January 25, 2008


East Gate Old Souk Aleppo, Syria

Trust is the currency of the solo traveler, being a woman the exchange rate is high. From the taxi driver's obligation to deliver me to the correct address, to the expert guide knowing the correct facts, I assume that people are going to fulfill their promises. Sometimes, I may pay a premium, but when arranging a car and driver to take me to the Syrian border I did not mind the added expense. I understood that once dropped off in Kilis, I may have to wait several minutes to an hour for a border car to take me to Syria. So I had arranged with the Turkish driver to wait with me until I was placed into the other car.

We left Sanliurfa early enough in the morning to see the sun rising above the desert and I settled into the backseat for the 2 hour ride, munching my croissant, which I had grabbed, along with a tea, from the hotel's enormous breakfast buffet. Soon, I found myself gazing out the window imagining what it would be like to live in the newly developing suburbs that were sprouting everywhere on the barren chalky landscape. We were speeding farther away from Sanliurfa. Heading north- west to Kilis, the infamous Turkish/Syrian border city. I learned, while blogging the night before, Kilis was one of the contraband capitals of Middle East. I was excited to see what the place was like.

Unexpectedly, about 30 kilometers from Kilis, the taxi lurched forward. Just as I was mentally preparing for my upcoming performance with the border police the Turkish driver accelerated and nosed up alongside a car with Syrian license plates. He motioned to the bewildered driver to pull over to the side of the road. At the same time, in a convolution of Turkish and English, he explained to me that this quy in the next car would take me across the border. Startled, I asked him if he had prearranged this remarkably accurate highway meeting, but he shook his head no, gesturing to the Syrian license plates, which somehow meant it would be fine. Both cars slid on the soft shoulder, coming to a stop in the middle of nowhere surrounded by the nothingness of empty gray dirt.

The two men got out of their cars and from my perch in the back seat I watched them negotiate my transport. It was amazing to observe their body language, enacting the exchange with grand arm movements and lots of pointing. Suddenly, their body swaying slowed and they walked over to my side of the car in time for me to greet them. Having decided what my potential kidnapping would cost, I offered $50.00US and not a cent more to take me to Aleppo. Eventually the Syrian agreed and the two drivers were chatting away like old friends while reaching into the trunk for my luggage. It was then I saw the exchange of the forbidden contraband; 2 cartons of cigarettes disappeared into the Turkish taxi driver’s coat pockets. As they shook hands, joking and fluffing their feathers over their good fortune, I insisted that the round Syrian man show me his identification. His pointy face and tiny neck gave him the appearance of a big belly rooster, but his eyes were happy and kind and they matched the ones in his passport photo.

Feeling confident but suspicious, I exchanged numbers with the Turkish taxi driver and sped down the freeway with the chain-smoking rooster named Abdullah Mohamed. He made up for the choking air by playing good Arabic music and driving
so fast that we were at the border in no time, or so I thought. Parking the car, he escorted me into a low-rise building. A bored looking man was slouched in his chair fiddling with his mouse and laptop. At the back, a tallish man was officiating from behind a giant table, yelling to me to hand my passport to the man at the door. Then, suddenly Abdullah dashed out the door like a chicken with his head cut off, waiving he would return in 15 minutes. I watched him get in his car, make a U turn, speeding away with my luggage still in the trunk. Never mind the clothes, he had my camera bag; with the cameras, lens and laptop and all the CD's I burned of the only images from the journey.

I began to pray to God, Allah, Buddha mixing up the Shema and Oh Mani Pani Hun and the Ana Becoach, till I slowly settled my breath and assessed my situation. The men around me looked pleasant enough; happily shushing my fears, telling me not worry. “If that wasn't a red flag,” I thought to myself. Then, I focused more clearly on the steady stream of innocent looking men and boys coming and going. I concluded that; 'if they were planning to kidnap me they would have been more discreet." There after, I turned down the handsome young man’s offers for more tea and began to shift my worry to another issue. “If I drank any more tea, I will never make it through the customs and immigrations, let alone the hour drive to Aleppo.” Now, I was praying for Abdullah to hurry back for a whole other reason. My prayers were answered, and he rushed me through the border checkpoints and immigration controls like a pro. I was processed, stamped and spit out on the Syrian side within an hour and soon enough I arrived in Aleppo.
I was living my mission and feeling overjoyed; thankful for the goodness in people and knowing that along with Trust is Faith.

January 1, 2008

Peace Park Ceremony

As the emissary for the International Institute for Peaceful Tourism’s Peace Park Project I had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Sanliurfa, Dr. Fakibaba, when I attended the tree planting ceremony commemorating the new park and to encourage community involvement in the environment.
It was an honor and a privilege to spend time after the ceremony in his office over Turkish coffee and delicious baklava. I spoke with the forward thinking mayor of his vision for the future for his beloved 4,000 year old city and the important role it has played throughout the centuries to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Earlier, when entering the city from the west where there was once arid desert it now blooms with cotton fields spreading to the horizon bringing much needed resources for the Turks, Kurds and Arabs families that make up Sanliurfa’s colorful population.

Mt. Ararat

Marla Mossman

My photo
One woman traveling alone, in search of her religious and cultural heritage.