blogger Ghalia said...

I just want to thank u and wish u luck in ur stay here:)

1:05 PM  
Blogger sunniva said...

I wonder if there is any chance you will read this comment as this blog is 2 years old. But I am student in England and study arabic and music and I'm moving to Damascus this September. I have to do some research in musicology. Would you know of any interesting topic in Damascus?

2:39 PM  
Blogger RCC said...

hi sunniva,
email me at aforeignerinsyria [at]
would love to chat

4:02 AM  
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