Students observe Orthodox Easter fast

The usual smells of meats and spices blending together in an Ethiopian household will be put on pause as the annual Oriental Orthodox fasting begins.
Every year, the Orthodox fast leading up to Easter lasts a total of 55 days, and it is the most important fast of this faith.
It is filled with spiritual hymns and more church attendance. Yet, for senior Hemen Besufekad, her yearly challenge, alongside trying to practice the faith as much as necessary, is practicing it while attending school.
This year, the Oriental Orthodox fast began on March 4 and is set to end on April 28, adding to a total of 55 days. This is 15 days more than the Catholic fast called Lent.
Besufekad is one of the few within her friend group who is participating in this fast, which consists of living a vegan lifestyle the whole way through.
This becomes more of a challenge as days go by in school when she is feeling famished but isn’t able to eat fulfilling foods which some people may have on hand.
“I do get hungry more often while I’m in school, but I have to remind myself why I’m doing this in the first place,” Besufekad said.
Being surrounded by people during the lunch period who continue to enjoy their cosmic brownies and crunchy Cheetos taunt Besufekad and continue to tempt her, yet it is no match for her strong faith and willpower.
“I chose to do this fast because I know it is good for me. I don’t expect my friends to be phased by my new change in diet, but yeah it gets hard sometimes,” Besufekad said.
Despite having a large majority of her friends who do not observe the fast, she is surrounded by a vast Habesha (Ethiopian and Eritrean) community in the area, and some in school, who help to keep the faith strong.
“It’s like I have a personal support group,” Besufekad said.
“Within my group of Habesha friends, we all share the struggle together which makes it more bearable,” Besufekad said.
This fast, referred to as the ‘Abiy Tsome’ (Fast of the Father) is the only fast where people who follow the Oriental Orthodox faith are required to participate if in good health.
It is broken down week by week, and each week focuses on an aspect of Christ.
The first week is called Zewerede, meaning “He came down”.
From this, the next upcoming weeks are Qidist, Mikurab, Metsagu’e, Debrezeit, Gebir’her, Niqodimos, Hosa’ena, then Tinsae which is Easter. Each week carries a certain significance to it and requires the reading of certain Bible verses as well.
Besides simply being vegan, there are other options of how one may fast for this season. Some may choose to wait until 12 p.m. to have their first meal, while others wait until 3 p.m.
“I was raised by eating vegan meals when having to fast, so that’s what I choose to stick with during the season,” senior Ephrata Yohannes said.
Every person who follows this faith is allowed to choose on their own basis if this is a journey which they want to take, but some choose otherwise.
“I do this fast because it is a way for me to serve penance for whatever sin I have committed, and is an opportunity for me to reconnect with God,” Yohannes said.
It is expected to also abstain from worldly things like listening to music, television, and things of that nature.
Despite the many hardships of this two month long fast, it is the feeling of community which strengthens those fasting to stick together.




