Sunday, April 02, 2006

Syria, and Sinai

In the last few weeks I have found myself repeating previous trips. We have had a spate of visitors and that keeps me busy. Egypt is not an easy country for Australians, especially those without a lot of travel experience. After one day at the Pyramids I think many guests would decide that the spare bedroom is about as exotic as they want to be. Giza is, for me, the worst of Egypt. Crowds, dust, flies and worst of all - hundreds of people who want to separate you from your money. They often use the worst of tricks and emotional blackmail.

I would love to see huge signs up in many languages giving an idea of a fair price for a taxi ride, for a guided tour through a tomb, or a ride on a horse around a pyramid. I have heard quotes for the latter varying from forty pounds to five hundred Egyptian. Worst of all are the ones who negotiate prices, and when the time to pay comes insist on Sterling, not Egyptian - a massive increase. I feel so sad for the hundreds of thousands of good and gentle Egyptians whose reputation is forever tarnished by the sharks who go into feeding frenzy at Giza.

However, I am allowing myself to be distracted.

I have been in a blog vacuum. Parts of my blog were used in ways I never expected, and it was hurtful enough to have me curl up against a wall (metaphorically speaking) and refuse to write again. I have now more or less recovered and will continue to write, but much more carefully.

I took my visitors to Syria and they loved it. It is a wonderful place - kind and thoughtful and generous with both its treasures and the access to them. We went to the Krac de Chevaliers again and I love this place. It has to be one of the best crusader castles anywhere. We also went to Palmyra and it is years since I was there. My daughter has been visiting on her way through to a tour of Turkey, the Ukraine, Russia, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania and down again through Poland and Czech Rebpublic. I am proud of her, but concerned and very grateful that she is travelling with an old friend.

Her old friend is a young male law student, a year ahead of Tabs in his studies, who is good looking in a tall and clean cut way.

He was very nearly mobbed in Palmyra. There was a girl's school visiting from Aleppo, and I would love a pound for every girl who wanted a photo with them both - but seemed to manage to be beside Peter. Tabbi said that it was like trying to travel with Johnny Depp. The schoolgirls were enchanting. They were noisy and effusive, singing and happy, swarming around us like clinging bees and showing off to each other. Syrian people are faireer than Egyptians, and the Crusader heritage in so many areas is obvious in the beautiful light eyes, charcoal rimmed with long lashes, but grey or ice blue or the most haunting of greens. The girls are so beautiful, lithe and sinous in their movements, and wearing surprisingly close fitting clothes even when they wear head scarves.

The best thing about the trips to Syria is sumptuous food. While much of Egyptian food is excellent it does not have the huge range of the fare available in Damascus, with the local regional variations in each different town. Also while Egypt has gone the whole hog and banned all poultry sales in the wake of bird flu here, Syria does not acknowledge a problem. It was nice to be able to eat chicken again (well cooked of course). There is a fabulous dish in Aleppo of meat balls with sour cherry saice, and I left Tabbi with enough money to provide a meal there for herself and her friend. We always come back feeling stuffed, and certainly these are two kilo trips.

We went to the MFO headquarters on the far side of the Sinai on our return, for a dining in night. It said 'Dress, Dinner Suit" on the invitation, but on walking in I was immediately concerned that someone had made a mistake. The uniform most worn by the MFO was short sleeved khaki and I felt somewhat overdressed in a long sleeved lined silk jacket which was also far too hot. I often decry men's suits as a stupid garment to have to wear even in summer - but there is precious little available to women that is much cooler in a country where shoulders and arms have to be covered.

We had driven across the Sinai to almost the border with Gaza to get there. As we reached the Peninsula black clouds were massing overhead, and the horizon glowed pale with sand dunes against the deep grey blue of the cloud. The wind was fierce over the sea and white tops capped every wave. Two large white birds were whirling about each other overhead - almost like two sets of white undies in a dryer. It was hard to work out how much of their crazed flight was deliberate, and how much was the wind.

The villages in this region are small and poor, and there is no glass in the windows, just shutters. In one village a woman in traditional embroidered dress was struggling to close her shutters against the wind, while her skirts lashed at her legs with their blue on black embroideries, and her shutters kept swinging out of her hands and back agaist the house. The light was that strange light before or after storms, so the pale mauve shutters glowed against the yellow ochre house. It was such an odd colour combination, full of discomfort and discord, but amazingly beautiful. As we went passed I had to twist in my seat to keep her in view and was so relieved when she managed to clip the shutters closed.

