I should feel very sleepy. Not only because I slept late but today I've read quite a lot (interesting how the internet horizontally keeps expanding your 'knowledge peripheries' or the number of tabs open at any given point: so that you keep leaping from one link to another).
Just wrote back to Utrecht telling them I won't take a 375 euros worth online test to be (fully)eligible (my acceptance in programme is conditional as yet) for the course. I am upset at all the wavering indecisions am feeling. But this post is definitely not going to be about inner turmoils re future path in the life of Madhura C (in spite of all my professions about caste markers and honest desire to shed a surname which bears caste marks as well as traces of obnoxious patriarchy and patriliny, just my first name seems kind of incomplete).
I'm writing to calm me down. I thought I might write about Gaza/caravan, in accordance with the demands of the latest addition to my sphere of (5) followers.
Hmm. I'll start with my encounter with Abid, the politely wiley cab driver in Latakia, Syria. I was getting tired of sitting at the hotel, tired of feeling depressed, homesick, annoyed and decided to go out on my own and explore the city while also posting my post cards and Swara's (none of which have as yet reached the adressees). I had borrowed Swappie's iPod. So I walked briskly down from La Liche towards the port, and the nearest Post Office. My steps matching in rhyme with Hotei Tomayasu's bass guitar, Mediterranean breeze ruffling my hair, and the blue-blue sunny skies against which the beautiful green trees on the road divider were outlined. Perfect setting.
So I reached the PO where I was shown a cubicle and after much shrugging, incomprehensible words and waving of hand on part of both the lady in charge and me, a helpful gentleman walked up to us and offered to translate what she was saying in broken English.
The import was that I'd have to go the main post office, near the railway station to post these postcards. Outside, I tried hailing a cab: he didn't understand post office or railway station and I decided not to take chance with someone who didn't understand me at all. The next cabbie (was Abid) spoke to me in perfect English and I was as happy as can be. We chatted on general topics: Abid telling me how many tourists preferred to ride with him for his proficiency in several foreign language including German and Kurdish. He hastily added that he had to learn Kurdish because he also happened to the principal of a technical college somewhere where there were a lot of vKurds. So it was a necessity: unlike his command over other European languages which he taught himself out of the sheer pleasure of being able to speak such exalted tongues (okay that's a bit overly harsh: he didn't really say that last bit about exalted languages).
He asked me what I did and whether I was alone in the city. A bit reluctant to talk about the caravan (I wonder why now: everybody else used that as a starting point to gauge people's opinions about the issue), I said I was here with friends and just wanted to get out of the hotel and see the city on my own. So he kept saying I was very brave and young girls shouldn't travel alone, yadda yadda conventional wisdom reserved for 'young girls' like me.
We reached the central PO in no time and in spite of my insistence that he leave, he said he'd wait till i was done ("Don't worry about the money" he said and also charged me about 5 Syrian pounds more than the meter or perhaps more since I cannot read Arabic and the Syrian pound coins don't have any roman figures on them). So I went up and found the appropriate cubicle and fixed about 17 huge (and beautiful) stamps to the letters with aid of another non-English speaking, bleached hair PO employee. This took some time after which i was gestured to drop them into a rectangular slit (quite like a largish piggy bank) in the table that I was writing on. I did, with quite a lot of misgivings (and I was right: none ever reached anyone).
I went down, hoping he was gone so I could explore the city without any mediation by officious, polite and ultimately rather nice in an annoying way cabbies. But there he was and opened the door. I considered asking me to take me to a cafe and inviting him over for a cup of coffee. But I was hungry and didn't want to spend too much (don't rem,ember if this was after the--ahem!--phone bill fiasco) so I asked him to take me back to the hotel (where I could have free but same, boring lunch where everything tasted of vinegar). On the way back we passed a church and Abid kept saying my wife would be very happy if you came for Christmas. Please come for dinner on Christmas (his daughter was studying in Jordan). That being about the 30th of December I was slightly confused, concluding he must mean the New Year's. So I asked him (he kept talking about Christmas: I wasn't following all of what he said: was too busy looking at the first residential area in the city we were passing through) whether he was a Christian. And he immediately exclaimed and said ohnonono! he was a Muslim for sure. By this time we reached the hotel. I didn't have change and gave him a bigger note (all of which he kept: about 20 Syrian pounds/Indian rupees more than what was on the meter).
Well, that's all about Abid. If anyone ever ends up in Latakia do look him up. I have his number if you need it.
Writing is such strange exercise. As I wrote I could recall it so vividly: the streets off La Liche in Latakia that some of us would walk in the nights, looking at Christmas lights in closed, darkened shop fronts as we walked on singing everything from Rabindrasangeet to Jamaica Farewell loudly into the night and near empty streets. The walks to the beach/sea front in the evenings where the two pre teenage/early teenaged boys (selling Syrian street food) would talk to us without any of us understanding anything and then offering us free fafa beans (alas! too tart like rest of Syrian cuisine) and refusing to take money. The pavement ducks: who were always to be found roosting at the edge of the pavement. The lobby of the hotel where everybody sat for hours (occasionally whole nights) with their laptops occasionally talking to each other, mostly sharing stuff, exchanging tricks to bypass the filters, listening to music in very low volume to bypass unwanted attention from the 'police'.
Suddenly I wish I had been feeling a bit more positive about the whole thing so I could've enjoyed it a bit more. But then, that could hardly have been possible, since one of the greatest source of discomfort/annoyance was the restrictions on free communication with a few of my favourite people in the caravan =)