Friday, October 14, 2005

The Epic Search

This is the story of how I found an apartment here in Damascus. The short version is that I got really, really lucky. The long version is below. It is perhaps too long: there are lots of tangents and I talk about a lot of things that don’t relate at all to finding an apartment. I hope that leaving it this way, as a messy narrative, shows that my experiencing life here is not pre-divided into topics for convenient blog-posting – everything is rather a big, delightful mush.

Before arriving, I didn’t have any clue about where I was going to live when I got here. Basically, I had put my faith in the hands of my teacher Hussein, with whom I had been in email contact. He said that he could manage to find some housing for me. I knew a few things: 1) that I wanted to avoid Bab Touma, the neighborhood where many foreign students live, speak English, and get ripped off for their rents; 2) that finding a place would not be especially easy, and 3) that landlords here are notoriously eager to rip off foreigners. I didn’t worry too much about the issue however. One of those “cross that bridge when you come to it” things.

Within the first few days of my arrival in Damascus (August 25) I learned what the nature of this “housing help” would be. I was staying in the small flat below the flat of my teacher. The other resident with me in this place was Martin, another student of Hussein’s. Martin is a smart, amiable Swiss who harbors a special taste for gangsta rap – I was glad to be living with this more experienced and friendly companion. He had been here for 6 weeks and was headed home in another week. The place was not quite big enough for the two of us; it was clearly intended for me after Martin’s departure. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be staying there longer than a month. The issue was not that the apartment was terrible, but rather that I was paying rent to my teacher and his wife – a situation that was a little too close for comfort.

Martin departed, I was on my own, and I set out on this epic search. I let Hussein know right away that I intended to move after September, and asked him for his help. He didn’t do such a great job at this, mostly because he is busy teaching many hours of the day, and also possibly because he wouldn’t have minded someone staying in his own apartment. I was aware that in the end I was alone on this – for the first time in my life I was (and am) really on my own: no home or university support systems in place to catch me. This is not to say that I intended to do everything by myself – that would have been rather foolish – but that I couldn’t just expect someone else to take care of things for me.

I did my best at asking around to everyone I met about housing; I followed some of these leads up, others I let be, like the “easy” options in Bab Touma. It was tough going, this search, not least because 6 days of every week I was in class or studying for at least 5 hours each day. The one way that Hussein did help me was in hooking me up with a distant cousin of his living here in Damascus – the idea was that Fadi and I could live together. In theory, quite a good one: with Fadi asking for price quotes we would not get the “foreigner’s price”, we could share rent, we would have to speak Arabic all the time, and I could show him some English. Fadi is an extreme beginner in English, so it wouldn’t have “harmed” my progress at all. We looked around at some places, but it didn’t work out for a couple of reasons. He wanted something in a neighborhood far from where my teacher lived; he smokes, which wouldn’t have been very pleasant for me; and the money situation was a little too unclear for my taste – was I being taken advantage of? Nevertheless, spending that time searching with Fadi was good for my language, and we have remained friends. Still, there were no real promising leads for an apartment.

My eventual finding of an apartment depended much less on my own initiative than on dumb luck and the hospitality and kindness of strangers – strangers who quickly became friends. One day (September 19th, to be exact), I was coming back frustrated from looking for apartments with Fadi. Even though it was late and I was tired, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop by the internet place (there’s nothing really “café” about them). It’s funny: those little decisions that are so small – but when you look back at them – so, so fateful. (Cue romantic music.) What made me decide to go to the particular internet place that I did, as opposed to the 4 others within 100 yards that I also use? I don’t know, but I did, and as I was fumbling with my change to pay for my time there, a guy at a computer turned around and said eagerly: “Do you speak English? Do you need help?”

This was the start of my relationship with Mahmoud. He is a year or two older than me, heavy-set, most often wearing a typical Adidas or Puma sporty shirt. We made small talk and the question came up: “Where are you living?” “Just over in Sheikh Muhiddeen,” I replied, “but I’m thinking about moving.” This opened up the subject of where I was moving. Mahmoud said that he had recently been looking at some flats in the area, so he might be able to help me out. I told him thanks, we traded phone numbers, and I left for home that night feeling a glimmer of hope. I also learned that Mahmoud had just graduated from college in infomatics (I knew it had something to do with computers), and was living just up the hill with some other guys. Interesting…

A few days later, on the 22nd of September, I was making special effort to follow up on all housing leads, however tenuous. I had visited an overpriced, hotel-like, basement flat with not a single window, and I also called Mahmoud to see how he might be able to help me. He was glad to hear from me and told me that he would call back sometime in the next few days. That sometime turned out to be 5 minutes later, when he asked what I had going on and if I wanted to come over to his place. I agreed, and met him where we had parted the other night to walk back to his apartment.

