Monday, May 28, 2012

Random Syria stories

Let's enjoy some random anecdotes about Syria. I'm in the mood for happy stories from that place.

One time we went to the very south of Syria to visit the ruins in Bosra. We stopped at a small church in Deraa on the way and some total strangers invited us to their house to eat grapes in their courtyard. The grapes were hanging down from a magnificent trellis that spanned the whole length of the courtyard. Look, I know total strangers invite people to do awesome, atmospheric stuff like this all the time, everywhere...but they also kind of don't. It was a singular experience.

We went to see Spider-Man 2 at the Cham Palace cinema in Damascus, the only cinema in town that showed legitimately obtained (actually, I'm not sure about that), non-kung-fu movies. These kids were dressed up as their hero. Looking back, maybe it was kind of inappropriate for kids this young to be seeing the movie, but whatever. They were excited about it beforehand, at least.

The thing about Syria's courtyard houses is that they generally look very nondescript from the outside. You can wander through the ancient quarters of Damascus or Aleppo and see a lot of stone walls with very plain doors. But walk through those doors, and oh my. This particular courtyard was in Aleppo, in Beit Wakil. Not all of the courtyards are as ornate as this one, of course, but they're not at all uncommon.

One time we were traveling through northern Syria, not too far from the Turkish border. We drove by this village school right as school was letting out. We wanted to get their attention so Jeremy leaned out the window and yelled, in English, "Hello, everyone!!!!" It got their attention. Aren't they darling? Syrians aren't as dark as some other Arabs, especially the northern Syrians. You get a lot of blue eyes and sandy hair there. The semi-joke the Syrians tell is that they have some Crusader blood in them.

There's a city called Maaloula about a third of the way to Homs from Damascus. It's a Christian enclave built into the side of a cliff. Christians are always building things into cliffs and caves in this part of the world. They still speak Aramaic in Maaloula, can you believe it?

I took the girls to the dentist in Dubai a couple of weeks ago and when the receptionist checked us in, she pronounced the girls' names in the Arabic way. The pronunciation is straightforward enough for Miriam, but not everyone picks up that Magdalena is Majdoleena in Arabic. Anyway, when she said that, I asked her where she was from. Turns out she's Syrian, and Christian. She almost fainted when I told her I had been to Maaloula and Seidnayya and Mar Musa and all these places that are so dear to her religious minority heart. We ended up talking for a long time, as the girls got increasingly squirrely in the waiting room.

There are a lot of people from Syria here, and you never know when you're going to run across them. I met a girl from Homs working at Sephora, a woman from Damascus at Miriam's ballet lesson, a guy from Damascus working the register at Carrefour, a guy from Aleppo running the manaqeesh oven in the bakery there. Time was, I said I'd lived in Syria and the only things to talk about were the food and the people and the ruins and the beautiful country.

Unfortunately, there's more that can be talked about these days.


Kathy Haynie said...

So lovely, so timely. Thank you. Mark and I were just talking this morning about how sad the news from Syria makes us. And we're just a couple of know-nothing Nortwesterners, reading the occasional article on Yahoo news. Thank you for this lovely glimpse of Syria. I wish it could be a land of peace.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

A bright spot in a day of horrid news from Syria. I miss Samir the friendly barber, the funny guy at the Damascus transit center, and the nice people who wouldn't let Carolyn and I off the service early, because you made them responsible for putting us off at a later stop.

Sarah Familia said...

Thanks for the happy stories, and the lovely photos.

Jill said...

You rock the headband, girl

Yana Hanim said...

thank you for the lovely memories... we left syria 3 months ago after living in aleppo for 2.5 months. It was hard leaving them behind, I can only send prayers for them :(

Anonymous said...

Please tell us about your most pleasant experiences with locals in other countries! Japan? Russia? Europe?


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