Tag: Aleppo

Falafel Fahar and my ever growing belly

I had staggered home from the opening night of an art exhibition in Aleppo with Khalid Khalifa (the famous Syrian author), we had eaten in a beautiful courtyard restaurant, “One day I will have a place like this to call my home”, “And I will invite you Sean my friend… When I have written a best seller that is.” Kahlid is never without a smile, he is a hefty kind of man with big rotund tummy, seemingly always with a pen in one hand and a glass of Arak in the other, “Sean is my drinking buddy in Damascus” he tells a gaggle of Syrians delighted, and impressed, to meet him.

Khalid’s controversial novel ‘In Praise of Hatred‘ about his home town Aleppo is banned here, but, as with many things in Syria, it is available in all good book stores under the counter. In the book Khalid charts how his beautiful home city was ‘lost’ to the Islamists. “You should make a film about the young, simply ask them what they want in life” he says. But it is not so easy, such talk can come with a 3 year prison sentence attached, as locals here can testify.

A good night out in Aleppo is never complete without a bite of the world’s best Falafel so I wave goodnight to Khalid and quickly nip away to indulge myself in the one thing I’ve been dreaming of all night.

Falafel Fahar café is brightly lit as usual, as usual it is full of customers standing around 2 bowls, one containing fresh chillies and the other brimming with fresh mint, I join the men munching on the hot freshly cooked Falafel dressed in the most beautiful Tahina sauce. The skill between each bite is to swap between the fresh mint in one hand and the hot fresh chilli in the other, this is not for the faint-heated but hey, this is without doubt the best food I’ve eaten in Syria since I came here. Forget those beautiful 5 star restaurants with smartly dressed customers politely seated around the fountain in the perfectly adorned courtyard of some grand old mansion – this is physical eating, a real participatory process that leaves me feeling fulfilled in a way that only sex can do. I eat and talk and eat some more, until, completely satisfied, I head off home to my bed, blissfully in love with Falafel Fahar and my very own ever-growing belly.

My Arabic wedding

I couldn’t face going out tonight. I was dying for a shit but couldn’t go. I needed time to contemplate on a proper sitting-up toilet not a hole in ground. You can’t read the newspaper squatting… and it is easy (or it is for me) to miss, making things real messy. Plus, as my hummus belly grows I am finding it more and more painful to squat for long periods. So I haven’t “been” today and would rather stay in but Nizam’s uncle has invited us to a rather special wedding party kicking off at midnight!

We enter the flamboyant affair to see a dance floor filled with grown men dancing together. Holding hands kissing hugging, it was a real camp event in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

We’d left Damascus behind. Nizam’s uncle had invited us to a rich man’s wedding. Set around a swimming pool filmed by a multi-camera crew it was a bizarre scene. A child aged 12 was operating the crane over a dance floor where men, and I mean only men, were dancing. “Where are the women?” I asked Nizam’s uncle, “Next door, they party separate to men”. “Why?” I ask, “Isn’t it boring without women?” “No. Men enjoy their own company”. I’ve only just got used to socialising without drink and now I’m not allowed to see women either! This is the ultimate male dominant society.

I looked around the vast room. Men were holding hands hugging kissing, dancing, eating fruit, drinking coke, smoking water-pipes – they seem to be having fun. I was having fun but couldn’t help thinking a few women and a bottle of scotch would spice things up a bit. Nizam confides later that many of the men enjoy each other company in a more intimate way but it must be kept under wraps here. He also mentions that others are probably nipping round the back to drink alcohol. “Let’s join them!” I plead. Nizam adds that his dad used to keep a glass of whiskey or arak under the table at parties until his uncle caught him. He told him he would never sit with him if he ever drank in his presence again. As we are with his uncle tonight we decide that we had better behave.

I watch Nizam’s uncle dance with his son, I think of his wife and daughters doing the same next door. It’s a funny family event when the family is separated based on their sex. It’s strange that homosexuality isn’t tolerated here yet it feels like such a gay society. I watch a butch man take to the centre of the dance floor shaking his worry beads above his head and wriggling his ass as those around him cheer in excitement.

Later, a man walks on to the stage interrupting the band, he greets the guests by name and they in turn push handfuls of cash into his hands. I ask Nizam what is going on,“The money is for him, he keeps it as he is hosting the party”, Nizam says. A water-pipe boy comes running past, “Hey there’s a fight on the dance floor”, I look over and see the groom fighting someone. Nizam’s uncle quickly gets his son out of the way and I see the 12 year old crane operator making a run for it. Nizam is also in the thick of the action trying to pull the groom away, then I see a silver gun swing in the air, I follow Nizam’s gaze and see another gun pushed into the side of someone, is the groom going to kill someone on his wedding night I wonder to myself?

But I’m not hanging round to find out. I make a run for it grabbing Nizam as I go. “Surely having a few women here would prevent this aggression” I say. “No it would make it worse” Nizam jokes as we run for cover.

Not long after I find myself squatting in the toilet, sweating but selfishly relieved, someone could have died tonight but at least the excitement has cured my constipation.