Syria, 2nd page

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Hussein was an old chap (to me, then), more than 40, served the 13th time as our driver, a grandpa, but full of energy and liked "playing" with Arab girls around him. He was always polite, knew without word what was needed, ran for it or did it. He was most probably the "ear" of our pavilion, at least I was warned that he was supposed to be the security man, attached to the pavilion. I was also told by my predecessor that if I had time to make a trip, it would be enough to tell Hussein, indicating the time available and he would know where to take me (or us, we usually offered the pleasure to members of the staff, other Hungarians present). During one of such visits, to Bosra, which was just a few kms from the Israeli "frontline" we were stopped at a barrier, an army post. "Egy pillanat" (just a moment) - he said, jumped out, went to the soldier, told a few worlds and the barrier was lifted. Impressive, not an act of a common driver. The barrier was there not without purpose: as we drove towards Bosra we saw tens of tanks digged in up to their guns, fighter planes flying frighteningly low. When we arrived I thought he made a mistake, got lost. What could be seen were a few huts and a grey, not very high Arab fortress. We were told to follow him, went through a nasty gate and...stopped gasping for air: an almost complete amphitheatre was preserved by the fort, built around it. I could not keep calm, was almost running up and down. Hussein stood at the scene smiling, then requested us to go upstairs step by step. Started singing (he had good voice) and his song could be heard with the same volume and ringing at every point of the theatre. It was fantastic, simply fantastic!

He had a friend, older than he was, who - as he explained - had been general of the Syrian army, had some raw with his superiors, left for Kuwait, purchased a piece of land, stuck a rod into the soil, oil erupted: he is millionaire now. This friend of him used to come over to see him and the Hungarian pavilion each and every year. The millionaire indeed turned up around the end of the fair, spent a couple of hours with us and then invited the management of the pavilion and the businessmen present for a dinner. This was probably the most remarkable dinner of my life: we were taken in the middle of the "Arab sea" to an elegant restaurant with a huge garden, waterfall at one end, live western music, dance floor of marble, enigmatic lighting. A few words were enough for the waiter to understand the order: 73 dishes were put on our table, plate on plate. It is an Arab custom to greet loved guests this way - was my impression. The 73 included different seeds, sweets as well, but most of the dishes were meat and seafood. The only lady of our group, a beauty, who represented a foreign trading company was not only the centre of attention of the Hungarians, but also of the millionaire. He started calling her Allahzrir (little Allah), was extremely polite with her and could not lose sight of her. After the dinner he took a seat aside, smoking water-pipe and requested (!) us to dance. She was my partner of the evening, we enjoyed dancing and each-other (unfortunately only dancing). I am unable to express the possible feelings of our friend, the millionaire. He had not turned his head from us.

Hussein invited us to his parents place, Malula. I had never heard of it before, expected what I was told, a small Arab village. I was surprised several times during this visit. The first was the view of the village, that looked like a swallow's nest, small, but occupying both slopes of a valley and crawling up to a Christian monastery, the houses looked sparklingly clean, freshly whitewashed (I would say blue washed, most of the houses were blue). It is a pity that my dias do not show this colour any more. I learnt only there  that the monastery was one of the first Christian monasteries, established in or around 60. The  next surprise was that the women of the village behave as those in Europe or even more freely: some were hanging out of their windows, waving, others - on the street - were looking into your eyes, I had the feeling that one of them was even winking! Very pleasant surprise, indeed. The next was his parents' house, it was much more than a hut, had rooms, kitchen, terrace, everything clean. We were served the lunch in the "living room" or the biggest room, on a huge carpet! I am not joking, on a carpet on the floor. Our hosts offered us cushions as seats and they occupied their cushions, quickly crossing their legs (we call this way of sitting "törökülés" - Turkish way, we have seen them sitting for 150 years). Ladies made the cooking and served the excellent dishes through the door to the kitchen, but none of them joined us. Contradiction to what we saw closer to the monastery. I was one of the subjects of discussion during the lunch: I was said to be Arab. Finally the host accompanied me to another room, dressed me in a complete set of Arab clothing. When we entered the living room again, my Arab friends gasped in real surprise: effendi. I was adopted by them as a high-rank Arab!

But the greatest of all surprises is the modern look of Malula. What an exciting change for slightly more than 30 years: Malula is a modern city today (see the links at page No1, below). Is it better or not? I am not absolutely sure about it.

I have to tell you a story of Hussein. He spends a few weeks every year in the desert, just for getting rid of the modern, hectic life, to have a rest. During one of such occasions, when he was sitting (on his ankles) in front of his Bedouin-tent, preparing his lunch on open fire, black of dirt and smoke, a white couple riding on camels approached him. He was asked in English, then French, then German, then Italian, how to go to Palmyra. He kept shaking his head as if he had not understood a word. Getting tired the man told the lady in Hungarian: Such a stupid one, does not speak any  language, what should we do? (He forgot about his not speaking Arabic!) Hussein did not bother much, kept sitting and replied in his fluent Hungarian: Carry on straight, it is just another 50 kms. The couple almost dropped from their camels.

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