Immigrant stories: coming to America

Senior Maryam Atique first came to the United States from her native country, Pakistan, in 2006 when she was only five years old.
The trip from Pakistan to America was two days long and stopped in Saudi Arabia on the way.
On the trip, she arrived with her parents and three siblings, alumnus Rida and Areeba, and freshman Minhaj Atique. Once they arrived, they moved straight away to Annandale, Virginia and have stayed in the area ever since.
“I remember the feeling of how quiet everything was when I first came here,” Atique said. “I felt lonely since most of my family lived in Pakistan and [they] still do [to this day.]”
Besides the feelings of loneliness and isolation from her family in Pakistan, Atique was still able to remain observant of her surroundings. She noticed that there were many sharp contrasts between the two countries.
“The outside life in Pakistan is more lively [and] the streets are filled with people, and lots of busy markets. But here, it’s quiet and more conserved,” Atique said.
Atique also took notice of the differences in the education system between the two.
‘“[In Pakistan], students usually graduate in 10th grade. Then, they go to a university of their choice,” Atique said.
Despite this, there are similarities with education as well. For example, many of the core classes are very similar in Pakistan since they teach the basic core classes, like simple algebra and basic biology.
However, in Pakistan, students must also learn Urdu, the official language, and the history of their country, Pakistan.
“When I came to the U.S. I knew some basic English because of the classes I had to take back home. It was still hard at times,” Atique said.
Since her arrival to the United States, Atique has visited Pakistan twice. Her second visit was most recently, during winter break this school year.
During the one month-vacation, Atique traveled with her sisters to visit family and friends, whom she had not seen in years.
“The trip was very fun since I got to see my family. It was shocking to see the difference in lifestyles especially since I haven’t been there in six years,” Atique said.
Even though Atique was happy to make the trip, it wasn’t easy for her to adjust to the hectic lifestyle.
Despite this, it did not stop Atique from visiting historical sites in Pakistan, such as different forts which were used in Pakistan during wars and battles.
For Atique, the only thing which she truly misses from Pakistan is seeing all of her family.
When Atique first came to the U.S., she had to say goodbye to all of her aunts, uncles, and cousins who all still live in Pakistan.
“I love the energy when I’m with my family because there is never a boring day, but I don’t get to see them often,” Atique said.
Even though it was hard for Atique and her family to leave family behind, they came to America for the opportunity of a good life, which Atique received.




How to prepare an outstanding Egusi Soup

Egusi Soup is a fat and rich seed protein dish. It is thickened with the ground seeds and popular in West Africa.  

Ingredients you will need:

2 TSP Crayfish

1 Egg

Half TSP Salt

125ml of Palm Oil

1 Tin Tomato

1 Stock cube

Dried Ugwu(Fluted Pumpkin Seeds)

120g Egusi, 1 Onion and 1 Scotch bonnet

 

How to prepare it :

  • Place your pot on the stove and add 125ml of palm oil into the pan. Allow that to melt until a hot smoke is present, then a blended mixture of  tomato paste.
  • If you fancy prawns, stock fish, smoked mackerel or mussels go for it and add it at this point.
  • Add 2 stock cubes of your choice, half a teaspoon of salt stir and allow it to cook for 7 minutes.
  • To prepare the egusi pour it into a bowl then crack your egg into it. Add 2 TSP of crayfish and mix together to form a thick paste. Set it aside.
  • Your pot of egusi soup should be boiling at this point. Scoop a mixture of the egusi and drop it into the stew in chunks. Do not worry about the clumps you can break them as you go (Add Iru / locust beans) if you desire. Allow that to cook.
  • To now prepare the ugwu add hot water to let it soak for 1 to 2 minutes then drain. This would soften the ugwu and make it easier for you to use.
  • Break some lumps in the stew if some are to be big. Have a taste.
  • Add your ugwu and stir. Lower your heat and allow that to simmer for a good 5 minutes. Check your meal and after that decide if it needs more time depending on taste.
  • Plate your meal and set it aside for 2 minutes and serve, you can now enjoy an egusi soup meal.



How to prepare a delectable Ghanaian Bofrot

Bofrot or puff puff is a delectable dough based snack in west african countries. This dish is highly favoured and is generally contested with multiple countries claiming to have the best recipe.

Ingredients you will need:

All purpose flour

White/Brown sugar

Active dry yeast

1 TSP nutmeg

A pinch of salt

How to prepare it:

