Iranians vs Israelians.

If Amal had been born in another world she’d have been an academic. Her passion is comparative religion, she enjoys explaining varios islamic belifes to me, espechialy how Islam and Cristianity are related.

In the Middle East the easyist way to lern about ‘christianity’ is to tune into a TV evangalist, which worries me. Dialog and mutual understanding are key to everting osama & Huntingdons ‘clash of civilizations,’ and Benny Hinn representing Christianity is about as helpfull as the nine:11 bombers representing Islam.

Amal however looks beyomd these sorces. She becomes verry aminated & waves her hands untill she’s finished her point. Listening to her is pretty much how I imagine listening to me on Middle Eastern politics is. And Middle Eastern politics being what it is a conversation (all right, monolog) about religion can turn into one about politics pretty quickly.

Armajinidad is not populer in our house. every time he comes on TV people hiss, and explaine in arabic that he is a bad muslum and a worse person.

‘He is crazy,’ Amal sighs. ‘I hate the Iranians more than the Israelians*’

She then explains that A) she dosn’t hate Jews, she’d rather be a good Jew tthan a bad Muslum, B) tha this got her into trouble at work, but she got out of it by convincing people she was right, C) that she feels verry sory for the poor Israelians, having such a terrable government, D) shes particually sorry for the Israelians who were born theire, and belong to a land that theire parents and grandparents stole. they’ll have to stay, and its verry complicated, F) she feels verry sorry for about half of Iranians, having Armajinidad (do I have such an alphabet of explanations?)

I told her about ‘That bloody Gol woman,’ who spoilt my last term at uni with her insitance that Iran was a democracy.

‘This woman is an idiot. I hope the americans bomb Armajinidad & his reactor’

‘If the Americans invaded Iran, would you think that was a good thing?’

Amal explains why she thinks Iran shouldn’t become a nuculer power. Its not an anti islamic thing to think, Parkistan have nukes, and thats fine, but Armajinidad is crazy, and would wipe out the Israelians.

We agree dropping nuculer bombs on Israel just isn’t cricket.

‘But if the americans invaded Iran, would you think that was a good thing?’

‘Yes,’ she replies, before darting to the safty of religion.


**Its pretty much imposible to explain how much I love the word ‘Israelians.’

I’ve got Ham but I’m not a hamster

The otherday a man tryed to seduce me. He did quite a good job, in that I was talking to him. As I wondered how to get out of my predicament he asked me what my degree was in.

‘International politics’ I replyed whearily.

He glared at me, as if though I’d leured him into talking to me under false pretences.

‘Everyone knows politics students don’t like men,’ he spat, and stalked off.


In the old city the streets are narrow. people have trained jasmine and vines along wires so they grow from one side of the road to the other, shading the path below. Lots of the shops have caged birds hanging outside them, theire song mixing with the street sellers crys. One idiosyncratic shop has a cage with two Syrian Hamsters hung outside it instead. No one seems to have told them that they are supposed to fight to the death and then eat each other.

I can’t think of a witty title.


Yesterday I visited the Umayyad mosque. Not only is it Islams third most important site (according to the Syrians. The Tunisians claim that they have the third holiest mosque, and this is only the fourth most important) but it is also its most beautiful. While Palestinians claim that  al-Asqa, as the Dome of the Rock is known to right on Interpol students, is superior I have to disagree with them. The courtyard of the Umayyad mosque isn’t as calm as that of its rival in Jerusalem, but I like watching local children running riot, it’s better proportioned and somehow just as peaceful. Although only a fraction now remains, the mosaic houses and river on a gold background that cover most of two walls are stunning, as is the inlaid marble.

You can also go inside, and aren’t herded around by gun-toting Israelis, a bonus from a tourist perspective.   

It was formally the cathedral of John the Baptist, whose head is buried in it (as well as in Aleppo and Venice). before that it was the temple of Jupiter, who’d usurped Haddad. I can’t remember which deity he replaced. Colin Thurobond (spelt wrong) reports that various christian icons protected the sanctuary from vermin, and no rats or birds went anywhere near it. unfortunately these were destroyed in the series of fires that decimated the mosaics, meaning that it was possible for me to stand in bird poo as I walked towards the inside, which I duly did. What exactly does etiquette demand in these situations? clearly putting my shoes back on it out, but trampling it into the carpets or scrapping it off on the marble also both feel a bit disrespectful. luckily father christmas had given me some berry-scented wet wipes which I could whip out of my bag.

The inside sores on well preserved roman pillars topped with acanthus leaves, and is decorated with beautiful Mirabs, but I’m getting bored of describing the mosque.

