A Travellerspoint blog

If You Like It Then You Should Have Put a Veil On It

all my Muslim ladies

sunny 37 °C

I need to take a few minutes away from witty jokes and clever analogies to talk about the women in Syria. I was really affected by them in Aleppo and it's worth a quick mention. It was difficult to write about that trip because my usual style would belittle a situation I feel strongly about. Bear with me.

It seemed that every women was covered in some way (save the tourists whose naked heads stood out like broken thumbs). There were a few ladies who wore headscarves and conservative western clothes, but the vast majority had only their faces showing, some only their eyes (often with thick eye makeup, weird). A few spooky gals floated through the streets without a speck of skin showing. They had their faces covered under their veil and wore gloves. If the invisible man is real I bet you he is laughing and living in drag in Syria.

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Despite the oppression of their attire, however, was the apparent freedom women had in society. One night Em and I were coming back from a lovely dinner in a beautiful old mansion and were shocked to find women everywhere! In Turkey this would never happen - after the sun goes down it's a dude's world - but in Syria there were ladies and children crowding the streets with no sign of tiring. Perhaps the implicit dress code affords Syrian women social freedom after all?


I wish my optimism had lasted, but sadly on my solo trip back to Turkey I had a negative reaction, mostly in part to the temperature. It was extremely hot. We are talking 35+ before noon here. I am not a delicate flower by any means but I was seriously suffering. I was delirious, panicky for a breeze or any way to cool off, had a headache, and was exhausted to the point of falling asleep in anything with an engine (I felt like Rip Van Winkle's intrepid cousin, snoozing my way around the Middle East).

My discomfort was acute but purely physical until a group of women passed in front of my taxi. Each one was completely covered from head to toe in a black veil, long coat to the ankles and buttoned to the neck, stockings, and black gloves. They were crossing slowly with linked arms, probably to catch each other when they would eventually pass out from the heat. And it isn't even summer yet!

I saw the city with new eyes. All the women who were previously exotic and following social norms of a patriarchal society were now walking manifestations of suffering in black cocoons of sweat and oppression. Call me culturally insensitive if you want, but there is something wrong with a society that encourages or even condones women to live in extreme discomfort for the so-called moral safety of men. It is actually sickening to see, especially in the throes of heatstroke.


As I sat there full of pity for those women I had a flashback to a few days prior in the inner court of the Grand Mosque. I had been visibly uncomfortable in my rented KKK-in-pinstripes cloak that we had to rent to enter and a sassy young girl remarked, Welcome to my world. Instantly I had images of doing just that, and how joyless my life would be. I will never forget that, nor my how incredibly lucky I am to hold a Canadian passport! As soon as I get home I am going to straight to the beach to comfortably wander around in my bikini because its fun and I can - and it is going to feel AMAZING.


But ok, there are covered Muslim women all over the Middle East, some with much worse situations than in Aleppo. I am giving the city a hard time and that is not fair because it was very charming and definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been (see http://leillac.travellerspoint.com/19/). Back to the happy posts, thanks for listening!

Posted by LeiCran 14:02 Archived in Syria Tagged women Comments (1)

Sushi, Starbucks and Seawall

you will be mine.

sunny 25 °C

There are two afflictions in life that stop me in my tracks: FOMO and FE, otherwise known as Fear Of Missing Out and Food Envy, respectively. My current predicament is made exponentially more difficult because I risk suffering from them both at once! The horrors!!

The task at hand is not an easy one. I must decide where to be for the summer: home in Vancouver with the inexpensive, mouth-watering, addictive Asian kitchen I was raised on, or somewhere in Europe sampling (and justifying) new exotic treats. While FE is pretty much the worst thing ever, there is more to this decision than food.

On the one hand, Vancouver is not going anywhere. My friends will be there with open arms regardless of when I come home (they've patiently been doing this for the past 2 years now, thanks guys!). It would make financial sense to stay as I am already in Europe, plus there are opportunities here that I cannot find at home, such as learning French in France, or volunteering in refugee camps. That said, though, staying put for a while is appealing and there is a part of my batteries that can only be recharged at home.

This choice has been consuming me for a few weeks now. Each time I email or chat to someone it seems silly to even ask - of course Europe! There will be time for career-hunting later. What is hard to describe to non-Vancouverites, though, is the significance of summer. Missing one by choice is like going into a mall on a beautiful day, or doing laundry on a Saturday night. It is an absurd decision that will undoubtedly result in you missing out and becoming the object of scorn. More than that, doing so without good reason becomes almost offensive and borders on sacrilegious.

