For all their wonderful qualities, the Syrians haven’t yet mastered the art of queuing. Elbowing and shoving was the way to move forward in the line at the immigration office when we went to get our passports renewed and it was a similar scrum this morning when we tried to get bread before leaving Palmyra. Normally rounds of flat bread are sold in every little corner store and from some restaurants but today is Friday so most shops are closed. We wandered the streets saying “hobz” – the Arabic word for bread – until finally someone pointed us in the right direction.
Men were piled several layers deep around the small window where bread was being sold and a truck near the bakery was being used for a second group of men to stand on, propping themselves forward and over the crowd so they could reach their arms downwards in search of bread. Everyone was yelling and waving money around like it was the last bakery on earth. There were no women in this mass of madness and no wonder. Bruises were almost certainly being distributed free along with the bread.
Andrew stood half-heartedly near the back of the crowd for a few minutes before deciding there was really no hope of ever making his way to the front without injury. Meanwhile, Friedel was fighting off a group of at least fifty children who decided that two bicycles were far more interesting than watching their fathers trample over one another. Honk honk! Ring ring! Our horns and bells got a real workout.
Half an hour after first arriving we decided to leave without bread and headed out of the city but we didn’t get far before someone pulled up on a motorbike, offering some of his bread at an extortionate rate. We conceded since it was so gloriously fresh (still warm from the oven) and we knew breakfast was going to be a scant affair without it. The Syrians may not line up in an orderly way but they are enterprising.
The rest of our day was rather less exciting. A nice tailwind pushed us along the straight desert road (we are getting used to this lovely burst of wind that seems to always come from the west) and with a nice wide shoulder we were able to cycle side by side, chatting about all sorts of things. The kind of house we’d like to build one day. What musical instrument we’d learn if given the chance (oboe for Friedel and piano for Andrew). And where will we be next winter? Who knows. Before long we were nearing As Sukhnah and could have easily reached the other side of the town but stopped short instead since we will need to get supplies there when stores open again on Saturday and make sure we are carrying a full compliment of water for the following stretch to Deir-ez-Zor