the city

damascus was born yesterday and she’s a million years old. we walk on ancient land, treading on the bones of a thousand generations, layers of civilization since time began. we walk on sidewalk and pavement, litter, dirt and dust, through sunny skies and crowded streets, ancient houses, street cats eyeing you from the tops of dumpsters, little boys carrying bread home from the baker. a million stalls in the souq, vegetables in square arrangements like quilted cloth, women carefully making their way through, grocery bags in hand, in high heeled shoes and purses with the criss-crossed c’s of ‘chanel’. Skinned sheep hanging on hooks outside butcher shops, tables filled with cheap cosmetics and hairbrushes, cascades of scarves hanging up outside clothing shops, small mosques with luminous green lights. bumper to bumper traffic, taxis, Pepsi trucks, suzukis, microbuses, the big blue bus heading downtown, towards the Hijaz Railway Station, where historic trains used to bring pilgrims to the holy cities, and now makes charming background for the tourists.

The old city, blind alleyways and narrow streets, maqams and graves, no end to the jumble of small shops and wares being sold, just like the last few centuries: fabrics to the left, spices straight ahead, metals around the way to the right. hawk eyed sellers appraising your value from one glance, trying out their limited vocabulary in a number of languages. “min junoob afriqiyya ukhti? you speak tha englisss? very beautiful dress. for you only one thousand…”

 its heart and soul: jami’a umawiyy, the eye of the storm, soothing calm among the fervor of people and business, walls whispering stories of scholars, worshippers, and lovers of God.

my street. adhan ringing to the skies, occasional pop music from passing cars, young men chilling on the street and laughing until late into the night. students of deen walking by in well pressed thaubs and books in hand. a father calling his wayward son home from a high apartment window “Brahiiiiiim!“. footsteps of the neighbors kids playing upstairs, soulful quran recitation from a students open window.

a living breathing entity this city, a few million peoples lives happening to cross paths, along with the vibe of countless dead ancients, Kurds, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese, and the ‘pure’ Damascenes, who can tell what part of Syria you were born in by the way you say your ‘a’, and who can still ask ‘bayt min?’ (What’s your family name?) and know whether the answer deserves a respectful nod or an upturned eyebrow. even language is a play on old and new, Allahu yu’teeka al-aafiyah (a prayer for well being) before asking for anything, and general conversation mixed with borrowed English words, making it far from the classical…

ancient and modern, slow paced and pulsating, complex and colorful… that’s damascus for you…

Published in: on February 28, 2007 at 12:23 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Students of knowledge walking around? Where in Damascus is this? I know they’re there but I need to drop by this place sometime insha’Allah.

  2. as salaamu alaykum,

    Rukn ad-Deen is the place to be akhi… it’s also a common sight in Sina’a (near Mahad al-Fath).


  3. Jazakullah kheyrun
    “footsteps of the neighbors kids playing upstairs, soulful quran recitation from a students open window.”

    Imagery is beautiful.

    As salaamu alekum

  4. Salamaat,
    Gorgeous descriptions Shaz. Thanks for sharing…keep writing 🙂

  5. This is beautiful. inshAllah I am going there in early July my first time, ive heard so much and your love for it just adds to my excitement. My soul yearns for a place of saints, prophets, a place steeped deep in islamic history, of deserts and bedouins, all that is damascus, subhanallah

  6. I’d like to pack my bags now!

  7. vividly described, mash’Allah

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