Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Damascus is between two bubbles…upscale neighborhoods and others affected by the economic situation

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The contrast in daily life is evident in the center of the Syrian capital, between upscale neighborhoods where residents receive services and goods despite the worsening economic situation in the country, and all surrounding neighborhoods.

Today, it is enough for a visitor to tour the neighborhoods of Damascus, and the voice of poverty and deprivation in its neighborhoods rings louder and louder, the lack of government services and the prevalence of its streets, parks and beggars. Pavements, and long power outages make it a haunted area at night.

Students with their families shop at clothes donated by families (Reuters)

Upon entering the upscale neighborhoods at its center (Messeh, al-Muhajireen, Abu Rammaneh, al-Qassa, al-Tijjarah, Bab Douma, al-Salhiya, al-Salhiya, al-), the visitor feels as if he has stepped into another country. Maysat, Al-Mazraa, Al-Shaalan…) he observes that its inhabitants live in a different world.

The first thing that attracts attention in upper-class neighborhoods is the cleanliness of its main and secondary streets, the presence of cleaners in them and their constant washing, their technical readiness and the constant maintenance of their sidewalks, the cleanliness and the beauty of their gardens due to the constant activity of weeding and trimming trees in their land. It gives a wonderful view that pleases.

As witnessed by the streets of upscale neighborhoods; The main and secondary areas are filled with luxury and ordinary cars, and there are plenty of paid parking attendants who, in exchange for a “tip” (between a thousand and two) to car owners, take the keys to park them. thousand Syrian pounds), in addition to the parking fee, which is calculated hourly, and ranges from 500 Syrian pounds to one thousand per hour.

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It is almost impossible for car owners to find a place to park their cars without resorting to parking assistants. Heavy crowd and all the spaces in the parking lots are occupied.

Traffic jam of cars and pedestrians in Al-Shalan area in the evening (hashtag website)

Afternoon and evening hours create the peak of congestion on the roads of these neighborhoods, whose residents are mostly wealthy and officials. The reason for the crowding is that school students leave, big buses and private cars come to take them home, and people flock to the markets to buy food, vegetables and fruits.

Here you will find what the residents of Damascus call “al-Tanabil Market,” “al-Qawanim Market” or “al-Madalalat Market” in the al-Shalan area, where fruit and vegetable stall owners pack and display vegetables. In transparent nylon bags ready for direct cooking or ready-to-eat, such as dying zucchini, cleaned okra, cleaned and sliced ​​pumpkin, chopped parsley, peas, beans, cleaned beans and sliced ​​carrots… and they are in high demand. According to many owners of these shops, the purchase is despite the prevailing economic conditions.

One of them tells us: “Except for the frozen summer vegetables we offer in winter, we offer fresh produce every day,” “All the people here have money… God bless them. It doesn't matter to them. They buy twice, three or four times a kilo.” If you pay double the price.”

Al-Shalan neighborhood in central Damascus displays ready-to-eat vegetables at double the price (Facebook)

As for the evening; The heavy traffic of cars and pedestrians is caused by the demand for cafes, restaurants and ready-made clothing and shoe stores, where you will find most of the tables occupied by young men and women until midnight. Despite the surprisingly high prices. The bill for drinking two cups of tea and two cups of coffee with a hookah (hookah) in a cafe in Shalan neighborhood reaches 150 thousand Syrian pounds. This is equivalent to a month's salary of a government employee, while a “Garden” meal with a non-appetizing Pepsi costs around 175k.

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Christmas decorations at a market in the capital Damascus (AFP)

Most noticeable in these neighborhoods are the constant lighting of the streets, cafes and restaurants at night, as well as the presence of electricity in most homes.

In this regard, a resident of Al-Shalan explains that since there is electricity in the neighborhood, most cafes, restaurants and houses are installed with solar energy systems, despite the high costs (installing a system that runs all electric houses). The appliances cost more than 50 million liras), in light of the government's hours-long blackout.

As for parts of the capital's core and surrounding neighborhoods, there are different stories. As the evening comes, the long blackout (8 to 10 hours blackout, up to an hour), neglecting the cleanliness of the roads turn into ghost areas. Like the “State News Agency (SANA)” street in Baramke area, it sees heavy traffic by pedestrians and cars throughout the day, and medium-sized garbage containers are always filled with waste from stalls and shops. And dirt from juice and water containers, casings, and leftover food is thickly spread along its sidewalks and sides.

12 million pounds per month, cost of living for a Syrian family in 2024 (Iqtisad website)

Neglecting sanitation services further exacerbates the move from the city center to the suburbs, the latter streets are full of heavy potholes and you will find pavements devoid of cobblestones. Garbage piled up in containers beyond their capacity for two or three days forms a mound. Dirty water from the waste seeps out from under it and flows into the middle of the road, emitting an unpleasant stench. Case in point at a vegetable market in the Al-Johoor area, southeast of the capital.

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Digging Containers on a Street in Damascus (Asharq al-Awsad)

Begging and scavenging have changed in light of reports and studies confirming that most families in Syrian government-controlled areas live below the poverty line and 94 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. Most of the streets and areas in Damascus and its environs have increased in percentage and are now exposed. Damaged vegetables and fruits are for sale in the markets, although few are in demand.

Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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