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.
Mate (mati) drink
Mate in Arabic (mati)is south American drink but very popular drink in Syria,
Is drunk with Massasa (strow )and hot water.
Those who share the mate join in a kind of bond of total acceptance and friendship.
some of the benefits of drinking yerba mate tea.
1. Rich in Antioxidants
Yerba mate tea is very high in antioxidants; it's got about 90% more antioxidants than green tea. Yerba mate has significant immune boosting properties. It can slow the signs of aging, detoxify the blood and prevent many types of cancer. Yerba mate also helps reduce stress and insomnia.
2. Enhances Your Ability to Focus
Proponents of yerba mate tea say that the minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, animo acids and polphenols found in this beverage have a balancing effect on the caffeine it contains. Users report increased mental energy, clarity and focus, but they also say that yerba mate doesn't cause any of the uncomfortable side effects associated with drinking caffeinated beverages, such as headaches, stomachaches and jitters.
3. Enhances Physical Endurance
The chemical compounds and nutrients in yerba mate tea affect your metabolism to make your body use carbohydrates more efficiently. This means you'll get more energy from the food you eat. You'll also burn more of the calories your body has stored in fat cells as fuel when you drink yerba mate tea regularly. Regular yerba mate consumption also helps keep lactic acid from building up in your muscles so you can decrease post workout soreness and cut your recovery time.
4. Aids Digestion
The native peoples of South America have long used yerba mate tea as a traditional herbal remedy against digestive ailments. Yerba mate aids digestion by stimulating increased production of bile and other gastric acids. Yerba mate helps keep your colon clean for effective and efficient waste elimination, and helps reduce the stomach bacteria that can contribute to bad breath.
5. Helps You Control Your Weight
Native South American peoples have traditionally used yerba mate as part of a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and exercise. Yerba mate has stimulant qualities to help you feel full sooner after you begin eating, and it slows your digestion so that your stomach stays full longer. Combining yerba mate with a healthy diet and regular exercise can help boost your metabolism to burn more calories, and it can help you eat less by curbing your appetite slightly.
6. Supports Cardiovascular Health
The antioxidants and amino acids present in yerba mate help fat and cholesterol move through your bloodstream so that they don't accumulate on artery walls. Yerba mate also helps prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and prevents blood clots that may cause heart attack or stroke.
Mosques call to prayer
Syria is a Muslim country and therefore Damascus has many mosques. religious Muslims must pray 5 times a day (called the salaah).
The imam of the mosque called the muezzin, climbs to the top of the minaret (tower) and call for people to pray.
The call to prayer can be very loud, guaranteed to wake you up unless you are a very heavy sleeper!
Make sure your hotel is far from a Mosque
Arak عرق is the traditional drink in Syria.~50%-63% Alc. Vol./~100-126 proof
The taste of Arak is very close to the taste of Raki
Arak is a clear beverage that is made from grapes.
The Arak (Araq) is a very strong beverage with more than 40% alcohol so beware !
You can drink the Raki alone but you can also add water or ice and the Arak changes the color to a white or pearl.It served with salad or snacks.
- Wine Tasting
- Beer Tasting
No stops for minibuses(van)
Be aware that there no stops for minibus (van) except the main or start point,you can stop it by rasing your hand,or giving a sign that you want to stop it and when you are on board you can also ask the driver wherever you want.
No ticket required You pay cash ONLY when you are on board.Bear in mind the front board of the bus is ONLY writen in arabic you need to askdriver or any body on board if it pass through your wanted location They are friendly and wil guide you to your wanted destination,make sure you have local currency to pay.
A tip for the waitress or taxidriver?
In Damascus or in Syria in General, it is up to you to give tips to the waitress in a restaurant (if he/she was friendly and helpfull and the food was good of cours). They need the tips to live since the wage is very little.
In bars and café's some people give a tip, others don't.The servers will appreciate it if you do.
It is common to give the taxidriver a tip. Only if they were nice and friendly, of course!
Never give a tip if someone asks for it.The amount of the tip is not specific you decide how much to tip.:-)
Bear in mind that in Syria They speak Arabic.