Of my twenty-seven years I have missed three, each more painful than the last. The first two were because I was traveling, and despite being in Europe then Australia I still felt the pangs of FOMO. Last summer was absolute torture as I spent it working for the federal government in Ottawa where it was too hot and humid outside to do anything and there were no oceans or beaches in sight. While I tried to make the best of it and certainly had the best people to survive it with, my worst FOMOs were realized every time I logged onto facebook. It was awful. Clearly missing my fourth summer is not a decision to be taken lightly, even if it is for good reasons.

A few weeks ago I indulged in one of my favorite past times: making Vancouver itineraries. My dear friend, Jo, is visiting from New Zealand for a few days in May so I set to work thinking of all the best places to stroll, shop, eat, drink and dance. For an hour I tried to express the peace of running the seawall early in the morning, the energy of dinner and drinks on Commercial or Main, the vibe on patios in Gastown, the joy of Granville Island, and the delight of Asian cuisine everywhere. But I fell short. Words and excessive exclamation marks cannot express my love for the city, not to mention the friends I miss so much who live there. It is truly a magical combination and my attempt to tell her that could not have been better-timed. Writing that email got my wheels in motion and I have finally reached a decision.

So, back to this Rolls Royce dilemma. My flights are booked. My next Utopian summer at home commences June 21 and it feels fantastic. Neither FOMO nor FE is anywhere in sight.

Posted by LeiCran 04:28 Archived in Canada Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Sorry Paris

but you've been replaced.

sunny 25 °C

Istanbul is the most romantic city I have ever been to. Please send my apologies to Paris, but it can no longer compete.

A five minute walk from my flat is the Moda seaside, aka MakeOutFest2010. Ever since spring arrived the area has been increasingly crammed with loved up couples. What was once a jog with a view has become a game of running-and-dodging interlocking duos who are oblivious to what is going on outside their couple-bubble. If I try to run up on the rocks between the path and the sea I ALWAYS spy with my little eye numerous pairs of entangled lovers sheltered from view for a sneaky snog. Always. It's prime pashing real estate. BRMOs (behind rock make outs) are the new DFMOs (dance floor make outs), fo sho.

How could these Turkish ladies resist though, seriously?

First of all it is springtime, nature's most potent aphrodisiac. The revival of warm sun and tanned skin mixed with the smell of lilacs and wisteria blossoms likens rufies to tic tacs. Savvy suitors know the powers of springtime and take their lady-friends to the Moda seaside to gaze at the Princes Islands across a flat-calm, sparkling sea. As if it were not already a swooner's paradise, there are roses for sale by mysterious dark-skinned gypsy women, sweet keetans to tickle and demonstrate a softer side, and balloons to shoot to flaunt some machismo. A few lads, eager to see the other side of the rocks, pull out all the stops by serenading their eye's apple with guitars. Every single tree has a girl leaning against it whispering sweet Turkish nothings to her beau whose head she holds in her lap. Passing through the area is like walking through a romantic warzone with cupid's stray arrows filling the sky (this must explain why I have fallen hard for a few keetans along the way). It is as if the final scene of a romantic comedy overdosed on speed, in a good way.

Sure, Paris may have the Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower, and Seine, but these are old news. True romance is about sincere gestures and not relying on cliched symbols of love. Nothing says sincere more than wedging yourself between boulders for a BRMO.

Lucky for me, the only gesture I am interested in comes served hot with a large glass of wine. Don't worry Mem, my heart (and Tina) are not being swayed to stay.

Posted by LeiCran 06:18 Archived in Turkey Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Convictions and Contradictions


sunny 30 °C

My trip through Syria and Lebanon was a trip into a different world. Truly, I have never been anywhere even slightly similar to any of the places we visited. Each was a contradiction of itself, something that made Aleppo in particular both fascinating and frustrating.

Aleppo's contradiction is its age. You see, Aleppo and Damascus share the title of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities, with evidence drawing their first inhabitants to 8000 B.C.! By contrast, London is still an adolescent and Vancouver still kicking about in diapers. Syrians have some serious street cred so you would think that a city like Aleppo would be quite progressive, right? In fact, going there was like going back in time thousands of years to a period where Bedouins lived in tents, hearded sheep, and traded in the souq; and women were commodities (see http://leillac.travellerspoint.com/23/ for my thoughts on that).


