[…] I was last in Damascus two-and-a-half years ago when security was worse than today in the government-held parts of the city. I stayed in Bab Touma, a Christian district in the Old City which was regularly mortared by a nearby rebel district called Jobar producing a trickle of casualties every day. The thunder of government artillery on Mount Qasioun firing into besieged opposition areas boomed across the city every night. Even then, people were getting used to this, but not as accustomed as they are now when many forget what it is like to live a normal life. The present mood in Damascus reminds me of Beirut halfway through the 15-year civil war (1975-1989)
Earlier still in the conflict, people in Damascus were inexperienced in assessing the degree of danger they were in and would under or over-react to each episode of fighting. I remember in early 2012 taking refuge from sniper fire in a shop selling wedding dresses in the Jaramana district close to the airport road. The owner and I were both crouching down by the counter when three young women came into the shop, oblivious of the shooting outside, and excitedly discussed which of the flame-coloured dresses they would like to buy.
Four years later those same young women would be more likely to spend what little money they have left on food rather than dresses. After the Syrian pound plunged in value and salaries were raised by a much smaller margin, a family that lived on the equivalent of $400-500 a month must now make do with $100. The definition of what is a luxury has changed radically since the start of the war. “Many families no longer eat chicken or lamb because they are so expensive,” commented one friend. “And, if they do buy them, the quantity is a couple of hundred grams just to have a taste of the meat. They may buy locally grown fruit for their children, but not bananas, which are imported and cost too much.” Holding a good job himself, the friend added that he has spent $300 to replace a broken car mirror which would have cost him $70 before the war.