News / Middle East

Ramadan in Damascus More Festive Amid Soaring Prices

Fruits are displayed for sale at al-Shaalan market a day before the fasting month of Ramadan in Damascus, Syria, July 9, 2013.
Fruits are displayed for sale at al-Shaalan market a day before the fasting month of Ramadan in Damascus, Syria, July 9, 2013.
Reuters
As Ramadan began, the mood in Damascus was more festive than a year ago, reflecting perhaps a greater sense of security as government troops make gains against the rebel insurgency.
 
Many Damascenes have returned from abroad to spend the Muslim holy month with loved ones. Food shops were abuzz with shoppers and butchers and bakers ran low on supplies.
 
But many shoppers expressed frustration at food shortages and inflated prices.
 
The Syrian pound has crashed to one sixth of its value two years ago. Although Syria has been self-sufficient in food, fuel shortages lead to a shortage of food in the cities.
 
On the first day of Ramadan on Wednesday, Damascenes could not find staples such as yogurt. The price of veal, if found at all, was twice what it was a few months ago. Pita bread, a daily staple, was now three times its price a year ago.
 
Meanwhile, salaries for government workers have not risen. Merchants and private sector workers have seen their businesses come to a standstill, and many complain of a shortage of cash.
 
“It's a disaster, but somehow people are pulling through. Some share household expenses, some borrow, some just get by on very little and don't complain. That's how we're doing it these days,” said Ayman, 42, an entrepreneur.
 
The government has begun to address the food crisis. Last week it passed a law forbidding anyone from transporting food out of the country. Some Lebanese and many Syrians who live in Lebanon have been shopping for food in Damascus before taking it back to Lebanon, where everything costs slightly more.
 
But despite financial troubles, Damascenes seemed keen to get into the festive mood.
 
Damascus more confident
 
Although government forces are battling rebels on the outskirts of Damascus, and explosions and aerial bombardments can be heard throughout the city, Damascenes seem more confident and at ease than just a few weeks earlier.
 
Some believe the government has taken back control of most of the capital's outskirts.
 
“I don't support the government, but let's face it. It's strong. It's winning. It's not going anywhere,” said Ayman, echoing a common sentiment these days.
 
Though there are hardly any statistics on kidnappings and the random disappearances that have plagued Damascus over the past year, people seem confident that such incidents have markedly declined in number.
 
Perhaps evidence of the change in mood was the unusual sighting of President Bashar al-Assad's cousin, Nabhan, who showed up in a city mall with only a small security detail. He was overheard saying that it was his first time he had set foot there in over a year.
 
The Kafar Souseh mall is located near government buildings, the site of several bomb and mortar attacks in the past months.
 
Syrians shop in the covered market in central Damascus as they prepare for the month of Ramadan, July 9, 2013.Syrians shop in the covered market in central Damascus as they prepare for the month of Ramadan, July 9, 2013.
x
Syrians shop in the covered market in central Damascus as they prepare for the month of Ramadan, July 9, 2013.
Syrians shop in the covered market in central Damascus as they prepare for the month of Ramadan, July 9, 2013.
On the eve of Ramadan, Damascenes crowded streets and coffee shops. They shopped for last-minute ingredients then raced home to prepare their final meal of the day before sunrise.
 
The buzz was highly unusual, something the streets of Damascus had not seen in a while.
 
For months now, the Syrian capital has gone quiet by sunset, as people scurry home for fear of kidnappings, shootings and hostile checkpoints.
 
Late night meals
 
But Ramadan is traditionally a month of nocturnal activities, especially when falls in summer. During the day, fasting Muslims stay indoors to avoid the heat and to rest. At night, after they break their fast and spend time in prayer, people go out for a stroll and a late night meal, or visit family with all their children in tow.
 
In 2010, these Ramadan festivities seemed to have reached a peak. Restaurants and private parties for the meal of Suhur - the final meal before sunrise - went on all night. The scene was so festive that it was near impossible to find a free table at a restaurant at 2 a.m. without a reservation.
 
The atmosphere was in contrast to the eerie scenes of last Ramadan, which followed the assassination of Assef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law. Many remember that killing as the arrival in the capital of the country's civil war.
 
Last Ramadan, everyone scurried home before sunset. During the night, only heavy artillery and fighter jets could be heard. Damascenes said none had ever witnessed such a morose Ramadan.
 
But in the days before this Ramadan, the streets of Damascus seem to have come to life, with cars blaring music and young people clapping along.
 
Perhaps adding to the buzz is the fact that so many Syrians have returned home for the holy month.
 
The Lebanese border was unusually crowded with Syrians on their way to Damascus.
 
One 47-year-old grandmother, Lamia, said she and her husband and young daughter were returning home from Cairo via Beirut  “for good”.
 
“We hear things are calm now, so here we are. We're back,” she said.
 
Others flew direct from Cairo to Damascus just in time for Ramadan. Many arrived late at night, forcing family members to make the arduous trip to the airport to pick them up.
 
One such passenger, Fatma, 70, said she was well aware of the risks, but she had to come home no matter the cost.
 
“I've had enough of exile. It's time for me to be home,” she said.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid