Ulloo5 - Syria & Jordan
Why Syria & Jordan at this impending hour of war?
(Raj) That year war drums of Mr George W Bush, then the President of the USA, were being beaten ever louder. He was convinced Suddam Hussain of Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Mr Bush was therefore hankering after the invasion of that country and so Hussain's removal from power. So we, being Ulloos, decided to visit Syria and Jordan - neighbours of Iraq. Those who heard of our intent, work colleagues and other friends, thought it a mad idea. Our families, for some reason, did not object. Invasion would follow a few months after our visit. So this time it would be Samji, Saif and Raj. In Syria they would visit Damascus and Palmyra and take a taxi to Amman in Jordan. From there they would go to the Dead Sea, Petra, Valley of Roum and Aqaba on the Red Sea. This is what they experienced...........
Where have you brought me to you Ulloos!
Samji's reaction to the very basic room we will share
The Omayya Mosque, Damascus
(Raj) Our second day in Damascus and we visited the grand Omayyad Mosque. Important to both Sunni and Shia Islam alike. It was a bright sunny early afternoon and the Azan for the Dhur prayer was being called. Not by one Muezzine but at least three by the sound of it. Perfect in unison and the Azan resounding beautifully about the settings of the mosque. We were just outside the main gate when Saif said he wanted to pray. So Samji and I decided to wait for him until the prayers were over and he would rejoin us for a sightseeing tour inside.
While we stood about chatting a man came over and told us to go in. We told him that we were non-Muslims and did not want to enter during the time of prayer. He left only to return a moment later and again asked us to go in. We showed our reluctance but he insisted and asked us to follow him. He told us to take off our shoes and leave them with an elderly gentleman sitting at the enterance threshold. Having walked into the splendid courtyard we stood looking in amasement at the grand size and beauty of the building. The man told us to go into the prayer hall. We again declined reminding him that we were not Muslims and wanted to respect the prayer time. But he insited on taking us in. We followed feeling somewhat apprehensive.
Inside the individual Namaz had already commenced. He asked Samji what religion he was. Samji told him he was a Hindu. "Do you want to pray?" asked the man. Samji politely declined and was invited to sit at the back of the congregation and watch. The same question was then put to me. "I am a Sikh" I responded. "Ah" said the man, "I know many Sikhs from my stay in Southall some years ago". "You believe in one God". I responded that that was the case. So came another invitation this time for me to join in the prayer. I took up the offer and went to stand in the line of men which was now assembling at the front facing the Mehrab - the direction to Mecca. Then the congregational Namaz commenced. Well, I had done this once before so I knew what to do. Unless non-Muslims have seen this in its entirety they will have no idea of the right way to go about this. Even with the past experience I still had to keep an eye on my neighbour to make sure I did not slip up. Throughout the proceedings, an elderly grey bearded gentleman on my left, murmurred Quranic verses. I could say nothing but tried to at least to keep God in my thoughts and at least wisper "Allaha hu Akbar".
With the prayer over, and Saif nowhere yet in site, the man told us "You see we are not all extremists as the people in the West think of us, you can come here anytime and join in and nobody will object. Look behind you. There are even women who prayed behind the lines of men! Not seperated form them as in other mosques". For me it was quite an honour to have been invited to join in and my experience was an uplifting one.
Saif appeared and the man became our de facto guide for the afternoon. He asked for no fee and at the end just took what we offered him. Pocketing the roll of notes without even counting them. We already liked Syria!!
Some hard questions in Damascus.....and Jordan
(Raj) Damascus came as a complete surprise. Its people welcoming, warm, relaxed, helpful, hospitable and curious. "Why" we were asked a few times "does your Prime Minister side with President Bush to bomb Iraq? We can understand Bush wants to do it since it is only Saddam Hussain who stands up to him in the Middle East but why Blair? " We tend to shy away from politics when visiting "sensitive" countries and made feeble excuses of not being completely aware of the intention of such leaders to make war. We tried to remain neutral and told the Syrians and Jordanians that we loved their countries at which point the conversation would take a turn to the topic of what we liked about them. Both are a proud people who genuinely admire and respect their leaders...... or so it seemed then!
Three of us at the Omayya Mosque after the payers
Taking a break
View of the mosque as the sun set
Time for dinner
And music too...!
Father joins son.....
Temple of Ba'al
Getting into mud
And then sending it back to where it came from
Here an old man shows us what he claims are ancient Nabataean coins. He tells us he picks them out of the mud when the rains reveal them. There are about five miserable looking coins in a rusty tobacco tin. I pick out a shiny one to take a closer look. This is a mistake! "We never learn guy" Ulloo moto is about to be proven true. After we look about the site the old coin man is waiting to join us. I am of course singled out as the one who will buy his coin. It is, he tells me 100 USD but he can give it to me for 60. I try my best to ignore him. As the distance between us and the taxi gets shorter so the gap between 60 USD to somewhere close to zero USD gets narrower. Just close to the taxi it has fallen to 20 USD. But now I am being told a truly sorrowful tale. A narrative of lament. Tourists no longer come here, people are poor and getting poorer, there is no money, his grand children sit at home and the family cannot afford to send them to school let alone feed them adequatley. This magic works as images of my "have-it-all" life in England flash before me. Of course I give in, take the shiny coin, and hand him 20 USD. This does not go unnoticed by our driver who now thinks there is for sure money to be made!
Petra - a hot and dusty day
(Raj) PETRA: It was already quite a warm sunny morning and would become almost unbearable by mid-day. We walked to the site at Petra. No history needs to be related here only our experiences.
One of the finest buildings still standing
An old man approaches me and opens a rusty old tobacco can containing a few misable looking coins. As he begins his tale of Nabataean coins washed out of the ground by rain (must rain a lot in Jordan) I spot a shiny looking coin identical to the one I had bought the night before. I am also staring at a face identical to the one I was looking at last night! "Ah, it's YOU!" I tell him and walk off. What did I say? "We never learn guy!"
Quite enjoing this!
Aqaba - but how to get there?
At Aqaba, the driver drops us off at the shore of the Red Sea and asks us if he can take us to Amman once we are ready. We decline his offer but he warns us that we will not find any taxis operating and, having been paid, drives off.
Saif and I decide to have a dip in the sea while Samji waits under the shade of a small hut. When we return to hail a taxi the road is empty of any traffic. No vehicle passes us. The wind stirrs up sand that blows around us. About fifteen minutes without any luck a car makes its way towards us. The driver stops when he reaches us and winds down the window. "I told you you would not get a taxi! I have been watching you!" Our saviour has returned as we agree the fare for Amman. But before we go to Amman the driver invites us to meet his family and have lunch with him. At home he introduces his sons and a shy little daughter and tells us about his children and the plans he has for their education. He will not send them to universities in the West where they will pick up all sorts of nasty habits but to a country that has a culture similar to Jordan. His son brings the lunch while we discuss politics and the plight of the Palestinian refugees living close by. They have no jobs and live by selling petrol on the black market. After lunch, we are taken to the roof top to survey the area populated by the Palestinians. We do not see his wife.
We reach Amman at around 9 p.m.
All's well that ends well!
This has been a fantastic trip and we have done and seen a lot while having agreat deal of fun.