Friday, July 30, 2010

13 Hour Taxi Ride

My cousin Kristin, who is learning Arabic impressed us with her conversations with the the taxi driver. They had passionate discussions the whole day with lots of expressive hand movements.
Damascus is a city of small clunky yellow taxis, smog, and blazing heat. It is the capital of Syria, home to five million people and is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I have a super cool cousin doing an internship for the UN in Damascus. So on my way to Norway, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit her, and my aunt and uncle would be visitingtoo! Not every day you get the opportunity to have a middle eastern family reunion!
For me, the people of Syria are what make this country so special. They are so happy, kind and welcoming. As we walked through the souks, people would say “welcome” and shop keepers invited us for tea. I was apprehensive, I assumed they just wanted to take advantage of a bunch of European tourists. Actually they were really interested in getting to know us. They wanted to know where we were from, what we were doing in Syria, even if they only spoke a couple of works of English. We saw the coin collection of one backgammon board seller, and had our palms read by another. Then there was that trip with that taxi driver.

Our taxi ride started as a trip to get lunch and meet with another cousin who is in the UN peacekeeping force. What an awesome family I have, they are all saving the world! We ended up spending 13 hours driving around with our taxi driver. So we left Damascus at 9am and headed to the to the Gollan heights.

The Gollan heights are an area of Syrian territory occupied Israel, guarded by the UN peacekeeping force. So a small kebab shop near the boarder of Israel and Syria became the unlikely host of a family reunion. After our kebabs we went next door to visit Marco, a man running a small shop selling Syrian handicrafts and doing business for the UN peacekeepers. Before we knew it a pot of tea was boiled, a water pipe was smoking and we were once again enjoying Syrian hospitality.

Then we visited the shouting hill. A village chopped in two by the 6 days war in 1967. Some families found one day that their children and partners on the other side of the Syrian, Israeli boarder. Unable to reunite, they had to shout across the boarder to communicate using a megaphone. Telecommunication and mail between the countries were not allowed. With the invention of internet communication became easier, but for important occasions like weddings, families still shout.

Natural springs were our next stop. We watched people of all ages fill up their water bottles with fresh water straight from the spring. Then we had the most amazing lunch in an outdoor terrace area. Sliky hummus, flat bread, kofta, crisp salads, lots of pickled vegetables. So simple, fresh and delicious. I can still remember how good this salad was. It had croutons made from flat bread, cucumber, cabbage, basil, lettuce leaves, and a balsamic, oliveoil. Then we had fried eggplants. The eggplants in Syria are amazing, so sweet and juicy in comparison with Australian ones. I would go back to Syria just for the fried eggplant.

Our taxi driver and his wife. Who is also his cousin. And his brother married her sister. And his sister married her brother. The taxi drivers wife said she'd never do it to her own children, but it was normal to marry cousins at the time when they married. In 1992, so not actually that long ago! Shows how differently different cultures look upon things. But really they were the sweetest people ever.
Finally we were taken to the home of our taxi driver. We drank lemonade, Turkish coffee and met his family. His very large family. And the whole neighborhood. We were paraded around the small village, like we were royal family. I smiled and shook peoples hands. The taxi drivers daughter tried to communicated with me, but she actually didn’t speak any English. So everything I said she just replied “yes”. Very confusing! Nether the less she was trying hard, and I certainly didn't have any Arabic to try out on her. On the drive home our taxi driver said “Shall we visit my friend?”, and we all blurted out NO! Meeting the population of one Syrian village was enough for one evening.

We arrived back in Damascus at 10pm and popped into the local bar for a G&T and some pickeled carrots. It will be hard to forget this taxi ride.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was a long journey! Good thing you had an interesting conversation with the taxi driver. And they are very hospitable too; it’s so nice of him and his family to tour you around their village and neighborhood, although you guys are practically strangers to him. It is indeed a taxi ride that is hard to forget. =)

    Sabra Divis