My last time in the city of Hama, the owner of the Cairo Hotel warned me not to eat at any of the falafel stands lining the main street because they were unhygenic. I took the advice with a grain of salt, not seeing what the big deal was, and of course I became sicker than sick with a brutal case of gastroenteritis. Despite my foolishness, the hotel owner, a pharmacist, was very helpful. He got me medicine plus a doctor who made a house call for only $6(!)
I am back in the Cairo, and nowadays restaurant standards are higher, the nephew of the owner assures me. I eat falafel with impunity.
When was I last in Syria? Let me put it this way: at the time the prized possessions in my backpack were my Walkman with an Indigo Girls cassette and a red instamatic camera called a Snappy Tomato.
Actually, my very first time in Syria was a stopover in Damascus airport from a Syrian Arab Airways flight. In the transit area we passengers had a nice view of the baggage workers on the tarmac crush our luggage to try and get it all into the cargo hold in one container. Two guys held each others’ arms for balance while they jumped up and down on all of our bags as if they were stomping grapes while we could only watch in horror.
Speaking of luggage, I am breaking two of my own packing rules, one being that I brought too much, and two, I am wearing jeans, which I declare I have worn nearly every single day and which have acquired a certain piquant ripeness. I’m carrying nearly 30lbs, but over the next couple of weeks I will shed a second pair of shoes and other clothes I brought. I can’t help it. Amman and Damascus are cold at night! I didn’t even bring the right cold weather stuff. Bracing winds mercilessly blow through all the holes in my shoes and my thin jacket, rendering me a quivering wreck. I should have upgraded my gear before I left.
My pet peeve about laundry is that places charge by the piece when they wash by the load. There. I said it. I feel better already.
Look at this photo above of one of Hama’s famous waterwheels. It’s almost tourist brochure worthy, but then look below at the same picture taken farther back. An old man nearby apologized to me about “the color of the water.” The color?! You can’t even see the water for all the garbage on top.