We were invited to have breakfast in Samir’s week-end retreat in Az Zabadani. This is in the mountainous region northwest of Damascus on the Lebanese border about 45 minutes out of Damascus. We set off with Mahmoud and Samir’s 9 year old son Gias at about 9.30 for the drive. There wasn’t much traffic on the road to Lebanon but what there was meandered in the usual Syrian fashion ie all over the place
Samir say’s he’s a straight ahead driver, no mirrors just point and drive. Most others drive like they are in charge of a slightly drunk camel, weaving nonchalontly left and right as the will takes them. This is initially quite disconcerting but you learn to accept it and it seems to work, havn’t seen any accidents anyway.
The day before when walking through the old town we were on the northern end of Saladin’s Citadel in the old part of town when out from under one side of a road this raging torrent appears out of nowhere flowing alongside the castle walls, Samir points out the sourch of this river and tell’s me it is the Barada River. At this time of the year it is swolen with melting snow from the Jabal Lubnan mountains.
We arrive in Az Zabadani and pull up outside the Chaal apartment complex. I call it that because it is 6 apartments in various states of completion that the extended Chaal family use at weekends and during the hot Syrian summer.
We decide to have breakfast on the large balcony overlooking the valley down towards the town of Madaya. There is a light breeze which Elka insists on calling ‘bold wind, bold wind’ but the sun is shining and it is very pleasant on our faces. The breakfast consists of Fool, Hummous, unleavened bread, spring onion radishes, sweet tea and good company.
Mahmoud tells us the average lifespan of a Syrian man is 65 which we consider to be very young, Samir tell’s me it is because their wives drive them to an early grave. I tell Samir that for a crime of passion in Ireland you might get out of prison anytime between 3 and 5 years. He can’t believe it, in Syria you would get life or the death penalty. I suggest we set up a travel agency aimed at Syrian men who want out of their present arrangement and don’t mind the idea of doing 3 to 5 in Mountjoy for $50,000 a pop which Samir believes would be a very busy service .