Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I was getting ready for work when the doorbell rang. 10 minutes to eight. This has happened before, though normally a somewhat sane hour like 9. Um Tareq has some rude friends, who think nothing of dropping in at 8 or 9am, before calling ahead, and then act surprised that we're asleep. Actually, most of her friends aren't like that, but Um Ra'id is. She's come before early. I figured if I just ignored her she would go away. Um Tareq was sleeping and I really didn't want to let this woman in to wake her up. Time passed. She didn't leave, just reminded us of her prescence every four minutes by ringing the bell again. After 15 minutes, it was pretty clear she wasn't going to leave anytime soon. The bells woke Um Tareq up eventually and we stood in the courtyard whispering.
"God she is so annoying," said Um Tareq.
"Why don't you just tell her not to come, you are sleeping?"
"I've told her daughter-in-law to not let her come this early."
"Why don't you tell her?"

It got to the point where I had to leave for work, but Um Ra'id wasn't budging. "I have to get going."
"Wait, wait!"
"I could tell her you are sleeping."
"It doesn't matter, she'll come in. If only she had come later in the day, you could tell her I wasn't here, but now it's too early for me to be gone"
I was trapped. Another 10 minutes and I really should be going, so Um Tareq acquiesed.

I thought Um Tareq should go lie down so at least the woman would feel bad about waking her, but instead she went and opened the door. Um Ra'id came in, saying, "i've been waiting for a long time? Where were you"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shami Wedding

I've finally been to a Shami wedding, and it did not disappoint. From what I had heard, there would be the women, dressed in abayas, who would throw them off to reveal miles of skin covered in patches by sparkly dress. This did indeed happen. I even threw on an abaya over my shoulders, at the bidding of Um Tareq, to hide my by-comparison rather conservative dress. There was a bit of cleavage, it was the first time I've worn this dress without an undershirt, but within a few seconds of entering the wedding hall I was greated by such copious amounts of cleavage all reservations were put at ease.

I sat with the extended family of the groom, who was off partying with the dudes elsewhere. Most of the woman were stripped down, especially the younger ones, but a few of the grandmothers sat stone-faced without removing manteaus or hijabs. A group started dancing in the center, and I joined, but with frequent breaks. I don't understand how these ladies can dance for this long without breaking a sweat. I needed to take breaks and fan myself to avoid looking like I just slipped into this dress after a track meet. Foods and non-alcoholic cocktails came around in rounds.

I got Um Tareq to dance, which had been my goal. I even got her niece to dance, who was introduced to me as able to put my dancing to shame. But she said, no, I'm not going to dance, there's this cleric who said it's haram. How can dancing with a bunch of ladies be haram? But the videographer might accidently catch me on the camera and that would be haram. But she loosened up and did, as predicted, put me to shame.

The bride came out, and walked slowly up the front of the room, and her friends ran up to the throne at the front of the hall where she was seated, screaming and cooing. The girl did look good. Then those of us who don't actually know her went up at randomly to wish her congratuations. The bride came off the throne and did two dances for the camera by herself, mostly just seductive swaying as the dress was huge. Then her girlfriends (and me) ran onto the floor to dance.

The groom came later. The guy's party pulled up outside, and we watched what was happening with the videographer's live feed to a screen inside. Dudes in traditional outfits played music and played with swords around the groom. I was a bit jealous, I mean, the ice cream was good but not as good as swords. There was a rush to redress before the groom and his father could come in. They walked slowly up the aisle, while the girlfriends shouted out "Our bride is the prettiest! ye ah!" and of course, the trilling. My attempts were laughed at, so I repeated them to great amusement.

The party died after the groom and bride has danced their dance. They looked happy and nervous, both pretty young. She's 20, he's was about 25, and a car mechanic. Everyone started leaving, except for some girlfriends and the family.

I was invited to another wedding in July.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


After the comparative success of last week's outing, a few friends decided to arrange another one, just for us. I got a call Thursday night, after spending an somewhat intellectual evening with artists, hearing how I really should have gone to the last modern dance evening. It was awesome.

I didn't really want to go to Beit Jinn, described as in Quneitra near the border of the occupied Jolan. I had Capoeira class the next day. I was told the scenery there was amazing. "Can we see the Israelis from there?" I asked. "Maybe". There were also waterfalls, and everyone was going to bring food and drink, and we would fry potatoes and it would be awesome. Somebody was bringing his laptop and we could dance for the entirety of its 2-and-a-half battery life. It would only cost however much it took to get there. And my boyfriend wanted to go really bad. It was 3am, and I thought, "why not see more of the country?" Plus, there would be argileh. We would meet at my place at 11am.

