Memories of an Aleppo lost
It was October 2010. We were waiting anxiously at the border crossing from Turkey into Syria wondering how to identify our guide for the 12 days we were to spend touring. An unkempt-looking man in his 30s approached us and asked our names.
He introduced himself as Ahmed. His English was excellent, as was his knowledge of the history and culture of the region. Our first stop was Aleppo, among the oldest continuously lived-in cities in the world. We loved it. Over four days we took in the main attractions, including the citadel, mosques and souk. From Aleppo we visited the ancient ruins of Ebla in the Idlib Governorate, dating back to the third millennium BC. Here we saw the remains of possibly the earliest archive in the world, which contained about 60,000 cuneiform tablets covering matters such as administration, justice and trade.
At the museum in the city of Idlib we saw some of the best-preserved tablets, as well as other artefacts. As the only visitors to the museum (it was a Holy Day but it had been kept open for us) the staff accompanied us, turning lights on and off. So impressed were we with what we saw in this poorly lit, somewhat shabby museum that we pondered how an exhibition of some of the treasures could be brought to Australia. But is the museum still intact? Do the employees still have their jobs? Are they still alive?
Each day as we returned to our hotel in Aleppo, we had coffee in a nearby cafe and in the evening ate at local restaurants that offered excellent food and passable wine. We felt safe and surprisingly unremarkable when wandering streets near our hotel without our guide. On the final day I thanked the cafe owner for his excellent coffee. He took my hand, bent over it and wished us well. The staff waved us goodbye.
Everywhere we went in Syria we encountered friendliness and, where English was spoken, a willingness to chat. We drank tea with Druze people and ate pomegranates grown by Kurdish farmers who would not accept any money.
Seven years on, the Syria we discovered is no longer there. The beautiful city of Aleppo is a mass of rubble and the remaining residents are struggling to get out. The images we see on the television each day are heartbreaking. When will it end? What will be left? Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. au. Columnists will receive a Cross Tech3 MultiFunction Pen that neatly switches between a black and red pen, pencil, eraser and a stylus for use on smartphone or other touchscreen device; $89.95. More: luxurypens.net.au