Saturday, 14 July 2012

Damascus' punishment

Damascus is probably one of the cities in Syria with the most support for the regime and therefore, it remained relatively untouched over the past 15 months since the situation began. As I said before, I was able to roam freely and I never encountered any problems. Once, I was driving around with a female friend of mine. A Syrian girl. It was midnight and we were drinking in her car and another car started following us with two guys in it. They were obviously interested, we were not but it was still funny to mess around. I never trusted my opinion of whether guys were hot in their cars or not, because I am quite tall and Arabs tend to be quite average height so it would be embarressing if they were shorter than me and when I'd had a few drinks, I tended to tell them so! So anyway, we lose that car and another one follows us. A blacked out merc and we know it's the secret police, but they were young, wearing leather jackets and they stopped to talk to us. In Arabic first but when I started speaking English, because I can't speak Arabic, one of them tarnsformed into perfect English, which was suspicious! I remember telling my friend do not say ANYTHING about the president - her views were of the opposition and she got quite outspoken. I don't think she would have realised they were police if I didn't tell her because they looked our age. (late twenties). So this guy asks me what I am doing in Syria. I told him I was there for love and he looked satisfied with that. One of my students and good friend was a foreigner working at one of the European embassies. One day, on my way back from his house I got in a taxi and he told me all the drivers are secret police! I said, don't be ridiculous, but as I got in, I noticed the driver was wearing a leather jacket. It dawned on me that my friend was right as we passed through Muhajreen to get to my house, past the police station and he nods at a policeman at the door! I din't know that until almost the end of my stay there! The leather jackets really give it away! It's the uniform!! Anyway, going back to Damascus as being the central hub of support for the president, back in January a protest formed in Mezzah which was massive in number apparently. A friend said there were thousands of people there which I find hard to believe. So, anyway, the police came and dispersed it using whatever means, and that night it began. In the dead of winter - the coldest winter - even colder than a British winter. The government began switching off our electricity. In a city where people live very comfortably. Where people are always using technology and have hot water and love TV and internet. It was an absolute nightmare for me and my friends. The worst thing was of course, how cold we were in our houses designed for boiling weather. I could barely move with cold. My electric was three hours on, three hours off. Three hours on. Three off. For weeks on end. It was obviously a 'punishment' for the people of Damascus, and a way to show how they had the control and we didn't. It was too much of a coincidence to not put two and two together like that. When I look back, it was like a dream. I can't imagine myself being in that situation. Being someone who is from London, where the only power cut I have experienced was during the hurricane in the eighties when I was a kid! But also what people don't understand is that Damascenes aren't used to living like that either. Syria is interesting in terms of social class because so many middle Eastern countries are made up of two classes. high and low. But Syria has a middle class too. They are not all used to lacking things. They work hard for everything they get and they keep it in the family, making sure even extended family are fine. Things are better now in that area, with only two hours a day of no electric, but I know it was hard for them last winter. The shortage of oil and gas had a horrific impact too. They just aren't used to it. What a horrible punishment it was.