There, I was introduced to two of his roommates, Ali and Usama. Ali is somewhat short, and seems to be rather shy, though that might be because his English is not as good as the others’. Usama is built rather like me, with a face that reminds me of a guy I know from High School. Whenever he introduces himself to foreigners (or at least to Americans) he says his name in a “scary” voice and wiggles his fingers next to his face as if he is the boogey-man coming to get us. I appreciate this type of humor. As we talked, it became clear that all three of them were very nice guys. We sat, drank some soda and talked until after 1:00 am – how pleasant.

Despite my final impression that this was a great evening, however, there was a brief moment of panic for me. After the first time I met Mahmoud I had written in my journal that he may have “at first thought I was a Muslim.” This was an easy assumption for him to make, since we met right near the Abu Noor University, the most prestigious Islamic school in Syria. There are many foreign students around from all around the world, including many from the UK and USA. (This also explains the 5 internet cafes right near each other.) Most foreign Muslims would be studying classical Arabic (the language of the Qur’an,) so I thought I cleared this up when I said I was studying spoken Arabic only. It turns out that I had not made this so clear, though, since early on in our conversation he asked, “What is it like for you being a Muslim in America?”

I wonder if they noticed the panic that must have slipped across my face. As a true American, trained by our fair and balanced news media, I was able to imagine the scenario in an instant: Once I tell them I’m not a Muslim I will be gagged, bound, and my picture will end up on the Internet. I took a deep breath to clear my head of all this muck and I spoke the truth, simply, in Arabic: “I am not a Muslim.” Of course, nothing happened. Mahmoud, Ali, and Usama were still sitting there, as friendly as before – my response did not seem to surprise them one bit.

I should have expected as much: the hospitality of the Syrians is deservedly famed. For them, hospitality is a cultural duty that they take great pride in. Almost every time I have a significant conversation with a stranger they invite me to their home. Occasionally, this is done as what seems to be a matter of form: I am invited, the new friend takes down my number, and I never hear from them again. Most of the time, however, it’s genuine. People here are very friendly.

So even if these three fellas had held any hostility against me for my religion, (and its crystal clear now that they did not – I know them to be good people and true friends) they would not have made any sign of it. To do so would be `eib, meaning socially wrong. (As opposed to haraam, religiously wrong, or memnoo`, legally wrong – so many words we are missing!) It is interesting to note that since that moment, although we have discussed religion in general and Islam in particular, they have never asked me about my own religious background.

That evening we went on to talk (in Arabic and English) about lots of things, but mostly about America and cultural differences between here and there. This is a topic that I’ve been forced to think a lot about here, since a lot of people want to talk about it. Never before have I had to define for myself what “American Culture” is. This definition is especially tricky since I don’t really consider myself a good representation of mainstream American Culture – yet at the same time I’m not in denial: I am American; I never tell people that I’m from Canada or something. I have not yet found a perfectly satisfactory definition (probably never will) but I’m thinking about it and working on it.

The tricky part is getting across the diversity (and I don’t just mean racial diversity) of the USA. Syrians and Americans (generally speaking) have many assumptions about each other and each other’s country. Many Americans believe (thanks to Bush’s threats and accusations) that Syrians are terrorists. Many Syrians I’ve met think that Americans don’t care about what’s happening in the world. Of the two assumptions, I must admit that the Syrians’ is much less harmful and much closer to the truth. Nevertheless, I try to get people to understand that a lot of issues (especially cultural ones) depend on where you are in the USA and who you are talking to. For me, I’m still struggling with where I myself stand on all of these issues. I’ve certainly never had such a good opportunity to talk it all out, and in an environment that is most different from the USA.

One frustrating thing is that I lot of people I talk to have their own idea about what is plaguing the USA (whether it be Bush, Zionism, lack of morals, etc.) and from me, the American in front of them, they want to hear their thesis supported. In other words, they don’t listen very carefully. With these three guys, however, Mahmoud, Ali and Usama, I felt that it was different. Although they had their ideas and preconceptions about American life and culture, they asked me genuinely what I thought, listened to me, and we discussed the issues.

