Reflections on the Middle East

My Middle East includes Egypt, Jordan and Syria because those are the countries we went through. Turkey doesn’t really make this list for reasons I’ll describe in my next post.

Arabic script is the most beautiful of all written languages. Especially when written by an expert calligrapher.

Bartering is a way of life.

Ramadan makes travel challenging. At first I was excited to be traveling in the Mid-East during this time, thinking it would be cool to see how they celebrate such a sacred holiday. It was cool for the first few days, then it just became frustrating. When you’re starving and thirsty in the mid-day scorching heat after hours of sightseeing and can’t find anywhere selling food or drinks, it kinda sucks. It didn’t take long to adjust to the Ramadan schedule, however. We’d buy food and drinks in the evening for the following day. We still needed to be mindful about eating or drinking in public. You can’t help but feel a wee bit of guilt for quenching your thirst in front of a person who is fasting.

It’s interesting to see how people’s routines and lives have adapted to Ramadan. It’s as though most people have shifted their daily schedules so that they sleep during the day, i.e. fasting hours, and stay up all night eating and socializing.

At the sunset call to prayer it’s chow time. In Cairo, there were streets lined with tables of food and hungry men just waiting for the loud speaker’s hiss so they could dig in. Men and women would eat separately.

People have a love for sweeties. Delicious nutty pastries and bonbons. We saw sweeties in extra abundance because they play a major role during the last three days of Ramadan where every shop merchant would give them out for free.

Mosque architecture is usually a let down on the inside. They’ll cover the floor with a mish-mash of carpets, hang fluorescent light bulbs and cheap electronics haphazardly from the walls and ceilings. The men usually get the grand spaces front and centre while the women are often forced to prey in a forgotten corner.

The souqs of Damascus and Aleppo had oodles of women’s lingerie stores selling some pretty racy stuff! Perhaps that’s what they wear under their black hijabs? Naughty naughty!

People often ask us where we’re from. Mostly they want to break the ice and try to sell us stuff, but many people also just want to welcome us. Anywhere in Egypt: them: ‘where are you from?’, us: ‘Canada’, them: ‘ Ah, Canada Dry!’. I’m not really sure how we’ve become known for our sugary ginger-ale but apparently it’s our claim to fame in Egypt.

There seems to be a growing difference between generations. There’s a growing younger generation dressed in Western fashions, eating pizzas and texting on their mobile phones.

People do not stand in line to wait their turn. They bud. Maybe they do that just for us, but it is aggravating.

Men socialize in public in tea houses. They’ll gulp sugary tea and smoke a sheesha while playing backgammon. You see this everywhere.

Houses lack street presence. But they are incredible on the inside centered around an open, interior courtyard.

Shwarmas are not as good as back home. We never found the magic combination of meat, pickle and garlic sauce and bread we were looking for. Looking forward to Shwarma King on Dalhousie when we get back home.

Donkey’s have to be the most abused animals on the planet. This is most evident in the Middle-East. Poor donkeys!

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