Sometimes I think I need to take a step back from this blog since some people might be thinking, “Wait, you are in the Middle East? Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t Syria the enemy or something? The axis, fulcrum and epicenter of evil?”
If the US sees Syria as an obstreperous government, that’s purely on a government-to-government level which has zero to do with traveling around. It really doesn’t. I’ve been in Syria two weeks now and not one person has had a bad word to say about America or me being there. None. A couple of people acknowledge that our governments don’t get along, but it’s said in a tone of regret, not hostility. One taxi driver did react funnily when I said I was American. He slapped his head with his palm in mock anguish, but he was smiling as he did so.
In Aleppo I went to an old man in a barber shop to have an open-blade shave and I had concocted a story in my mind that I was from Norway (a good fallback—who doesn’t love Norway other than Swedes and some Sri Lankans?) because as much as I like that style of shaving, the open blade on my adam’s apple does take me some time to relax. And what if he was a retired Hezbollah who, upon hearing my country, would have flashbacks, scream “Jihad!” and reflexively slash my throat?
Of course, he couldn’t care less where I came from and didn’t even ask. Sometimes I have an overactive imagination. That story aside(a-hem!), I like to think that anyone can separate the person from the government. It is why I have no apprehesion about going to Iran—if I could ever get in.
In fact, not only have I had no problems in Syria, the people have been uniformly fantastic and it’s one of the main reasons to visit. What’s not to like about traveling in Syria? It’s exciting. It’s low-hassle, easy to get around, and lots of people speak some English or try hard to help despite a language barrier. It’s inexpensive. The food is good. (Expect a blog post about that soon. For now I have two words for you: cherry kebab.) Syria is my favorite Middle Eastern country.
Know what my most lasting memory of Syria is so far? It was in Aleppo at a large Monoprix supermarket (which is the most foreign thing I have seen in Syria as it’s a huge gleaming, empty, quiet, two-level French-style supermarket in the middle of the hectic city). They have a bright and shiny escalator and the greatest thing was the look on a young woman’s face as she watched her man go up and down it. I guess he had never experienced such a machine and she stood and stared wide-eyed, shaking her head and softly laughing as she couldn’t believe his child-like fascination with riding it. I may not be describing it well, but it was a beautiful thing to watch.
I’m still learning a bit of Arabic every day. I like discovering I know more words than I thought. Ayran and findik are Turkish words for a yogurt drink and peanuts, respectively, “mumkin” is like Malay’s “mungkin”, which means “possible” and I learned that “Russian” means “prostitute”.
You can’t judge one man by his country, nor a country by one man.
sick photos again. I went to that cherry kebab restaurant bit didn’t dabble. where are you going next – turkey
if i was in your position i would make the trek to erbil-kurdistan
keep up the good work
Thanks, I hope you will keep reading. I thought about Kurdistan, but it must be colder there than here. I am going to Lebanon next.
the place to stay in beirut-seriously nice and a bit more classy and grown up than a lot of hostels. run by an american expat whose really nice and his lebanese wife who owns the property and teaches arabic. my girlfriend and i stayed in the double and it was more like a boutique hotel. great place to integrate in the local environment and they had just opened a roof top bar that had ethiopian reggae night etc.
i’m off to israel and west bank tomorrow-will be great to lave London
OK, thanks for the tip! Everytime I try and email you it bounces back.
should be correct now.
again, great article! syria is indeed a wonderful country! and very safe as well!
when in beirut, try the baromÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¨tre cafÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©, it’s in hamra area, great hangout.
you get to meet with locals as well as foreigners living there.
i for one absolutely loved it!!!
keep up your great blog, it works inspiring!
Today on Twitter, I posted a convo I had with my friend that went like this:
Friend: Where do you want to go next?
Me: I’ve been wanting to go to Columbia or the Middle East.
Friend: Why don’t you ever go anywhere NORMAL!
I’m not sure when I will have a chance to go the Middle East, but I’m already bracing myself for the flood of, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Have you found it pretty easy to travel independently there? I started searching for tours through Syria/Jordan/Turkey/Egypt (not trying to go to Egypt right now, of course) and found some that look pretty interesting. But the problem is that they don’t run very often so it’s not as convenient time-wise. I’m not worried about general safety, but I’m still super apprehensive about traveling solo to the Middle East as a female…
@ekua: i travelled the ME as a solo female, using hardly anything but public transportation, even hitch hiked in lebanon and i never had any problems whatsoever! You hardly need to ask anything at all: since it’s obvious we’re not middle eastern, people come up to you to ask what you need or where you want to go to and then they take you to the right bus.
free your mind and the rest will follow. . .
go and enjoy your trip, it’s very much worth your while!
and comments like “what is wrong with you”. . . well, you get used to that, i’m beginning to take that as a complement! :)) it only means THEY are the nutcases/ narrowminded/…
Thanks for the comments, Karin. I plan to go to Beirut next week. I hope you will continue reading .
Ekua, it is really easy here. You will be surprised. I don’t know how to advise you to distance yourself from people trying to drag you down, but a trip to this region has been very easy for me. You don’t need to take a tour either. If you flew to Damascus or Amman and go to the places everyone stays (I’m not saying they are GOOD places–HA!) then you can meet up with other travelers to explore together. Also, by the time you decide to go, Egypt should be calm again. I am going to Istanbul in June myself…
Hello, my mother in law is plannig a trip to Lebanon, Syria and Jordain, with all family ( we are party of 16 ), in May/ June. We will cross the borders by car . Is it safe ? I shoul say I’m a little bit afraid with all these political movements and “civil wars” in Middle East.
Does anybody has a opinion about ??
All I can say i that i was there for 7 weeks and it was 1000% safe–and fantastic. Just keep checking the news but better is from other travelers already there. Check Lonely Planet’s thorn tree for that.
Thanks for the tip. I will check.
i had planeed to return to damscus in 8 days and have cancelled my ticket….i have namy friends in the Middle East i worked in amman and crossed the border to syria every weekend. i fell in love with syria and a man there. I talk to my friends every dy about what is happening and i have been advised it is really unsafe to return at the moment .the government are very unstable and may appear to be making changes but things are the same ….people are afraid and believe it will escalate. homs and parts of damascus are closed . the border to jordan is closed for syrians i am unclear on tourists . i have been told the streets are very quite and people are not talking to much due to the recent arrests of anti govt civilians …..i think it is ok in amman and lebanon ….also turkey….being western in syria at the moment would be difficult there are secret police all over the country always have been …but a lot more at the moment ….if you go take care ….and whatever you do …dont talk about politics …you do not know who you may be talking to ….
ummmmmm sorry about the spelling …..my computer is not working very well ,
my husband went to syria it is not so safe but u can still travel there
i love evrthing Bt syria . the food the people and the simplicity in interracting with foreigners.
Well Syria has been voted the worlds most dangerous countrie now I don’t know if I will go or not!
Feels like a million years ago, sadly