April 2, 2013
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Our great friend John Wreford is sticking it out in Damascus for the time being, it is his home and has been for 10 years. To many his reluctance to leave would seem to be verging on the insane but John is a man of great fortitude. When I had the chance to travel with him through Syria in 2009 I found that everywhere we went he was greeted like a brother. People would stop him in the streets to say hello and embrace him, hotels we stayed at refused to take payment treating him like family, it didn’t seem to matter where we were there was someone who knew him. I guess that is why he is still there. This piece he has written for Roads and Kingdoms, here are the opening passages…
All photos by John Wreford
Damascenes have long told themselves that their city is where all journeys, all religions and all civilisations begin and end. We who live there now also know that Damascus will be where the final battle for control of Syria will be fought.
Rebel forces are gathered just a few kilometers from the stone walls of the Old City, and inside the walls for almost a year now we have lived with the terrifying sounds of war, the scream of fighter jets, gun battles raging and shells flying overhead. War on our doorstep.
For me the only journeys I ever take these days are around the souks and alleyways of my neighborhood. On these walks I am not only trying to get a sense of the situation, but also a bit of the reassurance that comes from seeing the market busy with shoppers and children heading off to school. I drop in on friends and get updates on the crisis. Often it’s only gossip and rumor, but there are few other reliable sources of information. I check to see what food is in the market and at what price, as there have been days when fresh food and bread have been scarce. Those are the things on my mind as I slam the heavy metal door of my house and head out into the warren of passageways tucked in a corner of the Old City between the ancient gates of Bab Touma and Bab Salam.
Outside my door all is quiet. The street cleaner has collected the rubbish and the cats have retired for a morning nap in the shade of satellite dishes on the wonky roofs. A hose pipe peeks out from behind a door and a woman sprays water over the dusty cobbles. The alley here is no wider than an arm’s length. It doglegs a couple of times, ambles down a few stone steps and underneath an archway, past a small local mosque with a pretty courtyard dotted with potted plants. Despite most of the neighborhood being Muslim, few seem to visit this Mosque. Another couple of steps and another arch and then I see the first sign that life here is not as it used to be: there’s a checkpoint, not military but civilian…..MORE