News / Middle East

    In Damascus, Reminders of Lurking War on the Dinner Table

    Boys use a bucket to extract water from a well in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Facing water shortages, residents started drilling wells to extract water to be used for drinking and domestic use, May 6, 2014.
    Boys use a bucket to extract water from a well in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Facing water shortages, residents started drilling wells to extract water to be used for drinking and domestic use, May 6, 2014.
    Reuters
    As Syria approaches a surreal presidential election in the midst of civil war, the capital has avoided the worst of the conflict but reminders are increasingly coming out the water taps and appearing on the dinner table, to the dismay of Damascenes.
     
    Before the war, the government of President Bashar al-Assad maintained tight control on food prices and quality. Distracted by war, its grip has slackened and shady business practices have flourished to the detriment of water and food supplies.
     
    Rushing to the kitchen sink the other day to fill up a container with water, Mayada, a Damascene, wanted to store as much water as possible. “I must hurry, because sometimes the water cuts off in an hour,” she said.
     
    “And look at all this sand. We can't drink the water anymore without filtering it first.” She pointed to black and brown grains sinking to the bottom of her freshly filled water jug. “And God knows what else is floating in there that I can't see.”
     
    Residents say the quality of food is also deteriorating, coupled with price rises, especially fast food favorites like shawarma and falafel as well as “farouj”, or roast chicken.
     
    “Taste the falafel and you'll know they add bread crumbs to it to save on chickpeas,” said Issam, a restaurateur in central Damascus, referring to the main ingredient in falafel. “You can easily tell the difference. Today's 'fake' falafel is greasier and darker and just looks wrong all around. People eat it because it's cheap, but everyone is complaining.”
     
    Shawarma, cut from a giant rotating hulk of meat, is also under scrutiny. “Only God knows what meat they're using these days. Is it even beef? All I know is it doesn't taste the same as before,” said Lamia, 32.
     
    As for poultry, the birds look either skinnier than usual or unusually plump but without taste, prompting many Damascenes to wonder what poultry farmers might be feeding the chickens.
     
    “Is it hormones? Animals protein? Garbage? Sewage? We cannot know,” said Marwan, who considers himself an amateur nutritionist. “Back in the good days, poultry farmers got away with dubious practices. Now? I hate to even think about it.”
     
    Damascenes anxiously await the presidential election on June 3 which Assad looks certain to win, given that voting will be held only in state-controlled areas, but which they fear will be marked by a fierce mortar barrage from rebel-held suburbs.
     
    The government, however, is waging a “Together, We Rebuild” campaign that now peppers the capital's streets with posters that feature hands clasped together - despite Syria's widespread fragmentation into sectarian and tribal enclaves.
     
    Damascenes have been luckier than Syrians living in areas of the country beyond government control, bombed daily and cut off by prolonged but inconclusive army sieges.
     
    Some 160,000 people have died in the conflict, which started in March 2011 with street protests against decades of Assad family rule but turned into an insurgency following a security crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Malnutrition is rampant and doctors say children have starved to death in besieged zones.
     
    Price rises

    In Damascus, people notice the small changes - daily staples soaring in price, sometimes selling at three or four times what they used to be, with the quality plummeting.
     
    “Almost every single dairy maker these days is adding water to milk and to cheese and yogurt,” said Abu Mustafa, a dairy shop owner in the middle-class neighborhood of Mazraa. He denies that he does it himself.
     
    Before the war, the authorities kept a close watch on dairy makers to deter cheating and enforced fixed prices, forcing the dairy makers to compete with each other based solely on quality and taste.
     
    Now there is hardly any oversight. White Syrian cheese, a daily must-have in every Syrian household, used to sell for 250 Syrian pounds ($1.60) per kilo. Now, it varies between 400 SP to 1,300 SP ($8.70), the latter closer to Abu Mostafa's prices.
     
    Marwan is a regular customer at Abu Mostafa's, though he privately complains about the prices.
     
    “I don't know what it is, but everything is starting to taste terrible. Dairy, bread, even the meat we buy these days. It's the same cut and everything as I've always purchased, and from the same neighborhood butcher, but it now tastes like rubber,” he said.
     
    The outlying district of Ghouta was long one of the main food supply sources for Damascus but it has been in rebel hands for almost two years, rendering most of its produce, poultry and meat inaccessible to Damascenes.
     
    Much of Ghouta's farmland has also turned into danger zones as Syrian warplanes routinely bombard it and government snipers prevent farmers from tending to their crop.
     
    A dairy supplier who was unloading merchandise at Abu Mostafa's said he had been unable to access Ghouta for months, but instead now supplies them from Quneitra 45 miles (73 km) away in the Golan Heights near the Israeli border.
     
    “They still have good farms there, cattle and poultry and everything, though it's not always easy for us to transport the goods into the city.”

    You May Like

    US Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora