Saturday, September 15, 2007

Syria - Now we're talking

Syria is a blast. It sets the craziest mood. Honestly, you've got to see this place!

I spent the first day and night in Aleppo. This city looks like it has been carved out of sand. I love it, although i'm glad i can leave. Check it out! THere are big mosques, ruins, and remnants of the christian crusader era everywhere. I don't think they've heard of paint.

Later on i hit the desert, heading to Pamyra, which is a roman ruins site in the middle of this massive barren desert. Travelling along the highway, it looks like those desert shots fromt the war in Kuwait, except with ancient roman ruins scattered throughout.
Check out Rag head.

Pretty everyone in Syria hates the US, and especially Israel. The Syrian government, along with many of its arab and muslim allies, doesnt recognise the state of Israel. They argue that the state is illegal, and should be abolished.
Obviously it was an absolute secret while i'm in Syria that i would be visiting Israel. I would be in pretty serious trouble if they found out my plans. I'm pretty sure the friendly mood of the locals would turn sour pretty quickly, and i would be deported in no time. You've got to remember, these people have been taught their entire lives to hate Israel. Using careful language, i advised a couple of locals, whom i trusted, that perhaps they shouldn't blindly hate israeli people without having met at least one. Generally i kept my mouth shut though.
Syria is effectively under a dictatorship (in that they better vote at the polls for their current leader or trouble will come their way), and is probably one of the US's most obvious enemies, alongside North Korea. The people are a little brain warped by their governments propoganda, but no more so than most of the west is brainwarped by media hype etc. Being here makes me realise that it is the leaders of state (governments) and the media that have turned the west against the east, and vice versa. On a personal level these people are cool and fairly easy going (not compared to kiwis of course). Yet it is foreseeable that in coming years the US will attack Syria, and that Syrians will continue to develope a sense of hostility towards the west, and that many westerners will ignorantly continue to think that muslim arabs are terrorists.

I had to visit the immagration office in Damascus. It was a madhouse, made worse by the fact that there are hundreds of Iraqi refugees fighting to be next in the que (of which there is none). Arabs don't understand que's, nor do Turks or Pakistanis for that matter. They just barge right through and start yelling at the officer behind the counter. Its difficult to compete with.

I drove past a road sign before that said - IRAQ 150km DAMASCUS 140km. I had a 'er... What am i doing here?' moment. THese moments are one of my favourite things about travelling.

Damascus is the most western city in Syria. Parts of it feel quite similar to a European city. It has an awesome old town, with a great undercover market - which is called a souq. In Damascus i chilled out for a couple of days. Hung out with a Kiwi one night (Iraqi immigrant now working for a US company in Bahgdad). He was about to jump on a bus to Bahgdad. he said that the money was good. Went to a Hammam, which is this whole bathing/steam room/massage/exfoliate experience. The hammam was pretty good actually, it was 800 years old.
I guiltily drank beer in a couple of dodgy bars (not many bars here because its a muslim country). Everyone in the bar looks guilty because they are committing a cardinal sin, and are losing their entry pass to Shallah (heaven). I wasn't allowed to drink beer on the balcony because people on the street might see me. Hung out with some germans who were studying arabic in Damascus.




Its crazy driving through these military installments in the desert. The other day one of these instalments fired upon some Israeli aircraft that breached the border. It has caused a bit of a stir, and has sparked fears of further retaliation from Syria (If the Syrian government doesn't react to an israeli incursion into its territory, it will come across as weak). No one wants a re-run of last years month long war between Israel and Lebanon.
Given my interest in middle eastern politics, this journey is becoming a fascinating insight into the hearts and minds of the middle eastern people. In a general sense, as well as in relation to the political crisis that exists in the region. I spent every day in Syria talking with those locals who could speak a bit of english. The level of contact you share with 'real people' in places like this far exceeds anything you would ever experience in Europe, or even in NZ for that matter. This is despite a significant language barrier.
Syria was a rewarding travel experience, i didn't feel in danger at all.

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1 comment:

Tee said...

Hi Jase

Loving your blog. In fact, so much, that I have distributed the url of your blog to other MSG folk as well as to my Mum.

Why? Mum travelled through the Middle East when Ayatollah Khomeni was god and she has never lost interest. So sorry, Jase, that means you have the wrinkly and the wrinkly's Mum both gazing at the Internet to keep up with your Middle Eastern Affairs.

You need to post again, Jase, so that we easily bored types have something to read.

Love your writing style and am soaking up your adventures. Miss you lots.

Tania