|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.”