Syria is not as bad as it may appear from my last post. On one hand I had some weird and creepy experience with officials, while on the other side I spent amazing time interacting with lovely people and exploring Damascus.
People of Syria – Simple and Beautiful
I was impressed with the hospitality of Syrian people. I soon made lot of friends at workplace. Only few on them knew English but we were able to communicate through gesters and interpreters. After few days at work, I realized that people bringing morning and evening tea are not support staff. Actually unlike Pakistan, everyone was supposed to prepare their own tea. But they were too shy to point this out to a guest and they take turns in making tea for me.
Students Are Not Choosers
Most of the people at the work place were young. Due to poor economic situation they had to work full time during the day and study during the evening. Like most of the other matters, studies are also state controlled. Major subjects are assigned by the ministry of education. I met several students who hated what they were studying. But this was their only hope to get out of misery and get good job.
A Foreigner is Foreigner in Syria – Even From Pakistan
I have travelled extensively to GCC countries and experienced that at most of the places, Pakistanis are perceived as second grade nationals especially by locals. Not in Syria. People at work place respected me a lot. I think from their perspective I was a foreigner wearing suit, smoking British blend, speaking English and carrying laptop. A foreigner who had flown thousands of miles to Syria. This probably was due to narrow vision of general public due to all kind of sanctions and restrictions. But they are not discouraged by this. They want to learn and go out in the world to make a difference.
Bus For Us – But Taxi For You Our Friend
There were few occasions where I was shocked by the hospitality of Syrians. One day a group of friends at work offered me to show around Damascus. They were mostly students who were also working to barely meet their expenses. I accepted their offer. I could sense that they are trying to figure out how much cash each one is carrying so that they can plan the trip accordingly. They never let me pay anywhere.
After a long trip, it was time to go back to hotel. My friends started discussing in Arabic about how to take me back to hotel. I got the idea that they live near by and it would be out of route for them. I told them that I will go back myself but they denied. They hired a cab and came all the way to drop me to hotel. I expected that they will take the same cab back to their house (it was 2 am). Instead they stepped out with me and went to bus stop because they could not afford this luxury for themselves. I can never forget this generous act of hospitality.
Even We Are Secular
My view before arriving Syria was that it is a conservative, extremist and fundamentalist Muslim country. This was because of the situation in my own country where so called Mullah-ism has torn the view of the state. Where dream of nation’s father to form a secular state had been buried along with him. Where minorities have limited rights. Where by law head of state cannot be a non-Muslim. Any ways thats a different debate.
In Syria Muslims and Christians live in perfect harmony. They respect each other and celebrates each other events. Christmas is celebrated with the the same enthusiasm as Eid. People are free to choose and practice religion. The nation comes before the religion.
Damascus – A City I Won’t Forget
I went to old Damascus city with group of friends. Most of the geographical and historical aspects are still well preserved. The walkway still holds the hundreds of years old marble. High walls of the old city are still protected today. Most of the old houses have been converted in to nice restaurants with pleasant ambience and comfortable environment. We had dinner followed by Shisha (hubbly bubbly). Walking in old Damascus was like walking in to the history. One does not need to make an effort to visualize the old times. At every step you will feel the marvelous history of the city.
There are several magnificent mosques in Damascus out of which Umayyad Mosque or Grand Mosque of Damascus is one of the largest and oldest. It was a Christian basilica of John the Baptist before being converted in to mosque in 7th century. I was inspired by the architecture of the mosque. It reflects the early Muslim architecture as well as shows the glimpses of pre-Muslim roman architecture.
Visit of Damascus is in complete without visiting Mount Qasioun. From the highest point at over 1100 meters, it looks over the beautiful city of Damascus. It has a religious significance related with various prophets and saints. It has a range of restaurants where you can enjoy the meal while enjoying the city view. Another less known significance of Mount Qasioun is being a hangout place for young lovers. There is a particular area along the mountain without any lights where couples meet without any fear of being caught by police or parents.
I visited Damascus in mid of December. The city was getting ready for the Christmas. Both Christians and non-Christians enjoy the sparkling celebration of the Christmas. It was a pleasant sight to see the city flooding with bright and beautiful Christmas trees.
A Cost Effective City
It was a surprise that Damascus was less expensive than all of the places I had visited earlier. Everything from fine dinning to commuting to laundry to telecommunication was easily affordable. In my trip of 12 days, I spent only USD 100 (except hotel stay) and by no way I was trying to save money.
The memories of Syria are one of my precious memories. It is very painful to see the current situation in Syria. The out break of civil war is effecting the innocent people. God knows how long this will continue. I deeply wish that situation is resolved as soon as possible so that good Syrians can go back to normal life.