The Road to Damascus
Greetings from the oldest inhabited city in the world! (No, not Sana’a. Having Prof. Aziz for 8 weeks was enough Yemen for me for quite a while.)
This morning I woke up in Amman, already feeling ridiculously nostalgic. (I miss my host family! Not just for the free housing and food, either.) Got the last of my things together, and had my host family drive me to the traffic circle on their way to work to get a taxi. Sad. Anyway.
Took a taxi to al-Abdali, and before I even got out of the cab this guy opened the door and said “Syria? Syria? You go to Syria?” And I was like, uh, yeah. And then he said, “Give me 11 dinar.” So I gave him eleven dinar. Fifteen minutes later I was in the front seat of a cab (gasp! yeah, I know. There was a family of three in the back) on the way to Damascus. I read “Mere Christianity” on the way to the border. Whoo.
The border crossing took forever, predictably. Somehow I got out of paying the fine for overstaying my visa on Jordan by pretending I was a dumb foreigner who couldn’t speak Arabic. (*Totally* an act. Obviously.) Had to stand in line FOREVER on the Syrian side because the foreigner line was so long. Got to talking to the girls who were waiting in front of me, who were Swiss… and didn’t have a visa. He just looked at them and said, “No visa, no Syria.” Ouchhh. That made me nervous even though I had my visa. But then he made a joke about my name that I didn’t get but was apparently very clever, considering how much he chuckled about it, and stamped me in. Al hamdu-lillah. Can I even tell you what a relief it was to see the Syrian flag waving in the breeze on the other side of the border? Land crossings are STRESSFUL. argh.
Anyway, during the whole ridiculous wait at the border, I started talking to the family in the back of the cab. Apparently the mother teaches Arabic to foreigners! The daughter wanted to practice her English with me, but her mom said (in Arabic), “No. She must speak Arabic to learn.” She became one of my new favorite people. She asked me a bunch of questions about myself (beginning, of course, with “are you married?”), and then general questions about America. Like, “Do girls in America all leave their families’ houses when they’re 18?” and “Who gets to decide when two people get married?” (A question I understood quite well because our last A’amiyyah class was devoted to talking about traditional marriage!) It was interesting. It’s times like those when the term “cultural ambassador” starts to sound like it actually means something.
Got to the outskirts of Damascus, where the service taxi dropped us. Some random dude, who I was convinced was trying to rip me off, helped me catch a taxi. In fact, I’m almost certain he ripped me off, but he was also really nice, and I regret being so rude to him. I’m trying to implement this whole “turn the other cheek, give him your shirt as well as your tunic” attitude. Especially here, where the people who are ripping me off actually need the money way more than I do.
Got a little lost trying to find the hotel (which was actually a meeting point for another hotel, which yes, sounds ridiculously sketchy, I have been quite aware of that the whole time and already had the Syrian police number in my cell phone, Dad, so it would have been okay!). Met up with the guy I was supposed to meet at the hotel. Apparently he works at the hotel we were meeting at, but rents out this three-apartment complex as a private business. Not sketch! He also gave me a water bottle and a map. Then he showed me the way to the apartment (which I would never have been able to find otherwise). And gave me a tour of the neighborhood! In ARABIC. AND I UNDERSTOOD HIM. Not, like, every word, but I understood all the sentences. It was awesome.
The apartment is, as my Facebook status suggests, better than I would have dreamed. Has a very nice view overlooking the city, a small kitchen, a shower, a kitchen, a landline, a bunch of plants, a TV, a bunch of couches… oh, and WIRELESS. For $20/night? I am pleased. Also, it’s a very nice neighborhood. Not the most central (or rather, quite near to the center of the New City, but not the Old City), but it’s a pleasant walk down to the Old City. After getting settled in (around 4PM), headed out to the Old City.
A few things I love about Damascus:
2. TRAFFIC LIGHTS
3. CROSS WALKS
Seriously! It’s, like, A WALKABLE CITY. I almost cried when I realized the one crosswalk near my building was not just a crazy fluke, but actually one of many cross walks designed to make life as a pedestrian livable. SO MUCH HAPPINESS.
Anyway, the Old City was fabulous. I got completely lost, but I wasn’t really trying to go anywhere, so it was okay. (Also, I got to ask someone to help me find a landmark in Arabic! And they understood! And I understood their response! Yay!) I experienced Souq al-Hamadiyya (which is way cooler than it sounds in the guidebook) and presumably found my way into the Christian quarter, because I found this shop selling Christian religious items, and I bought this knotted rosary bracelet thing. (Another transaction conducted entirely in Arabic! When I asked the shopkeeper how much it cost in Arabic, she got really excited/relieved: Oh, you speak Arabic! Thank goodness, because none of us speak any English.)
Had a delicious (and huge) shawerma sandwich for dinner. Stocked up on some beverages. Came back to the apartment, because I wanted to make sure I could find it again before it got dark. So, now I am basically oriented to Damascus, which was the only goal for today. (My camera had no batteries, but that was probably good, because taking pictures would have been mightily distracting from the “getting oriented” thing.) Tomorrow, hitting up the Christian quarter again for church. Which will presumably be in Arabic. Duly prepared to just pray my rosary bracelet if I can’t understand a word.
Also, this is a ridiculously long post because I got back early and because I am excited about things, but I will probably be too lazy/unable to post things of this length every day. Instead, I pledge to post at the very least a list of things I bought every day! Both as a general guide to what I did and so that I will be more moderate in my spending because I don’t want to have to tell the Internet that I blew my money on some piece of crap.
Transportation: not sharing. Because I know I got ripped off, and because it was in JDs anyway, which don’t matter anymore.
Rosary bracelet: 75 SYP
Shawerma: 50 SYP
A liter of juice: 30 SYP
TOTAL: 155 SYP, or $3.23.