The author is a Syrian citizen in Damascus who is not being further identified for safety reasons.
In a west Damascus neighborhood Thursday, a drumbeat all too rare drew people to their windows and balconies. Passersby stopped to investigate. Traffic came to a halt. Some drivers honked to the beat.
They were the drums of a wedding, a tradition known in Damascus as an “arada.” It involves a troupe of professional drummers, along with dozens of members of a wedding party, that picks up the groom from home.
The party then travels by car, adorned with flowers, to the bride’s house, honking all the way there. The “arada” starts up its folksy percussion again upon arrival. The groom goes inside to fetch the bride and take her to the wedding hall.
These traditions have been severely muted in Damascus in recent times, with the uprising-turned-civil war now in its third year. In the past months, the sounds of funerals have overwhelmed Damascenes, becoming a solemn part of the daily motif. Death notices announced on fliers litter lampposts and walls, making it difficult for anyone to be comfortable celebrating a wedding in public.
Even practical logistics make traditional weddings difficult. Before the war, a wedding would start around 9 p.m., the couple arriving no sooner than 10. Now, weddings start hours before sundown and end by 9.
In the days following last week’s suspected chemical attack, located less than a 30-minute drive from where the bride lives, the general mood in Damascus has been particularly sullen and filled with trepidation.
Talk of an imminent U.S. or NATO strike has left most people speculating on when an attack might come. Many thought it might be Thursday, echoing reports in international media.
So it was no surprise to hear a woman in the wedding party relieved.
“The bride almost had a nervous breakdown,” the woman said. “Can you imagine all that time planning your wedding, and suddenly you hear America might strike on your wedding day?! My nerves certainly wouldn’t be able to take it.”
Damascenes typically adorn the building entrance and staircase leading up to the bride’s family home at least a day or two before the wedding. But not in this case, presumably because of the country’s current circumstances.
“My daughter called me wondering if she was at the wrong address earlier because there wasn’t a single flower or anything around,” the mother of a wedding guest said.
Thursday was a quiet day in west Damascus. Residents have all but gotten used to the ongoing booms and blasts of government forces pounding the nearby suburb of Moadamiyeh, a suspected rebel stronghold.
In the afternoon, as brief as it was, only the sounds of joy could be heard in the neighborhood.
“Oh a wedding! A wedding!” squealed one resident, as she ran to her balcony for a look.
As the wedding party awaited the bride’s appearance from the dark building entrance, an 8-year-old girl grew excited. She stopped to watch with her mother before she shouted: “She’s out. She’s out. She’s right there,” pointing her finger to where she thought she could see the bride.
But neither her mother nor others who stood nearby could see what she saw.
“My daughter, she’ll spot the white dress miles away,” said the mother. “Her antennas are attuned to it, especially now that we don’t see it very much.”