May 13, 2006
It was no shock that I was lost when looking for the entrance to the Umayyad Mosque. I was asking people at could-be
entrances. I only got responses in Arabic. Then a man came up to me and asked me in English what I was looking to find. I told
him and he led the way (of course, to the exact opposite side of where I was). He spoke very good English and was extremely
kind to me even when (I should really say especially when) he found out I was American. It turns out he works for the Chamber
of Tourism in Syria and travels outside of the country for different events.
Instincts said: This guy is safe.
Upon entering the mosque, all tourists have to borrow a robe with a hood and take off their shoes. My new Syrian friend
(Montaser) proceeded to show me around the mosque and explain to me why people were crying (I should really say 'sobbing')
at the tomb. We stayed for a little while to watch while they paid their respects, prayed and did a group prayer. He struck up
conversation with a couple of females from Bahrain. He had them tell me a little bit about what they were doing (such as when
they tied a string near the tomb to make a wish). Afterwards, we went into the grand courtyard which was just gorgeous.
Golden mosaics of landscapes lined the upper part of the courtyard all the way around. The entry to the mosque is where the
most beautiful of the gold mosaics were.
At this point I was starting to feel very tired and headachy simply because I think I needed a bit of rest. I was hoping one of the
juices on the street would help perk me up. Montaser told me that he has a favorite place where he takes his tour groups and
that he was going to buy me one. We went and I had a smoothie there (places out here put a little fruit salad type thing on the
top—almost like a fruit sundae on top of your smoothie). While it hit the spot in terms of having something really tasty, it did
nothing for my headache. He then told me I must try the Syrian ice cream. I told him I was satisfied with the smoothie I just
had. He insisted. So then I had some ice cream.
Montaser was then nice enough to take me to the bus station so that I could buy my bus ticket to Amman (Jordan) for the next
day. There are only two buses daily and I for sure did not want to be on the 6am bus. He communicated with the people that
worked there and I now had a bus ticket for the next day.
In the name of Syrian hospitality, he really wanted to show me his home. My head was killing me at this point and I know that I
wasn’t a pleasure to be around. I just really wanted to go to my hotel, take some aspirin and sleep it off. But I didn’t want to
offend him. I told him I would see his place but it could really only be for a few minutes. He first had the taxi stop at one of his
favorite places for a Syrian specialty that I forgot the name of (he thought I still needed dinner after the smoothie and ice cream
and he wouldn’t take “I’m not hungry” as an answer). It was great and the people at the place we picked up dinner were very
kind. Then we went to his apartment and he showed me pictures from different trips that he had taken for work. I could tell by
the pictures that he really enjoyed meeting people.
At this point, I told him that it was pretty necessary that I go back to my hotel. He offered his place to take a nap and I declined.
I’m all about taking Syrians up on their hospitality…but that would have just been way too weird. Plus I had a hotel room of my
own. I just needed to go back to have some time to myself and rest.
I’ll have to admit that I was also getting irritable…which I felt very bad about. I apologized to him every time I could tell I was
getting that way. I now realize there’s a bigger monster than ‘Hungry Jen’. And that is ‘Headachy Jen’.
All in all, even though my time in Syria was very abbreviated, I feel like I got a good sense of what it is about (mostly in regards
to the people from there).
At Montaser's home.
Watching the guys prepare our dinner