They have different letters They write and read from right to left,Here are some handy phrases and words (pronounciation) :
Hello : Marhaba
How are you : Ki fak
I am fine : al hamid lil lah
Thanks very much : shokran ktir
you are welcome : Afwan
Money : Masari
far : ba'eed
Near : Areeb
Nice : Hilo ,Jamil
Delicous : Laziz
How much : b'kam
Why : Lesh
Size : Qiyas
Taxi : taxi
Yes : Na'am
No : La
Please : min fadlak
what's your name? :Sho ismak ?
My name is Robin : Ismi Robin
where are you from? : min wen inta ?
I am from Holland: Ana min Hollanda,America,Britania etc
Bargaining or haggling
Be aware that haggling down the price of any thing you buy,The seller,vendor mostly raise the price because the vendor knows very well the buyer will try to haggle it down. It is part of the culture,cloth,taking a taxi,souveniurs,even the hotel price...etc from 20% to 40%.Do your best ;)
Like in most Islamic countries, barbers can be found all over the place.
I never bother to take my own shaving kit when visiting the Middle East etc, as it is such a treat to sit down for a shave. It is very cheap and you should not be concerned about safety, as a new blade is always used for every new client.
Visit a Hammam
Visiting a hammam is most probably something you should try to do while in Damascus. There are several to choose from in the old city.
Syria does have some beautiful hammams. It is authentic, clean and not expensive.
They usually have a price list at the entrance, where you can see exactly what it will cost you, including admission, soap, wash, shampoo, massage, drinks etc.
You can take your own soap and shampoo if you wish to do so.
There are different ‘rooms or areas’ which vary in temperature. Some steam rooms can be VERY hot.
Average price for the full ‘menu’ could be between 400 – 600 SYP. It is generally expected to leave a tip for the guys helping around with the towels, tea etc.
Hammam Nureddine is located at Souk el-Bzouriyeh, close to Khan Assad Pasha – go here for a good experience. It is clean and service is good.
Ice cream rolled in crushed pistachios – a Syrian delicacy. You can find Bakdash, an old ice cream shop in Souk El-Hamidiyeh.
It is amazing to stand and watch how popular and busy this shop is. I wonder how many kilograms of ice cream are made there every day.
There are many ice cream parlours in the old city, but this one seems by far the most popular.
There are many old traditional coffee shops around the Old City. Just around the corner from the very popular Cafe Al-Nawfara is a beautiful old coffee shop. They sell tea, coffee, soft drinks and nargileh. It is mostly frequented by locals, and mostly men.
I enjoyed going there late afternoon, sitting with tea and a pipe watching the people going by.
I do like the wonderful spicy arabic/turkish coffee very much. If you are not use to it, remeber to let it settle before you drink it. It is usually ordered with or without sugar, as you do not add sugar after it is served.
Tea/Coffee and pipe is SYP 100
Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's two big holidays, happened to fall on 30 December 2006. In Damascus on that day, eager to do some shopping, I was quite disappointed to see large sections of the souk closed in celebration of the holiday. On the flip side, it was fantastic to see masses of happy Damascene families strolling in the streets and enjoying the holiday. The entrance of Souk Al-Hamidiya by the Omayyad Mosque is a large gathering area and a great place for people watching during Eid.
An appropriate greeting is "Eid Mubarak!" or "عيد مبارك".
Despite being a predominantly Moslem country, Syria has a national holiday on Christmas day for its estimated 10-15% Christian population. When I was in Damascus over the holiday in 2006, I was quite surprised to see how festive parts of the city were, particularly the Christian Quarter. The city is home to some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. While their percentage of the overall population has diminished over the centuries, they are still a thriving community, with largely equal rights as other religions in this strictly secular state. Attached are (blurry) photos of Christmas decorations in the Christian Quarter of Old Damascus.
Merry Christmas in Arabic is "Milad Majeed!" or "ميلاد مجيد".
- Arts and Culture
- Religious Travel
When in Damascus you should try to visit one of the many hammams (turkish baths).
It´s really a fun experience and it is sure to wash off any dust you might have a aquired in the desert.
The hammam is list here has "womens day" on tuesday and wedensday for any females wanting the hammam experience.
The opening hours are from 12 noon till 5pm.
Hammam Al Wad.
- Arts and Culture
- Women's Travel
- Spa and Resort