Sunday, April 17, 2005

Renovating Syria – Part One!

It’s been three weeks now, but the people who are currently renovating our apartment block say that it will take them three more months before finishing their work. This means three more months of dust in our air and lungs, and dirt and paint on our sidewalks. Still, the whole situation is shaping up to be very much like the process of reform said to be taking place in the country. More importantly, the mentalities involved seem to be very much the same.


The place where I live, Mazze Autostrad, is supposed to be one of the plushest neighborhood in Damascus. But it is new neighborhood built almost exclusively under Baath rule, and could not, therefore, but reflect the socialist and rural underpinnings of the Baath regime. As such, and apart from the few foreign embassies and long-standing villas of some well-to-do Sunni families, the neighborhood boasts many plush apartments and villas assigned to various army generals and state officials (including the uncle f the current President, still in exile according to latest reports).

But the great majority of Mazzans are not necessarily “plush” themselves, and have only managed to acquire their places of residence through the various official unions, organizations and institutions with which they are affiliated and in accordance with various state-subsidy schemes. Indeed, I and my family happen to live in the apartment acquired by my father as a result of his affiliation with the Syrian Cinema Foundation. It had taken my father twenty years to pay for the apartment.

My neighbors, however, include an ex-footballer who now drives a tax for a living, a current Baath Member of Parliament, who is apparently not that well-connected, otherwise he could have afforded a more plush setting, an ex-Madam turned entrepreneur (obviously not too successful), and a small assortment of retirees and their families.

There are also a number of apartments that get rented by tourists from the Gulf interested in sampling our local products of wines, nuts and whores. In fact, two such apartments happened to be located on the first floor on either side of our own apartment, so life for the family is about to take the usual nasty turn as the summer approaches and Gulf tourists begin flocking our way.

While, these people tend to carry out their activities pretty discreetly to avoid harassment and blackmail by local authorities, the very idea of having two whore-houses located next to you, is still very unappealing, somehow. I am not that liberal, you see. I have never been that liberal. I doubt I’ll ever be. In fact, I think this whole phenomenon in our society is more a reflection of traditional conservative values and their clash with real life than any liberal trend really.

But I digress.

The important thing that needs to be noted here is that our apartment overlooks the Autostrad and is pretty much the jewel of the building. It might be too small for a family of four, still, and over the last five years, my Mom, Khawla and I have poured our hearts and savings into making it a very special place. Indeed, and just last summer, we added a string of bronze flower pods all around the balcony, something that we have been talking about the years.

But our flowers were the very first casualty of the renovation.

We had asked the “engineer” supervising the project to help us put a plastic cover to help protect the flowers, since we couldn’t do it from inside the house, but, promises notwithstanding, we woke up one morning to find out that work had begun, people were already painting the building, and no one, of course, had bothered to cover our flower pods.

Who cares about those aristocrats and their flowers and needs anyway?

Who indeed? A class war was under way here, and we are clearly bound to lose it.