Syrians turn to flea markets for frugal Eid Al-Fitr

A woman inspects a shoe at the main market of the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province, ahead of the upcoming of Eid al-Fitr. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2020

Syrians turn to flea markets for frugal Eid Al-Fitr

  • Prices have doubled over the past year, while the Syrian pound has reached record lows against the dollar this week, further driving up inflation

DAMASCUS: In a Damascus flea market, Sham Alloush rummaged through a pile of clothes for something nice to wear for Eid Al-Fitr that wasn’t too expensive. 

“The flea market is the only place I can buy something new to wear for the Eid holidays,” the 28-year-old, dressed casually in large sunglasses and a tight yellow top, told AFP. 

“Had it not been for this place, I wouldn’t have been able to buy new clothes at all.” 

Ravaged by war since 2011, heavily sanctioned Syria is also grappling with a severe economic crisis that has been compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon. 

Prices have doubled over the past year, while the Syrian pound has reached record lows against the dollar this week, further driving up inflation. 

With most of the population living in poverty, Syrians have increasingly turned to flea markets to purchase clothes at an affordable price. 

In a large street market in Damascus, customers perused stalls days ahead of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. 

“The quality of the second-hand clothes is good, their price is acceptable and they suit people with limited income,” said Sham, who has been visiting the flea market for years, usually around the holiday season. 

But even this thrift haven is not immune to the soaring inflation gripping the entire country, she added. 

“The selection of clothes this year is limited and the prices are higher,” Sham said, inspecting a pile of secondhand tops arranged haphazardly on a table. 

“But it is still cheaper than new ones.” 

The value of the Syrian pound had plunged to more than 1,700 to the dollar this week in an all-time low, while the official rate remains fixed at 700. 

The devaluation has meant that a wide range of products, both imported and local, are now more expensive for war-weary Syrians already struggling to survive. 

In a rare acknowledgement of the currency crisis, the central bank warned Tuesday it would clamp down on currency “manipulators” driving up the market exchange rate. 

A coronavirus lockdown since March has aggravated the economic crisis, forcing businesses to temporarily close and leaving many daily wage earners without an income. 

Malek Abul Atta has just reopened his small shop ahead of Eid Al-Fitr, after closing for weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I memorize my clients’ faces and this year I have noticed new ones ahead of the holidays,” he said. 

For him and most of his customers, the flea market is the only “window for those who can’t afford new clothes,” the 52-year-old told AFP, as he arranged T-shirts and dresses on a rack by the side of the road. 

“The average monthly salary of an employee is simply not enough.” 

In another shop in the market, Ghassan Tabbah said business had never been so bad. 

“This is the worst holiday season we have seen in years,” said the merchant, who had initially hoped he would recover losses sustained during the coronavirus lockdown this week. 

With the Syrian pound dropping to unprecedented lows, Tabbah’s business is just not reaping a profit. 

The businessman said he is offering items of clothing for 500 Syrian pounds (less than a dollar at the official rate) and yet no one is buying. 

Before Syria’s economy crumbled, his customers included poor people searching for “anything to cover their bodies” to middle-class shoppers looking to buy “international brands” at a bargain, he said. 

But now, “food is the main priority for everyone and clothes have become a secondary” luxury, Tabbah told AFP. 

With business slowing to a near-halt, the cost of keeping up shop has become too high for the merchant, forcing him to put his store up for sale a few days ago. 

He expects others will follow suit if the situation remains unchanged. 

“There is no holiday cheer this year,” he said. “We haven’t had a holiday in nearly ten years.” 

But for university student Dana Shawka, bargain shopping is in itself a source of joy. 

“I can buy three or four items from the flea market for the price of one new item” at a retail store, the 28-year-old told AFP as she scoured the market for a “catch.” 

“Shopping in the flea market and searching for beautiful cheap clothes has become a tradition before the holiday. 

Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

Updated 13 min 59 sec ago

Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

  • Five shepherds in the Henan valley were swept away as floods hit farms

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy rains and flash floods hit provinces in southern Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday, killing five people, displacing hundreds of families and isolating villages, local government officials told Arab News.

The heavy rain that began on Wednesday in Yemen's southern province of Hadramout triggered flash floods that killed five shepherds in the Henan valley and damaged farms.

“The five young men went to the valley to bring back their camels and sheep before floods washed them away,” Hesham Al-Souaidi, a local government official, told Arab News by telephone on Thursday.

Local authorities and residents found three bodies and are still searching for the other two.

Al-Souaidi said that flood waters destroyed farms and killed a large number of livestock in the agricultural Wadi Hadramout.

Southern Yemeni provinces have been bracing for the tropical depression since Saturday, when it hit Oman’s southern city of Salalah, as the country’s National Meteorological Center issued alerts, urging Yemenis to avoid traveling during the the storm and to avoid flood courses.

In coastal parts of Hadramout, hundreds of families living near flood channels were forced to flee to after flooding reached unprecedented levels.

Amen Barezaeg, a local government official assigned by the Hadramout governor to lead a relief committee, told Arab News that his team has documented the displacement of 450 families from Mayfa Hajer district alone, adding that the floods damaged roads, farms and isolated many remote areas in the province.

“We are now working on reopening roads to reach the isolated villages. The damage is huge,” he said.

Flash floods displaced dozens of families, washed away hundreds of palm trees and damaged dozens of houses in Hajr town, west of the city of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout province capital.

In some areas of Hadramout, residents said the floods were more destructive than those caused by cyclones over the last five years.

“We have never seen floods like this. Only the floods in 1996 were as strong as these,” Mohammed Bahamel, a journalist from Boroum Mayfa village, west of Al-Mukalla, told Arab News.

Heavy rains triggered flash flooding that wreaked similar havoc in Shabwa, Abyan and Aden, but with no reported casualties, according to local officials.

A government official in Shabwa province told Arab News that the floods washed away farms, isolated villages and damaged several houses.

In Aden, bulldozers were seen clearing mud from the streets as government officials inspected damage caused by the rain.

In April, the internationally recognized government declared Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, a “disaster” area after torrential rains and heavy flooding killed more than 10 people and damaged infrastructure.

Local health officials and residents say that the latest rainfall may set the stage for the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases that killed more than 1,000 people in May.

Wednesday’s floods destroyed the main road that links Hadramout province with Aden, disrupting movement of medical teams and vital medical supplies, including testing kits, officials said.

Meteorologists predicted that the rains would disappear on the weekend.

“Remnants of the tropical depression continue to produce rain across southwest Yemen. Rain will wane over the area on Friday,” Jason Nicholls, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said on Twitter on Thursday.