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Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhea's Travel to Syria .
PART 4 - Damascus
by Rhea of Athens

Continued from Part 3

I resume my story on my last day of my Oddysey in Aleppo at a table in the bar of the Baron Hotel where Agatha Christie et al. hung out in bygone glory days.  Faded palatial splendor has always been my thing and Aleppo has more of it than Damascus.  Damascus reminded me more of Cairo down to the honking and general din.  Aleppo is noisy enough but everyone here is more gentle, although fewer speak English.  People are more polite and immediately acquiesce to the top black market rate. 

Damascus is like Cairo.  You bargain for every breath and you still haven't set a precedent.  You still have to bargain again tomorrow for the same breath. 

The souks are more palatial in Damascus, more friendly, homey, and cozy in Aleppo.  There are two monster hotels in Damascus - Meridien and Sheraton - and one older one, the Cham Palace with a round revolving restaurant upstairs at very good prices.  In Aleppo, only the Cham but an entire sauna, Turnkish Hamam, massage, therapeutic machines, Jacuzzis, etc. is lodged underneath it.   Aleppo, it is much easier to go to restaurants that are charming, old stone, like some kings courtyard and buy alcohol with your meal.  There are no dervishes, only at Ramadan.  In Damascus the best restaurants have both Turkish and Egyptian dervished, but no alcohol, although the restaurants vary from deep-down-in-a-castle to high up in a latticed aerie feel.

Hama has waterwheels and is an ancient city but is optional if you like big city life combined with utter ancientness.  And Krak De Chau is a marvel if you like military establishments.  I don't like them modern and I don't like them ancient.  Show me an opulent Hamam with music, refreshments, massage and women dancing for each other any day.

I resume my story in the Aleppo airport after having weathered yet another incident. 

My passport got lost in the x-ray machine undetected by me or the authorities until it was time to check in.  At first no one cared and then everyone cared, shouting to one another from here to there. 

A PA system would have helped but no one thought of it.  The passport was subsequently spit out without the $4 stamp which is the visa-exit fee and, of course, I had to pay for it again.  So now I am known by all the personnel at both the Damascus and Aleppo airports.  As God is great and has a plan for all of us, I am sure that one day I will understand why this has befallen me.  Right now, it helps to write about it so I am.

That the visit to Syria was worth it and that I plan to come again, perhaps even to dance here, is certain.  I feel like I have been subjected to a fraternity hazing and am finally a member, or the new kid at school that has fought with everyone on the playground.  You will be accepted if you win or lose the various fights, but they want to see your style, to take the measure of you as a human being.

I stayed in rooms from $6.00 to $30.00 a night and have to honestly say that the cheaper ones were better, not only more charming and picturesque but more caring staff. 

If you ever go to Syria, tell the taxi driver you don't want a tourist hotel but a two star hotel and put your right hand parallel to the ground and keep lowering it, while with the other hand hold the thumb and first 2 fingers together, rubbing them against each other, which signifies money.  The right hand will remain pointed down towards the ground, going gently in a downward motion, and the left will alternately make the rubbing motion and raise only the index finger while keeping the hand closed in a fist and wagging the finger back and forth, signifying no, as in, I don't want to pay a lot of money.  These hand motions will be accompanied by the eyebrows repeatedly going up and down, emphasis on the up, while the head nods upwards for about every 3 eyebrow raises.  Although slow to catch on, once having got it, the taxi driver will take you to hotel after hotel, if necessary, and go in with you as you see the room, determine if you like it, explain why you don't (no refrigerator, window to noisy street, broken toilet, etc.) and try to rectify it on the next try, going before you to explain, as an attaché for a visiting diplomat, what your needs are. 

No impatience is shown but the utmost devotion to duty and servitude without being servile.  In fact, he has become the boss of the operation and everyone must pay attention to him.

When you go to the airport, the hotel clerk will tell you what the standard fare is.  Mine suggests 200 SP ($4.00).  I knew by now that this was just a bargaining point and that I would pay more, maybe 300 SP ($6).  I had already decided on 500 ($10) but one must withhold this money until the last.  The minute it goes into the taxi drivers hands, he is gone.  He must get you a cart and pay for it - 50 SP ($1) - and pay the Baksheesh for the guys who carry your luggage and push your trolley.  At every juncture he will attempt to get you to pay for these items and services.  You will smilingly hold aloft the money and say "you effendi, you boss, you pay" until the end.  Any nice gestures, such as take this now, I trust you, make you a loser.  They respect you more if you stick up for your rights.  Even in Egypt, if I pay first, I don't get offered tea or coca-cola, but if I withhold payment until the last, I get better treatment. 

This was a hard lesson for me to learn and a hard one for Americans in general.  One rule: we are in their country and we must go with their mentality.  

If you try to show what basically decent people Americans are, you will be run over like a wild coyote.  Leave your manners at home and take on theirs.

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Ready for more?

12-4-04 Rhea’s Travel to Syria … Part 3– Surrounded by Men in the Airport
Clever girl, eh? You think it’s the first time I’ve traveled alone in the Middle East?

10-1-04 Rhea’s Travel to Syria … Part 2 – The Airport Nightmare
Too bad they didn’t have any friends in America.

8-25-04 Rhea's Travels to Syria, Part 1, The Delusion is Shattered
It looked like a Middle Eastern attempt at Las Vegas and Disneyland, upscale discotheques where attractive Moldavian that aforementioned familiar tributary, than go on to another one.

12-2-04 My Vision of the Desert Archidance by Piper Reid Hunt, Ph.D.
I had heard about trance dancing before, but had never seen it in an authentic context.

10-14-04 Undercover Belly Dancer in Iraq by Meena
My name is Meena. Until a month ago, I was a professional belly dancer in Phoenix, Arizona.

10-11-04 Art, Activism & Magic: Krissy Keefer In Her Own Words by Debbie Lammam
...women dancers are not expected to think and speak.

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