I called M the next morning as soon as I was woken up by Saeb banging on my door at 10:45am. She told her parents something and got out of the house. Everyone was late, some people were sleeping, some people forgot to bring their IDs, which is turned out later we didn't actually need. No one was bringing anything, so we took pots and pans and gas from my place while others went out and bought 7 kilos of potatoes. I convinced Um Tareq to come.

We finally got to Baramkeh, and waited for Shadee, the only non-Jeramanian, to come and bring the argileh. He came late, without argileh. Meanwhile, Sale7 got in a fight with his girlfriend about his going, and stormed off vowing not to come. We talked him back into coming. By the time we set off it was past 1.

At Soymarieh garage there was a half-full servees for Beit Jinn waiting to take off, but we were eleven. That servees had apparently been waiting hours to fill, so we negotiated to take another one without filling it to 14, and have it take us all the way to the top where the waterfalls are, off the standard servees path.

That path was blocked at the top. We turned around and the occupants of the servees continued their loud, bitchy fights about where we would set up. Near that water! We can play in it! No, there's too many shawiya and we have girls with us! Over there! No, there's rocks! Higher, lower! We got off at the very bottom, walking distance to the regular servees path, despite our having agreed to pay an extra 100 lira to get off said path.

It was rocky but we set up. The scenery was alright, but in the area we were in it might as well have been alghouta. Just some trees. A boy came over and demanded money. An aged relation sat under a tree and yelled at picnickers, occasionally going over to the nearest family, yelling, demanding 2000 lira for the right to sit on the rocky field, and hitting people with her stick. We were charmed. The boy on the other hand, demanded 500 lira in earnest and we negotiated to 250. Um Tareq and M, with minimal help from the tons of guys, set to preparing the food. It pissed me off, and I felt like everyone had wanted Um Tareq to come just so she could do all the work.
"What would we have done without you?" asked the boys, and I thought, just fucking fry the potatoes yourself. Even I've done it. I peeled potatoes despite several attempts to take the knife away from me. Really, I'm not that much of a disaster with sharp things.

Once the potatoes were frying the boy came over and demanded another 250, and some people were mind to just give it to him. No, said others, he's just waited until we were settled to demand more. We've agreed on a price and we're sticking to it. He can give us our money back and we'll move, otherwise not. A group went over for negotiations and the kid, unwilling to part with the money, said make sure we didn't stay longer than another hour. We'll have to check with the women, said the group.

We finished eating, cleaned things in the spring, and M started worrying about time. Sale7 called the micro driver to come pick us up. We moved next to the road, where a group of guys driving tractors almost tracked through our stuff. Shadee joked with them, and then they stayed, offering tractor rides to all interested and drinking our tea. M took a ride on a tractor with one, causing him to confess soon after to one of our group that he was in love with her. We turned on the laptop and played some good music, but with the presence of the unwashed I was forbidden to dance, or even sway.

I sat with some friends by the stream, who remarked on the fallaheen as more people took tractor rides. "Look at how happy they are, without worries."
"What worried could they have? Their life is so simple."
"They only worry about what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
"Not even. They probably eat the same thing everyday."
"Look, there's more coming! They're like flies."

Finally the micro came, and a panicked M made us turn down the driver's offer to stop at his house for some coffee. We got caught in heavy traffic outside of Damascus, barely moving, and didn't make it back to Jeramana until after 9pm. Manar jumped out and ran home.

The next day I saw M at Capoeira and asked if she caught hell.
"Oh yeah. It was a massacre. I can't hear out of this ear today, they hit me so many times." She said her dad went crazy with anger and grabbed a knife at one point. She's staying at her uncle's for now. I asked when I could see her and she said next Capoeira class - nothing outside of it.

On the way back, we had to be quiet twice, once when M's parents called, and she told him she was on the way home, and again when one of the guy's parents called. He said he was at Sale7's parents house outside of Damascus and was coming home soon. See, I was told, guys have to lie to their parents to get out of the house too. But I wonder if they get beat up for coming home at 9pm too.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Outing, More or Less Successful

I ran into Abd, back from Russia for a few months, in the old city. He invited me and M to an outing with students of the literature college to Sweida. There was a cave, and they were bringing a DJ and speakers and going to set up a regular dance party there. 300 lira only, food and drink on us. It sounded fun. I agreed to get the booze, M the food.

The next morning those of us from Jeramana met at Rawda to make the journey to Mezzeh. Abd and his friends were 15 minutes late. The bus was supposed to leave at 9, and going to Mezzeh in the morning rush can take a while.

