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Wednesday, October 31, 2007 

Iraqis in Damascus - Saida Zeinab

The first thing that hits you on the road to Saida Zeinab is the red number plates on some coaches, marked Baghdad. Saida Zeinab is a Shia shrine in the south of Damascus.
Refugees are pouring into Syria - despite the recent change in visa requirements - and many of them end up here.
The traffic slows as you head towards the mosque in the centre of the suburb, and black veiled Iranian pilgrims strepping off coaches take up most of the space on the pavement.
I went last week for the first time in ages, and I felt like a tourist. So much has changed.
Of course, like any poor Damascene suburb, the street scene doesn't look much different. Old men and children selling food and cheap plastic electricals on the pavement. Electricity cables stretching between buildings.
But walk down some streets east of the mosque and you won't hear the typical Damascene drawl. It's replaced by the harsher Iraqi accent.

Another giveaway is the Iraqi flags. They fly from shop windows, in front of street stalls, they're sold by young boys in red, white and black caps. Boys even wear them as bandanas.
In fact, across Damascus Iraqi flags are being sold. Walking across Jisr Ar-Rais at night, some of the night time essentials you can pick up on the way home are a bottle of water, a chocolate bar, and the Iraqi flag.
And look over the edge of the bridge and you'll see two large white tents on the site of the old International Conference Fair Ground. One is marked UNHCR (the UN's refugee organisation) and the other is the Turkish Red Cresent. They are used to register some of the Iraqi refugees entering the country.
But let's go back to Saida Zeinab, and the increible mix of people. Iraqis seeking a save place to live, away from the violence at home, and Iranians drawn to the site out of devotion for their religion.
I stood outside the mosque waiting for some Iraqi friends, and started to eat some food I'd been carrying around. Within two bites of the bread, some children rushed up to me and asked me to give them one. I handed it out and another one wanted one. But his friend grabbed it.
They were fighting each other for crumbs of food. And they were speaking with an Iraqi accent. I told them to calm down, and I tried to make sure they each got some. Tears came to my eyes, not just because they were fighting to fill their stomaches, but because of the imbalanced nature of the interchange.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I was standing there with my silly clothes and my camera, intruding on these people's lives. And looking in on them as if they are zoo animals.
I couldn't control the youngsters so I asked their elder brother to hand the food out fairly. He was sheepishly sitting on the pavement nearby.
There is no end to this post. There is no way to end it. No nice conclusion, or contrite observation.

(Again, sorry if there any errors in this - it was sent from my phone.)

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I've been trying to type something and can't. Sasa what charity organisations do you think would help the plight of these people? I think a lot of people worry about where their money will go if they donate. What do you think?

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About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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