Al Rabie Hotel, Damascus
April 25, 2008
The minute I arrived in Damascus I felt I was back in Lahore. Which is weird because Lahore and Damascus are clearly two worlds apart – but perhaps it is the feeling I associated with both cities, being absolutely away from everything and just taking in the sights and sounds of where I am now. The tree lined neighborhood of Souk Sarouja, which is where I’m staying, is homey and beautiful, and while at times I wish I was experiencing this with more people, I am really glad to be here nonetheless.
My friend Rachel was right – staying in Al Rabie Hotel is great – this is the most peaceful courtyard. The only sounds are of the Friday khutba, a couple of Aussie travelers trying to get a room here, and the staff puttering around. A pigeon is walking around the courtyard. I love pigeons, they remind me of our house in Lahore.
The Syrian border was a fun experience. I felt I had immediately been shafted from my safe, residence card holder status in Jordan to an unfriendly, chaotic (even at 8:45 AM!) border, where the security personel look and act like a movie version of the Gestapo. At the border, a couple of Arabs with American passports were being hassled and I got yelled at for the error on my passport (damn you NADRA!), but I stood my ground and as soon as the official stamped my passport, I said aitekhalafya – his demeanor changed and he said you’re welcome, using the full Arab greeting, and goodbye.
I am just recovering from having been served a huge bowl of fatteh – which is possibly my favorite Middle Eastern dish ever – I could barely make a dent in the helping. That, along with khubz I insisted on, was a mere 35 Syrian Pounds. Score!
Qasr al Azam, Damascus
The palace is one of the most peaceful places ever. Its touristy, but not in that obtrusive way that most places are. It is still quiet – either its the huge expanse of a courtyard that makes it feel less noisy, or the sound of the fountain that fills the air, but I could sit here for ages. Some of the rooms are absolutely breathtaking – the chambers of the ruler, the depiction of classrooms, or women resting. The heat of the day has dissipated, and I am just about ready for my next glass of juice. Orange, strawberry, lemon, cocktails – all for 25 SYP!!
I had tea earlier in a side street off the Ummayyad Mosque, chatting with the tea/coffee stand owner and his youngest son Hadi, who joined me in making funny faces at the aloof kid sitting next to me, and would occasionally mumble ‘welcum..espresso’ when a horde of tourists would pass by. His father instantly recognized me as Pakistani and we spoke briefly about life in Amman, traveling through the region, my inability to get a Lebanese visa (we both agree that its a rather strange state of affairs there) – and I’m so glad I can speak enough Arabic to have a proper conversation with people, as halting as it may be.