  • Add 2 cups of warm water to a bowl and pour about 3 TSP of active dry yeast. Then add a half TSP of sugar then mix it all together. You can reduce or increase the amount of sugar to your preference.
  • In a clean bowl add 2 ½ TSP of all purpose flour. Add a pinch of salt and along side the salt add 4 TSP of sugar. Then add your 1 TSP of nutmeg and mix it together very well.  
  • After ten minutes of waiting for the warm water mixture, gradually add it to you dry mixture and stir. (Your water must be luke warm and not too hot or else it would kill the yeast). Gradually add it to make a doughy paste with the dry mixture.
  • After now mixing both the wet and dry ingredients together wrap the bowl with a plastic wrap to cover the dough. Make sure there are no holes present, this gives the dough the opportunity to rise.
  • Set that aside for 45 minutes to an hour for it to rise and if needed add more time. Unravel the plastic wrap and make sure the bofrot mixture is at a not to thick yet movable dough consistency.
  • Once unraveled tease the dough into forming a ball good enough to drop it your oil. Place your oil on the stove on medium heat for about 5 minutes so it’s the right temperature to fry.
  • To test the temperature you could place a ball of the mix to fry to test your temperature. Once it is hot enough depending on your pot size place sizeable amounts of balls of the mixture into the pot. It is very important to not overcrowd the bofrot.
  • Let the bofrot balls slowly cook and once it is a crisp brown on one side flip it to the other side to cook just the same. Some may not like to roll so pay attention and personally roll then to brown them evenly.

Your Bofrot balls should be crisp and delicious after setting them to dry. Enjoy your puff balls!




Immigrant stories: coming to America

As it is for many immigrants, coming into a new country and attempting to live a new life has its difficulties, especially once you’ve already built a life for yourself.
For senior Jiafu Li, leaving Guangzhou, China at the age of 10 and having to restart his life, created difficulties for the first couple of years.

Li was not fluent in English when he first came to America in 2011, but was able to learn the language through attending school and practicing as much as he could.
This language barrier originally created difficulties for Li, being that it made it harder for Li to create new friends, and attempting to hold simple conversations was a struggle he faced as well.

“It took me about half a year just to learn how to ask my teachers to go to the restroom,” Li said.

Besides this one adjustment Li had to make, he also had to accept and adapt to his new surroundings at Annandale, Virginia.
“Another hard thing to adjust to was the lack of people on the streets,” Li said. “Back in Guangzhou, the streets were always flooded with people and many stores, making it seem as if there was always something to do.”

These major changes which Li went through when coming here didn’t stop him from trying to make the best out of his new life.
“One huge thing I noticed was the change in diversity. In America, there are so many different looking people everywhere you look. It’s a nice change,” Li said.

He was also able to find bits of back home, here in America.
“I always miss the city lights at night in China. Thankfully, I am able to catch a glimpse of that whenever I go to Mosaic at night, which looks very similar,” Li said.

Despite the different looks in the streets and daily life, there were also significant changes in the way the school system worked in China.
“The schooling system is pretty strict. At the end of 12th grade, all students must take an exam which will determine if you’ve been accepted into college. You’re only allowed to apply to one university,” Li said.

On top of this, each school day consisted of 5-7 classes. Then each year, every student was given their classes, leaving there to be no room for electives of their choice.
This increased the rigor and pressure that students felt in China, but was less of a concerning issue for Li when he came to America. “I can enjoy taking the classes I actually like, and I can choose my own pace in terms of levels,” Li said.

Li deeply misses many aspects of living in China, but it was with hopes of having a better life that brought Li and his family to America. The political agenda in China was not one which aligned with what Li’s parents had planned for him and his siblings.
“Life in China was rather hard with a family of three kids and the single child act in effect,” Li said. Restrictions had made life hard on Li and his family, so coming to America was the best choice Li’s parents had thought of.

These problems did not stop Li from wanting to return to visit family who he had left behind.

Despite the many ups and downs which Li had gone through when transitioning to a new life, Li has been able to adjust, thanks to friends and family who continue to support him.




Vacationing in Pakistan

After visiting Pakistan back in 2013, senior Maryam Atique returned once again with her siblings on Jan. 2. Atique stayed in Multan, Pakistan with her grandmother and grandfather, who acted as her tour guide during her stay.

