Abu Reda al-Maydani

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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"Discrimination on a sectarian basis started in those days, and to be honest, Damascenes became persona non grata."

Abu Reda al-Maydani grew up in the Damascene district of al-Midan, which extended from Bab Musalla to the end of al-Ashmar Square up to the footpath and the outskirts of al-Tadamon neighborhood. The Ziftiyeh area, later called "Old Zahira", used also to be an extension of the Midan. Its houses were built from mud bricks and it looked like a camp inhabited by poor families.

Abu Reda says that al-Midan neighborhood was famous for its Damascene sweet shops and popular restaurants that served bean and fatteh meals in addition to meat-based dishes such as trotters, soups etc. The neighborhood was also famous for its ancient Damascene bathrooms.

Abu Reda grew up in an atmosphere of love and common unity, which prevailed among the neighborhood inhabitants. This was especially true during celebrations and holidays. "During the Holy month of Ramadan, neighbors exchanged Iftar dishes, decorated streets with lanterns, and ate sweets and popular shami food such as baraziq and ghraybeh during the nights when relatives and neighbors visited."

"On the first days of Eid, we went in the morning to perform the Eid prayer and then visited the tombs of our dead in the Bab al-Saghir and al-Dahdah cemeteries. After our return, we welcomed guests and had Iftar together, then visited relatives and acquaintances.”

Abu Reda believes that family ties were more solid in the past, at a time when the head of the family was greatly revered by his wife and children. In the morning, for example, the family would not start eating breakfast without the father’s presence. The wife didn't used to leave the house without her husband's permission, and if she did, she would wear the Damascene veil covering her entire body and head, with a closed headscarf (a thin sheet covering the face as well). Men used to wear the shami imbaz, a chest vest, and white cap, while merchant notables and others wore the official suit of a chest vest with a fez on their heads.

Abu Reda says about Damascene customs, "During marriages and engagements, a delegation of men and dignitaries, such as the neighborhood head (Mukhtar), merchants and the elders, visited the girl’s family house in order to complete the engagement and to agree on a specific dowry, clothing and what was to be purchased by the bride before her marriage, including clothes, bedding, fabrics and cosmetics. Usually the young man and his wife would live first in the man’s family house so that the bride could learn cooking and how to do housework from her mother-in-law. She would then be able to efficiently run her own house if she moved with her husband to a separate one.

The wedding ceremony was previously held in an Arab House characterized by its large area. The wedding celebrations would consist of cheering songs, and sword and shield play presented by a Shami 'Arada band. On her first day with her husband, the bride celebrated with a group of women in the Damascene baths and then went to her family home, and from there to the marital home.

About the relationship between Muslim and Christian neighborhood residents, Abu Reda says, "Coexistence between us and our Christian brethren prevailed. During the Holy month of Ramadan, Christians did not smoke or eat openly out of respect to those who were fasting and to the Islamic religion.”

Abu Reda mentioned that overcrowding and the increase in the population of Damascus began in the early seventies, when many people of rural origins and Alawites from the Syrian coast moved into the capital. At the same time, many Midan people left for rural areas such as Sbina and Jaramana. The neighborhood became mixed and consisted of people from the coast, as-Suwayda, and Homs among others. Today there are only about ten houses in the neighborhood owned by indigenous inhabitants. “The neighborhood aspect changed in the early 1970s. At that time, brokers and merchants convinced homeowners to sell them their houses in order to build modern buildings instead. We abandoned our heritage for the least of prices, and some brokers and intruders took advantage of all this.”

Abu Reda used to work in food trade and distribution, and suffered from the pressures the state exerted on merchants in terms of taxation and laws etc., and this worsened with time. “The period between 1970 and 2000 was a time of great pressure for merchants. It was as if the State wanted to be a partner in everything. Discrimination on a sectarian basis started in those days, and to be honest, Damascenes became persona non grata. They no longer owned their homes or land, except for some capitalist traders who had earned their millions in illegal ways.

My mother, who belonged to an old Damascene family, owned a house in the Midan district but did not need it, so in 1975 she rented it to a young man from the Syrian coast, who worked in the criminal security Directorate. Years passed, and that man married and his family grew up but he still inhabited the house and didn't want to leave it and wouldn’t pay the monthly rent. This continued until he threatened us with the clout security services’. In the end, my mother went and legally waived ownership of the house in order to avoid trouble and so as to prevent any of us being hurt or arrested. The influence of security officers escalated from then on until they had looted the country's wealth and left nothing.”

In compliance with the narrator’s desires, a pseudonym has been used.