Shopping for Brides

mrshortmrtallIn Syria ladies are in charge of making the initial contact for potential matches. Some lady called me up today to ask about my daughter, or daughters, if I had more than one, who was in the marriage market.

This is not the strange part. People hear from friends or neighbors that such-and-so family has a daughter who is of marriageable age, and mom’s with sons looking to get married start calling to set up visits. It is usually a system that works well and ensures that people weigh and consider the truly important things in a potential spouse, along with things like chemistry and attractiveness and “the cool factor”.

The strange part is that this lady called me today out of the blue – I have no idea where she got my name – and after introducing herself proceeded to ask if my daughter was tall! When I told her that she was wonderfully petite, she didn’t skip a beat. “So what about your other daughter?” I reiterated that I only had one daughter who was even of the age to be “available” (although even she is not looking for a guy), so she asked exactly how tall she was. When I told her, she asked how tall I was, as if to determine where this rogue short gene came from! When I assured her I was also short and so was my husband, she spoke to her son in the background, without even bothering to cover the phone, and asked exactly how short he was willing to go on his wife’s height. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and then she came back explaining that her son is six foot one, so he needs a tall wife.

Then she asked about her eye color!

If that ever happens again I’m going to say, “I’m sorry, my daughter doesn’t see grooms whose first concerns are about appearance. Your son has just been disqualified.”

Toothbrush hygiene

Ibrahim is a germophobe who would give Monk a run for is money. He doesn’t drink out of other people’s cups, he doesn’t eat off even my cake plate after my cake is gone. He even keeps his toothbrush in a special holder away from anyone else’s. Apparently he also is hip enough to know about germs that are passed along by alternative means.

The other day he came out of the bathroom with a his toothbrush in his hand. He held it out and said, “My toothbrush has an STD now.”

Of course I had to ask.


“Because it’s been in there humping all the other toothbrushes in the big holder!”


OK, jumping back into blogging with a domestic update.

In Syria there are two times a year when you wash your house. Yes. Literally. You move all the furniture and stand on impossibly tall ladders and spray water all over the blooming place. You clean out closets and cupboards and underneath the fridge and stove. You turn over the mattresses and (I am not kidding) vacuum them. This inane procedure is called Tazeel.

The one good thing about tazeel is that you don’t usually do it alone. You hire a lady to come in and enjoy the torture with you. So that helps.

If we were in the States I would snort and walk away when tazeel is mentioned.  However, here in Syria we have an insidious enemy. Dust. Not innocuous, innocent, floating-in-a-sunbeam kind of dust. Evil, fine, aggressive dust with LOTS OF FRIENDS. We ave dust bunnies that could eat large cities.

So this dust actually gathers on the walls and in all the nooks and crannies, and actually needs to be washed away every six months.

So we do it in the fall when we put down the persian rugs and set up the sobia (diesel heater), and we do it in the spring when we put the rugs away and store the heater. The spring tazeel is even worse than the fall one because you have all the soot from the sobia added to the dust.

So it’s December and I’m trying to enjoy the soft, cozy heat from the sobia but in the back of my mind I’m trying to figure out how to escape tazeel come next April…  Please send ideas!

A Mozlem Joke

Who says Muslims can’t laugh at themselves?


A ship was plying the open seas when it came upon an uncharted isle.  Seeing smoke curling up from its beaches the crew decided to take a closer look.

When they dropped anchor and rowed ashore they found a man and three huts.

“Oh, bless you!  You’ve saved me!” the man shouted.  “I’ve been alone on this island for five years!”

Blinking curiously the captain of the ship asked him why, if he was alone, did he have three huts?

“This one is my house and that one is the masjid,” replied the man.

“Then what is the third one for?”

“Oh.  That.  I had a fight with the board of that masjid, so I don’t go there anymore.”

Brother Abdul Jaleal Nasreddin, 13-year Damascus resident who hails from Texas and Colorado, posted this great comment filling us in on the men’s side of nuptuals, and will be guest blogging from time to time. He majored in dry wit and minored in cynicism, so enjoy!

AJ Nasreddin

When the men get together, their primary reason is to set the dowry price. But first the father of the bride has to do a “check out” of the prospective groom. They ask about his education, his job – most importantly if the guy can keep his daughter up to the standard of living she’s used to, or will the in-laws have to invest in the guy. Of course a flat is important. If the guy doesn’t have a flat, he ought not be talking about marriage. In my experience, a US passport is as good as a flat in the city.

The next job is to find out just enough about the guy in order to ask around about him. The bride’s brothers and uncles will soon hit the streets to find out what people are saying about the groom-wannabe. If he checks out, things will move along smoothly.

