People and Places

Dispatch from Syria

Posted on February 12, 2013

While this dispatch from Phil in Damascus, syria is about the pups, it offers insights into life in that sad war-torn place right now.

Dear All,

Another update on the Syrian pups for those of you who were so generous in helping them find their new homes with Deanna and Christine.

Since the last note (ten days ago) they’ve come a long way. It seems like a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Time can move slowly here.

They’ve both spent today out playing on the balcony, running about under the sun and a circling jet fighter that was bombing one of the neighbourhoods off to the east.

Not a peep from the pups with all that commotion. Much more troubling for them was Mr White’s first encounter with a cat. One of Abu Fahd’s kittens came wandering over for a look and startled Mr White who yelped and ran.

(Abu Fahd is my neighbour, a lovely guy who has five cats. A mother and four kittens; one black, one ginger and two matching tiger twins. They’re not really his cats – they’re strays – but he’s their friend and feeds them and sits and talks to them when he has his morning coffee on the roof. They sit on his lap; he brings them water every morning and leftovers from his previous night’s dinner. They’re luckier than most, and make for a nice bunch).

Back to the pups. They’ve really only been going outside for two days. They were too scared to leave their little indoors compound before but, gradually they’ve plucked up the courage to do so. First into the rest of the room, then to the outside.

Mr White really was afraid and would come to the doorstep and stand there with his legs actually shaking with nerves. Mr Brown was less bothered and, in the end, just wandered out , picked up a piece of string that was on the floor and went back in to chew on it.

Not to be outdone, Mr White crept out on trembling legs (a day later), and as soon as he saw plants to bite and places to run, was off. Now it’s all I can do to get him to come in at night when I’m locking up. During the day I leave the door open and they come in and out as they please. A nap inside on the pillows, then a run outside to try and knock over my plants. Then another nap etc.

Although both pups are still small (each one a little over 4kg) they seem big to me because they’ve grown quite a bit. They’re big enough and strong enough now to escape the small section of the room I’d cordoned off for them – they climb over the foam barrier – and they’re pretty pleased with themselves about that.

They’ve now got the whole of the upstairs to run around in – what used to be Emma’s office and lounging space, plus the garden.

By happy chance I also managed to get hold of some real puppy milk formula, which seems to be really good for them – they seem very healthy on it.

It required a trip into town which is a big logistical effort these days – It’s 10km away but covering that distance now means leaving the house at 6am to get there before noon, on account of the checkpoints.

With the pups here I had to make various preparations so they’d be looked after in the event of me getting stranded because of road closures (very common – sometimes closed for four days at a time), arrested or otherwise caught up in some problem or another.

It meant various arrangements so that, if I didn’t make it home by 6pm, someone would go in and feed them.  It feels a bit like making a last will and testament – sending out instructions to people on what to do in the event you don’t come back. Quite absurd for a ride up the road to go to the shops.

My great fear with the pups, as it was when we had two cats living here with us, was that I’d get stuck somewhere for a week and they’d be left in the house without food. With the cats I could just leave a big pile of dried food out for them and a bucket of water. They just about had the self-discipline not to eat it all at once. The pups are like vacuum cleaners with their food.

Anyway, got back from town okay, just a few hours late for their feed. It was actually the day when the news was reporting lots of fighting in Damascus. There was a fair bit of shooting and so on, some of it closer than normal but people carry on much the same regardless. I read the New York Times story on it all and it stuck me as a bit overblown (journalists are like that!). The roads back were empty but we picked up some hitchhikers – we all piled in the back of the battered old Skoda van my friend drives.

Actually I’m supposed to go into town tomorrow. The same hassles loom but there is no petrol so I’m not going anywhere. A relief of sorts.

The pups have now had their vaccinations. On the day they had them I met a family of refugees who had ran from a bombed out neighbourhood, bringing their two cats and their talking parrot. The woman had insisted on not leaving without them and piled them into a bag and ran. They’re now all camping in an empty shop near to my flat.

Such a strange place, Syria. The best of people and the worst, all here.

The pups (and my own) travel paperwork is sorted, the air tickets booked. We’re a week away from making the first leg of our journey, from my flat to central Damascus. We’ll stay overnight with a friend there, and leave Thursday for Beirut. We’ll have a 12 hour wait for the plane there, then onto Frankfurt, then Boston. The pups will then go onto their wonderful new homes, and I’ll (hopefully) eat a steak and go to sleep for a day or so.

I’ll feel we’re home and dry when the plane leaves Beirut.  I can hardly wait.

Thanks again to you all for your efforts. They’re lovely pups, they’ll be lovely dogs, and it’ll all be worth it.


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