I’ve been travelling this last week. I went up to Aleppo, then across to Lattakia on the coast. Lattakia seemed full of life, cafes full of old men smoking, and lower prices than Damascus. I went down to Jableh, about half an hour away, which may have been the friendliest town I have ever visited. I received, in one day of walking around:
A free repair of my trousers from a tailor, as well as coffee and tea from him.
A cup of milo chocolate milk from his very young assistant.
A bottle of juice from a man running a cornershop.
A bottle of chilled water from a man running another.
Tea, rice-stuffed aubergines and internet access from a Syrian-American family.
More tea from a friendly carpenter, as well as a drive around town and dinner (doner kebabs and yoghurt). We sat on the sea front wall and watched the people of the town walk up and down the colonade, some people dark, some “olive”, and others with green-blue eyes and fair hair.
After spending the last 2.5 years around Chinese and Taiwanese people, I’ve become used to their idea of hygiene. This makes Syria a bit shocking. The whole Chinese “never touch your fingers to your mouth when eating” rule is not followed, and cups are as communal as you feel comfortable with. Restaurants often have one cup per table, and it is only washed out as much as each user feels like. Today, on the bus, a boy walked down the asile with a bottle of water and plastic cups. However, he only had five cups, and so, once each person had drunk, he just retook each cup and put it at the bottom of the stack. Either you checked the people five, ten and fifteen seats ahead of you, to see if they looked healthy, un-infective types, or you trusted in the boy’s “put the cup at the bottom” cleaning technique.
From my first week in Syria, I had the feeling that the way to live here is to have a base, a home, where you can cook and store all kinds of bread, vegetables, sauces and dips. The cafes are more for talking and smoking, the fast food places pretty limited – but the grocery shopping is fantastic. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a good place to do that yet. I’m going to visit a monastery tomorrow, as well as a couple of towns in the mountains. Really keen to get a place I can work in, a place that’s quiet and clean and not too expensive, but not sure when I’ll be able to do that.