Well the past few days were a prime example of when things go quite differently than you expect. Upon leaving Beirut towards Damascus, I got held up waiting for the Syrian visa, which is par for the course. This time however, rather than taking two hours (as it was in January) they took five hours. By this time it was 10:30 pm, and there were no cabs in sight.
Then that’s when things get interesting. A woman had heard me talking to another man there about finding a taxi, and recognized that I am not native (my broken Arabic is a bit of a giveaway), and told her husband that they should help me since I am a foreigner. After looking around he said he saw no foreigner, but she ensued and he invited me in their car to get a ride to Damascus.
Rather then following old adage of “stranger danger,” I took a chance and accepted. On the way after our introductions we all discovered that we were heading to Amman, them two days later, and me the next day. Maen, the husband, proposed, “How about this, why don’t you come to Souaida with us, join us at my parents home, meet my children, and then come with us to Amman. You can be our guest.” I accepted.
Souaida, a town of Christians and Druze, is a decent-sized town complete with a market, but show no signs of foreigner presence. Being Druze, they shared with me stories of their prophets and traditions. One in particular that stuck out was that of Nafs al-Kulliyya. He told me about how Nafs al-Kulliyya was a prophet before Easaa (arabic name for Jesus), and he was arrested, and eventually beheaded, having his head put on a platter. That’s when I made the connection and told him that in english we call him John the Baptist, which ended up being the same name literally translated.
I told him that John the Baptist is burried in Damascus, in the center of what was once a church, but now is the Ummayad Mosque. In another part of the mosque is where the head of Hussain, a Shiia leader from early Islamic times, is kept. Finally, just outside the Ummayad Mosque, is the tomb of Salah-Ad-Din, known in english as Saladin. Saladin, a Kurd, led the Mamaluks against the Crusaders. So essentially, the Druze have a shrine to a Christian messenger who is burried in a Mosque, betweeen a Shiia leader’s head and a Mujjahadin tomb. You can’t make this stuff up.
It is hard to encapsulate the intensity of being a guest to Arabs. No opportunity to give abundantly is left unexploited, as I am overfed, rested, and they took care of me as my health turned and my sore throat became a flu, complete with coughing, sneezing, running nose, and the works. Also, they brought me to their holy sites, as Druze, that were in their area. It was such a great learning experience, both about their culture and religion, as well as how to be a guest that accepts hospitality (those of you who know me well know I get uncomfortable in these type of situations, as I usually do things for myself). Today we drove together from their hometown to Amman, where we parted ways. Whether informed by their faith, culture, or intuation, their hospitality will always be remember. This gave me a chance to see a different side of Syria. More to come as my travels progress.