They’re selling Obama T-shirts at the knick-knack tourist shops on Qaimaria in the Old City now. Alongside grey “University of Damascus” tees (“since 1923”) and tees with the Iraqi flag now hang red tees and white tees and blue tees with Obama in raised white lettering across the front, in Arabic and English. They’re hot commodities, and the vendor who otherwise sells overpriced scarves must know the value of the shirts: he’s charging 450 Syrian lire now, almost 10 dollars. A friend on his way of the country bit the bullet and bought a few; a good welcome-home gift from Sham for friends in America. The shirts might say something about Obama’s popularity here; wearing his white and blue Obama tee, my friend was the target of plenty of warm hellos and congratulations in Damascus and especially over the weekend in Beirut. Every news stand from here to there is plastered with magazine and newspaper covers of Obama’s serious or beaming face (okay, they’re more numerous in Beirut). There were slurred high fives from night-lifers in Lebanon Saturday night, offering the typical line of Bush destroying America’s standing but Obama offering more than superficial redemption. One bartender said Obama’s election was the first time that he thought Americans had finally “made the right decision.”
“I’ve been following the news in the States since the early 1990s, since the first Gulf war. And I’ve been following the NBA.”
His dream was to move to LA and finally see a live game.
“I love the NBA, the Lakers, Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal. He plays where now? Arizona?”
“Ah, the Suns.”
“What about the Celtics?” I had to ask. My brother scored season tickets high up near the roof of the new Garden last year just before the playoffs. We took in a few Celtics drubbings although both of us missed Game 7.
“I hate Larry Bird. I hate the Celtics. I follow the NBA for a long time: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Dr. J. But I hate Larry Bird.”
I didn’t argue, took another sip of my drink. At least he liked Obama, and here, now, in our time, isn’t that what matters?