Date: April 3, 2011
I woke up really late on April 3rd and washed my clothes, so it was about 12 by the time I got out. Today was the first day I had an agenda. The plan was to visit a couple of paid attractions in town before heading out to Bosra, a city about 2 hrs away from Damascus. 3rd being Sunday and therefore a working day here, I thought the Citadel might be open but it was still closed. I guess it hasn’t been opened up to visitors yet. What the visitor’s office is for I’ll never know.
Next in line was the Azem Palace, which was the palace of the old Ottoman Pasha of Damascus. It was beautiful, sure. But not worth the 150 SYP entrance fee if you ask me. In one of the rooms an employee approached me. Curiously, he addressed me in a mixture of Arabic, English and French. But we managed to communicate somehow. (Also, I noticed that most of the signs in the palace were in Arabic and French only)
“Al Hind! Ahlan Wasahlan. Welcome to Syria Damascus.”
“What about the sign?”
“Pour les etrangeres. Les occidentals.” (For the foreigners. The westerners)
He also tried explaining some of the exhibits. He was especially proud of the musical instruments. And then when I was done, that’s when it came. I was expecting it.
“No money. Pas d’argent. Student”
Another “Ahlan Wasahlan” and a smile. That was refreshing. You refuse baksheesh in India you get a glare and probably a gaali. You refuse baksheesh here, and you get a smile?
I had also been hearing a lot about the honesty of Syrians. Restaurants leave their chairs and tables outside at night, people leave their things in cafes only to return hours later and still find them there, etc etc. So I decided to test this by leaving my camera case in the Azem Palace. I should probably add that this “decision” was purely subconscious. Anyway, when I went back and asked around, the camera case was waiting for me in the Manager’s office with an accompanying smile.
My shoes were quite literally falling apart, so I found a cobbler to have them mended. I gave him 500 and he wouldn’t give me any change! After a lot of angry gesturing he gave me back a 100 but refused to budge beyond that. I was furious and disheartened. I mean, 400 for some glue and a few stitches! You penny pinch and save and all that but then one asshole like this comes along and wallops your budget right out of the stadium. Quite ironic after the incident at the Azem palace!
Anyway, I walked around, had some shawarma (pieces of chicken, pickles and some salad rolled in a flatbread) and a halawa-bi-jibn (a sweet) and half-heartedly tried to find the bus station for Bosra, but then gave up and took a bus back to Bab Touma instead. I needed a haircut so I walked into a barbershop that Mustafa frequented.
He took great care, spent a lot of time, used various different instruments and was quite precise. He then had his assistant shampoo and dry my hair, and proceeded to style them with a blowdryer and a little roller thingy. I had my hair styled!
I discovered that this is quite regular for Arab men. Now this might make me look obsessed with the Damascenes’ looks, but so are they so I guess it’s fair enough. Barbershops here are scattered all around, and they are always a buzz of activity. Men (yes, men) visit barbershops frequently just to get their hair styled! No wonder you can see them all walking around with carefully manicured beards and hair sculpted with atomic precision. All this attention to appearance here might seem vain, but when the result is pleasing to the eye, who cares, really?
Okay that’s it. I’m not talking about looks on this blog anymore. I had a wonderful but expensive early dinner with Mustafa in the Grape Leaves Restaurant (I guess this wasn’t a good day for my budget), headed back home to watch some videos on his computer and then to the charming Dome Café run by a very friendly guy for some internet. I needed to write and I can focus more in a cafe than at home.
The day’s expenses:
- Entrance Fees: 150
- Pomegranate Juice: 50
- Shoe Repain Rip-off: 400
- Shawarma: 50
- Halawa-bi-jibn: 25
- Bus: 10
- Haircut + Shave: 250
- Dinner: 150
Total: 1085 SYP (Approx. 1000 INR/22.8 USD)