Strange Damascus Memories


"If you are really a lesbian, proveeeeittt! Kiss me NOW!"

A giggly girl shrieked, rather loudly, flapping her long, luscious hair about as well. She also had the Arabic equivalent of a Valley Girl accent.

In most situations, this might have been a proposition to consider.

Except we were in Syria. And I don't like giggly girls who shriek, anywhere in the world.

I fumbled uncomfortably, and looked at the television with all the men, pretending to have taken a sudden interest in Syrian football.

I really do have the strangest experiences on my travels.

"Wanna see something cool?"

Before I could reply or enquire further, S stepped on the accelerator and brought his little Fiat car across five lanes on the road at a deathly angle, chuckling the way only a Russian-Arab person can in the face of extremities. "Damascus," he proclaimed, "is kind of like a real life Grand Theft Auto." I agreed, once I collected my breath.

Everything he took me to confounded me.

"I have a drive-thru liquor store!" - okay.

We stocked up.

"Let's go drinking and dancing! On the mountain!" - okay.

We went.

We go-karted - drunk. I may have crashed.

His friends pulled out an old Nokia phone packed with classic Syrian tunes. All of them were Russian-Arab, the offspring of the Syrian men and the Russian women they married when they studied in the former Soviet Union. For that moment we all linked arms and fell about our sides laughing as we attempted our best impersonations of Arab Village Dancing.

The next spring some of them would be dead.

Stranger experiences followed me everywhere I went in that country.

I found myself in a farmhouse in the outskirts of Damascus, sitting by a large wooden oven in a garden. It had been purpose-built to cater to the roasting (or proasting) tendencies of the proprietor and his Russian-Arab friends.

My mother made this vodka, someone started, from the potatoes in her backyard. It was delicious.

I cured all of this Baltic herring and other fish myself, another Russian in Damascus announced. It was delicious.

Somewhere between eating cured herring and drinking homemade vodka I found myself in the middle of a large field. When I awoke a middle-aged Russian lady of the cougar variety was hovering over me, massaging my back.

But damn if I knew what she was saying for I had herring on my mind.

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