Nothing in Life is Free, but Life in Damascus Comes Close

Monday, June 27, 2005 | Damascus, Syria

Commercial Bank of Syria and a classic car (As with Cuba, Syria's isolation from the rest of the world has at least one benefit.)
A few days ago, I walked to an ATM in the morning before class to withdraw some cash. I had to pay Ra'ife my rent, which covers my small room with a bed, desk, and dresser, as well as the use of the kitchen, shower, and laundry machine.

For my small room, the monthly rate is 6,000 Syrian lira (US$120), though Ra'ife charges up to 7,000 lira (US$140) for the larger rooms. Once I had also paid her for providing me with lunch each day, my total came to about US$125.

Last night for dinner, I walked with Julian, one of the other students who lives with Ra'ife, to a nearby foul (فول, pronounced like "fool") stand. Foul is a Syrian staple dish of spiced, stewed fava beans, served with bread and vegetables. Julian confirmed that my bill of US$0.80 for the dinner was on the cheap side, even for Damascus, but also said that a fancy dinner out in the nicest
restaurant in the city, with a bottle of wine, runs about US$40 per person. (Forty bucks, of course, is the low end of things back in Georgetown.)

So far, I seem to be managing to eat just fine for under US$5.00 each day. Between the low food costs and cheap transport (the bus each day from Bab Sharqi across town to the university costs about US$.20) I think my money will stretch a long ways here in Damascus.

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