Damascus, Syria: Guys being guys together

My first trip to Syria was in 1988. I took a 30 hour bus trip from Istanbul, through Turkiye and crossed the border from Antakya (Antioch in Bible) into Haleb (Aleppo) and Damascus ( "Sham" in Turkish ). It was one of the more adventurous trips I made and  told my parents after I had returned from Syria back to England.

I met a nice Tunisian man in Istanbul who was also travelling. After he came to know I spoke (broken) Arabic we went around the city in the evening and shared a hotel room together. The man at the hotel desk didn't even raise an eyebrow as we requested one room to share. In the morning I went to the bus station and started my 30 hour journey.
There was a grandfatherly looking driver and a cute man who served as an assistant to the driver as well as on occasion went up and down the bus isle sprinkling lemon cologne into our hands to wipe our body as a refresher. The people on the bus either spoke Turkish or Arabic. They were very kind, as we exchanged food with each other on the bus. On occasion the bus would stop off at rest breaks where we could buy wonderful apricots, snacks like grilled cheese sandwiches ( just spending coins!) and we even had a time to go to a coffee shop to have Turkish coffee where I smiled at the other smiley, perhaps flirty men who were making coffee in the shop. Only smiles and a wave happened as it was time to re board the bus to go onward.

I met along the journey also two Jordanian guys who were travelling back home but stopping off in Damascus for a day before going back home. I decided to accompany them together for this first part of the trip, as I was visiting my good Syrian friend Abdul in Damascus. I would experience hospitality in a Syrian home as I would stay with him and his family.

Crossing the border from Turkiye was easy and uneventful but as we drove in the "no man's land", where barbed wire eerily lined the empty plain and towers were located in strategic locations, my stomach started to feel nervous, but Syrian immigration, apart from stares of the immigration officials, proved to be uneventful as well.

Arriving in Damascus at 3.00 AM, my two Jordanian friends and I alighted from the bus and we quickly jumped into a dump truck which many people were already standing in. At such an early hour in the morning I found it to be really an awakening!  We decided to rent a whole flat in Damascus, just for the day! I vividly remember all the posters of Ayatollah Khomeini pasted on the building and the walls. Graffiti such as "We will cut off the hand that feeds Israel" ( meaning the USA) was scribbled on the wall as well.
I remember having the very best falafel in Damascus with my two Jordanian friends, we wandered around the city until evening when it was time to return to the flat to sleep as in the morning they were taking a taxi back to Jordan and I was meeting my Syrian friend.

Staying in a very traditional Syrian house, which was built around a square central courtyard where one could walk around inside the four areas of the house and see different sides of the court yard!
My friend's father greeted me warmly and his

mother, wearing a hijab, made traditional Arabic coffee for us all.  Abdul showed me around his traditional and old neighbourhood which had narrow alleys and hiding places where his friends had small shops.
At night they came over to Abdul's house and all of us slept together in one bed! I remember it felt so comfortable and natural to have guys on each side of me in bed and I when I  fell asleep and had a good sleep.

Currently ( 2013) there is turmoil throughout Syria and Damascus is taking a huge amount of shelling and destruction. I watch on the news on television so many handsome guys in the streets in Syria in the crossfire of the militia, being wounded, killed or in general in trouble.  My heart aches for Syrian people and I often wonder what my friend's life is like now and if the area I stayed in and have so many good memories has been altered or not. I pray that the Syrian people will soon be free!


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