Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Once, paper products were so scarce in Syria that only rich families could afford them. Fathers bought each of their children one notebook for the entire school year.

During the 1980s, Syria was isolated economically because it sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. At the time, no Syrian factories produced paper and it suddenly became a precious commodity.

Entrepreneurs sold black-market paper towels, smuggled from neighboring countries, by pulling them on carts from neighborhood to neighborhood and shouting, “Mahareeeem! Mahareeeem!Maharem can mean paper towel, paper napkin, toilet paper or tissue. In Syria, they are often the same thing.

Today, those trade sanctions are long gone, Syria produces its own paper products and they are available in any corner store. But the itinerant maharem salesman remains, doubled over from the weight of his cargo, plying the streets and shouting rhythmically like some specter from Syria’s austere past.