Power cuts in Syrian capital drive workers, students to cafes

Cafe owner Ihsan al-Azmeh (R) prepares coffee in the Syrian capital Damascus on January 30, 2023. (AFP)
Cafe owner Ihsan al-Azmeh (R) prepares coffee in the Syrian capital Damascus on January 30, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Power cuts in Syrian capital drive workers, students to cafes

Cafe owner Ihsan al-Azmeh (R) prepares coffee in the Syrian capital Damascus on January 30, 2023. (AFP)
  • Nearly 13 years of civil war have hammered Syria’s infrastructure, including power stations and energy pipelines, leading to power outages that can drag on for up to 20 hours a day

DAMASCUS: Majida has been working from a central Damascus cafe almost every day for a year, depending on it for reliable electricity and wifi in a country plagued by debilitating power cuts.
“Without cafes, I would have been unable to work because of the long blackouts at home,” said the graphic designer, 42, declining to provide her surname.
Enterprising owners have upgraded their businesses with generators and batteries to guarantee power and draw in Damascenes plagued by Syria’s war-battered and crumbling infrastructure.




Students Shadi (L), Pierre (C) and George study at a cafe in the Syrian capital Damascus on January 30, 2023. (AFP)

“I need a continuous power supply (to work) — and I get my inspiration from the people here,” added Majida, drawing designs on a tablet on the cafe’s sofa.
Nearly 13 years of civil war have hammered Syria’s infrastructure, including power stations and energy pipelines, leading to power outages that can drag on for up to 20 hours a day.
Key oil and gas fields in the country’s northeast have not been under government control for years, while Western sanctions have hampered resource imports and strained public funds.




In the Syrian capital, the shortages have sparked a boom in caf's turned informal co-working spaces for electricity hungry workers and students. (AFP)

In 2021, Economy Minister Samer Al-Khalil said energy sector losses since 2011 amounted to around “$100 billion in direct and indirect damages.”
In the Syrian capital, the shortages have sparked a boom in cafes turned informal co-working spaces for electricity hungry workers and students.
At Flow Space Coffee, a colorful cafe with a quiet, studious ambiance, customers including Majida type on laptops or sip coffee while shuffling through papers.

The owner, Ihsan Azmeh, 38, whose friendly white dog Lilly is also a regular, said he wanted the cafe to be a place for young workers and students when he opened it three years ago.
“Damascus cafes solve at least three problems for people these days: electricity, Internet and heating,” he said.
Azmeh has rearranged the furniture to accommodate a growing number of workers seeking makeshift offices, with benches resembling school desks and a large rectangular table for meetings.
He bought a generator and has installed a battery system that kicks in when state power drops out, ensuring a constant electricity supply. Azmeh also doubled the number of outlets for charging mobile phones and other devices.
“I often find myself sleeping at the cafe instead of heading home” to avoid long power cuts, he added.
Across the city in the eastern neighborhood of Bab Tuma, known for its cafes and bars, Saint-Michel Coffee has also become a haven for freelancers and students.
Visiting the cafe “is not an option for me, but a necessity” said George Kassari, 18, a computer science student at Damascus University.
“As soon as I arrive, I take out all my devices to charge them,” he said, adding that he and his sister often recharge each other’s electronics at the cafe.

Muhammad Sabahi, a student who works as a website developer for a company in the Gulf, was preparing for an online meeting at a table nearby.
“I work from the cafe every day,” said the 22-year-old, adding: “I now have a fixed seat here, employees know my favorite drink by heart and they begin making it as soon as I arrive.”
If not for the coffee shop, “I would have failed my university exams and lost my job,” he said.
“This is the only solution for me and many of my friends,” he added, a large bag filled with chargers, cables and other necessities sitting beside him.
Medical student Shadi Elias, 18, said he chased sunlight around his home by day and read his textbooks by torchlight at night, heading to the nearest coffee shop whenever the batteries ran out.
“Cafes are crowded during the exam periods, so I make sure to come early,” he said, sitting near a chalkboard with drawings of lightbulbs reading “battery-powered.”
“This place turns into a big classroom — we borrow pens, papers, books and sometimes even phone chargers from each other,” he said with a smile.
 

 


Used missiles for sale: Iranian weapons used against Israel are up for grabs on Jordan-based website

Used missiles for sale: Iranian weapons used against Israel are up for grabs on Jordan-based website
Updated 16 April 2024
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Used missiles for sale: Iranian weapons used against Israel are up for grabs on Jordan-based website

Used missiles for sale: Iranian weapons used against Israel are up for grabs on Jordan-based website
  • Debris used in attack listed on OpenSooq online marketplace

LONDON: Fragments of missiles launched by Iran during the recent attack on Israel have been discovered for sale on Jordan’s prominent OpenSooq website, which is known for trading goods, including vehicles and real estate.

