Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Syria Part 1 - Aleppo

I haven't updated in a while because blogging sites are restricted in Syria. Thankfully I just met someone who let me use his computer program to get around this.

I arrived in the early morning to the Syrian border post and after waiting a frustrating 7 and a half hours I was awarded with a visa and entry to Syria. The ride to Aleppo (Halab) was a race against the sun. Though all my concentration was directed toward speeding to my destination, I was vaguely aware of the change in my surroundings. Latin script gave way to Arabic, western-style advertisements were replaced by imposing pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and his signature thin mustache, and the Turkish white star and crescent over a red field morphed into Syrian and Palestinian flags.Aleppo was quite an amazing city.

I had intended to stay only 3 days but a week later I was still there; roaming the old city streets, practicing Arabic over countless invitations for tea, enjoying the fruit smoothies, chatting with travelers (this was the first place I had been that I could call a bit "touristy") or helping my new friends Rani and Abdullah fulfill their commitment to live life as a constant party.

Cycling in Syria sucks. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It is insanely hot, the landscape has been uninspiring and trash-coated, the drivers are horrible, and I have been against the wind everyday. Even with that said, this country is fantastic. The people have been so welcoming and everyone has been eager to help me. Also this country gives off the strongest feeling of security. You can walk the streets in any part of any city at anytime and not worry (perhaps a result of ironfisted rule?). Quite different from western perceptions, eh?

Another things that one might not expect is how intimate Middle Eastern men get with each other. I am used to the generally excessive touching and ceremonial cheek kisses but I still can't get over the holding hands. I can (uncomfortably) do the walk with arms locked, but I draw the line at holding hands. Thankfully I have developed a strategy: quickly break the hand free, point to something and ask a question about it and then slyly place the hand in my pocket. Crisis averted.

(Will catch up more about Syria later)Peace-James


  1. Jaaaaaaaaammmeeessssss! Apparently, you know my friend Mohamed! We are living through your travels vicariously, and I am, of course, telling everyone I know about my amazing traveling friend James with a heart of gold... I miss our dinners.

  2. and here i am craving touch other than the shoves and jostles i get while taking the subway. dude i'd hold a dude's hand any day.