Journal - Napló

Days 54-57. Tartus (Syria 1.)

Posted on April 24, 2011 at 10:20 AM

Days 54-57. Syria




Day 54.


   Walking between the Turkish and the Syrian border stations, we were stopped by a whistle. From the sentry post on the hill, a well-armed soldier indicated that we stop, we can’t walk onwards. We wanted to turn back but another whistle found its way to us. We were not allowed to walk neither forward, nor backwards. We were standing on the road, kept isolated from the nearby hills by barbed wire and our ’highlander friend’ was watching us. At such a place people don’t give rides to hitch-hikers, was my thought, but after about 20 minutes of trying, a truck saved us from our difficulties.

   At the Syrian part, with the help of the manager of the tourist information office, we had the visa in our hands in 90 minutes.


   Sitting in one of Aleppo’s pretty park decorated with fountains that become colour-falls at night, Kenneth engaged in conversation with a young man who read our Arabian-language, Syrian visa and told us it’s only for two days, i.e. it is a transit visa.

   The Kurdish-origin Hassan is going to be a teacher; escaping his father –who he blames for his mother’s death- he longs for getting to Germany. However, he loved his place of birth and invited us over the river nearby his town.


   It was already midnight when we reached the river that turned out to be a lake. As we settled down under a big tree, the atmosphere suddenly changed. Hassan forgot how to speak English. We couldn’t even get it out of him, where we should head the day following if we want to get to the road leading to the coast; he remained silent concerning whether he wanted to sleep at home or in our tent. Being a ’dead’ conversation, we pitched our tent, threw our bags in, we crawled inside, with Hassan, who became rather suspicious, in between. Waking up from a little bit of sleep, I ear-witnessed Kenneth’s half-hour-long struggle as he –using his Arabic and Turkish knowledge- tried to stop the approaching Hassan, eager for love. ’No, no, Hassan! Do you get it?!” We fell asleep again; then I woke up realizing my T-shirt was moving. First, as I was half-sleeping, I couldn’t tell if something was moving in my T-shirt, or on it. I quickly precluded the possibility that the potential visitor might have been a snake. When suddenly I felt Hassan’s hand on my back and the situation became clear, learning from Kenneth’s case, instead of words I used my fingers to show that he stop. It worked, we slept a few hours.


Day 55.


   In the morning, we walked up to the road, hopped on a plateau and said goodbye to Hassan who fortunately didn’t show any sign that the failure of the night before would have hurt him. With a couple of mini-truck-rides, we reached the sea-side town of Latakia, from where we hitch-hiked on southwards. We were picked up by a family. They lived in Tartus and invited us over to their place. Traveling through Islamic parts where even asking about family is improper, we have never been given a ride by a car in which women were present, not to mention children. Moreover, they invited us over! We accepted the invitation, as a former driver, studying our visa, reassured us that they were for a month.


   They lived in the downtown, not far from the sea. From the stairway, the two-winged door was open. The head of the family, grandfather Omar was sitting on a pillow on the floor of the living room, in bottoms and a shirt. To our arrival, he stood up, shook hands with us and sat back on his ’throne’. His wife, too, said hi to us nicely, in a deep, whiskey-voice. They made us sit on the couch in the corner and offered us all sorts of good stuff. They were constantly bringing the new delicacies. It was warm food and wasn’t leftover so it remained a secret to us when and how it was made. In the main course I recognized only one ingredient, the peanut. We were served pickles, water-melon and ’humus’. Then they brought some kind of warm, sweet-lemon-rice, grapes, fig, chocolate, Syrian coffee, ’meti’ (they pour hot water several times in a small cup full of tea-leafs; the ornamented spoon, with a filter in its lower end, serves as a straw as well). Eventually, we were offered palinka and ’cust’ (home-made, alcohol-free drink that at first reminds you of thin squash but after you swallow it, it leaves a totally different, sweet-like, bizarre and strong flavour). Then we tried the apple-flavoured water-pipe.


   The grandfather, leaning on a double couch, chain-smoking, was watching TV, he was in control of the remote. His wife was sitting on the other half of the couch. The other members of the family were sharing the couch in the corner with us. It was Omar who cut up the melon and offered us palinka but everything else was brought to us by his wife and daughters.

   While we were eating, guests, neighbours were coming and going, the two little boys were running this way and that everywhere in the house and TV news or drama was constantly going on. Omar, whose car shop is now managed by his son, did not speak much but when he did, his words carried weight. When he heard we’d go to Lebanon, he put 1000 Syrian pounds in our hands so that we do not hitch-hike but we go to Beirut by taxi. We couldn’t say no to him.

   For hours on we kept smoking water-pipe with the family, playing with the kids and watching the TV news in Arabic. Maybe it was a little too late when it became clear to us that they did not offer accomodation for the night but they invited us to a community evening. When the head of the family announced he’d go to bed, we packed our stuff and walked to the beach in order to set up our tent.


Day 56.


   After a fair amount of walking we found a beachy part where we could bath in the sea. At noon Kenneth went to Omar’s because we agreed with the kids that we’d go swim that day together. They caught cold the night before so they were not allowed to go but the family kept Kenneth there for lunch, of course. As for me, I got invited by the owner of the local buffet over his table, so I could eat with him and his employees from the catch they got that very evening. We pitched our tent at the coast with his authorization.


Day 57.


   We spent the morning at the entrance of the dock. Using the name of a Lebanese acquaintance of ours, we created the figure of captain Nassir: referring to him, we tried to get to the boats in search for a ride to Lebanon. From there, we planned to travel through Damascus and the eastern region of Syria, hitch-hike back to Turkey, then up to Georgia. We spoke to many people, managers, office workers and everybody was trying to help. Some of them believed they knew captain Nassir but the ones who did not, they did everything they could in order to get us through the gate. They were making calls here and there, they even gave us some sort of a certificate but the guards of the gate were not willing to let us go. Eventually, we walked over to the other end of the city and with a ride we reached the Lebanese border.


   Syria is a huge change after Turkey. Beautiful stone houses shine as blinding white spots into the greyish-brown hills and even the concrete-structure houses in the city are covered with stone plates. The acceptance of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees started series of contructions all over the place. The personality cult is firm, you can see the figure of their leader, Basar Asszad at every corner, on walls of buildings, back windows of cabs, human bodies as tattoos.

   However, the hospitality is genuine and strong here as well, the traveler, the wanderer is given warm welcome everywhere.

translated by Ágoston Galambos



Categories: English, Syria, by Peter

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