I shouldn't have worried. I forgot that "bus leaves at 9, don't be late!" means the bus will leave closer to 11. We waited in the hot sun. It is summer now, at least during the day, until the sun goes down and I grab a coat.

The bus finally came, filled, and got moving raucously. The driver played Arabic songs, and students were in the aisles dancing the entire time. We stopped in Jeramana to pick up the DJ, prompting those of use who were in Jeramana to complain that we could have saved a lot of time had we known.

We rolled through Sweida to Areeqa, and got out in front of a restaurant. "Where's the cave?" we asked, until it became clear that we were going to hang out in this restaurant. I complained to who I had finally identified as the trip organizer, "What, there aren't any restaurants in Damascus? We could have partied on a rooftop and saved ourselves the trip. I was promised a cave party."

He promised it would be cool, and that we were near a cave, but it was unfortunately closed. We went into the restaurant, set up the DJ, and started on M's sandwiches and my vodka. After eating, people started dancing, including a girl in black who memorized the crowd with her hips. I don't understand how these girls dance this much - in a short sleeve teeshirt I was sweating within minutes but the muhajibat danced the entire time without so much as a feminine glistening of perspiration.

Finally an expedition set out for this cave, which is currently under some sort of construction. Even though cave reconstruction isn't the sort of thing that just pops up one day when you're making plans, the organizer had told everyone we would party in a cave, meanwhile booking the restaurant. It had small opening, and inside was cool and pitch black. With mobiles and lighters we navigated around, stepping in a lot of mud. It would have been impossible to hold a party in this place.

The party finally ended at around 5, which was good as my buzz was wearing off. On the way back I sat next to the good dancer in black, and we got to chatting. She volunteers for an organization that fights domestic violence, and my boyfriend and her also had a long talk. Afterwards he told me he was surprised that a muhajiba would be so cool and down with gender equality... which shows that not only the foreigners have misconceptions about the hijab.

Modern Dance

My friend invited me to a modern dance performance at Dar al-Asad. We were in the company of artists, her boyfriend the sculptor, and his friends the theatre director and the actor. As soon as the lights went down and the show started, I knew I would need their help.

The four dancers, three of whom were wearing masks, appeared to have seizures. There was heavy breathing, and lot of rolling around on the floor moaning as well. Exciting. The music never varied much from an annoying repetition of sounds. Then, intermission and the realization that we were only half done. The second half features more rolling and moaning, with a DJ beatboxing in the background.

The director and "writer" were invited on stage for a discussion with the audience. We were here to be educated. The Dutch company held their collective noses in the air when an audience member asked if there had been a story or tale or something? The writer crossed and uncrossed his legs, and said, that while they do not aim for a story, yes, there was a simple story in the second piece, perhaps you recognized it... and trailed off.

"What was the story?" my boyfriend called from the balcony.
The writer sniffed and said that's for the audience to interpret. My boyfriend directed his question to the audience, "Okay, can anyone tell me what happened? What was that?"

The writer, clearly annoyed, said, "It was about a man and a woman who come together, make love, have a child, play with the child for a while, and then it leaves."

Which was not at all what seemed to be going on. I don't know what part of rolling around conveyed having a baby, or the sex, or the leaving, but whatever.

Several audience members self-congratulatingly asked about the "use of sound" and "diconnectedness of the body". The director was annoyed by repeated questions about whether having the dancers dance as if they were disabled was her signature. "I did not see their movements as disabled, but your interpretation is valid." Another person asked about the disabled movements and why the dancers moved like zombies. The director visibly grit her teeth to repeat that that was not her interpretation of the movements.

The play director with us, who was not impressed, said that he was sorry, but he felt like theatre and dance should connect with the audience and that the pieces lacked this, the audience didn't even understand the story. The director looked affronted and said she liked that the story in the second piece was unclear, she likes to challenge the audience, and some crap about disassociating the self and commenting upon the human condition. I felt bad for the translator, called upon to translate bullshit that doesn't mean anything to begin with.

An older woman in the audience apologized for being a "regular viewer, not a professional," but she wanted to know "where was the beauty?" You could see the director scoff to herself. THe question went unanswered.

A young woman in the first row, whose hand had been up eagerly for a while, was finally called on by her brother, the translator. She delivered an annoying speech about how the problem in this country is audiences come to shows expecting to see a story or see beauty, and so it's good for them to see something outside of their narrow expectations and tastes. Blah.

I wanted to ask, well, what's the fucking point? Why should some one have to be a "professional viewer" to appreciate some art? What's so wrong about wanting to see some beauty- I'm not a great dancer and I could have done most of the moves on that stage. I like to see dancers with skills. Shit, I'm great at rolling around. It's like the show is only put on for a select few to congratulate themselves on their enjoying what is too "high-art" for the masses, demonstrate this through questions on use of the voice in dance, and let the smugness between director, writer, and audience reverberate in the small theatre.

