|Contemplation, Umayaad Mosque, Damascus.|
Well, despite all the hysteria in the West about the 'forces of evil' in the Arab world, civil war in Libya, unrest in Syria, a dictatorial regime and riots and shootings in the southern part of the country, we still got on a plane and headed to Damascus. A lot of our friends expressed concern that we were even considering this trip, let alone going there...
On the day we left Sydney there were three reported home invasions in the west, and the police reported that human remains had been found scattered along the F3 freeway. On the day we returned to Sydney two men were shot in a supposed drug deal gone bad, in our suburb. Funny, while we were travelling we never got any emails saying it was too dangerous to come back to Oz.
|Umayaad Mosque, Damascus|
So, we got picked up (by prior arrangement) at the airport and were whisked into the Old City, a place that's been continuously inhabited for more than 2000 years. We had to be met by the hotel porter because it's impossible to drive into the tiny streets of the medina. He grabs the bags and heads off into the maze of alleys and the mass of pilgrims making their way to the Iranian shrine close to the hotel. It's mayhem, it's as if you've been tipped into a Cecil B. De Mille movie set. The porter turns off the broader lane way down a side alley and knocked at an innocuous-looking door. It opened onto a gorgeous Syrian courtyard with a fountain trickling in the centre and porters scurrying about with our gear. It's a perfect little oasis in a noisy, bustling and atmospheric part of the city. That's what the rest of the Old City is like: busy, colourful, energetic and friendly. Very friendly.
This was the fourth time my wife and I have visited Syria and every time we have been impressed at the politeness of the Syrians. And so gracious. In comparison they make Astralians appear a touch clumsy and inconsiderate.
On another trip, this time on a Friday, we were coming back from a visit to Krak de Chevaliers, a massive Crusader castle 3.5 hours drive north of Damascus, when the hotel rang the driver to check we were OK. Someone there had heard on the radio there were demonstrations in the northern parts of Damascus and were concerned that we were safe. As it happened we saw nothing. The demonstrations (usually called 'riots' in the West) were well and truly over.
We actually got more information about the troubles in Syria from the Syrian news service, and the locals we spoke to, than anything heard or read in the West. Seems that anything reported about this region in the Australian press is cursory in the first instance and negative in the second.
|In some Syrian restaurants the end of the meal is signified by the arrival pf a plate of Arabic sweets like this. At the Narenje restaurant in Old Damascus this was free, you could eat all you could pack in. Oh Boy!|
We have been back in Australia for 10 days and it seems the situation is now a lot worse than when we were there. I hope the Syrians get their shit sorted out before too many people get hurt!