Friday, October 5, 2012

Part Two – Syrian Journal

My camera was broken by the time I reached Syria so the only photos I have are distorted .  For this blog I added Google images 

In my long ago travels in Syria I found the local people to be friendly and willing to help me as a young American travelling through their land.  I was invited into homes and had meals purchased for me, and many who helped me on my way by providing directions.  Today, when I read the daily news and hear of the death and destruction in Syria it gives me such great sadness…. Also, how ironic that I wrote my last blog only a few days before the burning of my beloved Souk el Zarb.  This was a UN World Heritage site severely damaged by the flames of war.   Here is what BBC had to say about the fire:

As I read my last blog and this one it seems very strange to hear my words as a 21 year old come back to me … for me it’s a great reason for keeping journals.  My journal has in fact become a time capsule to the way I thought and acted at that time in my life.


There is one thing about staying in hostels – I meet such a variety of people and then we travel our different ways – only to meet again in another hostel later on.  I had a fine ‘homecoming’ with several friends that first morning in Damascus as we shared a breakfast of bread, honey, dates, and little glasses of hot red tea... I went to the American Express office to pick up my mail from home.   As I sat in a teashop reading my mail, another ‘hosteller’ stopped by and we later went  to the Jordanian embassy to get travel visas.
Street scene in Damascus
 Much of the day was spent in catching up with the news of my travel friends and taking it a little easy from the busy last several days.  I met some older Germans who seemed like sad people to me – a travel weary older man and younger woman who had ‘wandering’ for all the years since the war crushed Germany... they had been around the world twice – they would stop and work enough to make a little money to live on and then off again... Modern day gypsies... it made me realize that one could become stuck in this life of being a ‘hosteller’.
First thing Monday morning I went first to the bakery to buy bread for the day, then went to see the famous gardens of Damascus There I was stopped by a group of armed soldiers who demanded to see my journal and passport – My journal really seemed to concern them and they passed it back and forth – even though none of them could read English.  After a delay they allowed me to continue.
All through the city there are groups of armed troops, and occasional armored cars with machine guns pointed to the sky, also large guns being pulled in the streets.  Later as I walked more through the city, I saw whole streets blocked off, and parks appeared to be made into battle ready encampments – tents, machine gun placements, armored cars – sitting, waiting, helmets... Once more my journal was taken from me and examined and my passport was checked and rechecked... I found later that there had been a revolt in Baghdad with some people killed – everything was in complete lockdown.  When we woke the next morning we were advised not to leave the hostel because there had been a “bloodless coup” overnight here in Damascus.  It appears that the army general kicked out the Bath party  (very conservative) everyone in the city was on edge. Later that day in the afternoon I went with friends to explore the souk (market district) but it was not as extensive as Souk el Zarb in Aleppo.  I found an inlaid wood chess board and some hand crafted leather goods.  Damascus was satisfying – the city was grand and it was good to reconnect with friends.

(Next entry)  When I reached the time limit for my stay in Damascus I woke early to catch a bus for Jordan.  The one I expected had broken down so I had to wait until 10:30.  This proved to be a dolmish  (communal taxi) that charged 10 Lira – ($2.75) for the trip into Amman Jordan – that was expensive but my only choice.  And it didn’t leave until 11:30. The driver stood outside his car shouting – “Amman” “Amman” until he had collected enough people to fill the dolmish.  As I waited, seated on a bench, a Syrian army guy came over to me and grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me up – holding on to me, he pulled his long dagger with a curved blade and held it up menacingly.  Then his face changed from anger to laughter and he walked away.  Was he just kidding with me?  Was he trying to scare me?  Was he trying to say he didn’t like Americans?  I guess I’ll never know.  Its funny but I didn’t feel very threatened by him because there were a lot of people standing right there waiting for buses.

building - Damascus
The group of us that finally started the trip to Amman was the driver, a man in the back seat and his two young wives. Also joining us were an older Arab man and his wife and two children.  The back seat I shared with a young Arab and a very old woman.  The young Arab was constantly ordering the two young women about  - for example they peeled his fruit for him. It was quite jolly with everyone sharing fruit and bread as we went along.
Some people spoke English and explain to me that the Baathist government is Iraq fell first, then two days later the army in Syria revolted and the Baathist’s were also defeated... so nobody knew what the response of the loyalists would be,

Syria has a few rivers - and when its possible they have built water wheels - mostly to run flour mills.

To hear a recording  of the water wheel sound click here:
As we neared the Syrian border   we began to encounter large detachments of the Syrian army – 4 large units – each with troops, artillery, tanks, and supply trucks... Here was an entire army on the move!   I found later that it was all very convoluted... the revote in Amman, We arrived in Amman late.  First things first – I was starving without much to eat all day – so I found a street food stall that was selling something wrapped up in newspaper – they had put together a collection of meat slices on a spit and had a hot bed of coals to cook the outside meat.  Then they sliced off the toasted meat on the outside and wrapped it in pida bread with tomatoes, cucumber, turnip pickle,  and yogurt sauce. It was love at first taste.   They call it Shawarma!

 I walked into the first hotel that looked ‘acceptable’ it was clean and cheap – the rooms were for 4 people – but I had it to myself.  A young Palestinian who spoke good English decided to educate me on the issue of Israel – He said, “Look we lived in Sprain (the Moors) for over 300 years – do we get it back just because we ask for it? – Why should the Jews get the best land in the Middle East – so easily? He continued, "I lived right over the border in East Palestine and from the top of my hill I can look over and see my old house. But I cant even go back to visit my home."

My hotel turned out to be an experience – the hotel owner had raised all the internal wall of the hotel only 3/4 the way to the ceiling – the result was that you could hear each new arrival, each cough, or sneeze, or restless sleeper.  I had a breakfast of date, bread, and tea ... and set off to see the city... 

Note added 10/5/12: At the time this was written I had been traveling for 3 months... and I would continue traveling for an additional 2 months... so this is one slice out of my Hosteling adventures - perhaps over time I will add more ...

Street in Amman - old town

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