War and economy govern lovers’ behaviors in Syria
Enab Baladi – Maria al-Shaaban
Love in Syria has not been immune to the repercussions of war, and the deteriorating economic conditions in areas under the regime’s control have affected romantic relationships.
Lovers try to circumvent the economic reality, which was described by the economic researcher Dr. Firas Shaabo to Enab Baladi in a previous report as a “war economy,” by scaling back on costs that exceed their financial capacity and do not directly affect the relationship negatively.
Young men and women at different stages and definitions of romantic relationships endeavor to spend more time together and rediscover life’s landmarks with each other. Despite the simplicity of the need, dating has become constrained and determined according to economic factors in addition to societal and personal ones.
According to what Enab Baladi observed and the cases it contacted of lovers living in Syria, specifically in regime-controlled areas, the answers were similar despite the distance between their owners.
In gardens and on streets
Yasmine, a graphic designer from Damascus’ Ghouta region, told Enab Baladi that romantic encounters and dates now depend on parks and walking in the streets for hours instead of cafes and restaurants.
Despite the stigma that part of the Syrian society still places on park-goers among the youth, the park remains the more abundant and “comfortable” choice, according to Yasmine, as the minimum bill in a café is no less than 50,000 or 100,000 Syrian pounds depending on the type of place and services, an amount that is not easily secured or spent in frequent intervals by employees working in the public or private sector in the country.
“Suad,” (pseudonym) a content writer for an educational platform in Dubai, living in the suburbs of Damascus, shared her story with Enab Baladi, saying that the alleys and lanes of Damascus were a breath of fresh air for her and her beloved when they could not cover the expenses of café sessions, even though they work at salaries considered excellent compared to their peers.
Walking around the al-Qaimariyya area of old Damascus, Bab Touma, and Bab Sharqi, and spending time at the Sulaymaniyah Hospice before the start of its restoration work and other places became the lovers’ alternative plan to spend time together and alleviate the financial pressure on both parties.
Even though walking through the lanes or sitting in parks is free, one must buy something to eat or drink to spend the day. Fortunately, there are street vendors, some selling coffee and tea, and others selling simple food that sates the hunger without emptying the pocket, according to Suad’s expression.
The price of a cup of coffee or tea from street vendors is about 5000 pounds, with prices increasing or decreasing from one seller to another and from one area to another.
As for food, the falafel sandwich is one of the cheapest alternatives, with a price ranging from 6000 to 10,000 pounds; there is no uniform price for goods in general in Syria. The price of a potato sandwich, the second alternative, fluctuates between 8000 and 10,000.
The US dollar is trading at 14,700 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.
According to the Kassioun’s Living Cost Index, the average cost of living for a Syrian family of five exceeded 12 million Syrian pounds, equivalent to 827.58 US dollars.
Prices rose by 200% during the year 2023, while the minimum wage covers 1.5% of the average cost of living for a family, according to the Kassioun Index.
Restaurants, cafes, and markets are not devoid of customers, and the sources of income relied upon by goers of commercial establishments vary. Some work for companies outside Syria with monthly wages higher than those working for government or private institutions within the country, and others are relatives of expatriates, where the Syrian expatriate sometimes bears part of the living costs of his/her family.
What about gifts?
Shaimaa, 28, a dental assistant in Damascus, told Enab Baladi that gift preparation depends not only on thinking about what the other party needs or loves but often, to a greater extent, on the financial situation. The idea of a gift means freezing a portion of your monthly salary, and often, it won’t be less than 100,000 pounds to buy a simple gift.
Considering flowers as a symbol of love, hardly any love story is without an attempt to present a rose or bouquet to the beloved. The price of a single rose reaches 6000 Syrian pounds, a modest amount compared to many of the life costs in Syria; however, one rose is not enough, says Shaimaa, and the giver strives to spend what he has to express his love for his partner or whatever it is called.
Ashraf, an economics student at Damascus University and a part-time accountant at one of the city’s cafes, said that his last gift to his girlfriend, a shoulder wrap and a winter hat, cost 150,000 pounds, while his monthly income does not exceed 300,000.
He added that thinking about the subject makes it seem impossible, but somehow, you manage to secure the gift or the cost of the meeting. Some young people exaggerate material gifts to cover the real needs they live in, which Ashraf has noticed in his surroundings and himself on occasion.
Shaimaa also mentioned that mutual understanding between both sides of the relationship was and still is an essential factor for its continuity, and the dire economic situation experienced by people of all ages and genders has emphasized the importance of focusing on each party understanding the other’s situation, avoiding comparisons, and reducing secondary expenses, even if those costs are considered fundamental in other societies or were in Syria itself years ago.
Join military service or travel and pay exemption fee
Young Syrians in regime-controlled areas face limited options for securing their future after completing university studies, or if they are unwilling or unable to advance to university.
Either a young man must join military service in the regime’s army if he is not an only son or the breadwinner, or he must pay the military service exemption fee, which the General Recruitment Agency affiliated with the Ministry of Defense in the Syrian regime’s government has set at 8000 US dollars for those who have had permanent residence in Arab or foreign countries for no less than four years, before or after reaching the conscription age.
Travel comes as the third option considered by Syrian youth, with varying destinations and costs, while the three options share financial and moral costs.
This triad poses a barrier to the continuation of emotional relationships, for those who have reached the stage of needing to make one of the three decisions.
Suad, a content writer for one of the educational platforms in Dubai, mentioned that love relationships in her circle often end for the three aforementioned reasons and that the uncertain future and the long duration of the relationship tire both parties until one of them gives up and ends the story.
She added that beautiful, rosy love stories still exist despite difficult economic challenges, but they have not vanished, and it depends on the patience of the two parties, some future clarity, and occasionally, the support from their environment.
As Ashraf, a student at the Faculty of Economics in the morning and an accountant at one of Damascus’s cafes at night, approaches graduation and thus seriously considering one of the three options, he prefers to postpone moving to the engagement stage, despite his and his partner’s desire, until the future becomes clearer.
The number of Syrians leaving for neighboring countries or Europe is increasing, as the economic crisis continues and the absence of prospects for a political solution in their country persists.
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