What I liked the most from Hama, where I camped on the shore of Orontes River for two days, were their norias (the aramean word for waterwheel). They 've on the spot for over 500 years ago, attesting to classical islamic science’s orientation towards complex mechanic. Without much else to see in Hama I travelled towards the Shmamis ruins, a city dating from the 1000 BC, which is 20 km away from Hama through a secondary road. Two workers on a motorbike did not let me get there. They gave me a lift on their heavily loaded motorbikes and we went towards the small town Al Kafar (7 km from my objective) Al Kafar’s simmilarity with other small towns lies in its mosque and the existence of tarturas, a mixture between a van and a motorbike, whose owners insist on decorating with Ferrari adhesives. They are an ode to hope.
It's the differences between Al Kafar and other tiny villages what I was about to discover... As my plan was to camp in the ruins, I was looking for some food to buy. A boy called Hasan demanded that I accepted his help. He was on his motorbike (the second in a day), he ordered me to jump in and speeded towards the market. All the people that had a motorbike followed us, so what got to the market seemed actually like a motorbikers meeting or the funeral of Chips. Then I could not refuse some tea at his house. That was the beginning of the kidnapping.
At the start I did not realice, I was not aware of what was going on Hasan’s sister and a friend stepped into the room, greeted me and sat next to me. None was wearing a veil. At that moment I did not ask any questions. Then I was invited to drink some mate to the house of a family friend. There were two other girls there in the same condition, without a veil and talking to a stranger of the opposite sex (me), Hasan, who was already laughing at my amazement, finally asked me: Do you notice any difference with the rest of Siria?. Yes- I confessed. He explained that the area belongs to Ismaeli minority, a minoritarian sect from the Islam that comprises only 2% of Sirian population. Our Imam, Aga Khan, who lives in Paris, gives us freedom- Hasan explained. They consider that many aspects of the sharia (islamic law) are only aesthetic and therefore not important. Coversely, majoritarian sunni muslims dont regard them as muslims at all.
Their wives do not wear the veil and they can interact with other men without being considered obscene. Even drinking is permitted, as I knew with happiness at night. Hasan entered the room with three cans of Stella. My surprise showed that I had started to get used to the rest of Syria, where women are treated as domestic devices. Shame on me!
However, there is a simmilarity between Ismaelies and the rest of muslims: they are extremelly helpful. Since the moment you eat from our dishes you belong to our family-Hasan said (and he was not joking). I finally left, towards Palmyra, where hundreds of palm trees and massive Roman ruins interrupt the desert.
I was going towards the desert, the legendary Eufrates river. The sign on the road reminds me of something I already knew: “Palmira 160 km, Dair es Zor 380 km, Bagdad 800 km”. Yes, it is the road to Iraq. The first kilometres were on a beautiful De Soto ’54. He left me at night on the Homs crossroad, where a yellow Mercedes 1298 truck rescued me from the claws of darkness. It was carrying 40 tones of bricks. Ahmed, the driver, starts telling the nationality of tank trucks coming on the opposite lane, in the last lights of dawn: Jordan, Syria, Iraq…He left me in Al Fruqlos.
Even though we are far away from the Iraqi border, the area is full with militia. Just in case. When I got down the truck, it was already night and I hardly noticed a hut with three armed policemen. They made me notice them as they approached me with a rifle on one hand and saying “Where are you going?”. I explained that I was walking around the world and that I wanted to sleep in town.
“But it is going to rain”-he answered. My answer was a tiny step under the roof of their hut. They laughed, so they invited me in. Two rifles AK-47 that were on a wall are moved to a bed so as to leave space for my backpack (Good replacement, I thought). When I saw the guns I exclaimed: I am not American!. It is a joke and they understand it. “Where are you from?’-they wondered. At that moment I discovered that on the table there were three mates (Argentinean kind of tea consumed also in Syria). “From there!-I pointed at the mates- "Argentina?”. They are very happy, they offered me a seat and chatted about our countries.
One of them mimics the explosion of a cannon and then of a boy crying, while pointing to the East, towards Irak. He makes reference to the killings of young, innocent children by American bombs. Another one cheers the protests against Bush in Mar del Plata's Summit of the Americas by saying: “Argentina, no Bush, no Bush…”. Despite not sharing a language, too obvious things always get trough. They gave me a place where to sleep and in the morning palmed down a car for me. Towards the desert oasis of Palmira...