Below are a few books I recommend reading prior to a trip to Syria:
Syria - A Historical and Cultural Guide, by Warwick Ball
Damas - Miroir Brisé d'Un Orient Arabe (Éditions Autrement, Séries Monde)
Monuments of Syria - An Historical Guide, by Ross Burns
Syria - A Selection of Reports, by Carol Miller
Damascus - Hidden Treasures of the Old City, by Brigid Keenan (illustrated)
Damascus - A History, by Ross Burns (a detailed historical account, recommended only for those passionate about the details)
Rome in the East, The Transformation of an Empire, by Warwick Ball
Les Croisades vues par les Arabes, Amin Maalouf (The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf)
Wasta is a word often heard in Syria. It is Arabic and translates as something like authority, influence, political (or other) power, connections, or a combination of those terms. In practical terms it means that some rules can become more flexible if you have wasta, or know someone who has wasta. Also, a bit of wasta can smooth or speed up business transactions, bureaucratic issues, and other official procedures. At its best (or worst, depending on your point of view), a good dose of wasta could keep you out of jail or save you from other unpleasant consequences of dubious activities.
The common English expression "it's not what you know but who you know ... " is a rough equivalent of wasta.
On the wasta scale (not that there is an official one), things that can make a difference in the Syria are your nationality, your profession, who you work for, who you know, your political position in the country, your connections to people in positions of authority. Money and how long you have lived in the Syria don't usually directly affect your wasta level but indirectly they do since longer term residents may have built up a larger network of high-wasta friends, and rich people often associate with other rich people who may be high-wasta individuals.
Many expat residents learn about wasta through a driving experience. In simple terms, the more wasta someone has, the less likely they are to cop a fine and/or be blamed if there's an accident. Wasta can result in some unusual situations for example, green lights were actually red when you went through them because the person who crashed into you had enough wasta to change the color retroactively. Indications of higher levels of wasta on the road are dark tinted or mirror tinted windows (30% maximum is the law so anything more than that means it's likely they have enough wasta to get around this rule), number plates with fewer than 5 digits (but anyone can buy them now if they have enough cash so it's not as good an indication as in the past).
Wasta is something that many expats, especially westerners, find difficult to come to terms with but you'll find it easier to enjoy Dubai if you get used to that rather than try to fight it. And of course it helps if you can elevate your own wasta level somehow.
Wasta and Bribes
Don't confuse wasta with bribery. If you try to bribe a government official, for example a police officer who has just pulled you up for driving though somebody's garden, you should expect to be punished fairly harshly for trying to bribe them. And if the owner of the garden that you drove through has some wasta, then you'll probably be even worse off. In the business world, things may operate a little differently. Just as anywhere else in the world, the negotiation of business transactions and contracts is not always done on a level playing field, and bribes ... er gifts ... might be part of your discussions with interested parties.
Wasta also means to pull some strings. is widespread in Syria and bribery as well under Syrian baath party.
Sweet red pepper paste
Sliced garlic (optional)
Mix together the sweet red pepper paste with the crushed walnuts and the garlic.
100 gr. bread crumbs
50 gr. sweet red pepper paste
10 gr. crushed dried hot red pepper
20 gr. cumin
40 gr. concentrated pomegranate syrup
100 ml. olive oil
100 gr. crushed walnut
150 ml. water
20 ml. lemon juice
15 gr. sugar
VEGETABLES OMELET (EJJEH)
1 bunch of parsley
1 teaspoon of flour
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of dried mint
1 teaspoon of dried sweet red pepper
1 pinch of cinnamon
200 ml. olive oil
1 kg. eggplant
1 bunch of parsley
500 gr. eggplant
1 green pepper
1/2 bunch of chopped parsley
4 branches of green mint
150 gr. sesame oil
1/2 glass of lemon juice
25 gr. concentrated pomegranate syrup
30 ml. olive oil
1 clove of garlic if desired
some grains of pomegranate
1 kg. eggplant (about 5 big pieces)
Concentrated pomegranate syrup
250 gr. green olives
60 gr. concentrated pomegranate syrup
40 ml. olive oil
2 green onions
1 peeled tomato
1/2 bunch of parsley
Grains of one pomegranate for decoration
Branch of thyme for decoration
500 gr. tomato
500 gr. cucumber
100 gr. onion
75 gr. green mint
75 gr. purslane
1 bunch of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
50 gr. of black olives
1 lemon juice
3 teaspoons of vinegar
1 teaspoon of sumac
125 ml. olive oil
Bread cut into triangles as desired
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This is actually kind of a sad memory. I visited Syria a couple of months after September 11th, 2001. Needless to say I was about the only tourist to be seen anywhere. Every time I walked into a souvenir shop, I was greeted with eyes fixed to the floor and the owners kept saying “This is your shop”. They meant that I was very welcome. The first time I offered half of the first price I was asked – it was greeted with a slow, sad, nod. After the 3rd shop of getting the same greeting, no haggling and fantastic prices – I asked why.
The owner then explained that the atrocity had meant that tourist had all stop coming. He said ‘Now the Germans don’t come, the French don’t come, the English don’t come’. Essentially any money taken was better than no money at all.
I always offered a fair price and I bought a lot of souvenirs. It was a sad experience, but I always had a warm handshake when I left.
