Shababland – Memories of a Birthday in Damascus, Syria
Twenty-nine, not an age you look forward to or even think about really, at least I never did. Still, my twenty-ninth birthday is one I’ll never forget.
The day started with my oldest birthday tradition… rain. It always rains on my b-day, always has, probably always will. The funny thing is, it rains no matter where I am, it must follow me around. Utah, France, Texas and now Damascus, Syria. It drizzled all morning long, but by late afternoon the sky had cleared and the clouds that remained scattered beautiful orange sunlight onto the crooked grey houses and shops of the old city.
In the morning Emilie and I took a stroll through the market. The usual aggressive hustle and bustle of the market was gone due to it being the end of Ramadan, a celebration known as Eid (عيد) . No open shops, no honking cars, no shouting merchants, just long, empty market hallways. It was like watching a bat sleep.
As we got closer to Souq El Hamidyye (the main market) and the Umayyad Mosque life suddenly appeared. An ocean of little boys filled the Umayyad square. Hundreds of rascals running everywhere shooting plastic bee bees from toy guns they received as gifts for Eid. The best way for me to describe what I saw is to relate it to the scene in Pinocchio where all the boys go to the island and turn into donkeys. It felt like we were standing in the pumping heart of a carnival in a world ruled by little boys.
I got shot several times in the face with the little plastic bee bees but I felt worse for the pigeons who were the boys’ main target. The girls brave enough to walk through the plaza didn’t seem to stay very long. There was an overdose of visual activity full of motion, color, energy and aggression wherever you looked. I’ve never felt or seen anything like it.
God blessed me on my b-day with the most beautiful evening we’d seen since arriving in Syria. The weather was cool, the clouds had cleared and there was no wind. There were even 30 seconds of fireworks over the Umayyad Mosque to mark Eid.
We were excited about our new house in the ancient Shaghoor quarters of Old Damascus so we invited all of our friends to celebrate chez nous. It would have been impossible to feed everyone so we went the pot-luck route. There was quite the eclectic spread of dishes. Everything from Indian food, to Arabic food, to French food and even a little pizza. The ice cream cakes were the highlight though. If you ever get the chance to have an ice cream fruit cake in Syria, don’t miss it. Slices of every type of fruit imaginable, cram-packed onto a layer of fruit cocktail sherbet. Pretty mind-blowing.
There we were, on a rooftop in Old City Damascus, eating and enjoying each other’s company, just happy to be alive. It was a perfect day, and definitely one of the most memorable birthdays of my life.