In order to really see Damascus, you need to leave the center from time to time. Only then can one gauge the movement of the city's whirlpool; its depth, breadth and speed, and the people.
Some wear inattentive and astonished expressions, others chew mouthfuls of sandwiches that are getting smaller in size and higher in price. Girls and boys scream and laugh in provocative challenges. Over-the-top elegance meet side by side with incomparable shabbiness in the middle of the city. There are beggars of all ages and jacks selling second-hand tooth brushes, dirty small toys, old cookers and dusty books.
New checkpoints are emerging like mushrooms. It is useless to try memorize the geography of Damascus, because the roads change so quickly with the cement sacks and soldiers stopping vehicles with a movement of their Kalashnikovs.
The sounds of distant shelling comes from Qasioun. At the traffic lights, a truck transporting soldiers stops. I joke with a soldier, smiling kindly: "May God take you…to your mother!". When the light turns green, the truck rushes off, taking the soldier to war, his dream vanishing with his voice as he replies: "Pray for God to take me to my fiancé!".
From al-Raees bridge, the overwhelming heart of the city, to Abu Rummaneh, Shaalan and Jisr al-Abyad, thousands of people are moving. There is no need for people to think, they go where the whirlpool will lead them, waking their desires and orientations, creating their wills and their needs.
How can they ignore all the food smells and the waiters serving costumers, ignoring the eyes of the hungry insistent child. These people are lucky! Their desires are divided between the roads, their needs are well-studies and satisfied.
Beside the shawerma shop is the ice-cream and desserts shop, then the Nescafe and croissant shops. After these come the shops full of Turkish and foreign goods with mad prices and feverish buying, alongwith cranky merchants looking disdainfully at the new costumers who look like popular market costumers other thsn their full wallets and their arrogant barking orders. They are in a hurry to satisfy the dominant greed and buy more of anything they can.
The market is a gathering place, to disintegrate the suffering and to color lives. the market helps people escape their solitude and fear, to see what Damascus merchants cook.
Most people don’t buy, they just "like", as in Facebook. But these are warm and clear appreciations, seen in the surprised or the sorrowful gazes, or perhaps the proud and happy, when a subject for the morining is struck with a neighbor.
Some don’t mind to "comment".
"They say there are sanctions. From where do all these foreign goods come?" a father of three daughters inquires.
"We have left nothing but to die," another says in despair: "May God send us a barrel to save us from those thieving merchants!".
A group of joyful girls look with envy to another group as they exit a shop with many bags.
"Hey girls, (share) it with us, may God award you!". they shout over joyfully.
In a country where life has become near impossible and considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, it is hard to understand which power, which temptation or obsession may drive those girls and their mothers to be so interested in buying lingerie. They check them with ravenous looks, they want to buy them whatever was the cost. Could it be that all the monstrous death is awaking a lust for life? Why this lust is centered around food and sexy cloths? Is it because it is the body that ismostly threatened in this war? Is it horror or despair? The sounds of shelling interrupt my monologues and drive my attention to the fever of buying which might be moved by the shelling, as if it is a hidden sign that motivates the adventure; exchange the dirt of money with the cleanness of food and lingerie.
I look at the faces and wonder: Who is from which sect? How can I distinguish the urban people from the rural? The loud voices of people talking on their mobiles includes all Syrian dialects, talking to sons and relatives of checkpoints, roads and truces. They cheer and bless when someone obtains a gas cylinder or fuel for his car, or arrive at the college in less than two hours. The military vehicles cut people from their lives, while their mobile phones reconnect them. Everything is so well-organized!
Damascus, which is crowded with cement barricades and gloomy faces, which is divided by the soldiers, the police and the security forces, looks old and grey, flabby and ignorant. There is no jasmine or spring here, despite the efforts of some young men to create a forced spring through joyful paintings on some walls, the street advertisements for concerts and theatrical shows, or the ordeal of painting the doors of shops with the colors of the flag and its two green stars.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer