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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid