March 20, 2010

Adana – Antakya (by bus), Antakya – Aleppo (by taxi).

There’s a 45-minute wait at the bus office until our coach leaves. Billy disappears to buy water and I strike up a nonversation (smile, nod, hello, Ingalis) with a Kurdish man with a scar on his cheek, who gestures for me to play the guitar. Of course, of course. I play, but his face shows no flicker of enjoyment, so I stop. He orders me a cup of tea with a generous look of pity. Billy returns, a shoeless kid in tow who’s trying to sell packs of tissues. Adana is full of kids like him, selling things like that. He’s thin and his jumper is dirty. The bus company manager shoos him away, and our bus comes.

The journey to Antakya (the change-point for Syria) takes us through a Turkish eden of great green vallies, blue mountains and thick orchards of lemon trees. Soldiers strap tanks to a freight train. Wind turbines stand motionless on a hill.

Antakya. We’ve most definitely reached a part of the world where our pale skin is conspicuous, and our backpacks attract novelty fascination. Surrounded by big men yelling in an alien language, attempting to haggle in our English way over the price of a taxi to Aleppo, we feel suddenly vulnerable. We’re sure we’re being ripped off. We’re sure this bloke isn’t as nice as he claims to be. We sure he’ll drive off with our bags if I don’t stay with the car while Billy gets kebabs. An hour into our journey, though, we realise we’re being idiots: the driver and the other passenger are both safe as houses, and four quid each for a four hour taxi ride is cheap in anyone’s currency.

We loosen up, and are able to laugh. A man on a motorbike with no helmet talks on his mobile phone. A copse of trees lean South to Syria. We’re travelling in the right direction.

Kind strangers recognise our vulnerability and offer to help with their little English, and there are times when we’re completely at sea, no fragment of familiarity to cling to.

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