Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm home and tired

Sheraton 12.jpg

This last trip to Syria was one of the most intense trips of my life. There were only 3 nights that I slept longer than 5 hours and several where I slept under 3. By day's end I was just to wiped out to write. I did write one entry the first couple of days there when my energy was still high. I'll be writing several stories as I get the time and posting them along the way. To get up to speed:

1. The trip was very successful. The Archbishop and Grand Mufti have both signed a document agreeing to work with me on a documentary film

2. I have been accepted as one of the Lexar professional photographers and will be featured this coming month on their web site. I'll be writing an article on my trip that will be posted anlong with a bio and a headshot later this month.

3. My new website, is close to being up and running

4. While I was gone, Alternative Press published two new articles, one is on stretching, and the other on punk places to visit in DC.

5. I've been asked to give a presentation at ST. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church here in DC sometime in July. Details will follow.

6. I am still working on the photo book of Aleppo but was asked to do a 2nd book on the ordination of the Archbishop of Holland which we filmed and photographed on April 15th. Details will follow.

7. Samson Audio has sponsored the project and donated 2 Zoom H4 audio recorders, 2 CL8 microphones, and 2 BL3 stands that I used on this last trip. Links will follow soon.

8. It looks like I'll be heading back in August for a month to finally do the recordings. Finances are a problem, so I don't know details on that either.

9. I was asked this morning to write a piece for The Presbyterian Outlook about my trip and interest with the project.


It’s 5:52 here in Aleppo. I am staying in a midsized room on the 7th floor of the building located next to the Archdiocese. Things have been going great so far. It never ceases to amaze me to watch God’s hand in all of this.

I flew from DC to Vienna, Austria then to Damascus where my ticket ended. I was supposed to buy a $25 flight from Damascus to Aleppo once I got o the airport. I babbled through a conversation with Syrian Air about buying a ticket. The plane was oversold and they were taking stand-by reservations. The woman behind the counter didn’t lead me to think that I’ll be getting on a plane Aleppo.

I promised Jenny that I wouldn’t take a bus so plan B was to drive. There were a handful of rental companies in the terminal the most familiar being Budget Rent A Car. They offered me a nice car and driver for $100. Not a bad price for a 4-hour cab ride, but I wanted to drive myself and didn’t want to pay $100. They suggested asking one of the “other” companies. I got the same price from them as well. One man was nice enough to call the airline and he said they had plane. I thanked him and hauled my things back over to Syrian Air.

I got the same answer. “The plane is full.” I handed the man behind the counter my official letter from Archbishop Mor Karim in NJ. After he read this he said, “Mr. Jason I will help you.”
“Do you think I’ll make the plane?”
“It is your gamble. But I have a good feeling.”
I paid him $25 and he handed me an e-ticket. Several people swarmed the desk as I was waiting. I didn’t get to say a proper good-bye. I waited awkwardly off to the side of the counter. Time was fleeting, so I waved and headed to the gate.

I made it through 2 security stops and approached the check-in counter. When I gave the guy my ticket, he gruffly shoved it back at me. I pointed to the paper and he shook his head no. The man behind me said, “No room.”
I just paid $25 and expected to get on a plane. This confusion went on for at least 10 minutes. The man behind the counter pointed to a code on the paper and the man behind me said. “Not confirmed.” I got hopes up for nothing. The ticket agent pointed to a place for me to sit and wait. I took out my letter but they wouldn’t read it. I couldn’t do anything but sit and watch to clock.

I was confused, frustrated, and exhausted. To my luck, a man wearing a Syrian Orthodox Monk Hood walked into the departure area. I took out my letter.

“Are you Syrian Orthodox?”
“I need some help. My name is Jason. I’m from Washington D.C. and I’m doing a project with your church. I’m supposed to be flying to Aleppo in a few minutes. I bought this ticket but can’t get on the plane. Are you a priest?”
“I am a Bishop. My name is Malaki.”
“Where do you live?”
“I am the bishop of Australia.”
I asked, “Are you visiting?”
“I went to Germany for a few weeks and have been in Damascus. I am leaving back to Australia now.” I couldn’t believe it.
He asked, “Do you have any Syrian money?”
Bishop Malaki gave me 2000 Syrian pounds ($40).
“I have US dollars please take…”
“Do not worry about it. It’s okay.” He led me over to the ticket counter and spoke with the man. “You are first on the list. If you do not make the flight I gave you enough money for a taxi to the Pullman (bus) station. From there you can catch a Pullman to Aleppo and be there in 4 hours.”
“Thank you so much!”
“Please give my regards to Mor Gregorios. You must excuse me; I need to catch my plane. God Bless you.” (which he did.) We shook hands and he briskly disappeared.

I waited anxiously hoping to get called to the ticket counter. Time was molasses.
A minute later I was handed a boarding pass and was on way to Aleppo.

Someone from the Church was supposed to meet me at the airport but that didn’t happen. I got a cab but couldn’t tell the driver where to go. I showed him the Bishop’s business card but it didn’t do any good. We weaved our way into the city. We stopped several times trying to find our way. No one could understand the little Arabic I spoke and had a hard time reading the Bishop’s business card. The 5th person we stopped knew the church and gave us directions. I arrived tired and relieved.

There was no one answering the intercom at the Church but a curious guy introduced himself in Arabic. I embarrassingly admitted to not speaking the language and he asked if I spoke English. “Yes, thank you. My name is Jason and I just flew here from Washington DC. I am a guest of the bishop but can’t get a hold of anyone.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Let’s get something to eat. What would you like?”
“Za’ater. It’s my favorite.” Za’ater is an amazing blend of spices that is sold on the street served in hot bread. It’s the proof of God.
We walked a couple of blocks and he treated me to 2 Za’ater sandwiches. It was exactly what I needed after the long trip.

We walked back to the church and finally got through to the Bishop. I was welcomed in and taken up to my new home on the 7th floor of the apartment building next to the church. My day ended with the surprise of seeing several of the sub-deacons from last year. We had a great welcome back dinner and then I went to sleep.


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