Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lest you think Syria is all smiles and sunshine

We visited Crac des Chevaliers yesterday. It's an old (is there another kind?) Crusader castle between Tartus and Homs, a couple hours north of Damascus. It got to be more than a little nerve-wracking keeping Magdalena away from all the sudden, steep drop-offs, and there were many pictures I wanted to take but didn't because of uncooperative children (or because I couldn't let go of Magdalena long enough to get at my camera), but on the whole, you can't go wrong exploring a ruined castle.

The ride home, however - well, there's lots of ways that can go wrong.

At the end of the day, Jeremy had to head up to Aleppo to do some work so I took the girls on a bus back to Damascus by myself. Jeremy put us on a bus and told the driver and the assistant to take good care of us. Which they did, TO A FAULT.

We were sitting in the very front row of seats, directly behind the driver. The assistant driver minded his business for a little while, tidying up the front of the bus and dealing with passenger documents. Then he started working on freshening up two stuffed cats that were decorating the dashboard of the bus. He fluffed their fur with his fingers, shined their dead, plastic eyes, and even - and I swear to you that I am not making this up - sewed one of cat's whiskers back on. It was great fun to watch.

Then he offered the cat to Magdalena to hold. Now, this was really a very kind gesture. Arabs take their vehicular decorations very seriously. I know this because one time, Miriam broke a decorative teddy bear in a taxi in Jordan and the driver was quite upset about it. But this assistant driver handed the cat over to Magdalena and she was just about the happiest little girl in Syria.

I was less than thrilled, however. That cat had been sitting on the dashboard for who knows how long - long enough to have its whisker fall off from overuse, anyway - and it was filthy and dusty and ratty. But Magdalena clutched it to her little self and then wrapped her special blankie around it. Did I mention she was sitting in my lap at the time? So I got to spend the two-hour bus ride with what was essentially a giant wad of dust pressed close to my face. And since the assistant driver really had been so kind to let Magdalena hold it, I had to act pleased and happy about it. For the whole trip. And then thank him graciously for the privilege when the bus finally arrived in Damascus.

But hold on - just before we got to Damascus, Magdalena soiled her diaper. She had been giving us false alarms all day but I could tell immediately that this time, it was the real thing. I briefly considered changing her diaper right there on the bus but ultimately decided against it.

So I waited until 8.30 at night, when the bus arrived in a giant, unlit parking lot on the outskirts of Damascus and dropped us off. It was very dark, and the best place I could find to change Magdalena's diaper was where two metal chairs were placed together as a makeshift bus stop. Even in the dark, I could tell that this poopy diaper was an exceptionally messy one. Of course it was, right? I did my best to change it there in the dark while not losing track of Miriam or our bags, trying as best as I could not to get poo all over me, Magdalena, or those metal chairs.

Once that was done, we had to get from the bus station to home, somehow. I found a taxi easily enough and awkwardly got the girls, myself, and our bags inside. Then I told him where I wanted to go and asked him to turn on the meter.

He smiled and said, "No meter. It will only cost you 250 lira."

"Turn on the meter. It's the law."

"Only 250 lira!"

"Um, this morning I paid 80 lira for the exact same ride."

"Madam, this is Harasta [the bus station]. 250 lira."

"OK, then. Let me out. And shame on you."

I hauled the girls and our stuff back out of the taxi and flagged down a service whose route I was familiar with. It took us all the way home for 20 lira. Sure, Miriam threw up halfway through the ride, but at that point I was pretty much thinking, bring it on.

In review, our bus driver was way too nice, the taxi driver was way too mean, the service was so convenient, and my girls need to get control of their bodily functions already. At least while we're on public transportation. Please.


Kathy Haynie said...

This is a great post. I love the details you include, and your sense of humor. Sorry to hear about the difficulties with body fluids, but still...thanks for was actually quite amusing on this end. :)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I'm impressed how you handled everything from the grubby stuffed cat to the greedy taxi driver to all the personal issues. You're experiencing a 'vacation' to remember.

Amanda said...

See, if I was writing this story, the bodily fluids would be totally front and center instead of taking a backseat to the cat. I'm sure it was grubby, but poo and vomit always win over dust and dead animals on my scale of awfulness.

mle said...

You are a better woman than me Bridget-in fact, you are my hero!

Jennifer said...

Seriously, you do handle things well. I still can't believe you were willing to embark on that kind of a trip with two kids by yourself!

Liz Johnson said...

20 lira AND she barfed all over his taxi? That taxi driver is a saint.

For the first half of this blogpost, I was picturing a taxidermied cat instead of a stuffed animal, and I was horrified. I'm still amused and grossed out, but not nearly as disgusted as I was before.

Matthew said...

Love it! This post does such a good job capturing what it is like to orchestrate an outing as a parent in this region.

Bridget said...

Amanda, the stuffed cat was just. that. gross.


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