Health care in Syria

December 20th, 2008 by scott and becky

After a fitful night, Becky’s cough was not getting any better. We decided to ask for Fadi’s [1] assistance with visiting a doctor. He had mentioned last night that his cousin Bassam was a Pharmacist at a hospital, and spoke excellent English. Ten minutes after our request, Fadi was at our doorstep to whisk us away to see the doctor. He drove us to the local Christian hospital. Upon arrival, we met Bassam briefly and were again whisked into the empty emergency room to see the doctor. We continue to be amazed and heartened by the culture of openness and helpfulness from people we meet in Syria.

An hour and 1150 SYP ($30 CAD) later, Becky saw a doctor, had an x-ray, and inhaled a nebulizer (some asthma drugs infused in steam). Doctor Mahmoud validated that she does not have an infection and the nebulizer seems to have gotten the worst of the coughing under control. The doctor’s prognosis was allergic bronchitis. With the strong asthma medication, and some more rest, the cough should repair itself soon.

The doctor spoke good English – he explained that he spoke good medical English but not so good social English. The hospital itself was clean (the nebulizer mask was packaged in a sterile bag and it left with us, so Becky could use it with the second dose). What was odd was that people were smoking in the hallways – although not the treatment rooms. When we were waiting for the x-ray results, the doctor had us wait in the treatment room because the air was better – it was also warmer as the hallways are not heated.

With Becky feeling much better and able to take a deep breath without coughing, we took a taxi back to the area of our hotel. Rather than going directly to the hotel, we went to the Sheraton to check out the breakfast buffet. We had heard that it was good, so we decided to splurge on a good breakfast. We stuffed ourselves with a variety of western and local food. Becky was especially happy to have a good and large cup of brewed coffee while Scott enjoyed trying some of the local foods that he did not feel comfortable trying on the streets. (There are some cheeses which look yummy, but they are offered in unwrapped chunks and handled by the purchasers – probably fine but after our experience with stomach ills in Turkey we’re trying to be much more careful). Unfortunately, we arrived rather late (at 10:30) and the buffet ended at 11 am. We had hoped to laze around for a couple of hours enjoying the different foods and getting our money’s worth (it cost 1500 Syrian Pounds for the two of us, about $45 CAD). We were the last people to leave the restaurant after much of it had been cleaned up at 11:45.

After all the morning excitement we went back to the hotel for an afternoon nap and shower. We asked to have the hot water turned on, and not two minutes later the power went out – oh well, such is life in Aleppo this winter. Our showers had to wait until the power returned a couple hours later.

Before supper, Becky was feeling up for a short walk, so we decided to check out the Old Souk (bazaar). The old bazaar in Aleppo is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and immediately we could see why. It was clearly a working souk, with shops dedicated to thread, bolts of cloth and even raw wool and raw cotton. On one of the streets there was even a loaded donkey doing deliveries! Overall it felt much more authentic than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We saw only a fraction of the streets, so we’ll definitely go back. We were there late in the day, so we did not receive too much hassle from the touts, but there were two memorable ones.

Donkey making deliveries in souk (Aleppo Syria)

Donkey making deliveries in souk (Aleppo Syria)

Merchant says: “Do you want to spend your money in my store?”
Scott says: “No thank-you”
Merchant says sadly: “No one does.”

Another merchant with great English talked to us for a bit. He was selling the nice soft pashmira scarves – Becky had mentioned to Scott earlier that she wanted to pick up one or two and send them home. So, we looked at the scarves and foolishly asked how much they were. We had planned on walking away and not buying anything at this point in time, but well … his price started at 750 SYP but after several attempts to walk away and say later, the price was reduced to 400 SP (about $13 CAD) and we walked away with a beautiful new scarf for Becky. When we asked Fadi later, he said 400 SYP was about twice what a local would pay, so we think we did pretty well! We have heard from other travelers who feel they should pay local prices and get frustrated when they can’t bargain the price down as much. We figure if we can get the price down to where we’re paying a reasonable price, we’re doing OK. After all, we’re the ones who are fortunate enough to be able to travel around the world – if we pay a little more for things, that’s OK.

[1] Fadi is Scott’s friend Ghanam’s brother-in-law who lives in Aleppo. Ghanem put us in touch with various people when we told him we were heading to Syria, which has been wonderful so far!

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