It was one of those biting cold Damascus winter mornings, it had been snowing and the streets were sluiced in slush, I had been living in Mohajarin on the slopes of Jebal Qasioun, I splashed in and out of the dirty puddles as I trudged down the towards the Citadel and the Old city, I think it’s fair to say Damascus doesn’t cope well with the winters, however short and neither do I.
I clambered and cursed my way over the flooded footbridge and elbowed my way through Souk al Haramia, slipping and sliding past the fish market into Malik Feisal street, I made this walk often enough and on a better day would enjoy the drama of a bustling downtown going about its myriad business, my camera bag was weighing on my shoulders by now and I was late for my assignment, was it a Monday morning-or at least it feels like one.
I made my way along Malik Feisal Street past the sorbia sellers and tin smiths, the street clogged with traffic and the pavement cluttered, a man came towards me, middle aged and wearing a heavy trench coat, the collar turned up as feeble protection against the cold, he asked me the time in Arabic and after a swift glance at my watch I replied also in Arabic, ah English he said, in English, my Arabic clearly not fooling anyone, this really wasn’t the moment to stand in the street and make new friends, I answered his questions as I continued to walk, without invitation or the slightest encouragement he changed his direction and walked along side me, he peppered me with the usual questions, my answers mono symbolic, I stepped up the pace a little and he shuffled after me, I lost track of his rambling but got the distinct impression he had some agenda, he kept mentioning a woman in his house, it all really made no sense and when I arrived at the turning into the Old City I stopped suddenly, shook his hand and bid him farewell.
He didn’t take the hint and continued to tug at my sleeve and patience, as we walked through the souk the streets became less crowded, he was mumbling now but there was a recurring mention of fruit and sexual metaphor, namely a banana, his English now also beginning to falter, he seemed slightly nervous, I tried once again to explain I really was busy and tried to left him standing outside a shop selling spanners, I turned the corner but he had dashed after me, the alley narrow and empty, he stepped in front of me, muttered again something about bananas and grabbed me between the legs, I punched him, a right hook to his cheek, he fell backwards and for a second or two sat on his arse holding his face, I moved towards him with half a mind to continue the pasting he clearly deserved, he stood up and started to cry, he began begging me and apologizing, stroking my chin as he did so, I didn’t hit him again.
The perils of the solo female traveler in the Middle East are often reported, little is mentioned of the perils faced by the solo male traveler, as my previous post My Gay Adventures in the Middle East mentions, I have a volume of incidents, of course my ability to deal with the situation is somewhat different, no doubt harassers would think twice if they had been walloped, or would they?
Some months later, a clear spring morning I was outside the Damascus National Museum taking some photographs, crouching down and aiming my camera towards god knows what, somebody was trying to engage me in conversation from behind me, at first I ignored the words and just wanted to get my shot before attracting too much attention, Syria can be touchy about photographers sometimes, job done I stood up and turned around, a middle aged man was backing away from me nervously, I didn’t recognize him at first but when the toe-rag turned tail and ran off down the street the penny dropped.
For those unfamiliar with Arabic and Damascus here is a glossary;
Jebal Qasioun is the mountain that sits proudly behind the Syrian capital.
Souk al Haramia is the Thieves Market, great place to pick up a cheap cell phone or as my friend Basal did, a Hassleblad.
Sorbia is a diesel powered stove used for heating and keeping the tea hot.
I think we all know what a toe-rag is.
For more of my Damascus Diaries including the events leading up to me being placed under investigation by the Syrian security services, buying a house from a murderer, A short stint as a fake art expert and a nasty incident involving the presidents wife please follow the blog by adding your email in the box on the right hand panel of this page.
John is currently in Istanbul and available for collaboration
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really good blog…something I would not have thought about. Thanks
Thank you 🙂
Superb images as usual John, and a cracking post.
you need to publish a book!! what a story…
and your photos are the best!!
is the second one from the “Thieves market”?
I enjoy your visual writing, although I am sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Jill 🙂
Interesting story John. And great photography.
Thank you Craig
Very sorry I didnt reply to this comment sooner-
You have some wonderfully powerful images on your site-well done
What an eventful day! But you didn’t hit him again…huh, wish you did, one for the road sake!!! Anyway, time to buy pepper spray, John.
No words about the photography, as usual 🙂
Reblogged this on From 1 Blogger 2 Another.
You have a way with writing to go with your photos. 🙂
Thank you Imelda and so sorry for not replying sooner!
I hope you and the children are well
Interesting to read this post today of all days. I just saw on the National news that one of my friends has been charged with attempted murder. The second friend I’ve seen face sucha charge in 4 years.
Is this normal. Do I keep bad company?
What did it take for these two totally different guys to “snap”?
As we weren’t in your situation who would we be to pass judgement?
Anger can be a good thing, but keeping a lid on it can be difficult.
Your Damascus Road experience seems a little different to that of the Apostle Paul!
Sorry to hear about your friends.
Thank you for the nice comment and so sorry for me forgetting to reply!
Hope all is well with you
I’m sorry you had to go through all of this in my country, war time there is making everything even worse and harder .. and btw you probably mean sobia not sorbia .. that’s how we spell it صوبيا
Thanks Noor, no need to say sorry, its not a Syrian thing, these things happen everywhere but I do take your point about things being much worse in a time of war, I know the added stress this causes so well.
Noor I would love to talk more-cam we be in contact, email, FB or whatever?