Thursday, June 18, 2009

Well, I'm here.

I have nothing particularly interesting to say yet. I'm in Damascus, which is beautiful, an odd mix of dirty and spotless, and very hot. As happens in this sort of environment, I've already made "oh wow we're here" friends with five other Anglophone students in the last two days, eaten a lot of hummus and mhammara, and smoked a decent amount of shisha. Our hostel is a sort of hippie enclave of foreign students, run by a Palestinian and Australian couple and full of animals (a rabbit and some tortoises) and characters. They're super helpful and the location (somewhere in the Jewish or Christian quarters of the Old City--not sure where the boundary is) is lovely.

Speaking of borders, we visited a friend's apartment today and happened to be out on the roof when the adhan went up from the many, many mosques nearby (he's right near the Ummayad Mosque, for one thing). It occurred to us that we'd never heard this in the area where we live. That, in turn, occurred to me, at least, as odd. It's not odd, of course, it makes perfect sense; it just surprised me that in the Old City, a small area, it was possible to that separated in terms of simple sounds.

At any rate, the multiple calls all going up together were beautiful. They were actually in harmony for a while until the last guy started and ruined it.

On a much less poetic note, the amount of paperwork required to do just about anything is surprising. Getting a cellphone requires your passport and your fingerprint. The most efficient thing that happened today was getting some passport-size photos taken (for the AIDS test we have to take before enrolling in the University and for when we have to reapply for residency) and getting photocopies of our passports.

Tea is a constant, which I expected. I'm surprised at how not-smokey the environment seems to be so far--I expected a sort of smog of shisha and cigarettes, which I really haven't encountered. Also unexpected was the sheer heterogeneity of the way people dress here. The men seem more uniform; the women range from full niqab to tight jeans with sleeveless tops. I was told as much before I got here but somehow was not prepared for the visual experience and the total uncertainty it would cause me in terms of how to present myself. One moment I feel extremely overexposed and the next I'm wishing I'd brought more of my "normal" clothes.

I don't have much of a concluding note. Facebook appears in Arabic, which makes you type backwards. It's bizarre. I've since figured out how to switch it to English but I almost miss the weirdness.

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