restaurant does a reasonable local dish, with a plate of vegetables, starters
and tea included costing less than $5. Notwithstanding the occasional obnoxious
Oxfam and Red Cross workers who pop in there to complain about the lack of a decent
wine list, the restaurant is good value for those Syrians who can afford it and
who do not mind sinecured aid workers disturbing the ambience with their crass talk
about the lack of wine lists and how their frequent holidays on the French
Riviera are little enough recompense for their Syrian "hardships".
Though restaurants like this do a brisk trade, they are not for everybody. At one end, the parasitic aid workers who make their dishonest livings from disasters like Syria's consider it too low-brow and, for many Syrians, it is simply too expensive. A good monthly salary is about 25,000 lire, which would pay for about 20 such meals that the aid workers disdain and that most Syrians can no longer afford as Obama's sanctions and his hired rebels slowly grind them into penury.
Most Syrians subsist almost entirely on bread and the other staples the Syrian government heavily subsidises. Some, such as the finely-dressed old gentleman who sells tissues to passing motorists outside of the restaurant, try to top up their exhausted funds as best they can. Not for him or his the comforts of a Muslim Brotherhood run refugee camp paid for by vested interests in the West. The old, unkempt bag woman, who sleeps out on the grass verge opposite, does not enjoy such luxuries either. At the moment, she can mark time under the beating sun, and perhaps make some token preparations for when the winter snows set in to claim the vulnerable who are now everywhere in government-run Syria.
The young Muslim girls selling trinkets to the passing motorists are probably amongst those vulnerable, as are their mothers who depend on the begging skills of their charges to survive. Many of these are widows of moderate rebels, abandoned to the charity of the good citizens of Syria once their utility to Obama's democratic crusaders has run its course. They are, like all mercenaries, expendable.
The soldiers guarding the checkpoints nearby are not much better off. One wonders when last they had a proper rest and one can see where the phrase "smoke like a trooper" comes from. Cigarettes permanently in the side of the mouth and AK47s slung on backs, they give the cars they stop a peremptory check, knock on the top of the boot to tell the car to proceed before starting the same boring process with the next car. Though the best they can hope for is to emerge from this conflict with life and limbs intact, they know the ugly fate that awaits them if the rebels, in any of their inter-woven hues, emerge victorious. With the fate of their captured comrades in Raqaa and Aleppo in mind and with only their cheap cigarettes and the gratitude of the Syrian people to buoy them, they will see this tragedy through to the very end. They and those they protect have no other choice
Though navel-gazers can wonder how these people manage to carry on at all, that is not the half of it. Obama's Syrian objective is to lower Syrian expectations so much that just to survive is, for now, a victory, akin to that of the Palestinians with their existence is resistance mantra. Here in Syria, education and accommodation remain free though jobs are almost as rare to come by as white blackbirds. People and institutions soldier on, hoping against hope itself, for better days ahead even as their enemies, vulture-like, circle round, buying off elements here and there to weaken and destroy the whole creaking edifice and all therein. It is a bleak picture.
The English language teacher in Kasab tells me they have neither books nor classrooms to use them in as the Turkish invaders have destroyed, burned or robbed all they depended on to teach. Nor will she be singing in church as was her want, for the rebels, having first filmed themselves playing the piano in her church, then proceeded to smash the keyboards and torch her church for no apparent reason save those of the territorial wild animal or the brainwashed Philistine. She hopes the American Armenian community, the Pope in Rome or some other group of influential foreigners will come to their aid and her simple paradise will be restored. She hopes in vain. There will be no deliverance. They are doomed.
The neuro-surgeon who is paid in a month a fifth of what he can earn in a day in the West, asks me if I can help him do business with Irish companies. I explain that the "indomitable Irish", being as craven as the next, daren't break Obama's sanctions and so he and his family must look for deliverance elsewhere. Nobody's fool, he knows there will be no deliverance. He stares into the ever-approaching void.
The hotel manager pops in to the business centre to consider upgrading the carpets. Appearances are everything even if the edges are fatally frayed. He works about 20 hours a day, dedicated to preserving the value of the hotel for happier days ahead that may never come. He is a patriot, the last refuge of Syria's doomed. Like countless others, he will go down with the ship. Obama's moderates do not need free-thinking people like him. They will no doubt give the hotel over to a crony who will loot it clean and the new carpets will grace some clip joint the rebels use in Turkey.
The peroxide blonde pulls on her French cigarette. Like all Syrians, she smokes too much. Like all Syrians who support Syria she too has suffered, being expelled from Saudi Arabia for not taking a robust stand against her own kith and kin. Such people are not wanted in extremist Saudi Arabia, the paymaster of Terror Inc. and a key component of Obama's terror war on Syria. They are still wanted in Syria, supported like so many others by friends and family as well as the "kindness of strangers" both at home and abroad. Realistically she has no future, it has been taken from her and so she may as well smoke herself to death, knowing that Obama's sanctions have deprived Syria of the means to save lives, her own included, at risk.
The surgeon complains that he cannot get the bits and pieces that are essential for successful operations. He looks far into space, wondering if he is on a fool's errand. His young son wants to follow in his footsteps, to be a surgeon, to worry about necessary incidentals and to stare off into space, wondering if he too is on the fool's errand of saving the lives Obama and his sanctions want to end so a new Camelot may emerge, phoenix-like, from the pyre of all their incinerated dreams.
The clever fifteen year old Greek Orthodox kid lectures me in English as good as my own on the complexities of the politics of this part of the world. He was in an expensive international school, cut out for finer things, president of the Oxford Union perhaps. He now attends an Armenian school, where the teachers get their charges to look backwards to the puddles of the past, when Armenia was a fine and mighty nation and all bowed down and worshipped her. He tries to live in the present, his future, like those of his Armenian class mates in tatters like so much else in Syria. He might, if he is lucky, get a menial job here or a better-paid one scrubbing floors in Beirut along with the hordes of other Syrian teenagers who sacrifice their young lives and deadened dreams there on the altar of Obama's sanctions. He now knows dreams are not for everyone and, like a million dead Iraqi children before him, Barack Obama has plans for his future that do not include the Oxford Union or any other university for that matter. This is war, war without mercy on Syria's innocents and he too is a target.
The young woman from Ma'lulah knows that too. Though pretty, the ravages of a war she did not want are etched forever into her young face and into her empty life. Thanks largely to the largesse of patriotic Syrian nuns, her family is still holding together and they may survive but Camelot is not for them. Though attending university, she is hardly enjoying it the way her contemporaries in the USA might. She is penniless, rudderless and afraid for the future Obama has stolen from her. Though bright, she may defy the odds and eke out a living somehow.
I videoed her saying a prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Perhaps she will get a job as a freak in a Christian circus, spitting out a prayer in the language of Jesus, not unlike the barbaric, circus-like life Western intervention has bequeathed the Yezidi women sold off as slaves to democracy's avenging angels in Raqaa. She is too innocent regarding the guiles of the world to survive in this world Obama's sanctions has delivered her in bondage to. She can have no hope. That is for other people.
The Jaramania barman who rejoiced with me at the government attacks on the moderate rebels in Jobar, who had been relentlessly mortaring his neighbourhoold for the last three years, is now a little cautious. He has to watch his back and, just as importantly, his job, a rare and precious commodity in this God-forsaken land holed beneath the bow by Obama and his self-serving sanctions. He has a life to lead, a family to feed and appearances to maintain. Whatever you say, say nothing is the way to go as unzipped lips sink ships. It is best to be cautious, to be silent and to ride out the storm.