“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”
Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:
Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.
This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.
We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.
We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.
AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)
This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.
A restaurant nearby the Talisman:
Breakfast at the Talisman:
The historical nearby Bab, or gate:
A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:
A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!
A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:
Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:
Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.
A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya
A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:
I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?
I’ve had such great feedback from all my friends for whom these photos bring back a lot of memories. So, a few more.
As I was trying to clear out some files, I came across a file of photos I had saved from Doha, Qatar. Many of my earliest photos there were shot on film; I am guessing most of these are 2005 or later. When we arrived in Doha, it was still a sleepy little Arabian Gulf country on the edge of momentous growth and change. It was a charming country, the people were courteous and sweet.
One trip to Al Shamel and around to Fort Zubara, a man followed us along the forsaken and challenging road, just to make sure we made it safely. Qatar was like that, full of gracious people.
Here are some glimpses of Doha in transition:
When the heir to the throne was getting married, all the families / tribes gathered on their lands to dance in his honor, to celebrate. I loved the gold robes, do not know which family this was.
A truck load of sheep on the way to market. Trucks were often overloaded, and often tipped over at the roundabouts.
Who even remembers Parachute Circle? The day it was being knocked down, I made a special trip to capture this dusty demolition:
Dinner at the Majlis, one of our favorite hide-aways:
Old Kharaba Mosque:
The Beehive Souk where the Honey Man had his shop:
A shop in the Gold souk
Khanjar in the old Doha Weapons Museum
Building the new souks at Al Waif
Doha Corniche building with mosque in a niche on facade
Destroying old buildings on Al Rayyan to make way for the new
Doha from the Sheraton; the boat used to go to Palm Island. I’m not sure there is an island anymore.
Doha coffee maker
I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.
AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.
Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.
I have a friend that helps me keep my house clean. I started out as her employer, and now we have become friends. She lives a very different life from me, and I learn from her. Sometimes her perceptions will catch me by surprise.
As we were talking about volunteers and volunteering in churches, we found our churches to be very similar – and I am betting these experiences are universal.
“I’ve always liked washing dishes,” I tell her, “because nobody else wants the job, nobody is telling me how to do it, and I can just keep my head down and stay out of the uproars.”
“Yeh,” she says, “arguing over the little things, cooking up that angry food.”
“Angry food?” I ask.
“”Yeh, you know, you can taste it. When people are calm and happy, they cook differently, and the food comes out good, you can taste the love in it. When they in a hurry, or upset about something, food come out angry.”
Yep. I’ve cooked an angry meal or two myself. It’s a waste of good ingredients. You might as well just open a can of soup as cook angry food.
(This is not the actual slide; the YMCA slide is indoors, and has two loops)
Our brand new YMCA has opened in Pensacola, and it has TWO pools – and a water slide.
Yesterday, there was one swimmer and one wallower as I entered the swim area for water aerobics with two of my friends. This was the perfect time. I asked the life guard if he could open the water slide long enough for us to go down.
My friends looked at me like I had grown a second head.
“If not now, when?” I asked them. “We’re not getting any younger. Who knows, tomorrow we might not be able!”
They were game. They followed me up the stairs, then others began to follow. It occurred to me that there was no going back, and that I had put myself in this position, where I couldn’t back out.
The lifeguard turned on the gush of water that lubricates and speeds your ride through the tube. I didn’t wait to let fear claim me, I jumped into the entry and went.
It was dark. It was fast. It was terrifying. You come out twisted and disoriented, not sure which way is up. It’s a lot like being born – there is NO light in the tube, and when light appears, there is a big gush of water as you are thrown out into the pool. I cam up sputtering.
Everyone did. We all looked proudly at one another and agreed that we are glad we did it – once. And never again.
“We see it all the time.”
As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.
Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.
This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.
The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.
I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”
Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.
But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.
It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?
This morning I got a “special offer” from Amazon:
Very strange. It isn’t Easter. This just smells off.
I checked the return address:
That does not look like any Amazon address I have ever seen. I think this is faux.