For example, we talked about family for quite some time. They asked about what kind things are expected of family relationships in the USA. I think they were hitting on the big difference, which is that in Syrian culture a lot of things are clearly expected or even required of family relationships, while in America, sure, you can say that about some communities among the greater population, but there are no overarching “rules.” I told them with pride about my own family, in which the relationships are in place (maybe not of the specific type that these guys had in mind) and we do old-fashioned things like eat meals together. Mahmoud spoke, suggesting that families without such relationships are no good – I tried to counter by saying firmly that even if things like divorce are not good for families, it doesn’t mean that these families cannot contain good, caring people.

All in all, these discussions critical of the USA are a good challenge for me. I have to get across my own personality and my own opinions, both those that are critical of my country and in support of it, and at the same time reminding people here that I am just one person. It is interesting to note that everyone here with whom I’ve discussed Bush or the US government emphasizes that they distinguish between the American government and the American people – “I love the American people,” they always say. When Syrians travel to the USA, do they get a similar reception?

It is also interesting to see how Syrians portray their own country. All in all, they are very proud of it and eager to point out their nation’s strong points. For example, people often point out how safe it is here or how friendly the people are – on both counts they are right. What I have not seen is many people willing to admit that there are things wrong with the country. In a typical exchange, a friend was going on and on bashing the US’s “pretend democracy” yet refused to admit that his own country has something of a “pretend democracy” itself. Mahmoud, Ali, and Usama presented to me a Syria where 99% of marriages are faithful. I’m with them in that the social mores here are less lenient than in the West, but is the number that high behind all the closed doors here? I doubt it (and I swear I have no first-hand experience with marital infidelity here!) I have, however, had some first-hand experience with the fear inspired by the secret police – most people seem to refrain from mentioning that when we talk about Syria. Overall, I see people wanting to paint a very pretty (and sometimes overly-optimistic) picture of their country for me, the foreigner. An understandable goal, considering what is written about their own country in the western media. Of course I see exceptions to this, but that’s usually only when I know someone better.

In going on and on about all these conversations, I have neglected the most interesting thing about Mahmoud, Ali, and Usama: they (along with Sharif, their 4th roommate) are all computer game programmers. Betcha didn’t expect that one! They work as a game design team for a computer game company here in Damascus. Each one has a specialty, like A.I., special graphics, designing the landscapes in the games, etc. They showed me a little sample of what they were currently working on. It seemed like a pretty standard 1st-person shooter game to me (I’m no expert) and in this one the goal was to kill the terrorists. Another time they described to me that their goal was to work on games that were non-violent – so I’m not sure whether the one I saw was an exception or perhaps a project for their company rather than their own creation.

Now, at last, back to the main story: The night that I met and talked with the computer boys (as I call them to myself) an apartment opportunity opened up. They were going to move out of their apartment at the end of the month but had paid the next month in advance – if I could step in to take the apartment, then I would have an apartment and they would get their rent back. That night in my journal I forced myself to be skeptical (and it’s against my nature) and think of the ways this plan could be problematic. 1) These guys are total swindlers, they’ll take the next month’s rent from me and skip town. 2) There is something terribly wrong with the place as the reason they wanted to move out. 3) The landlord will jack the rent up as soon as he sees that I am ajnabi – foreigner.

As I got to know them better over the next couple times we met, I completely eliminated possibility #1. These 4 guys are good and honest men who want to help me out as a stranger in their country. Concerning possibility #2, I asked them, and they told me honestly: “There is no fan in the WC; we broke the sink in the shower room; this light needs replacing” – that sort of thing. It was also patently clear from the beginning that this was no deluxe suite here: peeling paint, couch that’s falling apart – but that’s okay with me. The reason they were moving out was that the place was two small for them. Four young men, sleeping and working in 2 smallish rooms – this meant that every day they dismantled and reassembled the 2 beds to have room their computers. Wow.