While in Pakistan, it was an eye- opening experience for Atique to remember what it is like to be surrounded by family, since most of them live in Pakistan and not the U.S.
“I missed the idea of being in a family-oriented atmosphere. I loved being with my cousins a lot of the time,” senior. We got to visit and tour the historical sights of Pakistan with them,” Atique said.

The bustling streets in Pakistan was another major shift Atique had to get used to, as opposed to her somewhat routine and simple life in America.
“Being in Pakistan for just one day showed me how different street life in America is compared to Pakistan. The streets are much louder and busier, and never seem to quiet down,” Atique said.

Another difference which she noticed was the experience and structure of the streets in Pakistan compared to the U.S. The roads did not have any dividers, making it seem like a hazard to those who are not used to it.

“Streets in the U.S. are much more clean, compared to the chaos of the roads in Pakistan,” Atique said. “They are very difficult to drive on since there is only one road where cars drive both ways.”
The pollution in the air and overpopulation were both shocking to Atique as well.

Despite these things, Atique still made the most of her trip by not only visiting family but by seeing tourist sights too.
“One of the tourist sights I got to see was a huge fort which was used by Pakistani soldiers in battles hundreds of years ago,” Atique said.

While staying in Pakistan, Atique took notice of the stylistic differences in how people dressed, compared to when she was in Pakistan in 2013. There was a mixture of both Western and traditional Paki dressed people on the street.
This was only one of the few similarities she picked up on while she was there.
“The restaurants in Pakistan were very diverse culturally. While there, I went to Mexican, Chinese, and American restaurants with my family, which was a little weird at first, but the food tasted good,” Atique said.

Some of the stores in Pakistan were the same as stores which could be found in America.
“It was really cool being able to go to a Nike or Adidas store in Pakistan because I thought these stores could only be found in a few countries,” Atique said.

All in all, a trip like this was something Atique had been looking forward to for months, despite the worry of having to go while school was in session.
“It was a little hard trying to balance both because I wanted to devote all of my time to seeing Pakistan,” Atique said.
“But my teachers posted assignments online, which made keeping up with school easier,” Atique said.




Senior Dibya Barua takes trip to Bangladesh

My trip to Bangladesh was a very unique experience. The day after I arrived was the Bangladeshi Liberation War Victory Day, so the general public went to the “Sriti Shoudho” which is a monument built to respect those who have served. Entering the place was a nightmare. My uncle, who is the Dhaka Sector Commander for the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) assigned us two military units for our security.

Our vehicles were unable to enter because of the mass crowd however, our bodyguards from the escort truck got out to “plow” people so we would be able to enter the crowd safely. There were people all around our car and I was praying that the windows were bullet proof. I really wanted to take a picture of it but was unable to because I thought someone would punch open the window to steal my phone.

I will be honest, if anyone gave me a million dollars to drive in Bangladesh I would never take that offer. The drivers in Bangladesh are experts. There is no proper lane system and there are pedestrians everywhere trying to cross the street.

We went to Bangladesh at a very risky time. They were just having their elections which meant it was not safe to be out in public, especially as a foreigner. On their election day, my family went to the election polls to see how the Bangladesh election process works.

Honestly, I knew Bangladesh was a corrupt country, but I’ve never seen so much corruptness in my life. There were two main parties; the Awami League and BMP, out of these two, Awami League was the party in control of the government. BMP is the more radical muslim party so whenever anyone with a beard would walk in, they would say that the machine stopped working.

Later, we went to the poll where my mom’s friend has great political influence. He took us all the way inside the polling building and showed us the machine. No one stopped him or questioned him, not even the police. We were even able to vote even though we legally were not supposed to.

Other than the city side, I was able to visit my grandfather’s village. Which is in Noakhali. I’ve seen my dad’s village many times, but I really enjoyed this trip more. I got to explore and saw the struggles people take every day to make a living.

The time I was in Dhaka, we were all given bodyguards for our protection. Our bodyguards were the best of the best. They were always nice which I really did not expect. They made our trip much easier and I got to play badminton with them.

