Monday, February 25, 2008

Damascus – first impression

We have now been in Damascus for three weeks and it is time to share some of our experiences and impressions with you:

The Syrians
People here are incredible sweet and friendly and on top of that they have another quality which Anne after 1½ years as the Giant Woman of Nepal appreciates highly: they are tall! As predicted by Steve the men all have moustaches and smokes argileh (water pipe). To our big surprise argileh is extremely popular amongst all walks of life here even on the most hip cafés you see young students, males and females, smoking away on this fascinating instrument. In general, it seems that smoking is big here. Everybody smokes and you can be sure that the taxi driver would have managed to smoke at least two cigarettes before you reach your destination – now matter how short the ride might be.

Damascus is an increible city and despite more than 6 million inhabitants it seems very small. It offers a bit of everything from the old city with its small narrow streets and Arabian houses to an Opera house with lots of cultural experiences and the Shalaan neighbourhood in the centre with the many shops and cafés. Last but not least you have Sheikh Mouhiddin, our neighbourhood. About 10 minutes walk from the heart of Damascus it lays at the beginning of Mount Mezzah with small street crawling up the side of the mountain. It has a large number of beautiful mosques (kept us awake for the first night in the apartment) and is famous for the local vegetable market. We have found a very nice apartment here and are busy turning it into a home in a city we feel very comfortable in.

The job
UNDP Syria has so far offered plenty of pleasant surprises such as having the Danish Embassy as its neighbour. Having a staff consisting of 80 % women – something the boss (a man – of course) jokingly mentions as an issue simply because the office is too efficient. I have some amazing colleagues who have received me well. The atmosphere in the office is open and cheerful. There seems to be plenty of communication and cooperation across the different sections, something I greatly missed when working with MS in Nepal.
We are still working on specifying my tasks more clearly but everything points toward working with gender mainstreaming of the organization, coordination of donor aid in Syria and finally focusing on including more civil society organization in the development work of UN and the government. So as it seems now there will be plenty of interesting work - I will try to keep you updated on this blog.

…and in the end
After having made it through both Christmas and January in Denmark without too much distress I was somewhat surprised to find myself lost in a snowstorm on my way to an inauguration of an e-library for the parliament. But that’s life; strange and unpredictable….