During my time in Syria, a friend and I joked about creating an album entitled “The Sounds of Damascus.”
A collection of things we’d heard while living there that wouldn’t be familiar to a typical American.
Obviously, the call to prayer was one.
But there were a few other favorites of mine:
When one dials an incorrect number in the States, they’ll get a message:
“We’re sorry you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.
If you feel this is in error, please check the number dialed, and please try again.”
In Syria, there’s a message in Arabic, then English… but I’m not sure they translated it very well.
The Arabic sounds like “Huh-roota mak-tube, ray moo tak-tem”, but is followed immediately with. “this number does not exist.”
As if I’d just dialed into another dimension.
Street vendors are prevalent in Damascus. I’d regularly purchase pistachios, hummus and other foods for pennies.
But I had to ask my students about another man who used to roll his cart down my street yelling something that sounded like the phrase before CHARGE! (Is it, “du-duh, du-DUH, DU-DUH!??)
Finally, one of my students told me it was “Yella, ente durah!”, or “Come get your corn!”.
It wound up being delicious, as well.
Early on weekend mornings we’d hear a little two-cycled pickup truck (much like my first ride in the country)
Thump-thump-thumping with a loud clang of metal on metal.
A man was selling propane gas for stoves, gaining attention by cracking a wrench on the empty propane tanks, then yelling in a Don Cornelius baritone, “GAHZ! GAHZ!”
These never failed to amuse me.
But most of the sounds we wanted to include came from Abu Roumaneh, one bustling neighborhood over from my own.
Most teachers went to shop there if they needed to grab something quick, but it wasn’t quick if you came in a car – the traffic was unbearable. There were no traffic lights, no walkways, no laned traffic, just a moving parking with occasional bursts of speed.
Somehow, locals managed to cope. One time I witnessed a woman thrust her stroller into moving traffic in an effort to cross the street. After a screech and a couple angry fists in her direction, she made it to the other side…where, relieved, I realized there was no baby in the cart.
One weekend afternoon, Science Guy and I took a trip to Abu Roumaneh to purchase some things, but we took the car.
We sat at a stop sign waiting to turn left for what seemed an eternity, all the while cars raced past us in either direction, pedestrians blocking access as well. Cars behind began to honk at us, and we grew impatient. Science Guy looked left, I handled the right. I saw a brief gap and yelled “CLEAR!”, then looked left, where there was a gap as well. Science Guy gunned it…
…directly into the woman who was running across the street.
The car hit her below the knee, and she crumpled onto the hood of the car, then slid off it as Science Guy hit the brakes.
We jumped out to survey the dead body.
In the United States, this accident may have been worth a couple hundred thousand dollars. There is no doubt the police would’ve been called, and probably an ambulance.
Not in Damascus.
She got up off the pavement, brushed herself off, ignored the skinned knee, waived to us as if she were alright. “Malesh, malesh…” and limped away.
A minute later, Science Guy and I crept into traffic and drove home in silence.
And it was not the worst thing I’d done in Abu Roumaneh.
…to be continued…
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