Chittagong wasn’t as fun, but this trip made me realize that people in Bangladesh do not beg, not even the homeless people. Bengali people will do whatever it takes including working and most will refuse to beg for anything. I thought that was really interesting. My trip had many up and downs however, I got to see my family and enjoyed it.




Thanksgiving in Eritrea

For senior Sesen Beyene, celebrating Thanksgiving means a little more to her than what the holiday tradition typically holds.

After coming to the U.S. from Eritrea in 2006, Beyene has had to leave behind many of her family members back home. Beyene and her family have had to make do without them, but this somewhat worked out in the long run.

“Thanksgiving is very important to my family because we don’t have a lot of blood relatives here. The concept of being grateful has now really grown on us because of this,” senior Sesen Beyene said.

 

Thanksgiving for senior Sesen Beyene consist of reuniting with family members while eating a combination of traditional Eritrean and American foods.

This hasn’t stopped Beyene and her family from attempting to connect with other friends that they have made while being in the U.S.
“We have made many new friends who have made us feel welcomed into their home, so we spend this holiday with them,” Beyene said.

The growing relationships that she and her family have developed throughout the years with these people is what makes Thanksgiving important to her.

Attempting to find a balance between her Eritrean and American customs used to be difficult for her to deal with, but years of practice has taught her how to accommodate both ends of the spectrum.

“We make sure to include foods such as kay tsebhi, which is a spicy meat stew, and doro wet, which essentially is the same thing, but is made with chicken and eggs instead,” Beyene said.
Traditional Thanksgiving dishes such as turkey and pie are included into their menu for the day as well, which only represents one aspect of their attempts to combine two cultures into one.

Within the Beyene household, their Thanksgiving combinations haven’t changed much since they first began.

“My cousin and I first get together a week ahead of time and plan out what foods to make for Thanksgiving, we have at least one new dish to try making each year,” Beyene said. “From there, we divide up the work between families, and start the actual cooking about two days in advance,” Beyene said.

Family bonding is very important in the Eritrean culture, and the kitchen is always symbolic of the food and memories which are being made.
“Every year, my siblings and I make wings for the holiday. It’s our long-standing tradition, and this is one of the things we have to have,” Beyene said.

Once food preparations are taken care of, the rest of the Beyene family begins to arrive in the late afternoon.

The Christian faith is heavily implemented in the Eritrean culture, so including this aspect into their day is considered to be a major portion of their traditions.
“One of the elders in my family will lead a long prayer to bless the food, then we all dig in,” Beyene said.

Afterward, a coffee ceremony is held in the living room, which consists of preparing the coffee beans at home and drinking multiple rounds of it in miniature sized cups.
This then leads up to the Beyene family than sharing among one another what they’re thankful for, as a way to keep the Thanksgiving tradition in their routine for the day and to express their gratefulness for one another.

 




Immigrant stories: coming to America

On his awaited trip from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to the U.S., junior Kaleab Mengistu was only three years old when he first arrived to America.

The trip he took, along with his parents, older brother, and aunt, lasted a total of 13 hours. After making one pit stop in Italy, Mengistu arrived to Tennessee with his family in 2004.

Mengistu only stayed in Tennessee for a couple years, then made his way to Annandale, Virginia with his family in 2012.

Since Mengistu was only three years old when he first left Ethiopia, the memories of his early childhood are too vague to recall, but from trips he has taken back home, he is able to keep some memories with him.

“I was pretty young, but I can remember how some parts of Ethiopia were heavily gated, there were lots of gutters, and some dirty roads,” Mengistu said.
It was through the memories of friends and family which helped him piece together what Ethiopia was like in previous years.

Regardless of some of the more rough looking areas, malls were continuously bustling with friendly faces, and helped balance out his memories of the good and bad.
“Some of the nice places I remember seeing and going to were shopping centers, which were considered to be the nice places in Ethiopia,”Mengistu said.

