Allah (God), Syria (our Country), Bashar..........

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Syria  ,
Sunday, March 27, 2011

It probably would have been more prudent to just leave Syria straightaway. There have been more protests and deaths in the town of Dara'a in the south and increased tensions in other cities (most of which we have already visited). The news reports are not encouraging, our government has asked us to reconsider our need to travel and we've now seen rallies in three of the last towns we have visited. But we feel safe, there have been no reports of trouble in Damascus and we were itching to return to it. It’s an amazing place, the people are lovely and we were craving one more look around the souqs.

After two weeks away it seemed that nothing much had changed in Damascus. Everyone’s going about their daily business, there are just as many traders on the streets selling everything under the sun, the roads are just as chaotic and the people are just as friendly, generous and reassuring.

The only change we note is that of a new or perhaps dormant industry that has emerged overnight. A legitimate passion or a propaganda machine I am not sure, but every available space on the street has become a dedicated promotional outlet for flags and hats in the colours of the country and banners, car decals and posters displaying pictures of the president in any number of different poses. Some show him as the tough guy in military attire with dark shades while others show the softer side…..the people’s man, waving to the crowd or spending time with family. Every shop, home and business has a picture of Bashar in the front window now. His image is forever burned into our brains. But surely this instant passion for the President seems a little false, a little bit over-enthusiastic....?

We hadn't heard talk of any form of rally occurring in Damascus so we were a little alarmed to be woken yesterday morning (Tuesday) by the sounds of chanting in the streets and the thud, thud, thud of a military helicopter overhead. I have never seen Alex awake so quickly. In my head I was picturing a small gathering of people walking the streets chanting and displaying the national colors as we had seen from our hotel in Lattakia a week earlier.

When I asked the hotel manager what was happening, she smiled and reassured me that everything is fine….."The people on the streets are celebrating our president.”

To a familiar rhythm of Together, United, We’ll never be defeated, possibly 100,000 men women and children chanted "Allah (God), Syrie (Syria), Bashar (The President) is all we ask!” The numbers of people grew as the day went on, a palpable excitement was in the air. The helicopters were filming the crowds and broadcasting to state television. Everytime they flew over the crowds would cheer loudly. The chanting continued and could be heard all over the city. People who couldn't join the main parade would stage their own mini version down the main street of the souk. As far as we know there was no violence in Damascus yesterday, but we were still uneasy. All day long we had listened to the chant about Allah and Bashar. It just didn't seem right to be equating the country's president with God. Did people really believe this....?

In our time in Syria we never actually saw a protest. We saw a lot of pro-government rallies and heard a lot of theories as to who had organised them and why people attended. We also spoke to some travellers who had seen a couple of attempted protests in Damascus which were shut down almost straightaway by police. We saw a police presence everywhere we went, on every street corner and at all major buildings. We heard a lot of talk about secret police, apparently a fact of everyday life in Syria. We checked the international news sites every day for updates on Syria. We felt a little unsettled at times, but at no point did we ever feel unsafe. It was interesting to see what was being reported on Al Jazeera and how different this was to our experience. It is difficult for us to comment on the protests as we have not really gained much understanding of them. We will continue to follow what is happening in the country, but will remember Syria for the amazing people we have met and the great experiences we had there everyday.

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Mos and Wos on

Hi Al and Jason,
I was asking Loz if she'd heard from you and she posted me your blog. So interesting for both of you. Travelling is better than working, isn't it. Hope you don't mind me reading it, but Jane read L and P's.
All well at this end, we hope. W and I off to Russian Arctic in August with Marg and Geoff; an ice-strengthened Russian vessel but fortunately for us the chefs are NZ and Oz. Should be interesting. They may slide me over the side with seasickness. I hope it won't be too rough and that we see polar bear cubs; I'll be happy.

Lots of love to you both.
Mos and Wos xx

Loz on

Good work Mos and Woz

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