Ramadan traditions

The World

This is billed as the oldest cafe in the old city of Damascus. The cafe isn’t that old but it is home to the last remaining hakawati, or master storyteller. This man sits on a throne-like chair and reads and dramatizes stories from handwritten manuscripts, epics from Arab literature. This man has come with a friend to drink tea and listen. The hakawati tradition is quickly dying out. The hakawati is not a young man and isn’t really excited by the job. He says there’s no money in this tradition. Tonight he reads a 13th century tale but these old tales don’t capture people’s imaginations quite as much as new stories. This is a fight scene from the top rated soap opera in Syria. It’s not exactly Shakespeare. This restaurant is a place where people come to watch soap operas and he says people no longer listen to hakawatis. This professor says television has won the cultural battle, though ironically it’s done so by calling attention to Syria’s traditional lifestyle. But looking at the past on TV and wanting to experience them firsthand is different.

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