An Account of My Visit to Douma; Syria

Fifteen years ago, I visited Douma, a city south of Syria, with the confidence of a 21 years old woman who crossed the Jordan River, got a taste of war zones, traveled overseas alone, walked the streets of San Francisco believing that the entire world looked like her otherwise the world is inferior just to discover overtime how wrong she was.
I was the only woman walking the streets of Douma wearing a pair of pants and no head cover. In fact, i did not see other women at all in the streets. By the time i arrived at my destination in Douma, the news of my arrival have circulated and reached my host.
I was shocked by the part of Douma that I saw. It was very underdeveloped and badly maintained, rural and secluded, quite the opposite of Damascus the metropolitan; with its high communal buildings, busy streets, liberal and adorned with Russian and Syrian beauties.  The buildings in Douma were high, shabby and cramped, the roads were not paved. People used motorbikes to travel from one place to another with their wives draped in black from head to toe along with their kids.
I remember seeing some of the most beautiful women in my life hidden underneath all that black and when I say women, I don’t mean my modern conception of a liberal woman competing head to head with men, fighting every day for equality and running around the mountains with her friends for hikes. No, these women were trained from birth to embrace their femininity, take care of homes, of men, and children, cook, clean, speak softly but never week. Very capable women. I came across coarse, masculine and very ill-equipped. And boy do they have kids, many kids.
The houses were crowded from the inside, food was limited, and they used “Turkish Toilets”; the ones where you have to squat and test the strength of your thigh muscles otherwise you fall in the hole. They all made do with no complaints with a high sense of dignity.  There hospitality was impeccable. In fact, they offered me the best of everything, including scares food. I was asked to eat first then I realized that their kids waited to eat my left overs and I knew then how awful it was to walk in this world with a since of entitlement, misconceptions, or limited views.
As for women’s education, it was restricted to the ones who were not so pretty and can’t secure a husband so they must carry a certain degree and a job to help with the family finances. Again, I came across on the wrong side; coarse, educated, masculine and ill-equipped in women’s ways.
My host was extremely educated and he kept a wooden box of Russian books and translations given to him by a great man who endorsed communism at the wrong time and paid dearly for his beliefs. We spent many hours talking about this mans life and his translations that had never seen the light of day until my arrival and they were a true treasure; from Dostoyevsky to Gorky to Trotsky and Tolstoy; books that brought tears to my eyes and enabled me to develop wisdom and new understanding of life.
Two days later, I left Douma. The purpose of my visit accomplished and I held my treasure of books and translations tightly in my hands. I took one of those very old Syrian buses decorated to extremes to Damascus not knowing that my visit was going to be the only and the last visit, and the last of Syria as anyone knew it.
Being the center of rural Damascus, Douma witnessed many demonstrations that led eventually to an all out civil war. A stronghold for the Syrian Opposition, the city has been bombed heavily. Now the building I knew disappeared. My host died a natural death which is a privilege nowadays in Syria, one of his sons almost drowned in a boat that capsized in Libya on its way to Italy, the other two sons are gone missing, presumed dead, my knowledge that one was fighting with the Syrian Army and one fighting with the Rebels; the irony of life in Syria! I do not know what befell of his wife and daughters. And I am left with memories from a place that has turned into ruins, memories of it generous, good people that have disappeared and a legacy of books passed on to me, giving me some since of relief that I managed to save something, to salvage these books and translations from the shelling that left Douma ablaze and in total ruins since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution.


More photos from Syria

Buses used in Syria decorated to extremes


Even the inside was decorated to extremes 




Mount Kasion overlooking Damascus 


Alhamadieyeh Street if i recall correctly, vendors had to use candles to show us in. No electricity 


Statue of Hafeth Alassad, the former President of Syria 


Al Fija Spring 





Samar M. Salma

The Genies of Wadi Al Madsus!

On the 23rd of September, I went hiking with an amazing group of friends to Al Madsus Canyon; locally known as Wadi Al Jinn which translates to “The Genies Valley” also known as Fifa Canyon.

