The Joys of Syrian Bureaucracy

Well, today I got lots of stuff done, and I got to witness first hand the legendary Syrian bureaucracy, though I was assured that what I went through was MUCH easier and much more friendly than what it had been like in the old immigration office.  Let me back up, today I registered at the Syrian immigration office for a living permit here in Damascus.  I spent about an hour running around between various offices, accumulating signatures and stamps on a form that I was ultimately to hand to the “general” for signature and a stamp in my passport.  It was crowded (no such thing as lines in Syria, much like China) and hot, but it seemed like the officials were specifically helpful to me and Jennifer, I suspect because we were white females, or maybe just because we were females.  I noticed that everyone else there were men, and quite a few men were getting permits for their wives/daughters/mothers.  Anyway, I didn’t think it was too bad, and Josh, a fellow student and friend of mine who has been in Syria a while now, says that at the old office it could take hours and was much more complicated.

Josh took Jennifer and I around Damascus today, showing us where the University was and helping us get started on registering.  We also went to the HIV testing clinic to get a blood sample taken.  Around lunch time he took us to a nice little restaurant near the backpackers street (where there are several nice hostels, that’s where Jennifer stayed when she first came).  I had رز سبح بالدخاخ which is basically roasted chicken on a bed of saffron rice with tomatoes, pickles, and turnip.  It was very good, especially the tomatoes which were very ripe and sweet, and the chicken was very tender.

After walking home through سوق الحمرية or Hamariyya market, looking for somewhere selling window fans (we didn’t find anything), I was more or less wiped out and took a 3 hour nap.  Well, maybe it was more the fact that I got up at 5:15 to watch the sun rise, and then went to a derelict stadium about 20 min walk away where people run and walk for exercise.  I worked out for a bout 45 min, so that plus walking around Damascus all day was pretty tiring.  Anyway, I got up around 7 and greeted our two new housemates, two more Americans (but no one I knew before) here to study Arabic.  So now there are 7 students in our house, five Americans and two Japanese.

I also washed some clothes (by hand) and ate a salad for dinner.  I had bought some fresh vegetables that morning on the way home from working out, and the plain greens were nice change from the delicious, but oil heavy foods of Syria.

Someone asked me what I thought of Damascus so far in comparison with my experience in China, and I will give some brief first impressions now, though a full assessment will have to wait until I’ve been here longer!  Things are very laid back here.  Stuff doesn’t open until 9 at the very earliest (excepting a few restaurants and fresh food sellers on the streets), and usually more like 10.  Activity lulls in the afternoon, when it is at its hottest, and then picks up again as night moves in.  About half the women I see have long, I will call them trench coats, on that cover their whole body, and scarves covering their hair and neck (I have no idea why they don’t die of heat stroke)  The other half are dressed in long pants/skirt with long or short sleeves and some with a hijab (head scarf).  A few wear rather more revealing shirts (though not pants), but they are mostly younger people in their 20s, especially students at the university.  I feel like I could wear what I normally wear at home and nobody would really care (remember I never wear shorts anyway, so that isn’t a problem), its just more respectful of their culture and give a better image to foreigners if I dress conservatively.  Shorts or short skirts of any kind are definitely not allowed for women.  I have seen maybe two people total with some form of long short that go down to the knees, and I’ve seen a few capris, but absolutely nothing like the mini skirts or things you can barely call shorts that many American girls wear in the summer.  So this is a big difference with China, which isn’t a religiously oriented culture and is also very westernized in the big cities.

Most people here have been very friendly and welcoming, much like in China, though when I’m walking on the streets I do get stared at.  I feel like Syria is less developed than China, at least in the big cities on the coast (like Qingdao), but it is also just a completely different culture, so it is hard to compare.  The traffic is crazier than in China, everything is just crazy here if it involves vehicles.  There are very few lights, no lanes and hardly any traffic signs.  There are a few traffic policemen directing traffic here and there.  You have to be very careful crossing the street, as people will hit you if you get in the way.

I’ll have to wait till later to say any more, and its getting late (almost 11 pm!)  Tomorrow I’m off to the embassy to get some paperwork done, and I’m going to a different market to try and find a fan.

In Him

Lydia

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