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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid