Foreign Policy Blogs

Kingdom, come?

One of the reasons I’m writing this blog is to try and give readers a better idea of what Syria is like. Sometimes that means things like discussions of foreign policy, my post on the IAEA for instance. Other times it means we talk about domestic issues like the banning of the Niqab. Well today I want to bring up a more personal anecdote about living here.

While I wish this could have happened to me, because really it is all about me after all, but it happened to a close personal friend of mine who is much more able to recount it than I am. So, most of this post will be in his own words. I have withheld his name, although those who know him will be able to determine his identity fairly quickly.

I still crack up every time I hear this. Seriously.

Without further ado:

–To put it simply, I am a tall, blond-haired American male.  I feel that I tend to stand out as a foreigner in Damascus (as many foreigners feel, whether true or not).  So, during my time in Syria, I was used to extended glances from passers-by on the street, uninvited (but friendly) social advances from curious neighbors, and a general perception of accepted-but-still-out-of-place otherness.  Nevertheless, there were times in my 9 and a half months in Syria when even the regularity of such otherness could not accomodate for the out-of-left-field nature of some of the questions I faced.

One of those times occurred in early March, while I was standing on the street curb in Shaalan waiting on the Bab Tuma service.  After a few minutes of waiting alone, a small, elderly woman walked up beside me and began to wait as well.  We exchanged momentary but accidental eye contact and I turned back to the street.  I noticed from the corner of my eye that she maintained her gaze and so, after a minute or two, I looked back and she was still there staring at me.  I smiled and asked her if I could help her.

“Is this the Bab Tuma service,” she asked?  Taking fleeting and silly pride in helping a Syrian navigate Damascus, I said that it was and that I would show her the service when it came.  She said thank you but maintained her gaze.  After a moment, I asked her if everything was alright.  She responded that it was but that I was confusing her.  “I’ve lived here a long time but I’ve never seen anyone like you who speaks Arabic,” she said.  “Its OK.  I am from America,” I responded, trusting that that token sentence would make it all clear.  “America?” she asked.  “What kingdom is that?”  Having never heard such a question before, I didn’t know what to say so I just responded that I was from the “kingdom of America” and left it at that.  She seemed perfectly satisfied with this answer and two services soon came.  We hopped on separate buses and went on our own merry ways, back to our separate kingdoms, both real and imagined.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.