road trip

Tag: road trip

Success

22 July 2009

I was woken by the call for prayer from a nearby mosque. A rattling old speaker and croaking voice. Why can’t they turn it down a bit? Still, at least there was no snoring from Nizam last night.

We sit up from our business class flat car seat luxury on yet another dusty Turkish roadside. I look over to the smelly WC, I need a pee. I leave Nizam playing with his Arabic stubble in the mirror.

After a buffet breakfast of cheeses salads and watermelon we hit the road again, our aim is to be in Syria and a long awaited hummus lunch by noon today. Nizam is looking more rugged by the hour. I must get my beard trimmed he remarks as we hurtle down the road past families on horse and carts, and others huddled together on motorbikes and side-cars.

I’d noticed some intense phone calls last night between Nizam and some females. I never inquired further. Today he is talking about his father though and is worrying that he may end up like him.

Much of Nizam’s confusion lies between being raised in Syria and Libya until the age of 20 and then leaving for Norway when his mum left his father. Since then he has married a Norwegian girl and has a child. Today he sees much of the Arabic world through confused Western eyes, “There is very little emphasis on the family any more and I worry I’m following my father into failed marriage”, he laments. “It isn’t so easy to divorce here but it is in Norway. I missed out on knowing key things about my father and that’s why I came to him. But however much I try asking him he always wriggles out of giving any answers. I don’t want to make the same mistakes as him but sometimes I feel that I am.”

We take a step closer to each other today on our personal roads to Damascus. Almost without knowing it we are sharing life’s dilemmas, I wonder if such tender masculinity graced St Paul on his road centuries before. I know very little about Nizam but feel comfortable to share a part of myself with him. Last night I said we were like brothers from different parts of the world on a similar path. He laughed and said people reading your blog will think we’re more like lovers.

Last night I was anxious and Nizam could tell. Being away from my family and the pressure it imposed on them and me sometimes gets too much, I’d had fraught calls from home and become depressed. The mood swings were broken with beer and wine stops. I wondered if St Paul had felt this kind of anxiety.

In these moments I feel far from the St Sean I’d love to be. I feel I am selfish, that my life, well at least this part of my life, is all about me, and nobody else. Nizam is a supportive disciple though, still playing with his beard as we drive along, the hot air gushing through the open windows, he says, “Who are we if we are not happy? There are some things we have to do”.

The border finally approaches, and after 2 nights sleeping rough in Turkey we are almost there. We pass through the Turkish control, and finally we are hearing Arabic sounds. I smile sweetly at the cigarette smoking Syrian inspecting my passport. I can almost smell the hummus waiting for me.

Suddenly he looks up and points to an Israeli baggage sticker on the back of my passport and before I know it we are being escorted out of Syria and back into Turkey. Bastard. I feel so stupid. I never checked my passport for stickers… It’s a 3 day drive back to Istanbul. Does the road to Damascus end here, at the border?

Fortunately Nizam befriends one of the border guards who tells us to take the sticker off and try again at the next crossing. It adds an hour and half to our 4 day trip, but spirits are up and we soldier on. At the next crossing they say they do not issue visas. I am asked to explain the reasons for my visit and my occupation. The mere mention of TV sounds alarm bells and Nizam does some quick and clever talking. The boss here is warming to us and wants to help, he hands Nizam a cigarette and rings his boss. 3 hours later we pass through the checkpoint and celebrate with a non-alcoholic beer from the fist shop we find.

“Welcome back to Syria St Sean we’ve almost made it now”, I smell the air and feel the land and smile at Nizam. Now we are really on the road to Damascus.

On the road

19 July 2009

Nizam woke in a shock. I was drinking from a bottle of water that suddenly made a loud crack. “Good morning darling! How are you today”, he smiled in a cute Arabic way. Before I could respond he took off to find some coffee, I grunted after him.

The bastard had kept me awake half the night with his Arab style snoring. I would reach over and tickle his Arabic stubble, he would sit up momentarily then fall back to sleep. 6 hours earlier we’d pulled off the road into a dark parking-lot following a one hour run-around at the Bulgarian and Turkish border. At 02:30 am it was time to sleep. We had the last night-cap from a bottle of bad Bulgarian wine and quick puff on a broken cigar. I joked to Nizam that our cars flat-bed seats were like airline ‘business class’ but for free. He boringly pointed out that the difference was that we were parked at the side of a road and not going anywhere.

We were losing precious hours. The plan was for 40 winks but 6 hours later I’m watching the sun rise over beautiful fields of sunflowers, an inspiring start to our late day.

Nizam returns with 2 cups of undrinkable ‘so-called’ Nescafe. “Darling you do look beautiful today.” He smiles and hands me the muddy coffee and pokes at an empty cigarette box. I yawn scrubbing bottled drinking water into my yoghurt stained trousers; an accident from last nights meal at midnight on the motorway. “Let’s hit the road we have 1000 kilometres to drive to the Syrian border.” 3 hours later I am looking for Istanbul but we seem to have passed it. “Fuck I wanted to see it.” It was 20 years since I was last here. We seemed to have missed it. We carry on the long road to Damascus.

Nizam looks at me thoughtfully. “So what is it that is drawing you back to Damascus Sean?” Before I can answer he continues his train of thought.. “You know I feel like I’m one of your disciples, I’m one of your followers on this mission, I’ve pissed off 3 women to be you on this journey and I don’t know why. It felt important to be with you. I believe in you even if you doubt yourself at times. I’m sure St Paul had similar doubts on his travels. I feel like St Nizam following St Sean on his journey of discovery on the road to Damascus.”

I suddenly feel a huge responsibility for him. He cancelled a Bulgarian holiday planned for next Tuesday with his wife and daughter to be with me. I say I hope we find something, someone, that we can call a film to make this painful venture worthwhile. Nizam smiles. “No it is already worthwhile we are together on this adventure and we will find whatever we find. But I feel a force pulling you to Damascus like St Paul had all those centuries ago.” I ask him what he thinks it is that is drawing me back. Nizam pauses, “I think it is the hummus. You haven’t stopped talking about it since your first trip. Shit that sounds shallow”. “No not at all food is great” I reply, “It is life and life is precious”. I wonder to myself if part of St Paul’s mission was also for the Damascus hummus.

We are low on supplies and pull up at a service station, Nizam returns with a bottle of wine and a packet of fags, it feels like a modern scene from the bible…