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For more on our adventures & the amazing people we met in Syria, please visit my personal blog.  This is one I left there a few days ago.

We would often leave Old Damascus by hailing taxis from Bab Sharqi, which means Eastern Gate. It’s one of the seven ancient city-gates of Damascus and the one we saw every day as it was closest to the hostel. We could leave this gate by car or walk along the outside of the wall. It’s along this wall that we could reach our hostel by ladder.

Bab Sharqi is a short walk from the church
that honors the apostle Paul
(See second & third pictures here.)

This is a view across the road.

I think the sign says something about Coke being good with food. Some people boycott American products because they believe our major corporations pay high taxes and they know Israel receives billions of US tax money. They do not want to support their enemy in the slightest way so they avoid American goods.

Here is a car wash across the street from the hostel. Note the cute little yellow taxi. We rode in those nearly every day. Most all of the taxi drivers were sociable and many said one word we understood well: “Obama!” One driver asked Samer if we were sympathetic to the Arabs whereas another declared us “friendly” (because of our smiles) and wished he had a day off so he could spend it with us. He is the one who didn’t want to charge us for taking us to Anas Restaurant. (Don’t worry, we paid him.) Taxi rides were cheap in Syria and bus rides were even cheaper.

Pictures from Damascus, Syria
January/February 2009

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I am going to start sharing some pictures from our trip to Syria. On the first Sunday we were there, we went to an internet cafe’ in the Shiite neighborhood and when we left it around 1:30, these scenes from the street caught our eyes.

Children, children, everywhere … even in the streets!

Children talking with their friends after school probably wondering who that crazy foreigner is taking their photo

Kids, bikes, cars, trucks, even the occasional horse … all sharing the road

These little guys were nice enough to stop and pose for the camera

Andrew got caught by the guy we dubbed “the aggressive nut seller,” and he bought . . .

a kilo of pistachios and cashews for about $17!


Photos from February 1, 2009
Damascus, Syria

A week ago today, we were at Krac des Chevaliers.  *sigh*  Our trip to Syria was great!  The people were so hospitable!  See more of those we met here. I really miss them a lot.  We left Damascus early Wednesday after 12 wonderful days.

Here we are with Samer. He is truly a fantastic young man!  I am very blessed to be his friend.  It was an honor to meet his family, friends and see his city and the surrounding areas.

More later.


A year ago the January excitement was snow, but not this year!



My house in January 2008 when we actually got snow!

Southern snow is so boring compared to, ohhhhhh, deciding your first overseas trip is flying over 6,000 miles to visit friends in the Middle East! Agreed?! Samer invited me and my husband to visit Damascus many months ago. We discussed it then, decided we might like to go during the winter so we went ahead and got our passports just in case. That was in May 2008 so this trip seemed so far away, but now it’s here and I can hardly believe it! Did I ever mention that I’d never traveled west of Tennessee? And that the only plane trips I’d been on were 1.5 hours each way. So this will be quite a change!

If all goes as planned, we will fly to Chicago in the morning and then it’s on to Istanbul for a 12 hour layover. Lord willing, we will arrive in Damascus at 1:25 on Friday morning. That’s different from what it was originally, but oh well. The earlier flight from Istanbul to Damascus was canceled.

We are looking forward to seeing Damascus and surrounding areas, but most importantly, I am eager to meet my Arab friends. I really meant it when I said they were God’s gifts to me! I look forward to meeting Samer, Sami, Jake, Amer, Basheer, Hassan, Mohammed and maybe even Souvenirs & Scars (see blogroll on left). Sadly, my cheeky friend Louai is in London (he’s a famous architect!) so I won’t get to see him, but he has been helpful in giving suggestions about places to visit.

I guess the moral of this story is….don’t invite me to come visit you unless you really mean it. I just might take you up on the offer! Insh’allah. 😉

gazakid

Unfortunately a lot of people just don’t know how this war on Gaza is affecting the minds of people in my region! Check out this article:

“I have just returned from the Middle East and witnessed how Israel’s assault on Gaza is radicalizing mainstream Muslim opinion. Shown endlessly on Arab and Muslim television stations, the massive killing of civilians is fueling rage against Israel and its superpower patron, the United States, among mainstream and moderate voices who previously believed in co-existence with the Jewish state. Now, they are questioning their basic assumptions and raising doubts about Israel’s future integration into the region

Many professionals, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, previously critical of Hamas, are bitter about what they call Israel’s “barbaric conduct” against Palestinian noncombatants, particularly women and children. No one I have encountered believes Israel’s narrative that this is a war against Hamas, not the Palestinian people. A near consensus exists among Arabs and Muslims that Israel is battering the Palestinian population in an effort to force it to revolt against Hamas, just as it tried to force the Lebanese people to revolt against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. But Hezbollah weathered that Israeli storm, acquired a sturdier immune system and became the most powerful institution in Lebanon. In so doing it shattered Israeli deterrence, delivered a blow to US Mideast policy and expanded the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s main supporter in the region.

