Damascus!

souq scene from above

After a fantastic week in Jordan, our northerly heading would take us into Syria. We weren’t sure how the border crossing would go because Syria’s official policy is that you are required to have obtained a visa from your home country prior to arriving. For obvious reasons, we didn’t have one. Word of mouth told us they might issue visas at the border; a risk we were willing to take. The risk paid off. The crossing went as smoothly as can be hoped for. We made it through with the van and were even able to stop at duty free for some much desired alcoholic beverages (very elusive during Ramadan). Next stop: Damascus.

Getting into the city proved to be a challenge. Navigating our way in the yellow van amongst thousands of other cars, of which totally disregarded any marked lanes or traffic laws, is something we shan’t soon forget. We’re grateful to Toon for handling the situation so well. It’s funny though, because even though the traffic was complete chaos, it wasn’t an angry chaos as you might expect. The people driving the cars were still very nice and pleasant, often waving and even rolling down their windows to ask if we needed help. In hindsight, we should have just timed our entry into the city to be around 6:30, before Ramadan food time, when the streets clear out completely and the city becomes a ghost town. You would never believe it’s the same city. At last, we made it!

main souq lit up by bullet holes left by the French

Damascus was a dream. It had all the makings of a fabulous city: vibrant, historic, exotic, quirky, friendly and clean. It felt like Marrakesh meets Barcelona. It was invigorating to be in a nice city again. It felt like ages since we had been in one. African cities are not much to speak of. Damascus claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world; so no wonder it’s got a lot going on. We spent most of out time strolling through the old citadel’s narrow streets and souqs. And what a welcomed relief to walk through the magnificent souqs relatively hassle-free!

Ommayed mosque

We visited the impressive Omyyad mosque. Prior to entering the mosque, I had to enter the ‘Putting on Special Clothes Room’ and cover myself with a jelab. It’s a good look, wouldn’t you say?

mosque chic

The mosque attracts Muslims from all over the world. Inside we had our photos taken with many of them, most of our photographers were from Iran. It’s like if you see someone pointing at something, you automatically gather around look to see what he’s pointing at. It starts with one person taking our photo, then their friend taking the photo also has to get his photo taken, then a group shot, and then people just start gathering from all over to have their photo taken with you as well to the point that a queue starts to form. It was kinda fun for a while, but then it just became overwhelming and was our cue to swiftly exit.

storyteller

One evening, as we were browsing the souqs, we stopped in at a coffee bar, An-Nawfara, for story-time. For the last 40 years, the same storyteller, or Hakawati, has been entertaining locals and tourists alike who gather around with a tea and nargeela (the Syrian term for shisha) to listen to the spectacle. He sits on a thrown with a cane in hand and passionately bellows out ancient stories from Syria’s past, slamming his cane against a table for dramatic emphasis while glancing at his book of calligraphed stories. We had no idea what he was saying, but still found it highly entertaining.

While we were there, a news crew walked in the door and started filming. The newsman was very friendly with us and helped us understand what the Hakawati was saying and explained the significance of the Hakawati tradition. He told us that storytelling has been going on for over a thousand years and started out as part of Ramadan. The story we got to hear was a classic story of forbidden cousin love. At one point in the Hakawati’s storytelling, he directed his attention at me for a couple of awkward minutes after which, out of the blue, he asked me my name in English and proclaimed, “I love you Meg!”. I’m pretty sure that bit wasn’t in the original text. He only performed for 20 minutes or so before leaving us on a cliffhanger, ‘to be continued’ the following night. We didn’t return the following night for part 2. I think we can safely assume they lived happily ever after.

End.

Roman remnants outside the souq

Comments

  1. Bruce The Moose

  2. I love you too Meghan!

    I love you too Meg :)

    Gosh thanks family :)

    I love my baby too. Miss you Meggie. xxxxoooo

    You guys are embarrassing me

  3. Debbie Rosen

  4. Can one tell their family members they love them too many times? I doubt it!

    I love you too, Meg, and oh yes, you too Mark!!! :)

    That’s so cute, I wonder why he lived you so? I especially love you Meg! Especially even more when you’re dressed in your special clothes.

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