‘The French Revolution started in an El Nino year,’ as the geography kids at uni pointed out to annoy the politics students, and for the whole time I’ve been in Damascus the weather has been wrong. Autumn was too hot and too dry, now the weather is just crazy. While mosquitoes are heralding the arrival of summer, midnight saw a friend and I sitting on his balcony in tee shirts watching the rain. ‘It is a blessing from God on the people of Darra’ someone told me yesterday. Last Friday (the 29th) there was a major storm in Damascus, with hail and thunder. I can’t help thinking this helps explain why it was a bit quieter than the one before.
The weather, The Situation and the filming have all impacted on the recent big event in my life; I had four of my friends here to visit. Needless to say we had an amazing time and in true ‘friend kitties’ style we packed in way more than was humanly possible. A highlight was, as always Palmyra. My guests and I played ‘spot the Bagdad road sign’ en route, but we soon spotted more than that.
‘Look, look. Men with guns. Do you think it’s because of the situation?’
‘Narr,’ I said, doing my best experienced, expat twat impression. ‘There’s nothing unusual about men with AKs, ahlan w sahlan.’
Soon though I really looked a twat as we were stopped, not only by the ubiquitous men with guns, but by a jeep with a roof mounted gun dangling cartridge belts. This kind of weaponry is not normal and a quarter of the bus pressed over to see it.
Eventually we arrived. The ruins spread across the desert next to the modern city, Tadmor, overlooked by an Arab castle perched on an extinct volcano. That castle is exactly where we found ourselves after midday prayers on Friday the 22nd. One of my friends had conveniently won a pair of binoculars, through which we had an excellent view of a disturbance in town. There were lots of men (the numbers fluctuated) outside a mosque and cars parked in the middle of the road every ten meters or so along the street. Having seen people being kettled in a mosque in Damascus I’m almost certain what we saw from the castle was a mosque where people had planned to protest being stopped from leaving. Certainly in Damascus which mosques have the potential to be trouble epicentres are known by both wanna be protesters and security. These mosques have undercover men at prayer and outside them, just in case. It seems reasonable to assume that Tadmor is the same. I know that I witnessed people being kettled in Damascus for a fact. I knew the guy who organised the protest, I know he disappeared for a week and a half, and that reappeared vowing never to do anything similar again.
That evening we picnicked among the ruins, watching the (impressive) lightning from a distant storm. We were accosted by a couple of Bedouin who insisted teaching my friends Dabke, a traditional kind of dance. Phones that make music are a public menace, I’m telling you. They particularly enjoyed music with pro government lyrics, and then showed us pictures of cute babies, including the president’s kids! I challenge you to find two early twenties British males with photos of random children on their phones, but there are certainly genuine supporters of the government in Syria.
That evening the atmosphere in town was tense, to say the least. We checked the news and while friends in the capital (which was practically locked down according to them) later told me they’d heard rumours of trouble in Tadmor the Al Jazeera blog hadn’t got anything about it. Some backpackers (who I took an Instant, but rational dislike of. Despite being Aussies they used the French and Italian names for Damascus, rather than the English or Arabic) told us that they’d seen something on Thursday, which also didn’t make the news.
The film crew eventually hunted me down to Tadmor, and taxied all 5 of us to Aleppo. If anyone ever offers you a part, big or small, in an Arabic series, just say no. I think that’s quite enough for one post.
No one can get that worked up about Osama Bin Ladin’s death. The general consensus is that he became an irrelevance years ago, possibly on 9:12.