Working our way around the world slowly – the initial idea behind this trip – is taking on a whole new meaning in Syria. In the space of just a few hours we had three invitations to come home for the night, countless offers of tea and at least a dozen people who followed us on motorbikes and looked in amazement at the bikes, before peppering us with questions. Many more drive past, staring as they go, then turn around a few meters in front of us and head back to the nearest village. They have come just to look at these strange visitors.
We can’t stop in a town without at least twenty people gathering around and news of our arrival seems to spread like wildfire to anyone who speaks english for miles around. We rarely stop for less than five minutes before the school teacher or doctor arrives to act as translator between us and the crowd of locals. Today we also answered questions from a man who has a visa for Canada and planned to move there – perhaps the first person we’ve met who actually claimed to have papers for Canada, instead of hoping we will magically make the dream of immigrating happen for them.
“Why won’t you stop for the night? Don’t be in such a hurry,” one man asked in earnest as we sat under an olive tree, having our lunch. He was completely unable to fathom our explanation that, while we were very thankful for his kindness, if we accepted every offer we’d never make it even a fraction of the way around Syria.
For all this attention, we are amazed that not one person has asked us for money, pens, candy or any of the other little things that were regularly demanded in Morocco. If a child even moves to touch our bicycles an adult quickly scolds them and we have to encourage them to try the horn. Our impression is of a country where people cannot do enough for the foreigner.
We are constantly asked if we have enough water, sugar, tea and bread. Do we know where we are going? Do we want anyone to take us there? Can anyone do anything for us? Anything? Please, what do we need? There must be something.
The attention is both wonderful and exhausting. Finding personal space is a challenge and we are increasingly certain that we wouldn’t last very long in India, where we suspect the intense focus on us would be magnified. When we finally managed to find a quiet camping spot in a fruit orchard (still feeling a bit ill, we couldn’t face spending a whole evening eating and making merry with a family), it was only moments before some locals came to ask if we would come home with them. For the first time we used a letter we had translated into Arabic, which explains our travels, says we have everything we need and just want a quiet place to put our tent spend the night.
Our three visitors read the letter, motioned that we would be okay in the field, and then insisted that if we wouldn’t come for the evening, we should visit the next morning. Well, it’s hard to say no and of course we are intrigued to visit them as well so tomorrow we’ll await the return of our friends for what will no doubt be a breakfast in their home. How lucky we feel to be here.