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Thursday, May 01, 2008

For a Drink of Water

It was pretty much different in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century. Life was simpler although in no way less rewarding. We weren’t as removed from the earth we lived on as we are now. People were in touch with nature, in tune with the environment and in harmony with the planet. A plethora of dazzling creatures thrived, animals and plants, sustaining better balanced ecosystems and enriching the lives of more fortunate generations. Those of my age grew up in a Syria of exceptional natural beauty veiling the countryside and extending within the walls of charming cities and little towns. The emerald foliage permeated the narrow alleys and clambered high on the faces of stonewalls to lace the open verandas staring at the sea. A mélange of Jasmine and orange blossom impregnated the night of Tartous and her plain white abodes perpetually shawled by unassuming gardens were home for azaleas, day lilies, magnolias and Arabian Yasmin. There was a fountain in the backyard in the shade of the plum tree, which my father’s uncle would use for Woudou' (ablution) just before noon. He would roll his shirt sleeves and his pants up, place his Tarboosh (fez) on the wicker chair then wash his hands and arms, his face and scalp and his feet and toes. After prayer, he would fetch the two watermelons he had bought earlier from the souk and hurl them in the cold fresh water of the fountain to cool down for dessert after lunch.

I slowly opened my eyes and the sweet images faded away. Thus were the days of spring and summer as I remember them, long, so long ago. I was thirsty and I reached for the bottle I keep on the floor by my bed. As I straightened up, I brought it closer to my lips then I hesitated and stopped.

It was more serene still in the villages spread across the mountains and hills of the coast. The focal point of any rural community was the Ein (water spring). In the lazy afternoon when shadows get blunter and longer, the village girls would flock to the Ein in the valley, Jarra (pottery) on shoulder to fill with pure water gushing out in defiance of rock and time.

I steered the car East with Om Fares by my side. "How far?", she warily asked. "Not much honey, don’t you remember? We’ve been there before. Besides, once we get on the road you’d wish if it were a hundred miles away". In fact, it’s much less than that. We drove for 24km, passing the halfway point in Bmalke at 400m altitude then climbed a little further into the wooded hills before we dipped steeply to the left. We entered the magical realm of the Naher Al Ismaelieh (Ismaeli River also known As Naher Al Khawabi).

The Ismaelis, referred to in some history books as the Assassins are believed to be the followers of an old Islamic sect originating in Persia. They live and prosper in different parts of Syria. This, however, is their home and it certainly is one of the most beautiful valleys in the entire world. I know this country like the back of my hand. I have friends here and I have hunted and slept within the bounds of their great hospitality. The Ismaelieh River is my favorite destination when I’m on the saddle of my bike. I often go there when I have no place to go to.

We went past Khorbet Al Faras, the little village with the perpetual scent of olive oil lingering beyond the season. We dropped further down in the gorge. We rolled down our windows each in turn and reached together to mute the car stereo. Nothing could be let in to intrude on the senses as we were back in supreme accord with our surroundings. We followed the serpentine road with its undulating drops and rises. Up ahead in the distance a lonely grave, the tomb of a Sheikh by the name of Youssef Al Ajami, peered at us amongst a thicket of evergreen trees. I pulled up on the shoulder; we left the car and strolled silently in the woods.

"Aren’t you thirsty?", she kindly asked. "We’re almost there", I replied. Yet another descent before we finally reached Ein Al Delbeh (the Spring of the Oriental Plane Tree: Platanus orientalis).

There was an old man filling a few plastic containers. He offered us his turn, "I’m in no hurry", he said. I stubbornly declined as he certainly was an integral part of the beautiful picture. He slowly carried the water to his ancient car, waved us goodbye and climbed the hill till they disappeared beyond a curve.

"Now I can drink, I’m dying for it". I cupped my hand underneath the streaming flow and drank my fill. Then I stood up and dampened my face and hair while Om Fares enjoyed the most refreshing drink of her life. "Years ago", I said, "I used to come here and the water spilled uncontrolled from the rocks, right underneath the exposed roots of the Delbeh Tree". They closed it down now and tapped it with a pipe. It’s easier to fill the containers this way, certainly not as natural but more practical perhaps. "Where are the empty bottles you brought", she asked. "I didn’t bring any", I answered. I just needed a drink of water. Besides, we can always come back for more.

