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Transiting Syria
By Evelyn - 11 Oct, 1999

Page 2 of 3

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We spent only two days in Damascus but don't ever remember having once been hustled by salesmen or touts. We wandered the narrow streets of the old city viewing the crumbling walls and decaying building facades. There seemed to be no glitzy advertising, no frivolous imagery; only the ubiquitous images of Syrian President Hafez Assad adorned shopwindows and hung imposingly in public spaces. We easily became part of the flow of people setting up shop, making deliveries, getting daily supplies. We saw other tourists, but they too seemed integrated into the dominant local scene. Though we were often greeted with friendly smiles, people seemed largely unbothered by and with the presence of foreigners.

Syria as a destination certainly has enough in the way of historical sites to attract visitors, but the government seems to be in no hurry to exploit its potential and cash in on tourist dollars. Entrance fees to major sites of interest are nominal by comparison to other places. In Damascus, we visited the Omayyad Mosque to see the complex and again just to sit inside the mosque. Both times we paid a 20 cent (US) entry charge, which was even too little for gate officials to bother with. This site was not at all oriented towards tourists—it was used the way it was intended—as a place of for prayer.

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Inside Omayyad, we spotted a group of Pakistani Muslim men and women. They looked excited and appreciative to be in this mosque. Here there were no hordes of loud-talking tourists being off-loaded from air-conditioned buses—instead visitors were pilgrims from other nationalities. I watched as three blind Syrian men grope their way to what I imagined to be their usual spot, one beside the next, each fingering a string of prayer beads. At one point one of them said something that broke their collective silence into irrepressible laughter. Somewhat guiltily, I openly stared at them for the next ten minutes. I was delighted by their giddiness, like schoolkids weary of being caught by the teacher, wiping tears from their eyes and fanning their flushed faces in effort to regain composure.

We moved on to the desert oasis town of Palmyra where rows and rows of ancient Greek columns dating back to the 2nd century still stand. The site is impressive and part of the town is unmistakenly developed to serve tourists. But even here, the country's biggest attraction, you can wander the site free of charge and largely unencumbered (except maybe by other tourists walking into your camera frame). People again seemed to bother little with the tourists.

We continued our linear path north of the country, stopping at a town called Hama famous for its giant old water wheels, or 'norias', which now only stand decaying in a littered, dried-up riverbed. The few pockets of water were green puddles festering with insects. What I'll remember most about the place is a kid, not more than 10yrs of age, working at his family's restaurant and ever eager to express his hospitality. Between rounds of fervant tomato-chopping and knife-sharpening where he would glance over at us to see that we were indeed admiring his skill, he served us multiple cups of tea. After our meal, he ran ran across the way to a bakery and returned with a small cookie in each hand to give us as dessert.




Transiting Syria

  New York
    New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."
-- Nietzsche
  © 1999/2000 ~ All Manners Demured.