Posted on February 15th, 2011
Sadly we had to say goodbye to Syria this week. We had our last Arabic class Wednesday where we had our final exam which was just a short conversation with our teachers. I’m happy to say that we all passed the class and are now at level one. It’s sad to be leaving this place where I feel comfortable and semi- at home but I am excited for the next parts of our semester.
One very exciting thing that happened this week is that we all went to a Haman or public bath. The guys (including Linford) went Sunday with Ben the MCC rep and the girls (including Janet) went Tuesday with Amber, Ben’s wife. It was really fun and very relaxing. Okay, so this is what goes on, and it’s basically the same for men and women except the men’s hamam is bigger and the attendants aren’t as nice lol. We got the all inclusive package which included towels, shampoo, soap, the stream room, water area, a scrub, a massage, and then tea afterwards. First you sit in the sauna/stream room for awhile and then you go to the water area. There they turned the steam on also and there are basins with hot and cold faucets and basically you just pour hot and cold water or a mixture on yourself and sit in the steam for while to loosen up your dead skin. It was really relaxing and felt amazing. After that, whenever you were ready, you went and got scrubbed; this is the fun part, kinda. What happens is you lay on the floor and they go at you with a pad thing that feels like sandpaper and just scrub all the dead skin off. It hurt a little but wasn’t as bad as I expected and was well worth it. Once you’re scrubbed you wash yourself and hair and get all nice and clean. Then you go and have your massage which was basically like a full body rub for 5 min. Then you get towels and go sit on the benches in the sitting area and dry off while drinking tea. While the girls were in the hamam there was a girl there who was getting married in 2 days. She had her mom and bridal party there with her. Usually brides will go to a hamam with their bridal party a few days before the wedding. They bring food in and will spend all day in there having a party. It turns into an all day spa day basically.
On Thursday the group traveled to Aleppo which was a 5 hr bus ride from Damascus. In Aleppo we went to the Citadel which is a castle from before 200 AD, basically really old. It was huge and had an awesome moat on the outside. You could see a lot of how it would have looked from how the ruins were arranged. We also went to several Mosques around the area. The next day we headed to Palmyra. Before we got to Palmyra we went to St.Simon Cathedral. St. Simon is a saint who sat on a column for 40 years teaching people about God, and the cathedral was built around his column after he left. It consists of 4 separate churches, and was very well kept. After that we went on to this huge Citadel called the Krak De Chealivers. This castle was just amazing, really well restored and in good shape. It was so huge and the outside wall was basically all intact. There was a wall that surrounded the castle and then the castle itself. The castle was surrounded by 13 towers. You could see the places where they dump hot oils down on enemies. It was great, better than the one in Aleppo. On Saturday we went to the Palmyra museum which had lots of artifacts recovered from the old city. Everything was very detailed and must have taken forever to make. Then we went to the temple of Bel which was huge, and also saw some tombs; tower tombs and underground tombs which are just as their name says in a tower or under the ground. After that we then toured the old city of Palmyra; it was really spread out and I was surprised by how much of the city remains or has been uncovered. You can see the main arch where caravans and camels traveled through which was lined by pillars many of which are still there.
As a way of reflecting on my time in Syria I created a list of some of the top experiences or things from this past month. So here they are in no particular order.
5.Berlitz language study
6.Shopping in the Souk
7.The Old City of Damascus
8.Kamal- our cook at St.Elias Monastery where we stayed
9.Traveling to old archeological sites