in february ale and me went to syria. as i’ve never been, it was a chance to get turned on to the region, and that’s precisely what happened. we spent time in damascus, meeting friends and exploring the old town. they picked us up straight from the airport and made us feel right at home.
on the way north we stopped for the ancient water wheels in hama, also site of the brutal crackdown against the muslim brother hood. we came past the dead cities, ghostly places abandoned for centuries that still look like people only just left. in aleppo we wined and dined like kings, smoking nargiles while the aout player was singing his gentle blues.
somewhere in between we went to beirut, it’s just four hours drive across the border. there we met a slightly excentric millionair who also runs his own NGO and offered us a job. we’re still chewing on that one. beirut sits right on the sea, the whole bay lined with one long beach. and within in an hours drive you’re in the skiing resorts. it’s crazy. they also say it’s the party capital of the middle east. when we wanted to leave for damascus, we got stuck in town because of the demonstration calling on syria to withdraw its troops. while i’m writing this, news of another carbomb, the second in five days is coming in. there is real concern in lebanon that this might trigger another civil war.
at some point we also took a bus towards nowhere, then changed for a car and then a truck. untill someone said: you greehorns, what are you doing here? stop joking around, come for tea and see my sheep. so we stayed for tea, lunch, more tea, dinner and eventually breakfast and lots more tea. these people are serious about their hospitality.
so what did i learn? on the one hande some things change a lot when you move further from home. the way foreigners are recieved, housed, fed and enterteined is a million light years from the xenophobic atmosphere of europe. people also have a different way to deal with time. it’s not like they slack all day, on the contrary, everyone is holding down two jobs at the same time. it’s just that people don’tget rushed so easily. one can bring that attitude back home, and then try and keep it for as long as possible, but eventually it seems to fade here.
on the other hand some things don’t change. taxi drivers will always try to rip you off if you look like a tourist, no matter where. also, once the french have colonised a place, the locals pick up their baker skills, make them their own and then come up with beautiful things. pastries for breakfast on the streets of damascus will be an all-time favourite for me from now on.
i also learned that no one will say that they are afraid of an invasion by the US or a military attack by israel. but everyone told us to tell the people back home how the arabs really are, and that the way they are betrayed on tv is not true.