Apartment shopping in Damascus - Part 2

In addition to the normal questions, there are plenty of things that nobody ever told us to ask, but that we wish they had. So, for our next trip to the Middle East, we’ve prepared a list of stuff that’s really important to ask about.

  1. Out of all the closets in the house, how many of the doors actually function? By function, I mean that they shut completely instead of hanging open.
  2. Is the bed mattress supported by a piece of flimsy masonite board, which is in turn propped up on an awkward rigging of cinderblocks and 2x4s? Is this arrangement so precarious that the bed squeaks loudly even if you just flex a muscle while lying in bed?
  3. Is there even a real mattress, or is it just a foam pad, or perhaps pieces of foam pads welded together to make a big enough sleeping surface?
  4. Are the windowpanes paper-thin? Are they loosely placed in a window frame, which in turn is loosely placed in its sliding track, which in turn does not even remotely form a seal when closed? Or, alternatively, has the window pane been broken and is now just held together with strips of tape? Regardless, do the windows offer zero sound protection and rattle whenever there is the slightest breeze?
  5. Is there an oven? Before you answer yes, does the oven actually work? Furthermore, is it of sufficient size to fit a standard baking pan or sheet?
  6. In relation to question 4 of the previous post, does the paint peel so badly that large flakes sometimes fall from the ceiling and land on you while you are sitting on the couch minding your own business?
  7. In relation to question 7 of the previous post, are there any especially undesirable businesses nearby? For example, are there busy car repair shops down the street that emit loud, random explosions throughout the day, or a bakery that runs its noisy water pump at night, keeping you awake?
  8. Similarly, are there any businesses located on the first floor of your building? If so, are any of them tailor shops that have erratic work schedules and whose industrial-strength sewing machines and sergers will shake the whole building at any time of day or night?
  9. If there are not any businesses on the first floor of your building, and you think you are lucky to move into a quiet lane, are there potential places for businesses to move in on the first floor? Realize that if it is possible, they will move in. Also be aware that they will not complete their noisy, poundy, early-morning until late-night construction in a timely manner, nor will they all do it at once. Rather, one store will move in and gradually be completed, and only then will the next begin.
  10. During the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, will your neighbors sleep all day and be active all night? Do these nocturnal neighbors include several employees of the above-mentioned tailor shop? Furthermore, is the owner of the tailor shop the same guy who owns your apartment building, so that there is no one you can complain to about the building shaking all night for the whole month?
  11. Does your apartment have a Turkish toilet as well as a Western one? If so, does the Turkish toilet sometimes reek for no reason, usually when the wind blows a certain way? Is there absolutely nothing you can do about this smell, no matter how much bleach you pour down the drain or how tightly you seal the door with duct tape?
  12. Have you been lucky enough to find a bookshelf in all the city of Damascus? Or are you stuck with using a kitchen utensils cart to unceremoniously cram your books on?
  13. In relation to question 10 of the previous post, how loud is the call to prayer broadcast from your local mosque? Does the muezzin sing in a melodious manner, or does his particular style grate on the ears like so much aural steel wool? Does he give a special extended edition of the call to prayer at 5 am, often continuing long after every other mosque in town has finished already? Are earplugs useless against him?
  14. In relation to question 15 of the previous post, do any of the nearby single-family apartments actually have three families living in them? Do these three families single-handedly make more noise and ruckus at night than any of the other sources of midnight disturbance mentioned above? When, at 2.30 in the morning, you finally break down and politely ask them to consider pounding on their wall with a sledgehammer or forging heavy armor at another, less midnight-y time, do they reply in a snarky manner and often continue anyway?
  15. Is the lighting in your apartment so poor that you are reduced to using a white-light headlamp to complete simple reading tasks?
  16. In relation to questions 17 and 18 of the previous post, does your landlady live downstairs from you, and thus, can she track your movements at will? Does she ask for the key to your apartment when you travel? Furthermore, does she ask for extra money a lot? When she has received it, does she ask for more, as if you are her personal bank?
  17. In spite of all this, are you having a great time living in Damascus, making friends, learning to speak Arabic, and enjoying all the character-building experiences your crazy apartment offers you?
The answer to number 17, at least, is a resounding "yes!"


Apartment shopping in Damascus - Part 1