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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid