Brenda Erskine

Damas Dame

Brenda Erskine

I've just moved to Damascus to work, and everyone back home in Canada wants to know what it's like. I promised a blog and here it is.

North America » Canada » Ontario » Toronto January 14th 2014

While I sip my tea in the local Starbucks, wishing I had something better to do, a man in CAR is being congratulated by his neighbours for burning his enemy and eating his flesh. This man is supposedly a Christian. The man he killed and ate, supposedly a Muslim, supposedly killed his wife and children. I can't suppose anything. The media is reporting on this story with horror. And fascination. I too am fascinated. The story of the Uruguayan football players whose plane crashed in the Andes, and who survived by eating their dead comrades, has haunted me ever since i heard it. I sided with those who made the decision, because of how they made the decision, jointly and democratically, and how they honoured the remains of those they cannibalized. It was more a celebration ... read more

Middle East April 16th 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared my thoughts about Syria in this blog. One reason was a reluctance to get into the politics of what has been happening here, for obvious reasons. Another reason was that I wanted to be clear about how I felt and what I thought. For someone new to the country who is trying to figure things out, the last month has been a roller coaster. There were many opinions, lots of misinformation, some big disappointments, and days when I didn’t know who to believe or even what I wanted to believe. Today, like many Syrians, I want to believe in Syria. I want to believe this country and its current and future leaders have the ability to avoid the mess that many of the countries in the ME and Africa find ... read more

Middle East March 12th 2011

I've been to Al Badia three times now on field trips to our worksites, to visit some stakeholders, and to visit some of the communities nearby. I've had many cups of tea and strong arabic coffee. Al Badia is technically not a desert. It's "almost desert" with low mountains and vast rocky plains, where Bediouin chase sparse areas of greenery to graze their sheep, and villages huddle around oases with precious water. When the rains come, plants spring out of nowhere and the landscape abruptly changes. But Al Badia is becoming more desert-like every year because of the lack of rain. Desert is taking over the Middle east and Africa. The Syrian government is so concerned about the drought that they are now mapping the communities most impacted and adding them to a growing list of ... read more
Bagdad Cafe
My Bedouin buddy
Drinking matte at the Bagdad Cafe

Middle East March 12th 2011

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. ~Victor Hugo After a couple days of heavy rain and cool weather (we even had some wet snow!), the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it’s starting to feel like spring again. Along with the regular birdsongs, when I’m in the kitchen and the weather is nice, I am occasionally treated to the interesting sounds from the parrot who resides in the shop across the street. Parrots are a common sight in the little shops here. Maybe they keep the owners company, or attract buyers, or even catch shop lifters. Who knows? It’s just one of the nice little things about Syria. Another nice thing is how much Syrians love to laugh. “Be happy” really should be the slogan for Syria. At first, ... read more
Photo 5
Photo 6
Photo 8

Middle East » Syria » South » Damascus March 8th 2011

Apologies to all my Canadian friends, especially those in Alberta who are suffering through -30C and a winter that feels like it will never end. Please turn the sound up nice and loud when you listen to the video. That's the sound I wake up to every morning, and every day it sounds sweeter (last weekend we enjoyed a BBQ in +23). My driver also loves to garden, so while I was out touring the countryside with a busload of locals last Friday, he planted flowers in all my pots and cleaned up the garden! Such a sweetheart. He also has the magic touch with the TV and the computer, and he takes out the garbage. Who needs a man about the house when you have a driver? Also included in this blog are photos of ... read more
Photo 3

Middle East » Syria » South » Damascus February 27th 2011

It’s a small thing and I shouldn’t complain. Others have real threats to their freedom, and my little story is only an inconvenience. It's just disappointing. I thought I had discovered the perfect biking and running route: head out of my house and down the hill, run a kilometre along the highway, then 3 km straight uphill and 3 down, a lovely wide road, no potholes, very little traffic on a Holy Day, and a great view from the top. Too good to be true? Apparently. On Friday I did the route by bike for the second time without incident, waving at soldiers, traffic cops and construction workers en route. On the way home I did a really interesting little detour, maneuvering through the narrow streets of Mezzeh’s poorest area, a rag taggle bunch of buildings ... read more

Middle East February 18th 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011, 10:30 p.m. Inside my new home, Al Jazeera is running “The Stream”, a news documentary followed by a panel discussion about the role of facebook and twitter in the Tunisia and Egypt revolutions. They’ve coined a new phrase with a lovely twist - weapons of mass mobilization. It’s fascinating. The “mobilizers” had a level of expertise that surpassed the ability of the most advanced security systems, using modes of communications that surpass traditional media by far in terms of speed and reach. It’s as if the true potential of the internet has been realized, after most of us in North America were duped into thinking it was just another shallow advertising tool that had been taken over by mainstream media. It may be as important to democracy and people’s ability to participate ... read more
my backyard
back of my flat

Middle East » Syria » South » Damascus January 22nd 2011

Have I only been here 2 1/2 weeks? It seems longer, probably because every day here is a whole new experience. At the same time, I am frustrated with all that I haven't seen and done. Two years will hardly be long enough to explore Syria alone, never mind the neighboring countries. Here's a few snapshots of my daily life outside of work -- which takes up a considerable amount of my days, unfortunately! Last Saturday I decided it was time to make an appointment at a local hair salon. I knew the success of this venture would be a serious test of my ability to survive in Damascus, so I approached it with some trepidation. Would wearing a head scarf be out of the question if things didn’t work out? I decided the hotel concierge ... read more
Abu Roumana apt
Abou Roumaneh
Abou Roumaneh

Middle East January 14th 2011

Images are still swirling around in my brain, like the tiny pieces of a Damascene mosaic, waiting for an experienced craftsman to warm up a pot of glue and arrange them in an intricate pattern that makes sense. Setting the Scene: It reminds me a little of Canada's north. When you focus on the details it can appear barren and ugly. You have to take your focus back a ways and take in the larger picture. The city is surrounded by low mountains, the most prominent being Jebel Quassioun (see photos). The mountains look bleak-- brownish bare rock with no vegetation, until you notice how they constantly change in colour throughout the day, with soft hues of pink, blue, orange. They're most beautiful in the morning and evening light. The buildings are mostly dull brown-grey concrete ... read more
Jebel Quassioun

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