Wanderlust: Our Trip to Syria
By Susan "Honey" Good
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing” Helen Keller
I am in my condo in the sky watching television. I am in shock as my eyes take in the devastated city of Aleppo, Syria.
Darlings, I toured the city of Aleppo; walked the streets, visited the shops and sites of interest, talked to the people and now I am viewing this huge city in utter ruin.
I vividly remember a day, 5 or 6 years ago when the mail arrived. Thumbing through it, my eyes caught sight of a travel brochure: Travel to the Middle East.
“Shelly, Shelly I just found our next adventure. World Affairs Council is taking a small group to Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. We will visit the American Embassy, have dinner discussions with professors, and tour places most Americans will never see in their lifetime,” I declared excitedly to Shelly.
I did not come up for air, darlings. My excitement was contagious and my husband felt it. A decision was made, that day, to travel, again back to the Middle East. This time, our travels would take us to Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Two years before, we had traveled with World Affairs Council through most of the Middle East. The trip was over the top, marvelous, and educational. That trip took us through the countries of Iran, Israel, and The United Arab Emirates including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. It was the trip of a lifetime and I will share aspects of it with you over time.
Pictured: The hotel we stayed at in Damascus, our room and a typical breakfast.
Darlings, I want to backtrack for a moment.
I believe our memories act as our photo albums. When I was quite young, I recall a conversation with my Grandfather. His words captivated me. My imagination spiraled into dreaming of what was to one day become my reality.
He said to me, “Invite adventure into your life.”
I wish I could tell him. “Grandpa, I have seen the world.”
Grandmothers, we are very important in the life of our Grands. Remember, our true stories and our pep talks leave lasting impressions.
Now, I will give you a very brief history lesson on Syria and then our photos. Shelly and I traveled to Damascus, Palmyra, Aleppo, and several other towns in between.
Pictured: On the road to Palmyra and Palmyra itself, before it was ravaged.
I learned that the civilization of Syria is the most ancient civilization on earth dating back to 800,000 BC when the first Neanderthal child was discovered. By 10,000 BC, it was the center of agriculture and cattle breeding that appeared for the first time in the world.
In 634 Syria was conquered by the Muslim Arabs, resulting in the region becoming part of the Islamic Empire. The capital of the Empire was Damascus. The Islamic empire expanded rapidly and, at its height, stretched from Spain to India and parts of central Asia. Syria prospered economically and Christians were treated with tolerance in this era and held high governmental posts.
Over the centuries the country was overthrown by many dynasties: Egyptians, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mongols, and finally the Ottoman Empire was to hold control until 1918.
These two facts are very interesting.
During the Ottoman Rule, the Syrian Society existed peacefully for 400 years. Shia Muslim, Greek, Armenian, and Jews lived harmoniously. The territory of Greater Syria, under the Ottomans, included Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Gaza Strip, and parts of Turkey and Iraq!
Pictured: The winding roads of Damascus, a fort in Damascus, and grocery shopping in Damascus.
Moving forward, Syria went through several upheavals. In 1970, the Assad family consolidated control under the Assad Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. As we all know Assad holds control to this day.
The country under the Assad Regime has seen many wars. Tension with the USA grew when we claimed Damascus was acquiring weapons of mass destruction and included Syria in a list of states that made up the ‘axis of evil.’ In 2009 there were high level meetings and in 2010 America sent its first ambassador to Syria after a five-year break. That is when Shelly and I traveled to Syria and met the ambassador in the American Embassy.
Syrian family life centers on the extended family. The family members' loyalty to their family is nearly absolute. Social standing depends on family background. Honor and dignity are tied to the reputation of the family, especially the women.
Pictured: The doors to a synagogue in Aleppo, now destroyed. The oldest synagogue in the Middle East, and the US Embassy.
Though the traditional seclusion of women is not strictly observed, social contact between the sexes is limited, intersecting only in their homes.
Because of religion, families encourage marriage within the family group. Marriage often has political and economic overtones, even among the poor.
Decent is traced through the man and the blood ties between the men. Three generation households are preferred: the parents, their married sons and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren, their unmarried sons and daughters, and other others such as a widowed or divorced mother or sister. The household size is estimated to be 7 members.
Syrians highly value family solidarity, obedience of children, and automatic loyalty to kinsman.
The have no similar ingrained feelings of loyalty toward a job, a boss, a co-worker or even a friend. There is widespread conviction that the only reliable people are one’s family. Therefore, many commercial establishments are largely family operations staffed by the offspring and relatives of the owner. There is no real basis for a close relationship except ties of kinship.
Pictured: Young adults smoking in a restaurant and the winding streets of Damascus.
Marriage is within one’s lineage. In both Muslim and Christian marriages the groom or his family must pay a bride price to the bride or her family. It is not unusual for a middle class family to demand of the groom the equivalent of several years' salary. However, and this is interesting, in the prenuptial contracts it is only to be paid if there is a divorce or separation. It is an alimony fund. This serves as a deterrent to divorce.
Women are viewed as weaker than men in mind, body and spirit, and in need of male protection. The birth of a son is cause for great celebration. A daughter’s birth is not observed. Failure to produce a son can be cause for divorce or taking a second wife.
~ The population of Syria is 16.6 million (2015 via The Economist,)
~ Groups: Sunni Arabs make up 74% of population. Shias, Druze, Kurds, and Palestinians and smaller group make up the rest of the population.
~ Religions: 1. Islam is made up of Sunni, Shia and Druze. 2. Christianity 3. Jews.
~ Birth Rate: 2.6 children per family.
~ Life expectancy: 78 years for men. 73 years for women.
Traveling, darlings, takes you on a journey… to roam, trek, gallivant, take a voyage, an expedition, a safari, a pilgrimage or a tour.
Keep a journal of your next trip and share it with your Grands. Expose them to Wanderlust so that they too can invite adventures into their lives.