Thursday, June 2, 2011
June 2 2011. Damascus, Syria.
I have been in Damascus now for 2 nights, staying in a suburb called “Sehnaya”, with my friend Shadi and his other friend, Hashem. Every once and awhile, (well more than once in awhile really), I almost have to pinch myself, that here I am, sitting around and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and drinking Syrian beer, with 2 Syrian guys, in a country that has an “avoid all travel” warning to it, and that every single person back in Canada warned me, pleaded with me, not to visit. It’s a touch surreal, but only adds to my enjoyment of it really.
The shared Taxi trip to the border, from Amman, is where the surrealism all started. Every single sign post on the highway, as I got closer and closer to the border crossing gave me this ridiculous shot of adrenaline. “Jabir 50 km", "Jabir, 30 km" etc etc”, until finally I found myself, along with the 2 Syrian men in the backseat and my loud and impatient Jordanian driver, at the Syria/Jorder crossing of Jabir-Nassib. And suddenly, in the most surreal moment of all, there I was, laughing with the border patrol guards over my writing “artist” as profession on my entry card. (I learned later that “artist”, when written in English, means something very different and more along the lines on “escort”, in Syria, so perhaps that was why they were so friendly. Haha. ), and being smiled at and looked at with some mixture of curiosity and fascination. They scanned my passport over several times, for what I assume was an evidence of entry to Israel (my Egypt/Jordan stamps etc etc), and then smiled and said “Welcome to Syria”. I have had more hassle trying to simply fly from Calgary to Vancouver, I swear to God. After several other checkpoints, all ending with a smile from the man with the machine gun and a “you are welcome in Syria”, we were on our way to Damascus, passing near Daraa (which made me feel nauseuous but was otherwise uneventful.), headphones on and cigarette smoke pluming out the windows of the taxi.
And now I am here, on a couch, sitting with my friends, in Damascus. One of very very few foriengers (I met another Canadian who spent last night with us, smoking nargileh and drinking tea, the only person in his whole hostel), and that’s it. It’s a completely strange feeling, and as I have said now several times, the only word that seems appropriate to describe it is “surreal”. But have obviously had no troubles thus far, and people have been nothing but friendly and helpful (the man in the taxi who forcefed me water, cookies, and countless cigarettes which of course I had to partake in, my couchsurfing friend Shadi, etc), and its amazing. The old city, its narrow streets and spicey smells and crowded cafes and pigeons fluttering overhead feel a million miles away from the Syria that you see on the news.
“You are alive when you live by the skin of your teeth”, and this is true.
I have never felt quite so alive.