In days gone by, on the way to the Ein, boys met girls and fell in love. On the way from the Ein, we held hands and walked slowly to the car. Then we headed home on a journey back from somewhere in time.

19 comments:

Yazan said...

Beautiful ya abu fares. You make me ache for these beautiful colors of olives. Ain el-Delbeh, I don't think I've ever been there, but have definitely heard the name a lot...

Mom's village is mashqita's Wadi al-Rameem [or at least in the suburbs of the mashqita metropolitan :)], and I could swear the photos you posted were from there, I can even pinpoint the trees and tell you that "I fell from this one" and "I broke my left hand twice on that one!"...

Ahhh, the good ol' days when you could just climb up a mushmush tree and eat until your stomach hurts.

Beautiful post like always Abu Fares.

Karin said...

It makes me yearn for a drink of water from this spring!! The way you describe your trip allows me to feel the wind, to smell the scent in the air ... and to sense and understand the urge you had to get to this magic place!
I envy you dear friend ...!

Thanks for this GREAT post!!

Anonymous said...

Abufares,one of the reasons that I like Patagonia is that it looks like Syria as it was 100 years ago, the first timre I went there I cried like a child, it was like somewhere of the Ufrates vale, full of wild life, beautiful and natureal .very few, or perhaps no one cataloged the fish of Syria,and it is gone forever,
I just returned from ny fishing trip,´soon I´ll send so some photos

Az3ar's Fan said...

Abu Fares,

Now, that you made drinking water an art in itself, I became to believe that where ever you live you will make it poetry like.

Meanwhile, I am wallowing in life's crap lessons. Just read my latest blog entry to know what I am talking about.

KJ said...

7aram 3aleik ya zalameh bet2atte3li albi! Biddi eshrab mayyet el 7anafiyyeh!

Thank you SO MUCH for the photos. I have been dying to see GREEN and I knew your blog is the only place to go!

PS you have been roasted on my blog LOL

abufares said...

@Yazan
Your comments give me the satisfaction of knowing that my nostalgia is still meaningful to others. It makes me particularly happy that a person of your age had his share of such beautiful memories. I feel sorry for the young not being able to be in touch with the earth, spending their entire lives within the bounds of environmentally hostile cities. There's much more to life than the Internet, shopping, movies, malls, coffee shops and urban glamor.

abufares said...

@Karin
You and I were made of the same type of mud. Whenever I'm out in the great outdoors I think about you as I know you would've enjoyed sharing the experience.
I still hope that one day you make it over here, even for a short visit.

abufares said...

@lê
You have certainly taken the right decision in your life and set your priorities straight.
If my dream of early retirement come true, I will follow suit my friend.

abufares said...

@Az3ar's Fan
Drinking water, as with most pleasures in life, is an art.
How can we enjoy a glass of exquisite wine and not appreciate a pure and unadulterated sip of cold fresh water.

abufares said...

@KJ
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
As to the roasting bit, I'll respond on your own turf.

Rime said...

You make us thirst not only for water this fresh, this pure and this cool, but also for more of your wonderful writing.

abufares said...

@Rime

Hayda Min Zaw2ek...
El 7elou Ma Bye2ra ella el 7elou :-)

Karin said...

Abufares ... you start to worry me - where are you?
I hope it's "only" that you're busy ...

abufares said...

@Karin
What can I do without you. You not only worry about me but you tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get off my ass and start writing again.
You're right, I was too busy, but this is the dumbest excuse.
Ciao

Mariyah said...

What a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes when you spoke of the past. Sometimes its difficult to find these reminders but when we do, its so rewarding for the soul. Thank you.

ferasoof said...

look at this blog

aliblog.net

there is a lot of pictures too
picture

Anonymous said...

thank u abofares for theses nice photos of home land . i really miss the green sights of tartous country since i study in egypt wich means desert .. i wish success and soon return of all expatriate .

abufares said...

You're welcome anonymous and thank you for dropping by.

abufares said...

Marroush
How stupid of me not to have responded to your comment earlier.
I want to bring a smile to your face so long after those tears.
m...h