Journal - Napló

Days 132-136. Syria

Posted on November 19, 2009 at 9:40 PM


Days 132-133.


I spent the weekend in Damascus. I found a small, but centrally located hotel and checked

into a room on the top floor. A hard bed with some dirty heavy blankets, a broken night

table and a washbasin: the room’s so-called furniture. But at least it could be closed, had

a roof and was cheap.


Through Mohamed, a journalist I had met, I got myself four programs tickets for of the 17th

International Film Festival of Damascus. From Fellini through contemporary Arabian films to

Hollywood movies, both the entertainment and „art” industry were represented by a wide range

of films. I saw an Egyptian, a Syrian, a Romanian - Hungarian film and the American ’

Crossing Over’. I had seen the latter once before and noticed something interersting. In the

version shown in the festival, every part that had anything to do with religion, either

Islamic or Jewish, had been cut out. As a consequence, several threads became impossible to understand. I mentioned this to the two journalists with whom we watched the film, but it

seemed they didn’t really care, they liked it. Perhaps they are used to these things.


Day 134.


I left the capital in the early afternoon. Heading north-east, the left side of the road is

bordered by hills and mountains. On the right side there are dunes upon flat dunes which are

pretty much uninhabited except from the occational flock of sheep or goats flocking around a

Beduin camp. The monotony of the sand-coloured, flat buildings is livened up only by the

silvergrey donkeys grazing lazily and the colourful clothes hung out to dry.


Abuseif with his snow-white car drove me as far as to Dayr az Zayr, hundreds of kilometers

down the road. An elderly woman sat beside him and a 4-5-year-old boy between them.

Repeatedly, I heard the soft noise of a nylon pack, followed by the little boy, with a

wondering look on his face, giving me a piece of chocolate or salted baker’s ware.


In the town of Palmyra we halted for a couple of minutes and Abuseif showed me the

illuminated, famous ruins of the Roman age.


Having reached Dayr az Zayr we both said goodbye to the woman and boy. Then Abuseif invited me to his place. Even though he was 50 years old he wasn't married. I never managed to find out what his relation was to the woman living in the same flat and to her 7-8-year-old boy. I spent the night there.


Day 135.


For today’s morning, I’d rather invent something…


… I was walking on the bank of the Euphrates, then in the bazaar-like centre of town. I met

two men who invited me for lunch to one of them’s. Maybe they were trusting in my non-

existent art-dealer connections when, together with a magnifier, they handed to me little

statues that they had dug out illegally at night. Proving my „expertise”, humming I looked

at the Roman-age works, especially the ornamental stone-eggs that contained some metallic

liquid inside. The men told me that here in Syria it was difficult to sell them, but if I

could find buyers in Hungary…


That afternoon Abuseif took me on a city-tour. He introduced me to some of his friends in

the „quarter of car mechanics”. It was a forest of garages where the workshops all stood

shoulder to shoulder. We had a cup of tea in one of them with the house mechanic and some

fluttering neighbours.


We also visited the confection house that Abuseif owns. Vast amounts of various candybombs

were being made there. One guys task was to decorate the ready basic material with whipped

cream, cocktail cherry or pieces of pistachio. Two others, sitting on the floor surrounded

by baking dishes and other deeper dishes, were dunking the sweet discs into chocolate and

coconut filings. There was much to do behind, at the oven, and also the finished cookies had

to be packed in so that they could be safely transported.


We went to see a friend who was the manager of a shop selling clothes and with whom Abuseif had a really long chat. When we were in the car again, Abuseif asked if it would be okay if I slept in a hotel that night. And he mentioned the police… I said it wasn’t a problem but

I’d rather hitch-hike out of the inhabited area and put up my tent somewhere. I

respectfully refused his offer to pay for the hotel. He was driving onward for a while,

knitting his brows, when suddenly his face become smooth - he found the solution. He parked

the car right in front of the police’s building. He described the situation to a guard: here

is a guy, a tourist, whom he gave a ride for a while and invited to his home. Would it be a

problem for the police if he housed me that night? Confusedly, the guard directed us to the

reception-like, small building next to the main entry. His superior wasn’t sure what to

answer either, so he called „an expert”. Hanging up, he asked if I wanted to accept

Abuseif’s offer. When I confirmed this he let go a sigh of relief, laughed and let us know

that it was not a problem. All of us laughed.


Of course, we had to tell the news to the clothing shop guy – who had perhaps been the

sceptic on the issue -, then we all ended up in a dark street. We entered through a door

that cannot be called even a back entry, and a floor above we stepped inside a bigger room.

It became clear to me to where men go from their houses in the evenings.


At first sight, I would call the place a pub. But there was no alcohol here. All the more

there was smoke and noise. About a hundred people were sitting around the tables. No

decoration on the walls. Though there were two televisions, nobody watched them. Everyone

was focusing on the tables. They were playing cards.


Beside the chairs there were specific metallic tables for the teacups and the ash-trays. The

big tables were only for the the cards and the occasionally striking hands. The people were

of different age-groups. Just to mention a few: hooded adolescent, tattooed, striped-T-shirt

wearing twentyish guy, thirty-year-old man with suit, potbellied, serious-faced Omar

Sharif, large-built – loud-mouthed, lean - deer-eyed. But they had one thing in common: all

of them had a cigarette or cigarette-holder of water pipe in the mouth, and from time to

time they would all raise their voice and strike the table.


We too sat down around a purple-clothed table that was „decorated” with cigarette-burnt

holes. Then Abuseif and his friends got lost in the game. I’ve never drunk as much tea as I

did that night. As a result, I often went to the doorless toilet with nothing but pisoires.

Proof enough that this place was only for men.


The shaky chairs creaked when people - supposedly those who were going to lose – made angry moves, yelling harshly. These attacks always lasted only two minutes and generally ended in laughter – sometimes in taking offence – but never in a fight. The tiny teacups were served on huge metallic platters. They were „scheduled” just like buses. And people were playing cards endlessly. When the large room was almost completely empty and even Abuseif’s board was fully written with numbers, we payed and left.


It was about 1 a.m. and I thought we were going to bed. Turned out we were dropping in on

Abuseif’s nephew’s to have a dinner and of course, some tea. I got to horizontal position at

3 a.m. but the tea consumed that day kept me awake for long.


Day 136.


Though we had talked about making a big Syrian tour and fishing at the Euphrates, it turned

out that Abuseif had something to do. I took a walk but most of the day I was busy with blog




Translated by: Agoston Galambos

Categories: English, Syria, by Peter

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