After we left I realized my wallet was no longer in my hand, and freaked. After searching the theatre, no luck. I gave the office my number and expected to never see my wallet again. My friends begged to differ and told stories of wallets left in servees, in stores, who knows where, and returned.

The next day during Capoeira, while running 45 minutes over, I heard my cell go off and left the roda to go answer. They found my wallet! I was admonished in front of the whole group for leaving, thereby taking energy from the group. Fuck that, people have lives. I left for Dar Al-Asad, and the office guy gave me my wallet. Check, make sure nothing's missing! he said. Not a lira gone.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interreligious Dating

We were on a double date of sorts, walking around the Bab Touma neighborhood outside the old city and enjoying the Good Friday festivities. I slept through last week's Western Easter, though I could hear the merrymaking and bands.

We saw a bit of a parade, with a drumline, scout-like uniforms, and a giant paper-mache Jesus on a paper-mache rock, but left before the stage show because of the pressing crowd. It was packed on the street in front of the church, the kind of crowd where moving more than your neck was impossible, and waves of pushing with no discernible source swept through us.

After we extracted ourselves from the crowd with great difficulty, the other woman's mom called. I was instructed to go say something so the mom could overhear and rest assured that her daughter was hanging with the fairer sex. I ran over and said, "Hey! Where are we going now?" She looked at me quizzically. When she hung up I apologized, telling her the boys had sent me over so her mom though she was hanging with girls.

"Oh, she doesn't care that if there's boys, just that we're all Christian."

Earlier, the two boys and me had met up with her and some friends. "Don't mention anything about us being not Christian to her friends" her boyfriend whispered as we approached.

We were out late, until one, and took a taxi back to Jeramana. After we let her boyfriend out, mine turned to me and said, "It's sad. Their relationship can go nowhere."

It reminded me of the matchmaking I had done for some friends. "He's cute, he's educated... he's Druze."
"He's Druze! When can I meet him?"

Or remarks when two friends start dating: "Oh, and they're both Christian. Awesome."
Or sympathizing with a friend when she couldn't date a boy she really like cause it wouldn't go anywhere. "He's X. It's impossible." Or a Christian friend who eloped with a Muslim man. Her parents still won't talk to her. She called on Christmas and they wouldn't answer.

Not that it doesn't happen. Last summer an Alawi friend's relative married a Sunni Muslim woman. He reported that her family didn't seem that happy with all the booze at the wedding. But for every married interreligious couple I know, there must be 10 thwarted relationships, if not by the law, then by parents.

Not that this is a Syrian phenomenon: I know American couples who had to convert from one branch of Christianity to another in order to appease some parents, and a friend who was disowned for marrying a Muslim.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Old and Unfashionable

Thanks to Youtube, I can share my love of Arab pop stars with anyone foolish enough to humor me. "Wait! Just one more! This Nancy Ajram video is awesome! The guy's deaf! Where are you going?"

I roped my 12 year old L.A. born and raised cousin into sitting through one of these sessions. In return, she got to show me the music her generation likes these days. It's not Hannah Montana, to my surprise, but some other Disney with a name that escapes me but reminded me of a latte. (Levi Mochiato?) And vampires.

I was showing her the latest Dana video (ana alasl) when my aunt joined. She mentioned that Dana would be considered somewhat chunky in American media.

Are you fucking kidding me?

At least Syria and America are decided on one thing: tight jeans. Pants that are tight to the ankle are not a Syrian thing, as I supposed, but were everywhere in America. Especially LA. Leggings, often in lieu of pants, are popular in both places as well. Actually, the styles in Syria and America were pretty much the same. My cousin laughed at my flare jeans, as much as my boyfriend does in Syria. The windbreaker I wore to go out on the town was considered as uncool in the States as it in Syria (I don't care! It's freaking cold!) .

Is this what globalization portends? A world in which I can go nowhere without being confronted with stupid skinny jeans? Where the fashion is the same across 11 time zones and supposedly huge cultural gaps? Last summer an American friend went to visit the States and came back with this report: fat and naked. Perhaps it was too early for the expanses of American flesh to emerge, but I still think it's going to be the same basic fashion in NY and Damascus come summer as well.

Whatever. I am now of an age where I can refuse to care about fashion. I liked the pants we were wearing in the late 90s/early 00s and that's what I'm sticking with, and that's what I'm going to stick with for the next 20 years.

This is exactly why I'm going to grad school: sweats for the next 5-6 years. I am officially old and it is damn comfortable!