We walked everywhere in the old city. We usually started and ended our walks from our hotel, The Haramain. Part of the walk was under a bridge where an old man resided. Every time we walked by there he was there hunched over an old tin can full of blazing firewood. This is a sight I never expected and broke my heart whenever I walked by. I always wanted to stop and talk to him, ask him why he lived here and slept hunched over his tin. I never got the chance because he last time I passed I had worked up the courage to do so, but he was gone and his tin was strewn aside with all the ashes scattered all over the floor. I wonder what happened to him, what he has seen, where he has gone, and what will be of him.
The old woman of Damascus in Bab Sharqi though was very forth coming with her story, she stopped and spoke to us of her children, her travels, her health and only left us to continue her walk in the neighborhood after wishing us all the luck in the world and muttering a small prayer on our behalf.
Our walks also had us stumble across a writer and artist who told us of his political imprisonment, his atheist writings and his love of women. He was a welcoming man with a vivid brush and a sharp pen. He was also a generous soul, and invited us back for lunch the next day. Unfortunately we couldn’t oblige.
No visit to Damascus is ever complete without a stroll to the Nawfara Cafe. There if you time your visit right you can sit in the warmth of the café and hear the storyteller tell his tale. He spoke of an old Arabic hero Antar Bin Shadad. He spoke with humor, anger, passion, and anticipation. He involved us all and made each of us feel special. His art is a dying one and I believe he is the last of his kind that still tells the stories of old.
The characters of the city are many, you can find them all over. The story teller, the twirling dervish, the baker making sfeiha, the man roasting fresh chestnuts in the street, the shop keeper who is a collector at heart, the artists, the old lady going to church, the men playing backgammon in the street, the bar keeper, the homeless, the children playing in the streets, the mothers, the fathers, the visitors and the residents. They are all there, no visit is complete without them, no walk realized without an interaction with at least one of them.
The people make the place and the place makes the people. Damascus is one with its people. The city is in their faces, their voices, their actions.