The souq was my highlight and is still haunting my memories of the city. Wandering inside truly felt like exploring the souq of the past, with its uneven stone floors, smoky avenues under the high arched ceiling, sea of insistent stares, and shops grouped into themes, creating little villages of spice, scarves, or soap. I loved the charming alleyways around Al Jedeida, the famous (and delicious!) cherry kebab, and of course appreciated how inexpensive it was: first class seats on the 4-hour train between Aleppo and Damascus cost $4! Thankfully even the prices have not yet caught up to the rest of the world. The view from the top of the citadel was fantastic, and we were lucky enough to hear the calls to prayer echoing up from the sprawling city below. Nothing gives this area ambiance like a well-timed call to prayer.


The people were extremely friendly too. We wandered into a scarf shop where I gravitated toward a beautiful scarf made from the hairs of deer chest, valued at close to 100CND. Dammit! The owner took one look at me and stopped his sales pitch because he knew I couldn't afford it, which of course only made me want it more. It turns out the shop caters to the gay Syrian community and the owner is an Australian-Syrian man who is not gay himself - 'yet' - but who fell so in love with the gay scene in Sydney's Kings Cross that he is now catering to those few Syrians who live there with a sexual preference the state has deemed illegal. He did not sell me the deer-chest scarf but did buy me an Arabic coffee, and he and his friend were a breath of fresh air.

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Another highlight was going for a drink at the Baron Hotel, a place that epitomizes the spirit of the city because sitting at its bar you really feel time has stood still. The Baron is the oldest hotel in Aleppo and used to cater to the elite crowd traveling on the Orient Express, with notable patrons including Agatha Christie, Lawrence of Arabia, David Rockerfeller, Mr and Mrs Theodore Roosevelt, Kemal Attaturk, Lady Louise Mountbatten, and Charles Lindberg. Most significantly, King Faisal declared Syria's independence from the balcony in room 215. You feel that any one of those past guests could saunter through the lobby in khakis as you sit at the bar, and that feeling can be applied to Aleppo generally. The charm and Middle Eastern antiquity of Aleppo seems to transcend modern day, so that it would not be altogether surprising to see a caravan of camels or hooded Bedouins navigating the hair-raising traffic of the city.

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Posted by LeiCran 05:53 Archived in Syria Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Savouring Syria


sunny 24 °C

Syria is completely different from anywhere I've ever been. Everything is written in Arabic, few people speak English, my cell phone doesn't work (ie no more GPS to get un-lost), and I don't understand a word of what is going on around me. Now I know how hundreds of Chinese immigrants feel in Vancouver! It is incredibly humbling to be at the mercy of locals without a common language or alphabet to rely on. Thankfully we have encountered nothing but helpfulness and generosity in our wanderings, giving this country a welcoming feeling. As a case in point I am currently nibbling away at a Syrian dessert brought over free of charge by the internet cafe owner. He also gave me one last night. It isn't particularly good, but what a gesture! This just does not happen in Canada.

Our trip so far has been one of culinary highlights. Em and I flew from Istanbul to Adana, where we stopped to have a delicious but rather phallic durum, lovingly referred to henceforth as a dickwich.


One cozy 3-hr bus ride later we arrived in Antakya, the culinary heartland of Anatolia, where we wandered in search of two major checkmarks: kunefe and an 'atom shake.' You are probably wondering if we got to see the first church where Paul preached the gospel from inside a cave in the hills, and the answer is no, we did not. We were too busy savoring our checkmarks and reveling in post-dessert bliss.

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Our travels were halted only by the force of God, as we were trapped in a covered market for about half an hour by monsoon rains that sounded like one continuous thunderclap as water furiously attacked the corrugated-iron roof. Anxious to get there we hopped in a private taxi to Syria and we were off - all for a grand total of $14! Being the enthusiastic eaters that we are, we stopped in the no-man's land between the two countries and ordered a pizza. No, we couldn't wait 20 minutes to get to Aleppo; we needed it.

We have a full day planned for tomorrow: eating our way through the souk with the goal of discovering Aleppo's famous cherry kebab. All this deliciousness will pale in comparison to our next major plans though: a reunion with Anna in Damascus! Thank you NPSIA, finally you are making my life more fun!

Posted by LeiCran 09:49 Archived in Syria Tagged food Comments (1)

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