Seriously Syria: Aleppo and the End of our Trip to Syria
"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."
Thursday, August 2, 2001
And so our whirlwind tour of Syria continued on to Aleppo, our last destination in Syria. This time we bought our tickets directly from the bus station as Hama is a much smaller place than Homs. To be honest we were quite unsure as to why we were going to Aleppo, but it was a natural place to go after Hama- and it was also designated at UNESCO site.
The old part of Aleppo was famous as a market city. The main attraction is the Souk which is located in the center of town next to the Citadel. Aleppo has actually been a market town throughout history- It was the capital of the scavenging Amorite kingdom- people who lived off the bounty of the neighbors. But in 1650 BC, the Hittites came and attacked them. The Amorites realize their future was not in stealing fortunes but in earning them. The Greeks arrived in 331 BC and realized Aleppo's potential as a market town. The Persians decimated and devastated it in 614. The Mongols devastated it twice once in 1260 and again under Tamerlane in 1400. A huge earthquake in 1822 reduced much of the city to rubble. But aside from the markets Aleppo has 470 mosques 39 churches 69 caravanserai's and 58 public baths, most which were built in the Mamluk style. 1.5 million people can call Aleppo home.
Our first attempt to see the city resulted in us getting majorly lost. We somehow ended up behind the old city entering through some door we first thought was forbidden. But since no one stopped us we continued and found ourselves in a serious maze of streets and from the looks on the people we passed, this area wasn't visited much by tourists. But it was obvious we were in the old city, streets find with old cobblestones, narrow alleyways and only possible to be traversed by foot or bike for little boys came barreling down on bikes, narrowly missing these two lost foreigners! Finally we reached the back end of the Souk but we really only reached it by a total fluke.
Wandering through the Souk, I really felt like I was back in Damascus. The same stuff being sold in general except this time at much lower prices. We still didn't buy anything. René had some money to burn as we were planning to cross into Turkey the next day but alas, nothing caught our eyes. We stopped and bought some ice cream and sat on a curb to eat it before it melted. I know we got strange looks from the Aleppians that passed by , but really we got our full share of dirty looks and stares anyway it really didn't matter what we were doing at anytime.
A boy and his friend walked by holding hands.
"Where are you from? Canadian?" He asked.
"Yes," we answered a little bit puzzled, neither of us were carrying anything that gave our nationality away. "Vancouver?"
"Yes!" we answered.
"Welcome to Aleppo, eh?" He said, and disappeared into the souk with his handholding friend.
I only mention this because we ran into him again. – Bashar was walking hand-in-hand with someone who was engaged to his sister. He invited us to his friends shop for tea, but not before he spit out 1000 idioms, rhymes and puns at us. "Life is pretentious!" Seem to be one of his favorites along with "I am not gay but the man I sleep with is." He told us to come drink tea and discover ourselves. We decided it was worth a tea!
So off we went to the shop, called Sebastien which was chosen because it was the name Oscar Wilde apparently adopted after his homosexuality scandal. Hussein the guy who ran the place, had a thing for Oscar Wilde and apparently something for a man who worked for the Syrian Embassy in Canada. It was for this reason he was immigrating to Canada. Bashar told us Thomas, who had left "man-hickeys" all over Hussein, was in the closet and married with kids. Bashar thought he would probably leave his wife once Hussein arrived in Canada sometime in October.
Bashar also had another friend named Emad who was busy selling some French tourists some silver jewelry. He spoke French fluently and just as he was closing the deal one of the precious necklaces broke all over the floor sending bobbles and beads bouncing over the cement floor. "Lock the doors!" Emad shouted. "I bet these tourists are trying to steal something!"
After the French tourists left, we headed to Emad's tiny shop in the Souk. We sat in there, eyeing up the mosque lamps unbeknownst to the him and watched him smoking Nargileh, otherwise known to us as sheesha. We talked for a while sucking back more tea and watching Bashar work through all the music they had. Young boys of 24, I couldn't help feel they had carved out a little crazy liberal niche there in Aleppo that didn't really exist anywhere else. They should move to Dahab! We tried to extricate ourselves from the shop but this ended up in us getting a mini-tour of the old caravanserai in the Souk.
We promised to meet the boys for dinner after a jaunt around the old city. But according to the boys we had pretty much seen everything. And that seemed to be pretty much true, so Rene and I decided to leave to Turkey one day early. We had some time before dinner so we wandered around the Souk, chatting with some of the vendors. The weird thing is all the people we stopped to talk to in the Souk designated their sexual preference to us. "Hello, I am Mustafa and I am not gay, really."
Another weird thing is that this day I decided to wear my hair in buns on the top of my head. This is not an unusual hairstyle at home, nor the first time I wore my hair like this on a trip, but for some reason, today nobody could keep their hands off of them. Bashar almost ripped my hair out with all of his grabbing! He said I looked like a little kitten and begged me to meow. Just looking at me thinking about those little buns would send him into serious hysterics! Finally, at the restaurant I took the little buns out as they were now hurting. I put a big one in and now I was apparently a chicken. Sigh!
Here the boys smoked more nargileh. We ate the usual fare- hummus, pita, vegetables, some lamb and chicken. The restaurant was only a nighttime deal, being situated next to a large community center- like swimming pool. The five star washrooms were actually grubby change rooms. But our boys told us they liked it all five star.
Soon into the dinner, I committed social night suicide. I lied to Bashar and told him I had a great boyfriend back in Canada. He told me he wished me no ill will, but would I consider changing boyfriends for a night? I said no, my fictitious boyfriend was a really good man.
Bashar ignored me for about half an hour, not speaking to anyone. To be honest, this was really annoying to me as I was still available for witty and interesting conversation, but there was none of that. Instead we watched René thwart Imad's attempts until it was time to leave.
After dinner We went for a big walk and Bashar began to talk a lot and in fact I think our conversation was better since the sex thing was out of the way and we could talk like friends. He said he had some cheating girlfriends so he realize that I was a good one since I wouldn't cheat on my non-existent boyfriend!
Since we were off to Turkey in the morning, we promised Bashar we would meet him for breakfast. We had our usual fill of pita cheese and jam. Then off to the bus we went. Bashar came with us to say goodbye and asked if there was any chance we could stay longer in Aleppo. There was still so much he could show us! Another one asking us to stay a few extra days! We showed him our paid for bus ticket, shook hands, and said goodbye and got on the bus.