Halab, land of milk

Rami, Sophia and I took the train to Halab, Aleppo in English, because Sophia likes the romance and Rami hadn’t ever been on one. Although ‘No’ plays a pretty small role in Ramis vocabulary I think he’d of vetoed it if he had any idea how shit the train to Helab is. Still, I got lots of help with my Arabic on route.

We had a good time, but you can get a description of the citedell out the guidebook; I think relating the bad side of our trip is more interesting, besides showing a thoroughly shit and unexpected side to Syria.

At the hostel Sophia found it hard to believe that the man couldn’t speak English, I see her point, but Rami and I both believe his English genuinely wasn’t functional. She also had a hard time believing they wouldn’t give her the price quoted in her guide book. I was tiered, hungry and annoyed, Rami translated, hard work. I reckoned he was putting a lot into the negotiations. the was lots of eye contact and ‘habibies, in the protracted conversation, but I didn’t feel they were having a friendly chat. The management asked Rami if he was Muslim, and instead of admitting hes Druze he said he was a Christian. Sophias staying longer in Aleppo than me and Rami so she wanted to keep the room at a third of the price and just didn’t understand it doesn’t, and wasn’t going to, work like that. Eventually the hotel man asked Rami where he’d lernt his Arabic, it was really good Ameya for a foreigner. Rami looked bemused and said he was Syrian.

Game over.

Rami translated, looking slightly to the left of Sophia as he said

‘Because, I’m a Syrian man,’ then laughed a little, brave, but unsure laugh. ‘I’m not aloud to stay with you unless we’re married.’ Apparently its the law. I said the law was unjust. Sophia wanted the rational behind it explained. I looked at Rami, Rami looked into the middle distance and said something along the lines of ‘I hate all this traditions.’ Sophia wouldn’t let it drop, but the hotel man, who was now eying Sophia and me appreciatively, cut her out and talked to Rami, who wasn’t engaging with Sophias questioning. He recommended a hotel around the corner that might let us stay together, but did say they could bend the rules and let Rami have a privet room, though obviously this would be more expensive than shareing. As we entered the recommended ‘hotel’ a bevy of practically naked young women poured out. Sophia vetoed it on the spot, I don’t think she understood that it was because it was a brothel that Rami might be allowed to sleep with us. We tried a whole lot more hotels but they either wouldn’t let Rami stay at all or were more expensive than the first hotel, where we ended up, inevitably I thought.

It was now closer to midnight than 11. We unanimously agreed to get something to eat and pick up some  wine to drink in the hotel. I’d payed for the food, Rami had payed for the taxi and the two of us had split the cost of the wine. Sophia had been smoking Ramis fags all day, which pisses me off. Hes not some French guy that can afforded to subsidize girls, and in Syria you are less of a man if you are nkheel, stingy. Its not fun being the poorest anywhere, but you loose face by not paying hear. Rami will never say no if hes asked something, so you need to be careful what you ask. Breath, I thought. Paul pointed some of this out to me.

Rami went to do something and Sophia asked me what my problem was. My problem was that while none of us had had a particularly great evening Rami wasn’t going to get on a plane and leave it all behind. I thought Sophia was making it harder, rather than eisyer, for Rami to deal with it. Needless to point out she didn’t see it like that, but at that point Rami returned, cutting the argument short. He warned Sophia to be careful about the hotel man, who’d apparently been asking questions about us. Sophia wanted to know what Rami meant. I knew exactly what he meant. Rami didn’t want to give Sophia a straight answer and she chased for one.

‘Basicly he thinks we’re a pair of sluts.’ I interrupted. Sophia started saying something pretty aggressive to me.

Rami looked at me, I shut my eyes and said, slowly and diplomatically.

‘We’ve done something quite unusual by turning up with a Syrian man, and the hotel man, thinks we might do other, unusual things. While the are lots of great things about Syria’

‘For you, yeah, cus your foreign, but the are more bad things than good.’

‘the are bad things to, and sometimes, the bad stuff taints the relationship between the three of us. you know this word ‘taint’?’

‘in this context maybe.’

‘Shoo yarny taint?’

‘Basically, we are too cool for Aleppo, the problem isn’t any of us, its shit, its really shit, but we win by not getting bothered by it. lets. just. chill.’

So we did. we relaxed and genuinely enjoyed ourselves, finding peace with each other although Rami had a slight edge all night. I dropped something and said ‘motherfucker,’ because I was thinking about Paul. This word is as an essential a Paul accessory as a glass of Arak and a packet of Gillouse. Rami, who has herd Paul say it a million times, asked me exactly what I meant. Was I accusing him of being a motherfucker?

He fixed Sophias lighter and didn’t see being a nation of excellent bush mechanics as a plus for Syria. He just wanted stuff to work.

‘Ahh but Rami, when the oil runs out, when nothing works anymore, Europeans will die,’ I said

‘So will the Saudis,’ he replied with a savage laugh. While observant Muslims love them, the rest of Syria hates the Saudis. We beat them in the Asia cup the other day, ecstatic just about sums it up*.

The next day we went to the citeadel, which we all really enjoyed.I do see that Ramis pretty pale and Sophia pretty dark

‘The book says its 150 each,’ Sophia said heading to the ticket office. Rami and I stood, looking at the sign.

‘Not for me. 15 lira. I’m a Syrian man,’ Rami laughed.
If your reading this you can’t have failed to notice that this entry has photos, all courtesy of Ramy. We’ve wipped out our USBs, an essential bit of Syria servival kit, and had a bit of a copy left session. I’ve  put some of Sophias photos into some old entry’s, mainly the Maoula one.

* Syria won theire opening game against KSA, who’ve played in every single final of the Asia cup. Then Japan were awarded a crucial and underseved penelty and beet Syria. We were one nill up against Jordan when a clumsy header ended in an own goal, in a game we lost 2-1. Syrias just a bit English about these things.

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Author: adventuresinarabic

I'm studying Arabic in Damascus, living through the Arab Spring and blogging about my experiences hear.

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