The way home was crawling with traffic police. I managed to negotiate them and regain the flat in time to watch a parade, complete with fire, as part of a children’s festival from the balcony. It disappeared into the Tisheen sports complex and we disappeared into the flat to watch the next bit on TV. This involved a Mongolian boy who had apparently stared in a prime time Ramadan series clutching a flaming torch and riding a life-size modal horse as it was pulled through the sky from one side of the stadium to the other. the modal horse was in a standing position, making this even more serial than it would have been otherwise. the boy set fire to a beacon on the stadium roof and specially trained children erupted into song and dance. The president’s wife, who’s british and was in the audience, particularly enjoyed the singing. It ended in a burst of fireworks and the family males, who were all round to ‘help’ with the redecorating of the flat, and I all ran on to the roof to watch them.

The presence of the presidents wife at the event inspired the family males to explain politics. apparently the president has ernt the respect of his people by always stopping for red lights. As a student he even parked his car and walked around campus. Traffic safety seems to be his big thing, prehaps because his brother died in a road accident. He has arranged it so traffic police control traffic at all major junctions, though even so low ranking military officers consider themselves exempt, endangering the lives of heroic traffic police (it was me that decided they were heroic). He is also keen to rework crossroads, as these are particularly problematic. his efforts seem relatively successful, with almost all motorbikes adhering to the convention of driving on the right, and only a minority of taxi drivers taking a shortcut by mounting the kerb outside my house to do a u-turn.

asalam alacum

I’m finaly hear. Today is the first day that the weather has been normal; untill now its been 5 degrees higher than the standerd mid september temriture of 30 degrees.

I’m not having a particually great time, and I dont see why I should pretend that queing, filling in forms in triplcate, drinking endless cups of verry sweet tea (the idea of ‘no suger’ is foreign to Syria, although I know the arabic  that is suposed to mean ‘no suger’ it actualy means ‘less suger’) and being told that I am in the wrong que is my idea of fun. besides no one would belive me if I did. A huge amount of effort, sign language and mutual uncomprehencion are having a small, but definite, effect on the  paper based obstical course between me and the start of term.

On the plus side the people who I live with are very nice, though this means a lot of sitting around smiling at each other when it would be so much easyer to curl up, ignore them and read a book. I have had the difference between omlet and boiled egg explained to me repeatedly, in a veriaty of languages. Did I mention I  pretty much never have a clue what is going on? I’m sure I’m suposed to do something with the knowlage that a boiled egg is, well a boiled egg while an omlet is an omlet, I’m just not sure what. Ideas?

I thought I was getting a mother, a year seven kid and a primary school one, not two daughters in theire mid and late 30s respectivly, but no matter. They are falling over themselves to help me with arabic (I’m getting pretty good at the alphabet), but the trade off is a massive reduction in the freadom I’m used to. The elder daughter Amal (which means ‘hope’ though is also the name of a malitia that figured promently in the early days of the Lebanease civel war) speeks good english, but I have to consentrate alot. needless to say the things i know about Syrian history are irrelevent, and it apears my knowlage of american boy bands is sadly lacking. aparently Syria dosn’t put on its shades and get into its ride with Justian Derulio, and the Klaxons havn’t released a disapointing second album, they havn’t released one at all. More abut her another time

I think I live in a predomently Shia area, as the roads are all named after leading Lebanease or Iranian Shias. It seams to be pretty up and coming (aparently the street lights cost 2 and half thousand dollers each), though yesterday I got lost and wandered around in a mudbrick shanty town with lots of cows. I quite enjoyed that.

I think I need to go do boring stuff now.


PS. I am sorry abvout the spelling, the efort of spell checking it apears to be breaking the internet, so I hope you can deal with it.

Good bye to all that

On Saturday I went on my last caving trip for a while. Rich, Henry and I became the 15th group this century  to visit the Geryon, at the arse end of Draenen.

Needless to say, this is a Henry photo. It looks better in real life, as does Rich.

As a result of a slight navigational error (I kept on saying it was too crap to possibly be the way on, but as I’d not read the description I can’t blame Henry for ignoring me) we also explored a chunk of Luck of the Draw. This, combined with ogling the fantastic formations at the start of Luck of the Draw, Henry’s artistic ambitions and a slower pace on the way out (what can I say? The Last Sandwich, 23minutes of crawling on the way in, will eventually kill me on the way out) resulted in a 12 hour trip.

We had also rescued a really skanky sheep that had got itself caught, dangling from the hind leg, in wire. It then insisted in falling into streams and lying on its back. Eventually in frustration we got the farmer to deal with it. All in all a long day.

We had a good time caving and chatting away and although I’m really excited about living in Syria and studying Arabic I’m far sadder to be leaving Wales than Graves was leaving France or Boars Hill.