The canyon is located in Ghor Fifa hence the name. It is close to AlMujib, AlHassa and Alkarak cities, south of Jordan. GPS coordinates “30°58’18″N 35°29’48″E”. The temperature that day was 36 °C, the air was heavy due to the concentration of oxygen in below sea level areas.
Now why is it called Al Madsus I have no idea, but I do know why the natives call it the Canyon of the Genies and I am about to tell you.
According to Islamic tradition, the predominant religion in Jordan, the Jinn are creatures made of a smokeless and “scorching fire” but are physical in nature. Like humans, they are given “free well” & can be good, evil or benevolent. Satan, in Islamic religion, was created a Genie, elevated to the status of an angel, then doomed for his disobedience which tells a lot about the kind of reputation Genies have with the natives.
So what brought the Genies to Jordan, and why this canyon in particular?
Well, this all goes back to the days of King Solomon who ruled humans and Genies alike in an empire that extended to Jordan. According to the stories I heard, he chose to lock them in this valley to separate them from humans otherwise they teach people sorcery, according to a Sofi Scholar Dr Hussein Gharib.
Why did King Solomon choose this valley in particular, I also do not know, religious scholars provide a better answer but my mind kept wondering how sandstone rocks can lock anything? They didn’t look firm enough to me and the avalanches along the way attested to this.
With this in mind, I started hiking wishing secretly to meet a Genie. The one I know is smurf blue, bald, and kinda cartoonish and I wanted the real deal.
Within a few steps, the canyon started to develop a unique character. The sandstone rocks were beyond description. Flash floods and wind have shaped and fine-tuned them into the most amazing rock formation that would beat the work of the best known sculptures. Centuries of sand pile up and cementation created the most amazing colors that glittered in the sun as if beaded with diamonds.
Once the wind began to move, the hollows in the rocks started making sounds as if someone was speaking. That for sure would have spooked anyone into thinking that a genie was present.
We hiked for almost two hours with frequent stops as the heat was picking up. We encountered two elevations that needed robes. Pushing forward for another hour, we faced increased rock avalanches, no water except for a narrow stream further in, excessive heat, Walkie Talkies malfunctioning every now and then, GPS indicating that there wasn’t a path forward, snake sightings, so the group decided not to move forward.
But I wasn’t ready to go back. I had a feeling that if we pushed forward, the valley will show us its hidden treasures and I might meet my Genie. Apparently, a small group shared my sentiment and decided to explore. I quickly joined the ranks.
We started scrambling and the higher & further we got in, the more beauty we saw. A jungle of Palm trees, waterfalls, and small deep ponds covered with algae indicating that it has been a while since anyone last visited. Finally, we came to the end of the canyon. We cooled under the waterfalls, swam in the ponds, enjoyed our small victory and then headed back exhilarated that the canyon allowed us to enjoy its treasures.
Even though happy, I still wasn’t satisfied; I had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I have heard many stories about Genie encounters by now, cases of actual group hallucinations, hospital visits, and doctors incapable of providing medical diagnosis other than psychological stress, all happening in Fifa village. I firmly believed that if there were Genies living in the valley, I would have met them by now and so far I haven’t.
All of sudden, it struck me, the canyon and the village are located near the Arab Potash Company on the Jordanian side and Dimona nuclear reactor which is only 33 km away on the Israeli side! They might be causing these symptoms.
Whether actual Genies live in the canyon, radiation or chemical leaks are the reason behind these hallucinations, I do not know. I am not a religious scholar or a scientist but I do know that when too many people see the same thing frequently or develop the same symptoms, then it either exists or a common factor is triggering it. Usually the common factor is the air we were breathing or the water we were swimming in. By now, I was longing for the comfort of my smurf blue, bald, kinda cartoonish Genie.
Samar M. Salma
Picture credits to Samer, Hassan, Labeeb.
Disclaimer: This article is not based on scientific facts or research. Its based on personal speculations and hypothesis.

Wadi Rum; Joie de Vivre :)

What a hardship is the desert! Blazing Sun, painful sand ridden wind, dry lips and throat, soft sand making each step count for two if not three, 10 kilos of torture on ones back, so why do it!
Because a friend once told me “If you’re not living on the edge, then you’re not really living” I said Amen and ever since, only on the edge I find life worth living.

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Lamenting the Loss of Innocence in the World of the New 7 Wonders; Petra

Do you need a donkey lady all the way to Alaska?
With an almost perfect English accent, I received my last donkey ride offer from a local in Petra as I walked the remaining miles out of the Siq. I smiled faintly at the notion of a donkey taking me to Alaska, and said “No Thank You”, continued walking content that I have seen Petra a second time, saddened that it was better in my first visit, and worried all together that time may prove this visit to be the last.

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