The dowry is usually set at $2000 as the first installment. People will say this is normal and says that this girl is as good as any other girl. To ask for more would be snobbish. This is the amount everyone will mention so as to say “Yes, we are like anyone else.” The “extras” are not always mentioned. For example, installment number two might be several thousand dollars more, even several tens of thousands of dollars more. Then the gold is counted separate – and that can easily reach $5000 plus. Then the bride needs a completely new wardrobe for some odd reason which can reach several more thousands of dollars. Then there’s the cost of the wedding party which again can run a few thousand dollars. [Najiyah comments that in Syria the bride’s family hosts and pays for the engagement party and the groom’s family hosts and pays for the wedding party.] Before I forget, refurbishing the flat in a complete make over is also expected and – you guessed it – can cost several thousand dollars. If the guy has any money left over, the honeymoon ought to be in Malaysia. Did I mention the guy needs to bring little gifts of gold every time he visits – a little pair of earrings, a little chain bracelet? That can run a $100 or more a visit! Now you can understand why Syrian men try to marry abroad if they have the chance – it’s a lot cheaper!

If somewhere along the line the bride’s family doesn’t like the guy, they will increase their demands on the different “extras” until the girl becomes too expensive – the sort of “nice” way to say “get lost.” On the other hand, if the guy decides he doesn’t like the girl, he’ll refuse to bring gifts or pay for “extras” – kinda like saying “We can have a no frills, no thrills marriage.” No self respecting girl would put up with such nonsense!

This is of course the styreotypical Damascus wedding. Some people get hitched with less excitement and less expense. Most of the [men’s] wedding parties that I have been to closely resemble the wakes I’ve been to – the death of freedom they say. Sometimes wishing for something is better than having it.

A day at the farm

We were invited to spend last Friday at Bassam’s uncle Anas’ farm in Zebadani, catching up with another branch of the family (Bassam’s grandma’s brother’s kids). It was a lovely afternoon, masha’Allah- nice weather, good food, relaxed atmosphere and fun people.

From Sewage to Shimmer

Interesting day Saturday.  I went shopping with my sister-in-law in the morning at Souk Jumuah.  I’ll write a post about Souk Jumuah some other day – it’s my favorite market in the world.  I had promised Ibrahim that I would take him to enroll him in music lessons when I got home, and so about 12:30 we headed home, splitting the cost of the taxi and chatting about what we were going to wear to my husband’s cousin’s wedding that night….me thinking that my biggest worry of the day was how I was gonna tote my purchases (vegetables, sugar bowl, potholders, FRESH DILL!!) up to our flat.

As the taxi pulled up and I was unloading his trunk my phone rang.  Amani was on the other end, in distress.  The drains were overflowing.  Oh, God. 

One of the coolest things about Syria – actually about most places outside the US – is that there are drains in every room.  To wash the floors you just toss bucketfulls of water all over the floor and squeegie it down the drains.  This makes washing the bathroom a breeze: simply hose down the whole place, soap it all up, and hose again.  Voila! 

Having a drain in every room is NOT such a great thing, however, when they back up.  I came home to eruptions in the kitchen and the bathroom.  Not to mention a house reeking with the fragrance of eau-de-we-do-not-even-want-to-think-about-what!  I called my sister-in-law, who, while empathetic, had no plumber’s number to give me.  She did send her plunger, though, so..uh…in I plunged. 

I wrapped plastic bags around my shoes and put two on my hand.  I took the drain cover off and stuck my hand in.  These junctions are brilliantly joined in a T formation, so that each drain goes down only about six inches and then the cross-pipes join on.  I dug out muck from around the main drain and as far as I could reach into the cross pipes.  Then I took the sink apart and checked it.  Clean, thank God.  On to the bathroom.  (The muck thickens!)  I repeated the process in there and now I had the lovely addition of hair in with the mix.  I also took apart the bathtub and sink drains and, trust me, they weren’t as clean as the kitchen sink had been. Of course by now I needed a shower big-time, and there was no shower option.  Several attempts to plunge my way through to a light at the end of the drain had confirmed that.  The drains hadn’t even noticed my efforts.

Now I had to give in and call the in-laws.  This is always a last-ditch effort because I hate to look like some kind of baby who can’t handle life alone.  It would have been so much cooler to casually mention at the wedding, “Oh, yes, dahhhling, I had backed-up drains today…..oh, no, I didn’t need to call anyone.  I took care of it myself,” and then bask in all their awed stares.  But it was not to be. So I dialed, losing face with each digit. 

Of course it is a well-known fact that there is not a male on this planet who can hear of a backed-up drain and not assume that the woman complaining of it 1) was not somehow complicit in its malfunction and 2) is capable of already having tried everything that he would try before calling the plumber.  So my father-in-law quickly mounted his white horse, unsheathed his trusty plunger, and arrived ready to do battle.

He repeated all my efforts and then attempted the old hose maneuver.  It proved equally futile.  He dug out a large handful of muck and said, “Look at all this stuff!”  I certainly did NOT reveal to him that I had already dug out twenty times that amount. 

Finally it was officially decided that a professional was warranted.  He arrived a couple of hours later with his snaking equipment and, alhamdulillah, cleared everything up.  It was about 7:30.  T-minus 1.5 hours to the wedding, kitchen still smelling like the business end of a dinosaur after he ate brussel sprouts, and bathroom still sporting bits of whatever had been in the drain.

Now it was Amani to the rescue.  She did the kitchen while I tackled the bathroom (hose, soap, laundry detergent, clorox, hose, clorox again, hose).  Then I jumped into the shower to de-muckify myself and Ta Da!!!  Half an hour later I was walking into the fanciest wedding I’ve ever attended.  More on that in next post!