26 03 2011

In most of the Middle East, but more often in Egypt, one of the first questions I might get asked is: “What book are you?”. I’ve tried explaining that religion is becoming less important in the West, and that being an Atheist is now an (almost) generally acceptable option. Along with my other answers to questions: “I’m older than thirty”; “I’m not married”; and “No, I have no children” and the quite obvious fact that I’m cycling when I, as a westerner, should be able to afford a car, or at the very least a bus, I’m sure I’m often summed up as simply insane. I’m learning to give answers that are expected and avoid the massive follow-up explanations in sign language.

Maybe I should start saying I’m Catholic. I seem to be feeling guilty.

Most of the guilt comes from wasting precious time: I’ve been in Damascus, on my second visit this trip, for four full days and I’ve barely left the hostel. The day I arrived I visited the Iran Embassy to find out that they couldn’t issue me a visa (come back Sunday), and then yesterday I went out and sedately watched some of the protests / pro-government celebrations (which are being very strangely reported in the world media compared with what I have seen). And that’s pretty much all. I guess it hasn’t helped that the “cold” I developed in Aleppo has migrated into my lungs and I’m gasping for breath after climbing a flight of stairs. I’ve met a few travellers who’ve developed pneumonia in Syria and Lebanon. I hope that’s not what I’ve got, or it eventually goes away by itself, and I’ll be right to ride off when I get this visa!

And I guess I aught to feel guilty about my dinner tonight. Chicken Shwarma followed by an ice cream from Bakdash, an ice cream shop somewhat famous in the region for it’s pistachio covered vanilla ice cream. The ice cream was good, so I wandered back to the hostel, gathered some support, and went back for another. I might even go again tomorrow (although I’m not quite as keen as my room mate who was serious about going for an ice cream breakfast until he found that they opened at 11am).

In Aleppo I was unstoppable. They have many, many different types of sweets,and for some reason I had a large sweet tooth when I was there. The best was a sugary, pistachio filled roll thingy (which was divine although you wouldn’t want to have too much of it, lest your teeth fall out on the spot). But the most consumed was some largish coconut flavoured soft biscuits, which I’ve been calling macaroons, incredibly sweet, reasonably cheap, available everywhere and stupidly addictive. If I go back, I know what I’ll be eating. Damascus: Ice cream. Aleppo: Macaroons. And there is much more of this to experiment with in the next few thousand kilometres…


Sorry, no photos. Internet too slow for that.



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