In my recent travels I was struck by the widespread popular support for Hamas–from college students and street vendors to workers and intellectuals. Very few ventured criticism of Hamas, and many said they felt awed by the fierce resistance put forward by its fighters. Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has effectively silenced critics of Hamas and politically legitimized the militant resistance movement in the eyes of many previously skeptical Palestinians and Muslims. Regardless of how this war ends, Hamas will likely emerge as a more powerful political force than before and will likely top Fatah, the ruling apparatus of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

“No one dares any longer to question Hamas’s right to represent the Palestinian people,” said a 30-year-old leftist Palestinian, a graduate of the American University in Beirut. Why so, I asked. “The Islamist resistance has earned a place at the table with blood,” he told me.

What Israeli officials and their American allies do not appreciate is that Hamas is not merely an armed militia but a social movement with a large popular base that is deeply entrenched in society. It cannot be wiped out without massacring half a million Palestinians. If Israel succeeds in killing Hamas’s senior leaders, a new generation, more radical than the present, will swiftly replace them. Hamas is a fact of life. It is not going away, and it will not raise the white flag regardless of how many casualties it suffers.

Suffice it to say that the so-called moderate Arab states are on the defensive, and that the resistance front led by Iran and Syria is the main beneficiary. Once again, Israel and the Bush administration have handed the Iranian leadership a sweet victory.”

Recently I heard a very interesting interview with a famous Arab journalist. That journalist is known to be a supporter for the Arab peace initiative toward Israel. He said,”The Israeli war on Gaza has killed my old personality. It has burned any kind of seed of acceptance I had in my heart for the state of Israel. When I heard the Iranian president’s comments about Israel, I thought his comments were foolish but now I want to apologize to him. I came to realize that we all turned out to be fools and he is the only wise one among us!” What do you think about that?

After growing up in a conservative Christian household in the southern United States, I believe I understand why so many people like me favor Israel. Why not when the Bible speaks of Jews and Israel, the kings, the prophets and, of course, our precious Jesus who came from them? What’s not to love about Israel? Those poor people not only had to undergo persecution from the Nazis, but even now they are being terrorized by their hateful neighbors who want to wipe them off the map or drive them into the sea! Also you know how many folks cheer for the underdog!

Well, that was Susanne for most of her life. Not that I had a hatred for the Arabs or Persians. I did not. I just didn’t love them. Maybe apathetic best describes how I felt towards those people groups. Not really concerned with their perspectives because, goodness’ sake, these were THE JEWS — God’s Chosen People — that they were messin’ with! *sigh* Same old struggle since the days of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. Quite frankly, I just chalked the Middle East up to a Hatfield-and-McCoy type of dispute and figured those folks “enjoyed” conflict for centuries so what hope did anyone have to make them change now? It would always be that way so why concern myself much about them?

Thankfully, the One who knows my interests, how I think and what I enjoy decided it was time for me to get a broader perspective, to hear another point of view, to better understand. It was time for me to care about “those people” for whom I had little concern.

I can identify quite a bit with this, especially the last line. From The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan:

Dalia’s reflections of the house she lived in with her parents was very interesting. She wrote an open letter to Bashir that was published in the paper so Israelis could read it as well. She included how “it was very painful for me, as a young woman 20 years ago, to wake up to a few then well hidden facts. For example, we were all led to believe that the Arab population of Ramla and Lod had run away before the advancing Israeli army in 1948, leaving everything behind in a rushed and cowardly escape. This belief reassured us. It was meant to prevent guilt and remorse. But after 1967, I met not only you, but also an Israeli Jew who had personally participated in the expulsion from Ramla and Lod. He told me the story as he had experienced it, and as Yitzhak Rabin later confirmed in his memoirs.” Dalia mused, “My love for my country … was losing its innocence .. some change in perspective was beginning to take place in me. (pg. 200-1)

More later.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)


In American culture we generally expect to receive a few gifts around certain holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, but, to me, gifts are more special when they arrive for no obvious reason.  No birthday, no wedding anniversary, no holiday or graduation from school or college.  One of those “just because” gifts that make us feel loved or appreciated by the giver because he or she was thinking about us and decided to bless us with something thoughtful.  For many people, a gift’s value isn’t determined as much by the cost as the thought behind it.