Al Arabiya reported on Sunday that the shrapnel was being advertised, with pieces described as “Used Iranian ballistic missile in good condition for sale,” and “One-time use ballistic missile for sale at an attractive price.”

The sellers had provided specifications and images of the missiles, describing them as “excellent type,” and mentioned their involvement in an “accident” resulting in “severe damage to the body.”

Some listings even included installment payment options.

Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel late on Saturday as it retaliated following a suspected Israeli strike on the consulate annex building adjacent to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, earlier this month.

While most projectiles were intercepted by a joint response from Israel, the US, UK, France, and Jordan, the attack marked Iran’s first direct military assault on Israeli territory, escalating tension and uncertainty in the region.

Following the attack, individuals shared photographs online showing debris that had fallen on Jordanian territory in areas such as Al-Hasa, Marj Al-Hamam, and Karak Governorate.

The Jordanian government confirmed that it had intercepted some flying objects in its airspace, with no reported damage or injuries.

Debris from such incidents often holds economic value. Metal debris from the Iraq War has been used by Iran-backed groups to finance their activities.

Similar items are sold online as military memorabilia, and there has been a surge in demand for such artifacts, as seen in Australia last year, preceding the country’s ban on the sale of hate symbols.

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Google Doodle celebrates Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan

Google Doodle celebrates Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan
Updated 15 April 2024
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Google Doodle celebrates Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan

Google Doodle celebrates Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan
  • Etel Adnan rose to fame for her 1977 novel Sitt Marie Rose about the Lebanese civil war

DUBAI: Google released its latest Doodle on Monday honoring Etel Adnan, a Lebanese-American poet, essayist and visual artist, considered one of the most accomplished Arab-American authors of her era.

The poet, who rose to fame for her 1977 novel Sitt Marie Rose about the Lebanese civil war, was born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Greek mother and a Syrian father, and grew up in multiple cultures, languages, nationalities and religions. Sitt Marie Rose won the France-Pays Arabes award and become a classic of war literature, so much so that it is taught in American classrooms.

In 1949, Adnan went to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne before going to America to study at Harvard and Berkeley.

From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy in California, during which time she also started painting and writing poetry. She developed her literary voice in English and said abstract painting was the entry point into her native Arabic.

Adnan returned to Beirut, where from 1972 to 1976 she worked as the arts editor for two newspapers. She returned to California in 1979, then spent her later years living between Paris and Beirut.

In 2003, Adnan was named “arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today” by the academic journal MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.

Adnan’s most recent honor was in 2020. Her poetry collection “Time,” which is a selection of her work — translated from French by Sarah Riggs — won the Griffin Poetry Prize.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, earlier this year opened an eponymous exhibition in her honor – “Etel Adnan: Between East and West” –  showcasing 41 of her works. The space at Ithra’s gallery is the first solo exhibition of Adnan’s work in Saudi Arabia, running until June 30.

The works on display span from the beginning of Adnan’s artistic career in the late 1950s through to her final creations in 2021, shortly before her death that year aged 96.

Some of the works are on loan from significant international institutions such as the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sfier-Semler Gallery and Sursock Museum. Some are part of private collections.


‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways

‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways
Updated 12 April 2024
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‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways

‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways
  • The trio became stranded on Pikelot Atoll, a tiny island in the remote Western Pacific, after their motor-powered skiff malfunctioned
  • A US Navy aircraft saw the "help" sign and a ship came later to rescue the stranded trio, all experienced mariners in their 40s

LOS ANGELES: Sometimes all you have to do is ask for “HELP“: That’s what three men stranded on a deserted Pacific island learned earlier this week, writing the message in palm fronds which were spotted by US rescuers.

The trio, all experienced mariners in their 40s, became stranded on a lonely island after setting off from Micronesia’s Polowat Atoll on March 31 in their motor-powered skiff which subsequently experienced damage.
They were reported missing last Saturday by a woman who told the US Coast Guard her three uncles never returned from Pikelot Atoll, a tiny island in the remote Western Pacific.
“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said search and rescue mission coordinator Lt. Chelsea Garcia.
She reported that the trio was discovered Sunday on Pikelot Atoll by a US Navy aircraft.
“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.
The aircraft crew dropped survival packages, and rescuers one day later dropped a radio which the mariners used to communicate that they were in good health, had access to food and water, and that the motor on their 20-foot (six-meter) skiff was no longer working.
On Tuesday morning a ship rescued the trio and their equipment, returning them to Polowat Atoll, the Coast Guard said.
In August 2020, three Micronesian sailors also stranded on Pikelot were rescued after Australian and US warplanes spotted a giant “SOS” they had scrawled on the beach.
 


Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii
Updated 12 April 2024
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Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii
  • One fresco depicts Paris and Helen, whose love affair caused the Trojan War, according to classical accounts
  • Pompeii and the surrounding countryside was submerged by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius exploded in AD 79

ROME: A black-walled dining hall with 2,000-year-old paintings inspired by the Trojan War has been discovered during excavations at the Roman city of Pompeii, authorities said on Thursday.
The size of the room — about 15 meters long and 6 meters wide — the quality of the frescoes and mosaics from the time of Emperor Augustus, and the choice of characters suggest it was used for banquets, Pompeii Archaeological Park said.

A fresco of a mythological character inspired by the Trojan War is seen in this handout picture taken in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii and released on April 11, 2024. (Parco Archeoligico di Pompei/Handout via REUTERS)

“The walls were painted black to prevent the smoke from the oil lamps being seen on the walls,” Gabriel Zuchtriegel, head of the park, said.
“People would meet to dine after sunset, and the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear animated, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine.”
Pompeii and the surrounding countryside was submerged by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius exploded in AD 79, killing thousands of Romans who had no idea they were living beneath one of Europe’s biggest volcanoes.
The site has seen a burst of archaeological activity aimed at halting years of decay and neglect, largely thanks to a 105-million-euro ($112 million) European Union-funded project.

A fresco of a mythological character inspired by the Trojan War is seen in this handout picture taken in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii and released on April 11, 2024. (Parco Archeoligico di Pompei/Handout via REUTERS)

The dominant theme of the newly discovered paintings is heroism and fate.
One fresco depicts Paris and Helen, whose love affair caused the Trojan War, according to classical accounts. Another one shows doomed prophetess Cassandra and the Greco-Roman god Apollo.
According to Greek mythology, Cassandra predicted the Trojan War after receiving the gift of foresight from Apollo, but no-one believed her. This was because of a curse Apollo put upon her for refusing to give herself to him.


Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains

Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains
Updated 10 April 2024
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Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains

Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains
  • The 36-year-old mechanic bought the car from another racing superfan in the capital Sarajevo last year
  • Since purchasing the vehicle, he has been methodically making tweaks to its exterior, while nursing hopes of one day replacing its engine

KLJUC, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Far from the glitzy racetracks where legendary drivers made their mark in the world of Formula One, Himzo Beganovic has turned his dreams of speed into reality along the dirt roads of northwestern Bosnia.
“I always wanted to own a Formula One car, to have it in front of the house, to be able to go for a spin,” Beganovic told AFP, as he tuned up a replica “Ferrari red” race car outside his home near the Bosnian town of Kljuc.
The 36-year-old mechanic bought the car from another racing superfan in the capital Sarajevo last year.
The replica, which took two years to build, remains a ramshackle mock-up, crafted with sheet metal — a far cry from the advanced carbon fiber used in the multimillion-dollar cars of Formula One teams.
Despite Beganovic’s limited means, he still hopes to make his car more efficient, bit by bit.
Since purchasing the vehicle, he has been methodically making tweaks to its exterior, while nursing hopes of one day replacing its engine.
Along with a more powerful motor, Beganovic hopes to install an automatic gearbox and better tires.
“When you drive Formula One, you feel like you are flying. It is not like a car,” he said.
“It is the only one in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are no others.”
A self-professed lover of “fast driving” and taking “dangerous turns,” Beganovic has been turning heads along Bosnia’s mountain roads where he reaches speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour).
Other times he simply parks the car in a popular area and lets people check it out.
“I sometimes put it on a trailer to take it to other places in the country. People come, photograph it, and ask questions,” he said.
“The feeling is indescribable.”
For Beganovic, there was no question of what color the car would be.
As a longtime fan of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari-red paint pays tribute to the driver who won five titles with the famous Italian team.
Since the legendary German champion’s skiing accident in 2013 in the French Alps, Beganovic said he has yet to find another driver that interests him as much.
With Schumacher in mind, he hopes to put an Audi V-8 engine into his car soon.
“When a German engine and Bosnian ingenuity combine, you get an Italian car,” laughed one of Beganovic’s neighbors.