Lucky and Grateful for Past Travels
Thinking of our 2011 trip to Eastern Turkey and Syria just before war, here is a link to a PBS article on where to send donations for earthquake survivors: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/how-to-help-victims-of-the-7-8-earthquake-in-turkey-and-syria
We crossed the border from Turkey into Syria at the Cilvegozu Gate at the Bab Alhawa Border. The first UN convoy of supplies for the earthquake survivors went through this gate https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/un-s-first-convoy-of-aid-dispatched-from-turkey-to-quake-hit-syria-123021000051_1.html
Perched in sunshine on cement curbs in the parking lot of Syrian Customs waiting for our passports to be stamped and returned, we imagined all kinds of snags and snafus that might prevent our entry but never thought of an earthquake. Finally, we returned to the bus and drove on to lovely, creamy Aleppo where we stayed in an old refurbished house, Beit Salaheieh, entered through a pair of tall golden doors into the pool-centered leafy courtyard reception area and up winding stairs to our luxurious rooms. We were hosted by a friendly, enthusiastic young couple and wonder about them now.
My heart is sad at the disaster for Turkey and for Syria's and the shocking death tolls. We were treated with such warmth and respect everywhere we went. Our special memories are altered by this added devastation to a war-torn country.
Here is what I wrote about that Aleppo trip, published in the now defunct site, theexpeditioner.com, my first publication.
Syrian Holiday "Please give all of your passports to me!" Meli collected them and marched purposefully into the Syrian border station while we hovered in the sunny, treeless parking lot trying not to look too American. We had our visas but we were nervous. Our Turkish van and driver had returned to Turkey and we were not yet okayed to enter Syria or meet our Syrian guide. The minutes dragged as we tried to spy Meli through the shaded windows. Would they be more responsive to a Muslim guide from Turkey than to American heathens? Might they send us back? Jail us? We chuckled nervously about how much better our memoirs would be if they included time spent imprisoned in Syria. It was April of 2011 and our group had been reduced in size as people canceled. State Department warnings said they could no longer guarantee our safety in a country on the verge of war. The Canadians dropped out. But when Mark responded "I'm in" to Meli's email, we each fired back "Me, too" and the trip was on. Finally, Meli came out with the appropriate stamps and our eight passports. We met our gracious Syrian guide, Aiman, and our new driver, Mohammed. We piled into the van and headed for Aleppo, stopping to see the Havva gate to the country abutting the old Roman road and we strolled along the weathered blocks as though we were pilgrims from a thousand years ago. Our next stop, surprising us, was to a cathedral an hour northwest of Aleppo: St Simon Monastery was named after the hermit Saint Simon (Sam'an), a shepherd from northern Syria, who became a monk after a revelation in a dream. Following Saint Simon's death in 459, the Emperor Zenon ordered that a cathedral be built where the saint used to pray. We settled for our first night in Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, where we are lodged in one of the old 15th C. houses in the old quarter of the city where every inch of the brass-doored structure is tiled or elaborately carved wood and the bathtubs are carved of marbled stone. From the terrace, we could see the Citadel steps away. Is the house still there? It is #2 on Trip Advisor although the recommendations date from 2011 which is a jarring salute to the times we live in, the way things linger on the internet. How many of Halep's four million inhabitants are still there? The citadel comprises aspects of a complete city, including moat, drawbridge, market, harem, bath-houses, amphitheater and mosque. Over the entrance is a writhing serpent, meant as a warning to anyone who might wish to storm the citadel that their way will be difficult. The group was besieged by many charming schoolchildren who wished to be friendly, say hello, and get their photographs taken. The children kissed us all and said, "I love you". The locals were up at the view point at the top of the citadel. we noticed that ladies were enjoying the nargile or water pipe as much as the men did. On a visit to the Aleppo Soap Factory, we learned the various aspects of the famous Aleppo soap, which is made with olive oil and laurel. The sign of a high quality soap is the appearance of lighter on the outside and darker in the middle. The soap is shipped all over the world, the French importing the most. We also visited the Bimeristan - the 12th Century hospital. music and water were used as therapy. Our guide, Aiman, informed us that the building originally housed the mentally sick, who were tended to with a degree of humanity unknown in Europe in those times. Lunch was eaten on the outskirts of town at the Bawabet Alshahbaa Restaurant. The food comprised many dishes and salads, and the most distinguishing feature of the restaurant was its loud (some might say intrusive) fountain. After the huge lunch, we made a visit to the Great Mosque, which reputedly contains an organ of Zakirya the Prophet (father of John the Baptist), and consequently many pilgrims come to pray there. We had to wear the niqabs or head coverings down to our waists which also covered our hands and included ankle-length skirts, too. We looked like moon babies in our white with pastel flowered light flannel-feel coverings. We took our shoes off before we entered the court yard which looked like a park. Kids were running around. elder women and men were sitting in the shade. some women were washing - ablution - before their prayer. In the mosque, some were reading the Koran, and others were sleeping, a contrast to the hectic life out in the streets.