This Way to Iraq
May 16, 2007 Madaba, Jordan and Palmyra, Syria
Having moved on from Petra through the mysterious rain and fog around Kerak Castle, we find ourselves in a small town outside of Jordan’s capital. Madaba is home to St. George’s church, which houses a famous mosaic floor with a map of the holy land. When this treasure was discovered, it was used to uncover several other historical sites in the region. After a morning out- buying mosaic tiles for use in my new bathroom and chatting with a sewing machine repairman, I had a bite to eat before exploring some of the back alleys of the town. It’s always interesting to wander the more industrial sections…where the supply and repair shops host a more authentic gathering of local people. I was constantly called over by helpful shopkeepers who assumed I was lost and wanted to help. Eventually, a cup of coffee was given to me outside a barber shop by two Egyptians and two Iraquis and interesting conversation ensued. We all agreed that neither Saddam Hussein nor George Bush were the answer to Iraq’s problems. Then, the older gentleman made a nice gesture of Bush having his throat cut. Yikes ! Time to get out of there. The next day was partly dedicated to the Syrian border crossing…not as eventful as expected..just the usual sequence of buildings with bored looking officials and rubber stamps. Our drivers seemed pretty clued in to the process and even took the opportunity to stop for duty free cigarettes.
Damascus, being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, has a mixture of ancient architecture and other, less attractive new-ish buildings. Rebar protrudes from the borders of each roof and most of the houses are the unpainted. Rumor has it that there is some sore of law which doesn’t require you to pay taxes on an unfinished home even though it is clearly occupied.
The souk is a maze of small shops on small streets in the old walled city. It’s fun to get lost and just wander. The main street section is pedestrian only and covered with a high, arched black ceiling. Holes have been punched in the roof and small windows line the walls so walking through, even during the day is feels like an evening stroll with stars and streetlights.
Ummayaad is the third most important mosque in the world and houses the head of John the Baptist—who initially escaped death in Damascus by being lowered over the city wall in a basket. Lots of street food to be found in this city. Shaved meat wrapped in flatbread is called “shwarma.” Quart sized glasses of fresh fruit smoothies, mini-pizzas, falafel and ice cream with pistachios all keep us charged up while out seeing the sights.
Today, it’s off to more Roman ruins in a town called Palmyra…a site in the Syrian desert not far from Iraq. Hoping for blue skies and some interesting local people. Portraits have been difficult. The women are mostly covered in black robes with even their chins and hair tucked in. I don’t want to invade their privacy. Men are shy. They let me take pictures of their stands and goods but would rather not be in the photo.
Places visited on this trip: Cairo, Mt. Sinai, Nuweiba, Wadi Rum, Petra, Madaba, Amman, Jerash, Palmyra, Damascus, Aleppo, Cappodoccia, Istanbul,