October 30, 2016
|Old City Street Aleppo, Syria|
It became clear that I was traded for a box of cigarettes. Sure enough, the plan was for Muhammad, the Syrian, to take me to Aleppo. I requested to see his drivers license and then wrote the number and his name on a piece of paper and gave it to the Turkish man. This exchange of licenses was my only protection. 5 hours earlier I had given the Hotel El Ruha’s manager, in SanluUrfa, the taxi driver's license number, when I hired him for the half day trip to the Syrian border. These two pieces of paper would be the only link to my whereabouts if I were to come into any danger. My trust lay with the three men.
Muhammad and I listened to a mix of Turkish and American pop music from his tiny car radio for the hours drive to Kilis, Turkey’s transit city on the Syrian border. Muhammad waited for the one and half hours it took to process me through Immigration and Customs check points. Once cleared, we drove two more hours through miles of barren fields, exhausted after the fall harvest, colored in the monotonous muted browns of late Autumn. Here and there a spindly minaret and a clump of homes formed into distant villages. Eventually the open spaces condensed into the burnished metallics of the industrial towns of Northern Syria. We finally came to a stop at a cul-de-sac just outside of Aleppo's Old City. Muhammad pointed to a narrow alley that apparently lead to the Biet Wakeil, Aleppo’s first boutique hotel, which I had booked from viewing the gorgeous photos of this 16th century mansion. After paying fifty bucks and a small tip for the drive, Muhammad gave me a cheery good bye. I felt a warmth and honesty that was to reflect the Syrian people. Trust in myself and in the goodness of “others” allows me to travel alone, relying on my instincts and non verbal cues.
|Night Market Aleppo, Syria|
The next day, walking through the Al Medina souk, shopkeepers would run up to ask why there were no American’s coming to Syria. This historic souk, one of the oldest and longest covered markets in the world, seemed like a suburban mall, filled with locals, doing their daily shopping, as well as tourists from everywhere, except North America. It was difficult for me to respond honestly, and say our President, George W Bush, had just declared your country part of the “Axis of Evil”. Since, I believe that as a tourist, I am an ambassador for Peace; I told them “oil prices are very high in America, no one could afford to come to Syria.” With sad faces they shrugged their shoulders and accepted my answer as truth.
|Children at the Night Market Aleppo, Syria|
I was that stranger, arriving without an escort or guide and going it alone seemed to be no problem. Habib admonished me of my fears “any local person kidnapping a foreigner will be hung!” His finger looped around his face, as if placing a noose over his neck, his head falling to touch his left shoulder. Looking at me sideways, he said; “They’d be dead, no trial” With Habib’s reassuring demonstration, I felt safe to wander without direction though the puzzling lanes of the Old City. The baker on the corner of Sisi and Al Telal Street and, the Bell Tower of the Forty Martyrs Cathedral became my landmarks so I could find my way back to the Biet Wakiel each night.
|Armenian Orthodox Church at Night Aleppo, Syria|
|Rooftop View Aleppo, Syria|
|Great Mosque Aleppo, Syria|
Today, living in New York, I feel we are all similarly secluded. Like the old and confining alleys of the ancients cites our urban metropolises form similar barricades to the world at large, preventing us from forming omniscient global views to openness and diversity.
To escape the confines of our interior walls, Curiosity and Empathy is the way out!!!!My motto is “Trust is the currency of the Solo Traveler.”
at 5:25 PM
July 25, 2016
Sadly, the UN reported that on July 22, 80 people were killed and 260 wounded by ISIS suicide bombers as thousands of Hazara's marched through the streets of Kabul in protest over a new power line that bypasses their region.
This Central Mountain region is the home to the Hazara minority, who as Shia Muslims, are consistently marginalized by the government in Kabul.
School Begins in a Line Jark, Afghanistan
"The previous Afghan government changed the route in 2013. Protest leaders have said that the rerouting was evidence of bias against the Hazara community, which accounts for up to 15% of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million people. They are considered the poorest of the country’s ethnic groups, and often complain of discrimination. Bamiyan is poverty-stricken, though it is largely peaceful and has potential as a tourist destination." USA Today July 23, 2016
It's been a little over ten years since I descended the scree-covered slopes of the Surb Koh Mountains on horseback. There were no roads leading into the Waras District’s secluded villages, located in southern Bamiyan Province, far away from where the Giant Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban.
Salam Khan Amini's Donkey Dewan Afghanistan
It was June 2005 and I was the first foreigner to reach this remote area, which the Russians could not infiltrate during their Communist invasion.
Tea with Village Elders Dewan, Afghanistan
I will never forget the warm and kind hospitality that I received by the families and local elders in each of the six villages that I visited to set up a schools program for the nonprofit I co-founded. My mission was to bring education and healthcare to the over 2,000 students and 91 teachers who were receiving little assistance from the newly formed Karzai Government.
Teachers Discuss Lack of Pay Dewan, Afghanistan
In their homes, cooking was on done on an open fire; the arduous process of washing clothes was done by hand in running streams. A few had oil driven generators, which provided 2 hours of precious power to charge my laptop and digital cameras. A few satellite phones connected the villagers to the outside world.
at 4:36 PM