I have to admit: I was completely spoiled during my two years that I lived in Syria.
Easy to do since I earned sixty times what the average Syrian made in a year.
I ate out every night.
I traveled to Europe whenever I had the opportunity.
I bought things on impulse I never could have living in the States.
I engaged in the bribing of local officials.
It’s called baksheesh, and for many locals it was a normal product of doing business.
My friend Hani was opening a restaurant in Damascus’ Old City.
He made sure to set aside cash, just in case the inspectors arrived to warn him about various electrical or plumbing problems that his new venture might come across.
It’s amazing at how quickly those problems went away once cash had been exchanged.
For most of my stay in Syria, I didn’t have a reason to bribe the police. Expatriates were left alone, and we generally stayed within our sheltered community.
But in March of my first year there, one of the expatriates decided they were going to throw a party.
I was just out of the hospital (NOT a story worth sharing), so I went as a sober observer…and what a party it was!
There were about sixty people in this apartment, dancing and drinking…and I was standing there watching, amused by it all. I wasn’t about to let everyone else have the fun, though – I grabbed one of the Marines who had off that weekend, and encouraged him to join me in the kitchen.
I went into the refrigerator, which was stocked a lot more than my own. I was lucky to have a bowl of minced meat and rice in mine. This one looked like it could feed a family of ten. I grabbed some fruit, told the Marine to find a couple pitchers, and began to mix.
There was no rhyme or reason to the concoction I assembled, but I made a drink out of various alcoholic beverages, citrus fruit and a few mixtures. The Marine tasted it, and gave it a thumbs-up.
I grabbed the tea kettle off the stove and emptied its contents, and replaced it with my invention.
The rest of the evening I walked around the party and instructed guests to “bow before the Kettle of Content”.
Two things happened as a result of that party:
- Another expatriate thought to themselves, “I think I can throw a bigger and better party.”
- And the next host bought two brand new tea kettles for my use.
Every other week until I left in June for summer break, an expatriate threw a party.
Each one was bigger than the last.
I had mine in May – a toga party to “celebrate the 700 year occupation of Damascus by the Romans.”
To be honest, I just needed a theme other than “Please Come Drink from My Tea Kettles.”
By the following fall, the parties were truly out of control.
Rooftop bashes, hired staff… just over-the-top events which required a lot of planning and advertising. I couldn’t possibly compete with these events anymore. I just made sure I never missed a single one.
A good friend of mine, however, lived in a rooftop apartment of one of the few five-story buildings in Damascus. His apartment had the best views of the city other than Mount Qasioun, the mountain ridge just to the north of the city, and he wanted to throw a party the expatriate community had never seen before.
He, another friend of ours from the British school and I put together the resources and strategized.
The party would be staffed with bartenders, DJs, lighting artists and movers. The morning after would see cleaners and painters attempt to restore what was left of the apartment. We were offering a variety of prizes to our guests based on a number of criteria, which included who drank the most from the Kettle of Content.
We needed to make sure the party was broken up, so the landlord was warned about the party, and what we planned. He had no problem with it, and told us he would ignore calls from his tenants the night of.
We also paid off the police.
The whole event cost five thousand dollars, and we scheduled the “Vicars and Tarts Party” * for early December. Nothing was left to chance – flyers were placed in all the embassies, as well as the language schools with international students studying Arabic. We had no issues with locals attending, and fully expected the Mahabarat to have informers at the party – it didn’t matter to us, since expatriates were left alone.
* in American English: “Priests and Prostitutes”
On the night of the party, we couldn’t be bothered to be at the party when it started – that was left to the hired employees. In the meantime, we got dressed at a friend’s apartment.
I wore a monk’s robe, complete with hood, rope belt and pouch for gold coins, with plans for a performance late in the evening. We then went off to the Australian Embassy Bar (the Roo Bar), where we read off a Dave Letterman inspired Top Ten list, had a drink, then grabbed a ride to the party.
I don’t think I realized at how big an event this had become until we arrived:
Police were directing traffic to the party.
The road was roped off, and police let cars through who were dropping off guests of the party – otherwise, they were detoured.
We exited the car, and took the elevator to the top floor. The interior decorators outdid themselves:
On top of the actual apartment, above the balcony overlooking the city, there was a bed and a chandelier suspended in the open air over the bed. This was an inside joke which referred to an event from an earlier party, and encouraged debauchery later in the evening. There were two bars in separate rooms, staffed and serving all kinds of alcohol. There was a stage next to the DJ booth.
When we walked in, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” was playing, and about two hundred locals danced, swayed and sang along with the song.
It was then that I realized that people are all the same, no matter what our backgrounds are…and that religion and politics only seem to mess us up.
That was also the exact moment that Could You Be Loved became my favorite Bob Marley song.
The Kettle of Content came out about an hour later.
This time, filled with a concoction created by the bartenders that was much better than anything I’d whipped together. I did my thing; walking through the crowd and finding people who would be willing to have shots poured into their mouths. One of my favorite couples knelt down and received their present, then encouraged their daughter to do the same…a student of mine from the school.
That was the last time I used the Kettle of Content.
But it certainly wasn’t the end of the party…
…to be continued…
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