Some significant differences he noticed were the lack of traffic lights in Ethiopia, as opposed to the abundance of them in the U.S.
“Driving around in Ethiopia is definitely always a risk since people don’t have traffic lights to depend on,” Mengistu said.

On top of that, stray animals are found all around the country, and has proved to be a danger to the people there, “A couple years ago, I got clawed in the calf by a wild dog, and the scar is still there,” Mengistu said.

The education system in Ethiopia differs from that in America as well. Students were consistently ranked based on their grades, one being the best on the scale.
It was Mengistu’s dream to come to America that brought him and his family here, “When I was little, my parents said I used to put shoes in a bag and tell them I’m going to America” Mengistu said.

“They then wanted to go to America after I kept doing that,” which then led them here.
Mengistu misses his family back home, and hopes to see them soon enough.

“I try my best to keep in touch with my friends and family back home, but it’s hard because of the time zone differences,” Mengistu said.




Ew, You’re eating what?

With diversity comes differing cultures, faiths, and foods. AHS is known for being diverse within the school and the community, which opens people’s eyes to something new everyday.
Unfortunately, it is a common action among many to assume negatively of things that are different than what they are comfortable with, leading to them having a closed mind.
For example, when students bring different types of traditional foods for lunch.

Senior Ephrata Yohannes has been packing her own lunch since she first started attending middle school.
Her lunch typically consists of rice or pasta, but every once in a while, she would bring injera. This is the traditional food eaten in Ethiopia. It is eaten by hand, and is usually topped with another dish along with it.

To her, eating injera is nothing new, since she has been eating it all of her life. But one day, she brought injera for lunch, not really thinking much about the fact that this food was not commonly eaten by students in her school.

Once she opened her lunch, a number of students turned their way to see where that pungent smell was coming from.
Students turned their noses up to the scents of curry powder and foreign spices that flooded her lunch table.They were unaccepting of her new traditional dish.
“I felt like I was put in the spotlight and I didn’t really know what to do,” senior Ephrata Yohannes said.

Comments kept flooding in from friends, and some strangers, as they all gawked at the food she was eating.

“I only took two bites of my lunch before I felt like I had to throw it away,” Yohannes said.
Even then, the smell of her food consumed part of the cafeteria, and continued to linger on afterwards as well.
The appearance of her new and unaccepted food disturbed other students, and she finally realized that she could never bring injera for lunch again.

When people react negatively to the cultures of others and evaluate it in the standard of their own, this is known as ethnocentrism.
The differing backgrounds of students surprisingly does not find a way to ward off against this term, as students still make harsh judgements about other people’s foods and cultures.

“Whenever people find out that I’m Somalian, they make so many jokes about how we eat everything with bananas,” senior Amal Hashi said.
Anthropology teacher Holly Miller tries her best in the classroom to combat against ethnocentrism by exposing her students to different types of foods and cultures.

“I like to bring in music from different countries, show pictures, and food too, to provide a variety of ways to try and break down judgments,” Miller said.

Although keeping an open mind may be hard for some people, her students try their best to avoid judging automatically.

“I try not to react with judgment, but often times the things she shows us come as a shock to me, and usually makes laugh at first,” senior Jonathan Assefa said.

It is through small attempts like these, that can lead to an impactful change in classrooms.




