5/11/2010

Damascus



I waited at the border for just three hours. It was completely unlike my last border experience with Syria. Instead of barking officials that never looked me in the eye, mine were as friendly as could be, offering smiles and small talk and shay. When the decisive moment finally arrived at the slit window, I thought of the last time it had come, when the officer had tossed my passport to a taxi driver and ordered me out of the building and back to Amman with evil pleasure. This time it was a very warm "welcome to Syria!" I walked the empty border stretch alone and passed under the giant photoshopped blue eyes of Bashar al-Assad, hopping into a minibus to Damascus.


Of all places, my friends Emilie and Scott happened to be chilling by the Umayyad Mosque when I landed in Souk Sarouja. Leaving my bag in a rooftop hostel with a dozen sleeping backpackers, I wound past the citadel and through the deserted Hamidieh Souk. In daytime, the old roof's thousands of bullet holes glow like little suns over the bustling market. At 11pm, the market was abandoned; a long, eerie tunnel. I kept my eyes ahead, anticipating my first view of the Umayad Mosque in the distance. 

Somewhere deep in the Old City, the three of us shared fetteh and caught up on the last four months of life since Cairo. It was their turn to show me around Damascus.

We spent the next few days meandering the city. From the Salah ad-Din Shrine to Paul's basket rapelling wall, from Hamidieh's famed ice cream shop to Bab Touma and from the glittering Sayyida Zeinab Mosque to the supposed home of Ananias at the end of Straight Street, we wandered for days. Even if she did happen to get lost a few times in the Old City's maze, Emilie was a perfect tour guide. Best of all, we kept a snail's pace throughout, stopping for iced lemonade or blackberry juice at every other turn. I took to gorging myself at sweet shops and street-side shawerma stands and sitting in near silence--minus the screaming of kids running through the courtyard--of the giant Umayyad Mosque.

While Emilie was at school I took up an epic search for the workshop of the mythical Abu Anas. Word on the street was that he could fix virtually anything with the magical powers of his long white beard. After circling much of the new city I finally found the man inside his grimy little workshop. Without words he took my broken tripod and fondled it in the jaws of strange instruments, working the metal like an old druid, his skills all passed on for centuries, then handed it back, whole. 

With every intention to return, I caught a bus into the desert after four peaceful days in Dimashq.

2 comments:

David said...

Congratulations on making it to Damashq! I remember the last time you tried to get in... good times
-David

--------------------------------------- said...

Thanks for the shout outs! I wish I could have toured with you guys. See you soon somewhere.