One year ago today, I was given such a gift.  Well, my gift is both valuable and full of thought.  One year ago today — 9 October 2007 — I was at my parents’ house with my nephew when I decided to check MySpace to see if I had any new comments or messages.  What a surprise to see a note from a young Arab college student from Damascus, Syria!  Who knew by answering this simple message, my life would change so drastically?  Ha, ha……probably the One Who sent me this special gift!

I never would have thought replying to Samer’s message that I would come to have more of an understanding and love for Arabs and Muslims.  Those were two groups I really didn’t know much about or cared for very much. I just didn’t know any.  None.  And I didn’t care to understand them. It just never occurred to me that I should care since I never crossed paths with them.  Ahhh, but the Lord had different plans!  He wanted me to “cross paths” with some Arab Muslims. Apparently He wanted me to learn some things, to broaden my perspective and understand their views and struggles.

I thank God for Samer and the other young Arab friends that I have met as a result of him.  I praise God for my Shami, Latakian and Palestinian friends — Amer, Basheer, Sami, Louai, Hassan and Ahmad (aka Jake). God has given me such wonderful opportunities to learn from them this past year.  They are my unexpected gifts!  I am so very thankful for each of them and the way they have impacted my life.  Definitely I can no longer hear “Arab” or “Muslim” or “Syrian” or “Palestinian” and dismiss them as before. Now when I hear those words, I think “FRIENDS.”

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3)

Recently I heard about an interesting news from Gaza:

GAZA CITY – As most of the rest of the Islamic world welcomes Ramadan with festive treats and family get-togethers, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip wearily brace for another holiday under a crippling blockade.

Israel has sealed off the impoverished territory from all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007, and it is during the holidays that weary residents say they feel the sanctions the most.

“Honestly, I don’t even feel like we welcome Ramadan, because year after year things go from bad to worse, with life becoming harder and more expensive,” says Dina, a university student shopping in a Gaza City market.

The Muslim holy month during which the faithful fast from sunup to sundown is normally a festive time of lavish nightly feasts, holiday treats, and family reunions — all of which have become harder for most Gazans to afford.

The Israeli sanctions on Gaza after the bloody Hamas takeover coupled with the rise in world prices have resulted in widespread shortages and sent food and fuel costs soaring.

It really doesn’t matter what we believe in, ALL people have the right to have some happiness and joy in their religious holidays. It is extremely cruel and inhuman to steal joy from people’s hearts during the time when they are supposed to rejoice. What is more shameful is that a Muslim Arab country, which is Egypt, is participating in this evil blockade. Why should all people be punished for the choice they made in their free elections? What good can this bring? Are they going to change their minds when they see they are blackmailed in their children’s food and basic needs?

As Patriot Day draws nearer, I thought I would turn my attention to national pride.  But instead of focusing on America or the events of 9/11/01, I wanted to briefly discuss pride nonAmericans have in their nations.  I am reminded of an article I read — perhaps on Al Jazeera English — where an Egyptian woman discussed how even though she did not agree with her government on most things and wishes for a change in what she considers a corrupt regime, still she found herself cheering her government somehow when other nations spoke against it.  Kind of reminds me of the attitude we have at times. You know, where you can have a problem with your sister and fight with her and even say a few choice words about her, but the minute an outsider says something about her:  whoa!  She’d better watch her mouth in your presence!

Makes me wonder about the ordinary people living in nations that are “demonized” by Western media and politicians.  Or the reverse as well. How do Westerners feel when their countries are badmouthed or threatened by other nations?

Does living in a “terrorist state” or “the axis of evil” make you feel as if the West considers all who live in Iran or Afghanistan or North Korea or Sudan as evil terrorists?  Does it make you want to rise up against your government in order to wipe out the evil that the Western politicians have identified? Or do those descriptions make you angry enough that you feel defensive for your country …. even if you really don’t “believe in it”?

Countries often impose sanctions upon “disobedient” nations in order to get the leaders to obey the will of The Powerful.  I believe The Powerful have high hopes that the ordinary people will get so tired of being denied useful items that they will rise up and throw out their corrupt governments.  Iraq was under heavy sanctions for years yet that never happened.  Are there examples where sanctions have worked out as planned?  We say we don’t want to hurt the ordinary people, but that’s exactly what happens.  Do you think Saddam Hussein and his boys suffered along with the ordinary Iraqis?


Just something on my mind lately especially when I learned recently that a friend was denied downloading a web browser simply because he lived in Syria. Here is an ordinary, peaceful, kindhearted human being unable to download Google Chrome because he was unable to check that “I certify that I do not live in Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea or Syria.”

Give me a break!   Thoughts?