2010
01.30

Day 15 Damascus

DAMASCUS – FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND FIRST ENCOUNTERS

Crossing the border was uneventful.  What is always worth noting are the signs at borders.  In Pakistan, I remember standing in front of two choices:  “Foreigners” or “Women Traveling Alone”.  How was I supposed to know, which one took precedence?  Today there was a choice between:  “All Nationalities” and “Foreigners”.  What does that mean?  Just for the heck the Turkish guy tried the “All Nationalities” but was sent back.  I had my visa already and all it took was filling out some paperwork and off we went in our brand new minibus – certainly the most luxurious ride I had in all of my time in Lebanon.  Two Turkish backpackers were going, too – all other passengers were business travelers.

One of them took it upon himself to accompany me all the way to my hotel, including taking a taxi with me, paying for it, and hauling my luggage all the way there.  I have learned to shed my American “no” attitude for a grateful acceptance of sincere expressions of wanting to be helpful.

The shock came at the reception.  I had splurged and booked a “mid-range” hotel for one night online in order to have my peace right after getting here, internet, and comfort.  Well, they had me down for yesterday, charged me a no-show and wanted more money today.  No way!  I left in a huff and now had to get rid of my heavy suitcase fast.

For literally 1/10 of the price I got a room at the worst fleabag hotel you can imagine.  But I don’t care.  It will just be one night.  I got rid of my luggage and went hotel shopping for the rest of the afternoon.  Within 15 minutes I had another guy attaching himself to me.  They all seem to have nothing but time here!  I told him my agenda:   Tourist map, internet locations, hotel hunting.  He got me from one place to the next happy to speak English.  Arab food for dinner – I invited him, but he was not going to have any.  But he ordered the most delicious dish for me:  Bread with a milky hummus sauce spiced up with nuts.  Delicious!  I realize all I miss out on when there is nobody who can order the right thing.  The menu was only in Arabic.  Gone are the days of bilingual signs and of paying with dollars.  I am now in the middle of the Middle East.  I saw about 10 women without a scarf.  The ones I saw on the street were obviously foreigners and the others I saw at a church that had service tonight.  I stepped in for a moment with my “attachment”.   Mohamed, is a Muslim, but he came to church with me.

Over that delicious dinner he told me that he really would like to make love with me.  When I pointed out that I could be his mother he told me that he did not mind one bit and that he once had seen a film about a young guy and an old woman.   Very funny.  I took it in stride and steered the conversation to the fact that he obviously needed a girl-friend but that it wasn’t gonna be me.  He then told me all of his woes about previous girlfriends, his studies in the Ukraine where he picked up a wife for a couple of years who then would not leave the Ukraine with him and so forth.  I was happy to lend him my ear.  He kept telling me what a strong personality I had.  🙂  Well, we had a good time.

I found this internet cafe – the good days of doing email in bed first thing in the morning are over now.  🙁  I made sure that my next hotel was just a couple of blocks away and so I think I will be in touch pretty regularly at least for the next few days.  Now I will have to pay and sit in the smoke!  I knew this smoking would not stop.

I am staying at the Ghazal Hotel.  They only have a few doubles, the rest is a dorm.  But I am too… I don’t know what, for a dorm.  I want my peace and quiet at night and don’t want to talk to anyone either.  The owners are really nice – apparently three brothers.  The best thing about the hotel is that it is located on a pedestrian street – no traffic noise.  That will be a blessing!  Part of the real stress here as in Lebanon is that traffic is so draining.  One has to be on full alert at all times.  I guess, New Yorkers do that all the time, but it’s no comparison.  In New York at least a green light still means something and there are traffic lights…  And we in the Midwest are completely spoiled.

The first difference I notice from Beirut to Damascus is that Damascus obviously did not go through a civil war.  There are old buildings here, run down areas, construction sites, but no bomb shells, not bullet-riddled facades.

I am looking forward to exploring for a few days.  My first task will be walking as much as I can and getting a sense for the landmarks.  And that’s what I am going to do next.

Talk to you later!

Good night.