Tuesday, 22 May 2012

That point between reflection and nostalgia...

We were on our way to Damascus. I had hardly slept the previous night - too busy being enthralled in the old  city of Jerusalem - and getting lost in the process. It also didn't help having excess adrenaline coursing through my veins in anticipation of being shot in the head by one of the many armed Israeli guards at the various checkpoints. I had never felt so alive. And so terrified at the same time.

I spent most of the following day staring out the window, watching the landscape change ever so slightly. Don McLean's Vincent echoed in the distance, with the earphones left abandoned on my shoulders... not something someone in my generation would usually listen to, I heard someone comment. I've always been an old soul - or so I've been told.

And most of the journey was engaged in conversation with an adolescent - trying to use my acquired wisdom to extinguish the flames of his teenage angst. He was a close friend of the family and I was really trying to help him through some of his issues.

Damascus was incredible. Not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but absolutely ethereally beautiful and vibrant - in a way that words fail to describe. It left me perpetually breathless with delight. We walked through the city during the day and trawled through the market places at night.

I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that I was in one of the oldest cities in the world. I kept on trying to envision the city at it's peak - during a time when it flourished and was only second to the once great Babylon.    I had imaginary scenarios playing out in my mind of the people who lived there... the people they loved... the families they had... the lifestyles they led... and I couldn't help feeling envious, desperately wishing I could go back if only for a moment to see it for myself.

On my final evening in the city, days without sufficient sleep had finally caught up with me. After having savoured the midnight air, I retired to my room on the 4th floor without the knowledge that my young friend was in some trouble. He had been involved in a skirmish with a few of the other juvenile delinquents staying at the hotel, and subsequently became quite emotional.

It began on the 2nd floor, some time after midnight...

"Azra... AAZZZRRRAAA... I neeeeed yooouuu... AZRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!, I need youuuuuuuuuu"

Curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, he wailed streetcar-named-desire style for some time. It went on and on until everyone up on the 5th and 6th floors could hear him.

It is perhaps both a combination of my exhaustion, and a gift from God, that I didn't hear him that night. I was both somewhat mortified and hysterical with laughter when I heard a detailed account of the story as it unfolded, the following morning at breakfast. We still  laugh about it today. 

I'd like to thank the Pretzel Thief for her award. I am quite honoured. And I know that she can relate to this story :)


  1. Ooof.

    That sound you just heard?

    Um, yeah, that was the sound of your beautifully-put-together words hitting me SQUARE IN THE GUT. Really, really loved this post and the gorgeous poignancy of it.

    I mean, hell, it simultaneously gives me the warm fuzzies AAAND makes me let out one of those melancholy sighs.


    Heh heh.

    Loved your friend's verklempt (to say the least) state. Poor sod. ;-)

    I'd love to see Damascus one day...and Petra in Jordan, too, not least because "Petra" is a popular and traditional Serbian name (my dad's name was Petar, i.e. English equivalent Peter...Petar is pronounced "Pehh-tahhr").

    Finally, you are most welcome for the award...you're nothing if not deserving of it!


  2. must agree with Pretzel Thief..beautifully written, Azra.

    i would go to Jerusalem some day. my in laws just came back from visiting that area. malaysian passport holders are not allowed entry there though but there's always a way :)

  3. Beautiful description of the city.

    "Combination of my exhaustion, and a gift from God" was hilarious. Very lucky indeed!

    Would have loved to see both of your faces at breakfast the next morning.

  4. Poor kid.

    Glad to know you both could laugh over it at breakfast, though...

  5. Ha no one ever screams outside my window, unless it is to tell me they can see through a gap in my blinds..and ' could i close them thanks'. I liked how you started on the road to damascus and you had a kind of Damascine conversion in a way. It is all about self reflection anyway. I always wanted to see more of that part of the world, i love the food there.

  6. The last time someone screamed outside my window was in college...the serenaded me with a drunken version of "all i want for christmas is you" over and over and over and over again. Then tried to climb into my window.

  7. Wailing streetcar-named-desire style.... That can't be good. Never been to Jerusalem myself. Don't know why. Probably because my list is too long as it is. I like your style, but you knew that already. Didn't know you had to be eithr old or be an old soul to listen to Vincent.

  8. Pretzel Thief
    You should go to Damascus. Although, I don't know if it is still the place I remember it to be since the start of the Arab Spring over a year ago. I've been to Petra too, it's absolutely amazing! Another must-see :)

    It's sad that there are so many conditions to visiting Jerusalem - especially since it's a holy city to most people. Did I mention I had to wait (and be interrogated) at the border for SIX hours before they let us in? Yeah, but it was so worth it :)

    His face was priceless. Such a drama queen - but he has a good humour about it :)

    Tony VH
    It is an incredible place indeed. But like I said to Pretzel Thief, I don't know if it's still that way - considering Assad's assault on all the protesters and the fact that the media hasn't been allowed in the city for a while.

    Terra Shield
    We still laugh about it today too. It was hilarious :)

    I really hope that the region could stabilize (politically) and that there could be some growth there - it's such a fantastic serene place that it would be a pity to be forever marred by instability and violence. I highly recommend visiting anyhow - just make sure you're in a tour group.

    I'm guessing this "someone" must have been drunk to some degree :)

    Well Randy, ask anyone born after 1985 who Don McLean is and I bet you no one would know. I have Mother to thank for Don McLean and John Denver and Barbara Streisand and Engelbert Humperdicnk and Tom Jones and Nana Mouskouri and Demis Roussous and... ;)

  9. six hours ? yikes :)
    but at least it's all worth it.

  10. Don McLean. Who knew. One o the countless reasons I love you to pieces, Azra :-)


  11. Jaya
    Maybe you'll be luckier and won't have to wait at all! :)

    Wow, it's been ages. I know the lyrics to most of Don McLean's songs. Missed you friend :)

    Thanks :)

  12. Sounds like a crazy interesting time!

  13. lelobandito
    It was a great time :) Sad that it seems to be lost to the archives of history - but lovely memories remain.

  14. You somehow end up at the most enchanting locations! I'd Love to travel to Damascus, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Petra... I'm like you, I always envision what a place must have been like centuries ago. I've done this at the Alhambra and well... countless other places. :)
    Haha and your family friend is hilarious! I hope some of your gems of wisdom stayed with him!

  15. Michi
    It's funny how I don't intend on taking these trips. It was never my intention to go to Damascus, but I just ended up there. It would be great if we could travel together to some great place... one day amiga ;)