Just beyond the village another woman walked the skyline of creamy dunes. The edges of the dunes were lifting in the wind, with the pale sand flowing aross the edges and down the sides. She had a pile of kindling strapped together on her head. It was such an unwieldy bundle, twigs and branches sticking out like one of Andy Goldsworhty's nests, and as she walked her skirts whipped at her ankles like bad tempered terriers.

It was a lovely drive - and I really like to visit the MFO. You know, we talk so much about those of our boys in the army who are willing to give their lives for our country. When I look at places like this I wonder how many would so willingly do the far less dramatic thing of offering to live in dreadfully restricted conditions in often horrific heat, living out a year in boredom and clerical work to help to hold a fragile Middle East peace together. They are so admirable and so laid-back in their attitude to what they do that I almost burst with pride in our young Australians every time I go there.

OK. I am blogging again. I will try to do a few lines a day until I feel back into the swing of it!


Blogger Tonya R said...

Jenny, it's wonderful to have you back. I've missed reading about your travels. You make Syria sound so incredibly inviting.

My hubby and I are going to Giza soon, but luckily with a tour guide to fend off the hawkers. Figure we needed to have one really good visit there before we leave this year.

1:15 am  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...


It is soooo good to hear from you again. Please don't even think about giving up blogging.

Cheers Helen

9:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Mum, I'm so pleased you've got back into this again!

Your many fans will be delighted.

Love, FBS.

2:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny I have missed you so much, but I know even without politics you have a very buzy life.I take it you won't be at the Canberra retreat, will you be in OZ for the Sydney Quilt Show, we expect you, you know!!!
BFN Christine in Bathurst where we've had our first frost(which includes Canberra)

7:07 pm  
Blogger Claire said...

Welcome back to blogging :-) I so enjoy reading about your adventures.

7:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny
I am very glad that i see your weblog because i am a blogger in farsi of course.
that was my second time in syria and i have a good time with your group. also we like syria as you said in your text.come and visit my weblog in blogsky:
Mohammad Komijani

8:54 pm  
Blogger Izabela said...

Aaaah, good.
Now I'll sit back and enjoy the read. Glad you are back.

11:25 am  
Blogger teri springer said...

Dearest Jenny, I don't know what happened to hurt you so much but be assured, we all love you and your writing has been greatly missed.

Do you know what the Syrian dish with the cherry sauce is called?? I have a Syrian cookbook but am too lazy to go thru the entire thing to find it...unless I have to as I am crazy about cherrys (not too bad to live in Michigan where so many are produced!!).

Hugs to you,


11:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Jenny:

You have been truly missed. SO good to have you back. I'm not sure what happened to make you stop writing, but please be assured your friends love to read what you and the family are up to.

Big hugs

4:27 pm  
Blogger Alison Schwabe said...

Yes, please keep writing of your experiences and perspectives that can be shared with your many readers

8:44 pm  
Blogger Ros said...

Hi Jenny
so glad to find you blogging, I've been checking every so often and really missed your great words. So glad you didn't give it up.

12:02 pm  
Anonymous debbie jordan, elf4 said...

welcome back jenny! glad to hear that you have jumped back from whatever horrible stuff happened with your blog.....i have you as my home page, so everymorning i get the chance to see if you have written something exotic about exotic places! makes for great reading with a morning debbie, elf4

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny,

Another Scquilter who has missed your stories. I can not imagine how anyone could be so mean spirited as to misuse your delightful blog. Please keep entertaining and informing us

9:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading your blog again tonight was like hearing from a long lost friend, Jenny. May it (and you) be protected from further misuse. You have hundreds of enthusiastic readers, so please write often.
Warm regards, Jean in Terrigal

10:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny, I stumbled on your blog many months ago while looking for quilting sites. I have missed your writings. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. Your experiences are very educational and enlightening. Thank you for letting me see through your eyes!

San Diego, California

1:32 pm  
Anonymous Veronica@Illawarra said...

Sooo pleased you are back writing. I just love to hear your stories. Can't wait to find you have put it all together in a BIG book.

10:50 pm  
Blogger Marion said...

Jenny, welcome back. I am sorry to hear that you have been hurt in this way. I have learned so much from your writing and I have missed it greatly.

1:22 am  
Blogger beadbabe49 said...

so glad to see you back and very sorry about whatever hassle you've had over your earlier posts...we have a very rude saying here..."don't let the bastards get you down", which may apply, although you'll have to just say it mentally...;)
anyway, as has been said, you were missed!

3:00 am  

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