Immigrant stories: Coming to America

Maisha Maliha was only five months old when she first came to America from Bangladesh. She traveled by plane for 13 hours, and first arrived to D.C, with her mom.
Since she was young, she did not have any memories of her own about coming here, but she remembers stories from what her mom told her.
“I remember my mom telling me that we had planned to land in New York, but it was the same day that the twin towers were knocked over,” Maliha said.
It was unknown if other attacks were going to happen, so planes had to take a detour in order to keep the passengers safe.
“We ended up landing in Boston instead, and made our way down from there,” Maliha said.
Her father was already a citizen in America, so when her parents married, the process of coming to America wasn’t as complicated as it is for most people.
Once her and her mom had landed in Boston, Maliha then made her way to D.C. and began her life in America.
For some people, trying to fit in to a new surrounding can be hard to adapt to, but the situation was different for Maliha.
“Thankfully when I was in D.C., my school was relatively diverse already, so trying to fit in was not very hard for me,” Maliha said.
Compared to schooling in Bangladesh, one major difference Maliha noticed was that teachers were the ones who would move around from class to class, as opposed to students moving around.
Since coming to America, Maliha has gone back to Bangladesh on two occasions.
“When I first went back to Bangladesh, I was 14 years old. It was to attend a bunch of weddings. Three of my cousins got married, and weddings in Bangladesh are a long process,” Maliha said.
In Bangladesh, a typical wedding has three different events tied to it, which kept Maliha busy on her trip.
“In total, I ended up attending nine events in my two weeks there. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the country through, ” Maliha said.
One main difference between America and Bangladesh that Maliha recalled was the traffic laws. Despite there being traffic lights in Bangladesh, little to no people would actually use them to navigate through the streets.
“When driving around in Bangladesh, there aren’t distinguishable lines on the streets when driving, so people are just weaving around. It gets very dangerous,” Maliha said.
In spite of that, she still would like to return to Bangladesh soon with her family if they go back again.
“I would love to be able to see my family again next summer, I miss my family back home,” Maliha said.
After being in America for many years, Maliha is very thankful for the opportunities that she has here in America.




Student visits family in the midst of crisis

Seven years of grueling war have left a country that was once the epicenter for tourism in the Middle East vastly different.
Syria and the nations citizens have had to undergo major lifestyle changes since the beginning of the war in 2011. Not going out at certain times when bombs were flying overhead, only going outdoors when absolutely necessary, etc. all became new parts of life in Syria.
However, with seven years gone by, there have been significant improvements to life in the country in certain areas.
For myself, this was my second time visiting Syria in the past three years with my mom and sister. For a majority of the time I stayed in the capitol, Damascus, where some of my family members live.
Just two years ago it was next to impossible to enter other major cities outside of Damascus such as Aleppo and Homs. However, this time I was able to enter these cities that were formerly major conflict areas.
In Homs, I got to scope out the total destruction of a significant part of the city that marked the beginning of the conflict.
Upon entering the city, I was taken aback by the endless rows of apartment buildings where families used to live, shops in the marketplace and various places of worship that had been completely obliterated by missiles and mortar bombs.
It was the same story with varying degrees wherever I went as there was damage to infrastructure that will take years to rebuild everywhere.
Despite this, social life and life as a whole in Syria has improved greatly in the past two years. People are overflooding in market places, shops, malls, etc. and beginning to return to life as normal.
During my stay, I had the chance to visit some of the historical sites in Damascus.
I got to walk around the famous marketplace located inside of the old walled city of Damascus known as Al-Hamidiyah Souq.
When inside the old city, I also had the opportunity to view the historical and well known Umayyad Mosque and take a tour of the Azem Palace as well.
Throughout my stay I enjoyed attending the concerts of some well known Syrian musicians and singers. To my surprise, there were thousands and thousands of people at these concerts which marked the great improvement of social life in the country.
In addition to this, I also did many things that I would typically do back at home such as going to shopping malls, stores, museums, etc.
Despite the significant improvements to the social scene in Syria and progress that has been made over the past two years, there are still many issues at hand.
Infrastructure and housing is set to take years to rebuild, the extreme inflation of Syrian currency lead the economy to a serious crash and there a still hundreds of government-installed checkpoints throughout the country that make travel a real hassle.
It is always interesting visiting Syria because I enjoy viewing a different lifestyle and drawing connections from one country to another.
Despite the hardships of the past ten years, life has improved profoundly for many while there is still large room for continued progress.