It's all About the People You Meet

Young boys selling laurel in the mountains, Syria
For all the wonder of Roman sites, mosques, souks, churches and citadels what really made our trip were the people we met. I've already raved about Adbul, who helped drive us through Syria, the wonderful family of Abu Omar,  and the great people at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

The Middle East is justly famous for its hospitality and we found people gracious, welcoming and warm. In Damascus a chap at the table next to us, who was enjoying a Mother's Day lunch with his wife and family, insisted we take his cell phone number in case we needed his help. Syrians were constantly asking our opinion about their country and were very concerned that were were enjoying ourselves. We experienced the same welcome in Armenia and Iran, and it made me think I how how little concern we show for the tourists that come to the UK or the US.

Here are some of the faces we'll remember.
We bought the most astonishingly fragrant laurel from these young boys. They waved us down from the side of the road, reminding me of the children in rural Armenia who sold us bunches of wild flowers. The smell was fantastic and as we were heading to the Roman ruins at Apamea, all I could think of was the famous crown of laurel worn by Julius Caesar. The smell felt like a visceral link to the past.

Syrian tourists at Apamea
In Syria, as in so many other places, local tourist love to have foreigners in their family snaps. Here I am posing with a family in Apamea! I could make an entire album of me posing with strangers in places like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and India.

We bought honey at this herbal medicine shop in Aleppo

In Aleppo we were lucky enough to run into this retired science teacher  and his son who runs this herbal medicine shop. Although he rarely come into the shop, he happened to be there when we walked in to buy some honey. We spoke at length about  the educational system in Syria and the limited opportunities for  young graduates including his son. 

At Zaki's home in Madaba, Jordan

Serendipity - how else could I describe our encounter with Zaki? We arrived in Madaba with no idea where to go, and parked only because we seemed to be driving in circles! As we parked, we met a Belgian group who offered some vague directions and while  deciding where to go Zaki appeared with his shopping under one arm. Incredibly he lived in San Francisco for more than thirty years and returns regularly. When he heard we were from the Bay Area, he insisted on showing us around town. 

We went everywhere, seeing all of the famous mosaics. Everywhere we walked people called out to Zaki, asking who his friends were. He couldn't believe we were staying in a hotel and wanted to put us up in an empty apartment he owns! His hospitality was extraordinary. We went out for a lovely meal together and chatted about his family, the history of the Christian community in Madaba, his sister who is a nun in Bethlehem and even watched a video of his daughter's wedding at the airport Holiday Inn in San Francisco! What a character, we're hoping to reconnect now he's back in California.