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Conversations: A Weekend Game of Tennis in Damascus

As part of our effort to highlight civilian stories, below is a conversation between Syria Deeply and a Syrian woman in her 30s who works in the Damascus office of an international organization.

Written by Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

She spoke about the lives of upper-middle-class citizens living and working in the wealthier, government-controlled areas of the capital. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Life appears to be normal on the surface, if not for the far sounds of shelling or smoke you see in the distance. You drift away with your thoughts and you wonder, who’s going to be hit this time? I sometimes feel bad for living in a safer area where we don’t have to wake up to actual strikes. We merely wake to the sound of them.

There was a while where there were a lot of car bombs and mortars in this part of Damascus, and I was so worried and scared. I would go shopping for groceries and wonder if every sketchy-looking vehicle that passed by was going to blow up. We had some days where many mortars fell on the government-controlled areas of Damascus, and that was a reminder that we live in an armed conflict zone, as this is something a lot of us living in the government-controlled areas manage to block out.

We do have different restaurants open, some of which serve local food, or there’s Italian food, there’s fast food. Occasionally some of them run out of materials so you might find your favorite items out of stock. Other times they get the supplies in from Lebanon and manage to keep everything in stock. If you go to the well-stocked supermarket in the Malki district, you’ll usually find everything you need, but sometimes things will even be out of stock there. I know that I am lucky because I live in an area that’s fairly safe and where we still have access to these kinds of luxuries. This is not not the case for the majority of Syrians today.

The last time I had a day off, I went to the pool at the Four Seasons, and the gym. There is a Sheraton as well that has a pool, and pools at a number of other clubs. There’s a number of pools still operating at the five-star hotels and at major clubs. The Syrian elite go there. And then I played tennis. We went for a dinner with friends in the evening. We had wine and good food, and we managed, for a couple of hours, to block out the conflict and the work we do every day.

The bartender at the bar where we occasionally go has been killed, together with another bartender. So that was a wake-up call, that it happened so close to us, near where we live. It was a reminder.

I’m scared of kidnapping. I think about it all the time now, trying to avoid taking taxis, asking a friend to chaperone me home if it’s late, out of fear of that happening. There are periods where things are very tense and the fear catches up with me, and I start calculating everything that could go wrong, from kidnapping to a mortar to a robbery. A lot of people in the government-controlled areas come and beg on the streets and it’s heartbreaking to see how people exist in two parallel worlds. People in fancy cars drive around, and then displaced people come and ask for help to see if there’s any chance to make some money.

People are more careful these days. You carry less money in your bag. Colleagues might not wear their favorite pieces of jewelry. We have had a few incidents where colleagues couldn’t find their wallets or phones. Crime is on the rise in our areas.

I do feel bad when I wake up and hear the shelling in the distance, and I know I’m probably safe because I’m in a government-controlled area. I feel bad when I’m relieved that the shelling I hear is outgoing and not incoming.

People here were extremely worried in the aftermath of the chemical attacks in Ghouta. People were worried about the consequences and U.S. strikes and what affect those would have on the safety situation in these areas of Damascus.

People in these areas still try to hold onto whatever normalcy they can find in the everyday. Clothes shops like [global brand] Mango are still open, and people go and shop. There are areas lined with cafes, and in the evenings these cafes are full, people are in a good mood, socializing with family and friends and having a glass of wine and smoking water pipes.

In my neighborhood, there are a couple of checkpoints, and when you pass through them, depending on how you look and how the person running the checkpoint perceives you, you might have to show him your ID, your passport, your bags. It’s the same if you go into the mall. This kind of security check was not happening in Syria a couple of years ago.

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