Sounds like a Rossini opera gone a bit wrong, no?
I promised a blog, and I also promised great pictures of the city, but I managed to get my phone stolen yesterday, so sadly no piccies just yet. More on that later.
My fellow Bantermarket users will know me well, but for the benefit of others a brief description of my intent is in order. I’m a third-year student of Arabic and Latin, and St Andrews has the option in this semester of studying abroad with Arabic, taking some people to Damascus University and a few to the American University, Cairo.
Studying abroad in Syria for fourteen weeks sounds like a big change of pace, especially for someone who has never been outside Europe before. But why write a blog? Well, it’s partially a diary for me, so I can look back on this time in the future and remember ‘oh yeah, that was the bomb’ (something I especially love saying here when I see tourists) etc., partially a way of structuring my ideas about this fresh and interesting environment in which I find myself and partially a sort of catalogue of good and bad experiences which the reader can seek out and avoid respectively. I will chat shit. Often. If you read enough into it, I may make sense.
I’m one of the clichéd multitude as I really ‘found myself’ in sixth year. Many of my fellow old Aloysians will remember vividly the distinctly substandard teaching, mediocre facilities, multitudinous wankers and architecture fit to induce ocular cancer, but none of these are what I’m talking about. We also remember Lindisfarne, walking barefoot across the sands to Holy Island in contemplation, the Kairos and third year retreats some of us led, but most of all we remember the chaplains, and their inspiration.
Somewhere along the way I lost myself and can’t quite find me again. So something I realised after thinking that study abroad would be great for my Arabic was that coming to appreciate first-hand another culture will help me understand my own – and myself – much better. This blog, in its own way, is an invitation to trust, a ‘wish you were here’, letting the reader know how I’m doing things and how I represent the homeland abroad (probably not very well).
Nobody visits a new country – in this case a new continent – without being at least a little presumptuous. I came here armed (or perhaps disarmed?) with all of my various beliefs and preconceived notions, results of my own culture and upbringing. My growing fascination with Syria represents an already growing understanding of myself and how I relate to the world.
There’s something very bipolar about Damascus. I’m in two minds about practically everything, for example my neighbourhood. This evening I climbed up onto the roof of my old-style Syrian house and could see out all the way to the Umayyid Mosque in the centre of the old city, and was struck by the houses I saw. And how shit they looked from up there. Compared with the wonderful street level of charming winding alleys, wizened old men mumbling incoherently and noisy children, everything was so silent and… shit. Except for the singing of the muezzin from the Mosque. As I contemplated how and why someone could live in such a place as mine for their whole life, the call to prayer started suddenly, and it reminded me – even though I neither believe the words he sings to be true or fully understand them – that during our time of difficulty as well as plenty, God is with us, sustaining us both silently and with all the rigour of life. Then my longed-for mystic moment was cut short by the tens of other recitations from smaller houses of worship and everything suddenly sounded more like an octogenarian (yes!, I’m a journalist fanny now!) boffing a large mammal. But still, that’s what I’m here for firstly. Mystic moments. Not boffing large mammals.
Very profound, Starky, yes…