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Published: June 14th 2008
I’m currently sitting in a bus from Homs to Palyrma next to a woman in a full burka. She and about 7 men around us have been talking and smiling and pointing at me the whole ride. It really is as if they have never seen a foreigner or a laptop but I know that is doubtful. I took out my LP and used a few phrases, but that was pretty limited conversation. The are still having a blast though. One of them took pictures of me with the woman. They pull out their passports and point at line items to ask me what my birthday is an how old I am. Am I married? I have no idea what they are saying about me, but I think it’s happy and good. One guy pulled out his phone to show me a clip on Saddam Hussein, I have no idea what the commentary said but I think the guy is very pro-Saddam. He looks at me and goes, “Bush, bad!” Thumbs down. Then he shows me a 3-minute clip of just gory car crashes, I am not really sure why. Another is a kid fighting a cobra, another is a baby
getting head-butted by a sheep, another is a truck on hydraulics dancing. He is right now showing me every clip I think saved on his phone, I almost wish he would stop because they are really long and I have seen enough! They continue to talk among themselves and laugh at me, and I can’t do anything but smile and sit here! This must be what a baby in the crib feels like. Samina (the burka woman) keeps pointing at my laptop, and I try to show her some pictures but it’s hard to tell her where they are all from. I think she is amazed to see what editing software can do. This could have been much more interesting if we could converse. The clip of the baby getting head-butted by the sheep was pretty funny though.
So today was Castle Day. I’m nor ashamed to admit it. Yeah, I used to read Choose Your Own Adventure books. I was also a big fan of Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children, and Encyclopedia Brown. So what? Crac des Chevaliers is what first sparked my interest in traveling to Syria. From wiki: It is a Crusader fortress in Syria and one
of the most important preserved medieval military castles in the world. In Arabic, the fortress is called Qal'at al-Ḥiṣn (Arabic: قلعة الحصن), the word Krak coming from the Syriac karak, meaning fortress. It is located 65 km west of the city of Homs, close to the border of Lebanon, and is administratively part of the Homs Governorate. Krak des Chevaliers was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades. It was expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison of 2,000. The inner curtain wall is up to 100 feet thick at the base on the south side, with seven guard towers 30 feet in diameter. King Edward I of England, while on the Ninth Crusade in 1272, saw the fortress and used it as an example for his own castles in England and Wales. The fortress was described as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world” by T.E. Lawrence. This fortress was made a World Heritage Site, along with Qal’at Salah El-Din, in 2006 and is owned by the Syrian government. Sorry, I got lazy.
When you arrive at the castle, it really is just like opening a Choose Your
Own Adventure book. There are so many passageways, so many stairs that lead down into darkness (I admit I was a little scared to go down into the depths by myself.) Go up or down? Over this bridge or climb up to that tower? Should I try to climb down this well or go through this backdoor? The castle is HUGE, and I’m sharing it with about 7 other tourists. Unlike some of the other ruins I have been seeing, I don’t have to try at all to imagine the whole place filled with its original inhabitants. The outside fortress wall surrounding the moat was built by the Muslims (I think Beybars) while the original castle inside was built by King Richard “Lionheart” for his Crusaders. You can just see the knights filling the halls, sitting at the round table, monitoring from the guard towers and walking the walls - because basically the whole castle is still standing. You can see the cracks outside each large bridgeway or archway where they poured the boiling oil on invaders. You can see the latrines, all the wells and ventilation systems, even the prisons. I’m almost scared a dragon is going to emerge
from the many shadows and bite my head off. It is both history-buff and imaginative child’s most surreal dream.
Meandering around, I befriend Allah who spends his time selling postcards and books in the castle, he has known Crac for 25 years since he was a small child. Allah is much less creepy than the first guy who approached me, who tried to hold my hand to “lead” me through the “dangerous” parts which were in full light and completely manageable. I would like to say that he just thought I was a dainty, atrophied, or anorexic girl but I’m afraid that would be lying to myself. Allah is much better, not creepy at all actually, more westernized and I think he has had much contact with female tourists (and is much younger.) I get the feeling that unlike Mohammed who grew up in the countryside, he is definitely not a virgin and has quite a few girlfriends. He knows everything there is to know and takes me around the castle over three hours explaining all the ins and outs. Where this tunnel leads, potholes in pitch black, secret passageways. As usual now I’m going to point to the
pictures on the site.
On a completely separate note, I noticed I’m getting a lot more anti-Bush sentiment for some reason today. I was at the Homs bus station waiting for a bus to Palmyra (which for some reason had huge numbers of Syrian military) and wandered into a baklava store. When I asked the man how much two pieces would cost me, he said no cost, free. So I sit down with him and ate my baklava in the shop, and we started talking. He speaks some English, and basically tells me he doesn’t like Americans or Brits or most Europeans. He hates Jews. He talks to me because he says I am yellow, he likes Asians because he says we are strong. He says Bush is bad, Bill Clinton was good. He really doesn’t like Americans. He asks if I am Christian or Muslim, at this point I think it would be unwise to say I am not religious, so I say Christian. He asks me if I will stay and marry a Syrian. I politely say no, I am too young. He invites me home to meet his wife and children, but I think he is
wanting to introduce me to a son or something and I’m getting uncomfortable; I tell him I need to get to Palmyra. Later I sit at the cafe upstairs editing pictures and he brings me a piece of candy. I leave it on the table.
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