Monday, January 19, 2009

Syrian Men Look Like Murderers

Aleppo, Syria

Syrian men look like murderers — not just any murderers, but your murderers. They look like men who are about to pull a curved dagger out of the folds of their robes and open a window in your abdomen through which your entrails will spill onto the sidewalk.

Syrian men have huge noses, deeply set eyes, eyebrows like black feather boas, and three days’ beard fifteen minutes after shaving. They always seem to be scowling, and when they talk to each other about the weather in Arabic, they sound like they’re shouting death threats.
Someone who looks that nasty is surely capable of anything — just look at Todd Bertuzzi. So what’s stopping any of these Syrians from dumping your steaming kidneys onto the cold pavement between your feet?

Does anyone remember the classic kids’ book, Where the Wild Things Are, where the kid is frightened of some nasty-looking monsters, but when he meets them they turn out to be really nice? Syria is that book. Syrians are some of the coolest cats on the planet.

If you can overcome your dread of a Syrian’s murderer’s visage and talk to him, his face might break into a smile, but it probably won’t. Whether he keeps scowling or not, he will ask you where you’re from, tell you that you’re welcome, help you do whatever you’re trying to do, and probably crack a joke while he’s at it — even if he doesn’t speak a word of English and even though you sure as hell can’t make an intelligible sound in the unpronounceable tongue of his forefathers.

One of my favourite Syrians so far is the shawarma-juggler of Aleppo. He speaks just enough English to sell you a delicious shawarma. He wraps it in paper and, still scowling, he hands it to you, but just before you can get a grip on it, the shawarma falls through the outer paper wrapper and plummets toward the ground and catastrophe. But it’s an act, of course, because the shawarma-juggler’s other hand catches it after it falls a foot and tosses it into the air again, where it flips three times before he catches it again and hands it to you. Everyone in the crowd around the shawarma stand has a good laugh, and several people tell you again that you’re welcome in Syria.

Syria as a country is a bit less friendly than its citizens. Crossing the border from Lebanon wasn’t exactly a trial, but it was a little stressful. I’d compare it to entering the United States at one of the border crossings in the prairies, where the border guards are suspicious good old boys with not a lot to do with their days. In fact, crossing into Syria was probably easier; they were very concerned with the stamps in my passport and whether I had visited Israel, but they didn’t ask me why I would want to visit all those countries like a US border guard once asked me, and they didn’t search my wallet or my car like US border guards have on several occasions. They did leave us in suspense, however, perusing every page of our passports while a bus full of Syrians waited for us to get our stamps.

Inside Syria, we’ve found that we are denied the one freedom that Canadians hold most dearly. I’m not talking about freedom from arbitrary arrest; I’m talking about the freedom to check out whatever we want on the internets. I’m not finding it quite as restrictive as the Great Firewall of China, but these Syrians have blocked us from looking at Facebook and loading any web-logs, including the one you’re reading right now. How else are we supposed to get updates on how people’s cats are doing, and look at pictures of our friends drunk at parties?

For us, I guess it’s okay; we’ll leave Syria in a couple of weeks and we’ll catch up with all the cat photos and inebriated Facebook wall remarks, but what about the Syrian people, living with the inescapable daily terror of not being able to access up-to-the-minute information on the pets and drinking of their friends?

I haven’t yet checked if Syrians are allowed to look at internet porn. Some forms of deprivation are too terrible to countenance. Life without lazy Sunday morning left-handed web surfing would be too dreary to imagine, and if I knew the people here had to do without, I’d spend my days bursting into tears at the sight of them. Think of the children! More to the point, think of the teenaged boys!

To be honest, we haven’t seen much of Syria yet. Erin is working on deadlines and I’ve decided to bang out a quick article and see if I can get it picked up by a magazine, so we’ve mostly been commuting between our hotel room, an internet café, and the shawarma-juggler’s stand.
In spite of not having much to say, I sure said a lot, didn’t I?

I send you this missive so that you will know that we are safe. I am smuggling it out of the country tied to the back of an email, in the hopes that it will fly truly, and that Tucker will post it to my web-log for me, for as you know, I haven’t the freedom to post it myself.

Weep not for me; I shall return to a land with Facebook, web-logs and pornography soon.

1 comment:

  1. fuck u hater..i am sure that u got issues..nothing of what u said is true except blocking facebook