As for possibility #3, well, we learned about that when we went to visit the landlord the next week on the 25th. Mahmoud and Sharif came with me since they have the best English. They gave me invaluable help in dealing with this guy – an impossible task without them. We three entered his flat, which was on the first floor of a more modern building down the street. We sat in the sitting room near the door – a room sparsely furnished with lavishly decorated table and chairs. Here, I shall call the landlord hajji (one who has made the hajj) since that’s what I call him – this is a general term of respect for an older person. Hajji is an old man, and this first night I met him I was struck by the features of his face – they seemed very over-exaggerated to me, and a little bit scary – one of those folks whose face’s natural resting place is a mean-looking grimace. He wears a simple robe as some of the men do in my neighborhood. We three sat on one side of the room, Hajji on the other. Behind him on the wall was a picture of Hajji himself from a few years ago. This is quite a normal thing here: in many stores and shops you will often see (sometimes in addition to dear old Bashar and Hafez) a picture of a man who is the owner or former owner – a patriarch of sorts. Nevertheless, talking to this guy with his picture on the wall right behind him made for a somewhat surreal situation.

The conversation itself went okay – Hajji is definitely a little bit gruff in his old age. He did indeed want to pump up the price since there is a tax on foreign renters, but only 1,000 lira (less than $20) more than what the guys were paying. I figured that I could do much worse in terms of overpricing for foreigners, and since this was looking like my best (actually, my only) option, I’d better take it. Hajji’s grandson (10 or so) brought us some tea on a tray. This of course was not that strange – wherever you go here you are offered tea. Then Hajji’s son entered, probably somewhere in his 40s. Now, although the gruffness and age of Hajji scared me a little bit, his son is scary in a different sense: he looked at me and clearly saw only money, trying to raise the rent even further – without any success, alhamdulilah. Later the boys mentioned to me that the landlord has a nice son in addition to this mean one.

That night I went back to sit and talk with the computer boys again. Sharif, who I met that night, seemed especially nice. This time the conversation was much lighter than before. We talked about what music we liked – they all had different tastes, though of course when it came to the greats like Um Kulthum and Fairuz, we could all agree. Ali (the supposedly shy one) did an amazing rendition of “Hit me baby one more time” – Britney is his favorite western singer. Stupendous.

The best part of this evening was talking about proverbs and jokes. Man, these guys seriously showed me up: they know so many proverbs… I of course know them in a passive way, but I just couldn’t come with any English proverbs on the spot – they were able to just string them off one after another. Remember, these are not young literary types but computer programmers, talking and laughing for hours about proverbs – without a doubt a true cultural difference. The rich oral and literary traditions of the Arabic language seem to pop up everywhere here. I couldn’t come up with any English jokes either, which is a real disappointment since I used to know so many. I think I redeemed myself by remembering an Arabic proverb from the text I’m studying, and also by reciting a few lines from the classical poem that my Arabic teacher made me memorize last year. For that, I got a round of applause from the 4 of them. Everything seemed to be going well, with the apartment and with my new friends.

A few days later, the 28th of September, things were not so clear. Mahmoud called and had me come over – the place was busy with all of them packing up to move out as well as Mahmoud running in and out in some kind of negotiation or argument with the landlord and his son, who is also part of this housing business. I’m not clear on all the issues that were going on that night, but Mahmoud, Sharif, and I went down to talk to Hajji again. This time he came out of his flat onto the landing dressed in shorts and beater – he was already ready for bed, and this outfit was not nearly so flattering to his sizable belly as his usual white robe. He was definitely angry this time around, concerning, I believe, whatever he and Mahmoud had been arguing about. From this conversation a few things I was sure I understood from him: biddee naam, (I want to sleep) and ma biddee ajnabi, (I don’t want a foreigner). And so it seemed like things might just fail at the very last minute, even as my teacher’s wife was threatening to charge me a second month if I wasn’t moved out by the 1st of the month

The morning after this disturbing encounter there was a meeting scheduled with everyone involved. I didn’t understand what was going on at the time, so here’s the experience from my as-it-happened perspective. Mahmoud, Usama and I (I think it’s no accident that Mahmoud always took a companion with him to these meetings) walked down the hill, just past the landlord’s apartment where the street runs into the souq (market). First we met with a man who runs a corner store right there; we explained to him our situation. I though that maybe this guy was the other, nicer son of the landlord. We crossed to the other side of the street – not more than two or three meters; these are narrow streets in this neighborhood – and then the owner of the corner store went back talked with the landlord and his son. Store-owner then talked with us some more; then we all walked back up the hill to the apartment, discussed some more and things seemed to be all worked out. I would pay and get the key when we make the contract on the next business day.

