April 28, 2008

Homs, Syria

My Brother likes to say that he will try anything once, and I agree in my own way claiming that I will sleep anywhere once. That was put to the test when I arrived in Homs, Syria without the name of a hotel or any idea what neighborhood they might be in. I managed the word “funduk”, which is Arabic for hotel, to my taxi driver who threw out a name rather quick making me think, “great, he knows where all the backpackers stay” - as many driver’s do. I was soon checking into a single room that evoked memories of the bathrooms at The Port Authority, but instead of being in the ladies room, I had somehow managed to find myself confined to the men’s room. I would have searched around but it was getting dark and I was tired from a full day of another “only woman on the bus – only person who speaks English” scenario and an extended re-entry procedure at the border where three guards, getting a kick out of my passport, decided to have a half hour closed door meeting about the situation. Perhaps they were discussing my age with no children in tow, my eye color, or the fact I was born in New Jersey, because they emerged in a jolly mood and kept bursting into laughter as my information was being typed into the computer.
My first impressions of Homs was surprise at how easy the Muslim and Christian populations mix; there seems to be limited segregation of neighborhoods as in other cities such as Damascus. You can see a group of girls walking with linked arms, some with veils and some without or women in the full hijab- Islamic dress- peering in the windows of shops selling mini skirts and tank tops. I found myself at a cafĂ© watching life go by and also watching the football game that was on the television, along with the other crowds of locals. Sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time and on this evening, when Syria beat Saudi Arabia, the streets erupted into a Carnival-like scene of celebration; people wrapped in flags nearly stopped moving, honking, music-blaring traffic as they marched and danced in the streets, parade-style, with shrieks of pride and joy. When the firecrackers turned into rocket launchers, it was time for this party-goer to head back to the Port Authority for a good night’s sleep.
I was in Homs on a mission to see the famous Crusader castle, Kraks des Chevaliers, which is about a 45 minute drive outside of the city through green hills and farmland. The journey provided authenticity as it turned into a personal Crusade just to get to the entrance. I set out early and hopped on the city bus that would take me to the main terminal where I would catch another bus to the castle. I usually try to figure out a process by observing the locals and mimicking what they do. Well, on this particular day I guess my coffee hadn’t sunk in yet because as everyone else put their ticket in a little machine attached to a pole and sat down, I decided to put my coin money in, hoping for a ticket to come out, but soon realized I jammed the ticket-stamping machine (oops). I don’t think they were too happy about that because shortly after there was a full crowd, without smiles on their faces, pointing to the exit door of which, even though not at the bus station yet, I obliged and jumped off. It wasn’t spoken in English, but I took that to mean, “Get off the bus you Moronic Vandal!” Now how many people can say they got kicked off a Syrian bus! I tried to hail a taxi but no one understood where I wanted to go but feeling un-deterred and with my Crusader spirit in full bloom I eventually managed my way.
It was worth risking near death-by-angry-mob because the Crusader castle is super cool. It takes a few hours to explore and it made me feel like a character in my Brother’s old Dungeon and Dragons game. Instead of selling t-shirts they should consider making a rent-a-son or rent-a-knight stand so that females can truly get the full perspective of this amazing, undefeated structure.
My Mom used to tell me to “get back up on the horse” when I would stumble or fall in life, and her words were with on my way out of town, but instead of the horse I got myself “back on the bus” with a ticket in hand and a pretty good idea of how to get it stamped.

No comments:


blogger templates | Make Money Online