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.