As the computer boys and I walked past the corner store on our various ways, Mahmoud and Ali stopped to talk to the owner. I asked Usama if this was the landlord’s second son. “No, he is just a good man, he’s a very good man. Everybody knows him around here.” All at once I understood what had happened: I had experienced a strange (to me), wonderful, and (I believe) ancient cultural practice: These two parties, the landlords and the renters, had had an argument, but they agreed to meet with this store owner (Abu Firas is his name) who is apparently well-known as a negotiator, as a peacemaker. What an amazing thing. Sure, there were angry words exchanged the night before, and even a few at this meeting too, but this local, simple, and non-bureaucratic method was available to solve the dispute. I’m impressed, and I feel lucky that I got to experience this first-hand.

I moved out of my place on the 30th and temporarily into the house where my friend Joachim from Sweden lives. That was a pleasant little interlude. On the morning of the 2nd, I walked to meet Hajji, today was the day we were to make the contract. I was scared out of my mind, since I had said I would bring another Arab friend with me, but that didn’t end up working out. I would have to deal with Hajji on my own. I met him at the corner store, we spoke a few words, struggling somewhat to communicate. We then walked to catch a taxi together down to the Muhafaza, the building downtown where you go to make a contract. I was lucky in that Mahmoud and the boys were also at the Muhafaza, making the contract for their new apartment. There was some confusion about what was happening: for me to sign the contract I needed a special form from elsewhere, then Mahmoud nobly volunteered to let me rent under his contract with Hajji, but Hajji wanted everything to be official. That was fine with me, though of course I would have been glad to be done with the issue then and there. I paid my 2 months’ rent, Hajji gave me my key, and that day I moved my stuff into my new home. It’s taken me a while, but by now I’m pretty much settled and quite happy here.

I’ll take another quick tangent to mention about language: when talking with Mahmoud and the computer boys, they were always eager to speak English with me, because, I think, they didn’t consider my Arabic to be so great. Indeed, as we were dealing with plenty of money and potentially confusing stuff, I was glad for this. I learned however, that my ability in speaking Arabic seems to depend on what the person I’m talking to thinks about that ability. Whenever I tried to speak Arabic with Mahmoud, I would always fumble, while when talking with someone who has faith in my abilities, I seem to remember everything. I’ve now taken up the strategy of speaking Arabic always, even when a Syrian speaks to me in English. I tried this on the phone with Mahmoud the other night, and it worked: he gave up on the English! Other times, however, it’s not so successful: today I had a 2- or 3-minute conversation with a store owner, throughout which he spoke entirely in English and I spoke entirely in Arabic – how delightfully absurd!

But the story’s not over! Yes, the apartment was set, but I still needed to make that contract. First, however, I needed that special form, the Ikhraj Qeed. Sunday (the 2nd): I went to the American Embassy to get it, but their American citizen services close at 11:00 am – I was too late. Monday: I went again to the Embassy on time, but I learned that I need a photo of myself for this form. Tuesday: I went to the Embassy for the third time with everything ready. The strangest part of the embassy is the waiting room. Everybody waiting is quiet and seems rather somber. Maybe because from the windows where business takes place, we can hear an official ask a woman with her child embarrassing questions in really bad Arabic. I feel super-awkward as the only American there, especially with all the bullshit posters on the wall of flag-waving 4th of July parades, somber immigrants waiting at Ellis Island, and a sensible Colin Powell asking if we want to join him in the fight against terrorism. I wish I could hear the story of everyone waiting in that room – those sorts of things are hard to guess. I got called to one window where a guy checked the info on my form, then I got called back out of the waiting room where they took my $30 payment (why such a rip-off?), and after another wait I met the first nice person I’d met so far at the embassy, the vice-consul. He was very friendly to me; he made me raise my hand and swear that the form is correct; and then we small-talked for a little while. He’s a jazz musician too, so maybe he’ll call me sometime and we’ll jam. I wish I had thought on my feet and asked him if he knew why the US is behaving as it is towards Syria.

Wednesday: I took the form (with the help of my friend Fahed) to the Syrian ministry of the exterior, where we paid a few lira to get a stamp and a scribble (a signature) on it. The Ikhraj Qeed is nothing that special, just all the information from my passport but also translated or transliterated into Arabic. Thursday we could not go to make the contract, since it was October 6th, national holiday in remembrance of the Harb Tishreen, the October War, the one victory (of sorts) that Syria claims over Israel. I talked with Hajji, asking him for a table and chair (the apt. had none) and also to fix the sink that the guys had broken. He rudely said that there is no table and chair and that if I wanted to buy some I could. I tried to get across to him that I would have no use for these things after I move out, but he didn’t listen.

