March 20, 2010


Mohammed the driver sets the three of us down in the tyre district of Aleppo, and we bid farewell to him and Mohammed the passenger there; two people we will genuinely miss. There’s dust and the smell of rubber in the air, and an insanity of traffic noise flows down the alley from the main road. Young men loading tyres onto a pickup truck nod and smile at the salaam aleykum’s we attempt.

The Somar Hotel looks cheap, so we climb the steep, clean stairs and ask for prices. The TV in reception shows footage of Israeli soldiers shooting at a father and son somewhere in Palestine- two fuzzy, desperate figures cowering against a wall. We take a room and walk into town.

The streets are narrower and more crooked than in Turkey. Steps lead down to lit cellar doors, and up to jumbled teashops. The roads are an impossible clutter of movement: carsbicyclespeople all darting and hooting in breathtaking close-shaves. The way to cross the street seems to be to use a local as a human shield, stepping off the pavement exactly when they do, making sure they’re upstream from you. We find a brightly lit subdistrict of streetfood and juice bars tucked away from the road, and consume grease and rocketfuel coffee, watching Syria pass.

The people here are friendly, smiling-eyed and glad to speak with us. We are welcome, most welcome to Syria.

Salaam Aleykum.

Peace be with you.

Aleykum Salaam.

And with you.

IMAGE: Coat-hanger shop in the late-night streets of Aleppo. (More images to follow..)

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