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The Imperfect Traveler Part 12:

The Unfortunate Pedestrian

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During my time in Syria, a friend and I joked about creating an album entitled “The Sounds of Damascus.”

A collection of things we’d heard while living there that wouldn’t be familiar to a typical American.

Obviously, the call to prayer was one.

But there were a few other favorites of mine:

1:

When one dials an incorrect number in the States, they’ll get a message:

We’re sorry you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.
If you feel this is in error, please check the number dialed, and please try again.”

In Syria, there’s a message in Arabic, then English… but I’m not sure they translated it very well. 

The Arabic sounds like “Huh-roota mak-tube, ray moo tak-tem”, but is followed immediately with. “this number does not exist.”

As if I’d just dialed into another dimension.

2:

Street vendors are prevalent in Damascus. I’d regularly purchase pistachios, hummus and other foods for pennies.

But I had to ask my students about another man who used to roll his cart down my street yelling something that sounded like the phrase before CHARGE! (Is it, “du-duh, du-DUH, DU-DUH!??)

Finally, one of my students told me it was “Yella, ente durah!”, or “Come get your corn!”.

It wound up being delicious, as well.

3.

Early on weekend mornings we’d hear a little two-cycled pickup truck (much like my first ride in the country)

Thump-thump-thumping with a loud clang of metal on metal.

A man was selling propane gas for stoves, gaining attention by cracking a wrench on the empty propane tanks, then yelling in a Don Cornelius baritone, “GAHZ!  GAHZ!”

These never failed to amuse me.

But most of the sounds we wanted to include came from Abu Roumaneh, one bustling neighborhood over from my own.

Most teachers went to shop there if they needed to grab something quick, but it wasn’t quick if you came in a car – the traffic was unbearable. There were no traffic lights, no walkways, no laned traffic, just a moving parking with occasional bursts of speed.

Somehow, locals managed to cope. One time I witnessed a woman thrust her stroller into moving traffic in an effort to cross the street. After a screech and a couple angry fists in her direction, she made it to the other side…where, relieved, I realized there was no baby in the cart.

One weekend afternoon, Science Guy and I took a trip to Abu Roumaneh to purchase some things, but we took the car. 

Bad idea.

We sat at a stop sign waiting to turn left for what seemed an eternity, all the while cars raced past us in either direction, pedestrians blocking access as well. Cars behind began to honk at us, and we grew impatient. Science Guy looked left, I handled the right. I saw a brief gap and yelled “CLEAR!”, then looked left, where there was a gap as well. Science Guy gunned it…

…directly into the woman who was running across the street.

The car hit her below the knee, and she crumpled onto the hood of the car, then slid off it as Science Guy hit the brakes.

We jumped out to survey the dead body.

In the United States, this accident may have been worth a couple hundred thousand dollars. There is no doubt the police would’ve been called, and probably an ambulance. 

Not in Damascus.

She got up off the pavement, brushed herself off, ignored the skinned knee, waived to us as if she were alright. “Malesh, malesh…” and limped away. 

A minute later, Science Guy and I crept into traffic and drove home in silence.

And it was not the worst thing I’d done in Abu Roumaneh. 

…to be continued…


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JJ Live At Leeds
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March 29, 2023 2:14 pm

Abu Roubamaneh sounds fascinating but overwhelming to the uninitiated. I guess it could have worked out a lot worse. It brings to mind the Black Night in Monty Python’s Holy Grail – “it’s just a flesh wound”. They’re made of stern stuff in Syria.

I never drove in eSwatini but taking the minibuses that acted as public transport was a sensory overload as well as being fraught with danger. There was no official bus station in the capital Mbabane, you just headed to the market area and there were minibuses and a sea of people. There was order in the chaos as buses for each location would park up in the same place so as intimidating a sight as it was the first time, once you knew you knew.

One journey started memorably as the driver inched through the crowds to the open road beyond, the driver had his window open through which a laughing pedestrian inserted himself grabbing the wheel and a fight ensued with the driver trying to repel the invader and keep us heading in a straight line. In hindsight hitting the brakes might have been a good idea but our driver decided that what the situation needed was speed to shake him off. Which thankfully worked without hitting anyone or injuring the still laughing lunatic who was last seen picking himself up and walking off.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 29, 2023 3:02 pm

Nice write up. You got me for a sec with the accident!

While the character of Damascus probably couldn’t be more different from Tokyo, your piece about memorable sounds reminds me of one of my first nights studying abroad.

I heard an amplified voice coming from a truck driving slowly down the street, singing a gentle melody that I took to be some sort of evening prayer. I heard it fairly regularly for a while until I found out what it actually was: a vendor selling baked sweet potatoes. No prayers, but the potatoes tasted heavenly!

Last edited 1 year ago by Phylum of Alexandria
cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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March 29, 2023 7:24 pm

There is a great sequence in Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique, in which Irene Jacob receives a mysterious cassette; no music, no voices, just the street sounds of Paris that works as an aural map to the man who awaits her in a cafe.

Damascus sounds like a city that’s alive. The same concept would work there.

dutchg8r
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dutchg8r
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March 29, 2023 8:11 pm

No doubt Syria is like India and Indonesia and those free for all traffic countries that The Amazing Race luvvvvvs to go to because of the guaranteed panic and fear the American racers will show in the back of a demolition derby taxi. They’re so great, lol.

Oh! Here’s a sound for your Soundtrack – Security guards admonishing thegue for trespassing into off-limit tunnels again. 😉

cstolliver
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cstolliver
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March 30, 2023 5:13 am

Another great segment, thegue. And mt, props on the caption that got me laughing this morning.

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