That evening, as I was sitting and talking with Abu Firas (the corner store owner) Hajji came down and brought me a chair. I thanked him with “yislemu,” one way (of many) to say thank you in Arabic, but he replied without having listened to me: “btarif shukran?” / “Do you know [how to say] Shukran?” the more well-known form of thank you, as if I was an absolute beginner. He also stood there and talked with Abu Firas thinking I did not understand, at one point saying that he hopes I become a Muslim. Now, the sentiment of that did not bother me so much, since many religious people only wish the best when hoping people convert to their religion, but I was tired of Hajji’s disrespect for me. His behavior seemed rather `eeb to me. I no longer feared this man; instead I decided that he was just not a nice one.

A few days later, on this past Sunday, the 9th of October, Hajji and I went again to the Muhafaza. This time around it was just the two of us, but I wasn’t really that worried or scared at all. And now, I can’t resist describing the amazing bureaucratic process of making a contract in Damascus: First, we went to one of the guys sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside of the building. We handed him our IDs and he filled out the basics of the contract. We took that and walked into the archway through this building, where a man at a copy store grabbed us (and our forms) and overcharged us for the appropriate copies. We then entered the big courtyard of this building, to the first window of a gazebo-shaped building (within the larger building). Now, there are no such things as lines here at the Muhafaza. People just crowd around the appropriate window and push push push. Despite the fact that Hajji is an old man who sits down or leans against a wall whenever he gets a chance, he was an expert at getting to the front of these “lines.” He did it every time – amazing. At the first window, the worker did whatever he was supposed to and we put our thumbprints under our names.

Now, back to the copy store, where we got some more overcharged copies and the appropriate stamps. Now, back to the gazebo building where we got in line for the second window (again, chaos) where the appropriate thing was done to our papers. But behold, a semblance of order appeared: we received a receipt with a number on it – the order in which we were called to the next window! Nevertheless, even at this window the smelly, pushy men crowded round. At last we made it to the desk of the guy who looked like the head honcho: he put his scribble and the final stamps on all the copies of our contract, put two into the big pile next to him, and handed Hajji and me our copies. We were done.

Hajji and I got along fine during this adventure. As we sat waiting for our number to be called, he asked me in a friendly manner if this is how you make a contract in America, rolling his eyes at the craziness surrounding us. He also asked me if I could read the 6-digit number on our receipt – as he listened to me read it, I got a different sense of his attitude about my language ability: I think it’s not condescension so much as him just not having the patience to think of me outside his stereotype of foreigners. I also saw something on our contract that shook me: Hajji here was born in 1925. Just think about all that this guy has seen in his life here – so much more than I can even imagine. He’s still a stingy landlord who treats me rudely sometimes, but I try now to cut the old guy some slack. Today, we met and exchanged big smiles; we shook hands and he thought it very impressive (and funny) when I knew that the proper response to marhaba is marhabtayn – this being the simplest pair of greetings in the Arabic language.

And there is the story of me finding an apartment, along with a lot of other stuff along the way.


Anonymous Andrew Jones said...

One of my favorite memories of visiting Germany with my sister was the time I got stranded in a town called Haigerloch. We were with an American friend of my sister's who spoke German pretty well. We went into a hotel to ask how we were going to get back to the town we were staying in (we'd missed the last bus). The concierge would only speak to her in English, and she would only talk to him in Germany. It still makes me laugh when I think about it. We ended up hitchhiking back, which I consider one of my favorite travel memories.

You sound like you are having an amazing time in Damascus. Are you going to get to explore any more of Syria? Are you there all year, or just for this semester? I'm sure you told me when I saw you last, but I'm ditzy and forget these things.

PS, I'm curious as to which kid from high school your friend reminds you of.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Jones said...

talk to him in German, even.

10:16 PM  
Blogger RCC said...

So far i've only stayed here in Sham (Damascus) but at the end of the month i will be doing some traveling around -- there are so many things to see in this country! I didn't decide before coming how long i'll be here, but right now I'm feeling like staying all year. by the time the semester's up i'll probably just be getting good at speaking, so why go home then?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Anne-Laure said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:15 AM  
Blogger RCC said...

i just deleted a long, interesting, but irrelevant comment on the whole Mehlis investigation issue. if you are curious about all that, go to

1:39 PM  
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