As many of you readers know, I spent the 10 weeks starting Feb 12 in the Middle East, through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. The core of that time was spent in Syria, living in an Iraqi refugee camp and putting together a documentary film (more on that later).
To keep things interesting and to log my travels, each day I took a photo telling the story of that day somehow. Most of them were done with a tripod and wireless remote, with an occasional bystander snapping the photo. I tried to switch things up, and the fact that I didn’t spend much time in the same place helped out.
Check out the complete slideshow below, 10 weeks of daily photos while bopping around the Middle East.
Hit the play button to get started.
Great party, celebrating, singing and dancing in the hills of Eastern Syria on a gorgeous day. Exactly what Kha B’Nisan should be about. It definitely felt a little magical to be able to celebrate it here in Syria, especially because my undergrad honors thesis was about the development of the New Year’s Festival (Akitu) throughout Mesopotamia.
I’ve been getting a little bit of flak for not updating the blog in the past week or so, and I apologize. But it wasn’t my fault, blame it on Bashar al-Assad. And this (long) post is being written from the relative safety of Beirut!
A little bit of background. Syria is a police state, but not a very good one. Everything here is logged and asked about. Want to get a hotel room? Passport please. Want to use the internet? Passport please. Want to get on a long distance bus? Passport, occupation, father’s name, and mother’s name, please. Arriving in Dier-Az Zur? Passport please. Come this way, have a seat, get comfortable and answer these 10 questions. At first it’s a bit scary, but it very quickly becomes annoying and time consuming.
And where does all this information go? In dusty beat up binders in piles on the floor. They aren’t indexed or organized in any particular fashion, and each time my info is jotted down in the officer’s sloppy Arabic handwriting, they spell name differently. They have to transliterate from English and each person has their own way of doing. And I don’t understand how it makes anyone safer or my less threatening if they know my father’s name…I could make up a different one each time and they’d never be able to figure it out.
Imagine this: someone decides to find me or where I’ve been. They have to call all of the thousands of police checkpoints across the country and have them look through their piles of binders for some guy whose name they spell differently each time. This is supposed to scare me? In America, while not a police state (yet), we’re tracked much better and more accurately. If someone wanted to, they could figure out where I’ve been for every second of every day for the past 10 years just based on my cell phone and credit card charges.
Bedouin tents and families are sparsely scattered across the Syrian desert. Although no longer living as traders and nomads, their homes and dress haven’t changed much and you’ll still see an occasional camel.
After a week and half of non-stop interviewing, filming, photographing, editing and translating, the project is nearly complete. In addition to the photodocumentary project I came here to do, I’ve joined forces with Adam Teale to wrap the photos in a short documentary film format. With the bulk of the work behind us, a first draft of the video completed and reviewed, we decided to leave Damascus and continue exploring Syria. Damascus definitely has a different feel and atmosphere from the rest of Syria. It’s a harsh, mean city where everything you try to do is a serious chafe and it seems everyone is out to get you. It didn’t help that I was living in the refugee camp, which is even worse than the rest of Damascus. After my fourth week there, I’m pretty excited to get out.
I’ve been pretty busy in Damascus with project related work. Aside from the refugee health project, I’ve also been working on my MD thesis, which is the physician workforce distribution and health policy research I did in the year between my third and fourth years of med school. The refugee health project is nearly complete, I just submitted the final version of my thesis (from Damascus and before the deadline!), and now I feel hugely relieved and free to travel.
Our first stop was Palmyra, about 4 hours by bus from Damascus and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Syria. Although its mentioned in Assyrian texts from Mari dating to the 2nd millennium BCE, it was incorporated into the Seleucid Empire in the second century AD, and later grew in prosperity under Roman rule.
I’m back in Damascus after an excellent, well needed week away in Aleppo (Halab in Arabic). I’m also at about the halfway point, and have met three major milestones:
- I’m no longer afraid to take pictures. It took me a full five weeks to get back to my old self.
- My Arabic has improved to the point where I can read the signs on buses fast enough to flag down the right one before it blurs by.
- I have had the best shawerma of the trip so far, in a little town called Afamea, about 100m south of the intersection that leads up to the ruins.
The trip also took an interesting turn in the cafe attached to a little hotel in Aleppo. I met Adam, a fed-up-with-the-man, job-quitting, TED-talking, Mac-toting, 300 video-editing, world-traveling, open-source Australian. We spent two days visiting Roman, Byzantine, and Hittite ruins, taking videos and photos (which will be up soon). He’s also much faster at updating his blog than I am, so check it out for some more photos (I make a cameo appearance, fancy that!). He’s inspired me to take more videos to go along with my project, and I may have inspired him to join me in the refugee camp in Damascus to collaborate. Maybe we can put together something impressive.