The streets of Damascus are empty. No horns blare, no cars crawl through the narrow streets or crowd the intersections. I’m not darting between cars for a change, and there’s hardly anyone on the street. What’s going on? Where is everybody in this bustling, chaotic city of nearly 6 million? Then I remember: it’s Friday, the Muslim holy day. Not until noon, after prayers, will the city start to bustle again.
Meanwhile, only a 15-minute bus ride away, stores are open, ovens are firing up in pizza and shwarma shops, and sidewalks are teeming with shoppers. Liquor stores display whiskey, vodka and local wines in their windows; butchers sell beef and ham. Women, their faces unveiled and their hair often cut short and carefully coiffed, walk casually down the streets. Here crosses are silhouetted against the sky. This is Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of the city, home to Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and evangelical churches: here the holy day is Sunday.