So Im fresh back in Amman from 4 days roaming in Syria, and man, Jordan feels just damn fancy to me now!
So, on Saturday I split a cab with some Syrians across the border. Id heard that it could be difficult, and Id never crossed a border on land before, being from Oz and all. Varying reports had it that I had to have gotten my visa from the Syrian embassy back home before going there, that I could get a visa at the border but it would take hours, perhaps over night, or that I could get one but it would take an hour and a half while they faxed my application to Damascus and back.
So, I was a little apprehensive. But not only did I get in, I got the visa in about 10 minutes flat! To all my fellow Aussies, you’ll be pleased to know that we have a good reputation in the middle east, and when I said “Im from Australia”, I was universally greeted with “Oh Oostrahlieh, welcome!”
So got to Damascus, the capital, and one hell of an exotic place.
I got a cab to this little hostel Id heard about, called the Al-Rabie, on the lookout for foaming dogs. But instead I found a beautifully unrestored old “Damascene” merchants mansion, with a courtyard in the middle covered in creepers with a bubbling water fountain! A beautiful place, and the best bargain of my entire trip I reckon, for $15 for a room to myself (unfortunately, they no longer had space on the roof, where you can get a mattress for like $5).
So I sorry readers, but I was having such a grand old time just experiencing everything, that I didnt take many photos at this point. But after I got settled I walked out to explore, and to give you an idea of the bizarrely old that seems to be everywhere in this ancient city, this was what the shop next door to my hostel had on offer:
So I wandered down the street to get to the old city. Because many of the cities in Syria have been continuously occupied for many thousands of years, they have what is called the old city and the new city. I wondered what to expect, I had no clue…
Words cannot describe the feeling I got when I entered the old city through the throng of people. A cobbled street with crazy little shops selling spices, gold, blowfish, perfume, and taxidermic stuffed chimps, roofed over shielding it from the outside world, with all these little alleys coming off at every possible direction. I felt truly immersed in another world and just walked unthinking for about 10 minutes before I regrettably pulled myself back to consciousness. Of course, there was no way I was going to cheapen the moment by taking a photo, but here are some after I snapped out of it!
And what could you buy? Well, try to imagine the weirdest thing you can, something from your wildest nightmares, and I bet you could find it. My dream for example, would have been fulfilled if not for stupid Australian customs… grrrr…
The old city was huge. I set out with a mission, to cross the city through the maze of tunnels and alleys. 2 hours later, I found myself exactly where I had started, back at the beginning.
So I head back in.
In the middle of the city I came across a doorway, and looked inside:
This mosque was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. I snuck in, skipping the foreigners entrance fee, took off my shoes and walked amongst the people feeling the cost stone under my feet. Later, I sat down against a column and just watched the children running around.
I feel as though this mosque is one of the missing pieces of my understanding of the middle east. The craziness in middle eastern cities seems too much to bear for a lifetime: the traffic where you take your life in your hands, and cannot escape the honking of car horns, the crowds, the hawkers, the jostling to get served, and last but not least the rubbish and falling down buildings and often poor infrastructure (though it is really a luxury to come from a place with enough money to employ an army of street sweepers and road workers. Love your local council workers Aussies!). How do people go on? Dont they long for a bit of peace?
But to walk in to this place was like magic. I think that day I learned the meaning of respite.
I left ready for another blast of car horns, ready to face the busy, vibrant, often over stimulating imperfect world with new vigour.
I felt there was something timeless about Damascus. And indeed, it is probably the longest continually occupied city on Earth. People going about their business as they has done for 8000 years, and in the same place too. Some of these people’s father’s father’s father’s (four HUNDRED times back) may have been doing much the same thing, but with less plastic. A sense of certainty of who we are as humans.
But I hadnt counted on Allepo yet…