Damascus received a bit of a makeover while we were gone. Specifically, they took some ugly areas of town, removed them, and replaced them with small parks.
One of these areas was the Souq Saroujah (?) near the Old City. To tell the truth, this Souq was always a mystery to me. It had the highest “unsightly hell-hole” to “proximity-to-major-tourist-destination” ratio that I’ve ever seen. Although it was technically a souq, it was not one of those charming bazaars full of atmosphere you would hope to find so near the Old City. Instead, it was a filthy, abrasive market where the vendors overcharged you for bananas.
The other place where we noticed an improvement was our very own Sheikh Saad. First, they took down the derelict wall near the traffic circle so that the small park there is visible from the street. Also, the mosque is finally complete. They put in a median with trees and some off-street parking (!). Finally, they removed the “tire district,” as we used to call it (it was actually a group of car repair garages), and put grass and trees in its place.
Whoever was in charge of making that particular decision deserves a medal. The tire district was a blight on Sheikh Saad – those car repair shops attracted large groups of leering shabaab, were the source of annoying sudden loud noises, and took up all of the sidewalk and half the street so pedestrians were forced to walk in traffic.
The only other big changes I noticed were that there is, in fact, a KFC in Damascus. I had heard this before, but I refused to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. I sincerely hope that other fast food chains do not follow. Where else in the world today is there such a large city – nay, an entire country – without a McDonald’s, Hardee’s, or Pizza Hut to destroy its enchanting atmosphere? OK, I know there are other places without American fast food, but that is just one of the things that makes Damascus so unique and authentic. Because how foreign can a country really be when you can still biggie-size a burger and fries, or be sure of a clean public restroom? Not very, in my opinion.
Also, Amideast is closed. I have no idea of the story behind that one, but it makes me sad.
Otherwise, Damascus seems to be much as it ever was. And that is a wonderful thing.