I have read your postings and just wanted to give you a tip for a really good Arabic teacher!
Her name is Reham Mohamad and she has given me private lessons for the last months. She's really good and professional in how she teaches and she only charges 500 SYP per lesson of 45 min (I normally take 2 lessons per time). She can teach you both Standard Arabic and the Syrian Dialect.
You can contact her on the following email: email@example.com or call her on +963 988 621 353
I have worked with a few local operators in Damascus through my job as a tour guide taking danes around Syria and i would like to recommend one of them that i have had very good cooperation with.
They are called "Orpheus tours and travel" and i have generally always been happy with their services and the owner Moustafa Kadri is a trustworty person that i have enjoyed to work with.
They are generally also good at supplying well educated local tour guides.
The adress of the company is:
Orpheus travel and tours
Next to royal suites hotel
P.O. box 876
Tel: +963 11 2325620
I have been here for over a month, and i have observed some things from this city.
Well, for one thing i haven't seen the hospitality and wonderful friendly people that guide books and all the reviewers seem to boast about.
I have observed that they are theiving, arrogant,sexist racist bunch donkeys.
I would never travel to syria again---and not even to any other arab country.
I wouldn't reccomend this country to anyone.
Of course it is possible that your trip might be better than mine was, who knows.
Fondest memory: None!
Favorite thing: Bashar Assad is everywhere!! wherever you go, he is there, lol.. on cars ( his face plastered as a banner on back of cars ) , in the postoffice, billboards, money change places, and on and on....guaranteed wherever you end up, he will be there watching over you!!
Abinos travel in Damascus is an exceptional travel agency. Everything was arranged perfectly. Ibrahim, the owner of Abinos travel cares very much about his clients and ensures everything is 100% right. If you want to contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is very responsive. He can arrange tours that cover all of Syria. I was extremely happy with his service. I enjoyed Syria on my own, but they can arrange a trip for you. For me, they arranged hotels and flights only, but this agency is a full service travel agent.
Fondest memory: The atmosphere there, the buildings, the restaurants,everything......
One of the main reasons that Damascus is located here is the water supply from the Barada River. Although as it flows through the city, it can appear a rather sorry little river, some of the nicest buildings and streets in Damascus are on its banks. The stretch that flows along the northern edge of the Old City, just past the wall of the Citadel, is the prettiest and most interesting.
The Barada River flows into Damascus from the scenic Barada Gorge to the west of the city. Its water is used to make the local Barada Beer.
Straight Street was the main east-west Roman road or Decumanus Maximus through the city, and was named Via Recta. Today its western half is named Sharia Medhat Pasha, after an Ottoman ruler, while its eastern half is called Sharia Bab as-Sharqi, which means Eastern Gateway Street. It was this street along which, according to the Bible, God commanded Ananias to walk in order to meet Saul aka St. Paul and cure him of his blindness. "The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.' " Acts 9: 23-25.
The most famous street in Damascus runs right across the southern half of the Old City, from Bab al-Jabiye in the west to Bab as-Sharqi in the east. Part of it is covered and resembles Souq al Hamidiyya, which runs parallel to it, four blocks to the north. The eastern section, running through the Christian quarter, is mostly an uncovered street, dotted with interesting Roman ruins and ancient churches.
It used to be lined with colonnades, of which two columns, just inside Bab as-Sharqi, are still standing. A Roman Arch marks the exact spot where the Decumanus Maximus intersected with the main north-south Roman road through the city, the Cardo Maximus.
The Christian Quarter of the Old City of Damascus is the location of several Biblical stories relating to Saul aka St. Paul. Saul walked along Straight Street. He was then guided to the House of Ananias, which is now a chapel and finally, after changing his name to Paul, he was lowered from the city wall to escape from the Jews. A small chapel has been built here too.
The Christian Quarter also has some of the most important remains of the Roman City, including the Roman Arch and the eastern gate or Bab as-Sharqi. It is a quiet area with narrow streets and alleyways, bars and restaurants as well as Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Syrian Catholic churches.
When I visited Syria in December 2006, the running rate of exchange seemed to be US$ 1=50 SYP (Syrian Pounds or "Lira" in Arabic)... although the official, but irrelevant interbank rate was $1=54 SYP.
In Damascus, I used two cash machines. One was around the corner from Bab Touma, just outside the old city, on Adeeb Ishaq Street. The second was across the street from Cham Palace Hotel on Maysaloun Street in the new city. Undoubtedly, there are others around, but they are not a frequent occurrence. Best to withdraw a little more than you think you need, just in case.
Remember, though, compared to other countries, Syria is quite inexpensive. An expensive meal for one person will rarely cost more than $10-15, i.e. 500-750 SYP, so there is no need to withdraw a fortune from the cash machine.
As many members ask many times for learning Arabic , there is arabic section in Damascus university and they teach the standard and the spoken language as student want .this is the address and contact person :
Ms Rahaf Ajouka
Tel: +963-(11)-2129494 (ext 55)
Favorite thing: Syria is one of the largest importers of Lebanese wine. So if you are not going to be visiting Lebanon, you will have some chances to try it here. I never did find any Syrian produced wine though. I am not sure if any even exists.
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