Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Kak Teh limps back...

Kak Teh limps back...

It was not unlike a long ardous labour which resulted in the birth of Kak Teh in blogosphere at 0531 on 25th December 2004. I had had a severe case of jetlag that led to unsolicited forays into the blog world.  I met many interesting characters, some funny, some mysterious and some, well what they called SoPo.  I’d nudge my husband and ask him, SoPo tu?

And then of course there ’s no turning back!!

This attempt to return to blogdom is inducing braxton hicks, made sufferable only with an overdose of murukus.  The pressure is great, mainly because I am one half of the duo who initiated this bright idea to revive blogging.  The other half is in Stockholm and she had pressed the publish button while I am still struggling.

Anyway, a bit about Kak Teh’s Choc-a-bloc. Some of you might have forgotten.   The name was easy to choose; I had always been Kak Teh to my siblings and cousins.  Choosing the name of the blog was even easier; I was and am still a chocoholic whose life is nothing less than err, choc a bloc.  

From my first entry, I had one comment from blogger Berisman - The Reader (Pak Adib Noh).  I replied and that gained me TWO comments!! WOW!

Well, blogging gave me the freedom to write wihtout the editor standing behind my back.  I went from writing about my Mak to my family, my travels, pantuns and syaers and banterings with people like Abang Malaya, Ray Pak Malim and made lots and lots of friends who not only opened their hearts to me but also their doors and offered me a bed should I sort of appear at their doorsteps.

I have enjoyed the camaraderie that the blogworld offered.  My trips back are never the same again; a reunion with bloggers is a must.  Non bloggers think we are mad to meet up with people we never knew in real life.

Many things have happened since the last time I blogged.  My sleeping partner is a grandfather!  Well, that is because I am also a grandmother  - we are grandparents to little Iskandar who has changed our life somewhat.  We have this silly grin every time we think and talk about little Iskandar.  

We have lost all our cats - the last one Snowbell left us three days after Iskandar was born. 

My children are all working now and I cant blog about them anymore without getting a curt reminder in the family whatsapp.  

I have been bitten by the travel bug and fancied myself as a travel writer; chasing sunset, albeit limping along the way with a tripod on my back.

I love filming and editing just about anything that moves - if they sing, it is even better!

So, I guess that’s enough paragraphs that would qualify this piece as a blog and not an FB entry, right Ood?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Blue Bench (Part 4)

The Blue Bench (Part 4)
By Sofian Boe Abdul Rahman 
What? No Tea and Scones?

Embun pulled the curtain aside ever so slightly. She discreetly studied the man who sat at the garden bench of the holiday cottage’s immaculate lawn. He looked to be in his late fifties – maybe two or three years older than her mother.

Dressed only in an olive green tee-shirt and a faded pair of jeans, the man looked conspicuously under-dressed considering the late afternoon chill of Cameron Highlands. He wasn’t especially large, but the years had put on a few obvious inches around his waist. By the way he sat, Embun could tell the man was no slouch. In his younger days he must have been quite athletic – perhaps some sort of boxer or martial artist. Even then, Embun didn’t feel he was a dangerous man. If at all, she felt an inexplicable fondness for the middle-aged man with the ponytail who sat there in the lawn looking like a fresh graduate nervously waiting for his first job interview.

“That’s him, Abang… ” Embun whispered to her husband.


“That’s him. Encik Azhar, you know, Ibu’s boyfriend from her London days.”
Embun’s husband took a closer look at the stranger from behind the slightly parted curtains and remarked, “Hmmm… geriatric men shouldn’t wear ponytails. It makes them look silly. Besides, Ibu never said he was her boyfriend.”

“Don’t be daft, Abang. Have you never seen the look in Ibu’s eyes when she mentions his name?”
“Whatever, dear. But I still think that ponytail makes him look silly. He must be pushing sixty already”

“I think I’ll send over some tea and scones to him while he waits for Ibu.”

“Go ahead, dear. But I think he looks more the teh tarik and roti canai type to me.”
When he noticed Embun, Azhar stood to acknowledge her presence. He looked at her and gave her a smile. His has the gentlest eyes she had ever seen. But they were also the saddest. She could not help but feel that his eyes had once seen the utter beauty of heaven. But she was also certain that they had plumbed the depth of hell for what must have been the longest time. In spite of all that, above all, his eyes had a stillness that somehow made her feel safe – absolutely and unequivocally safe.

“I thought you’d appreciate some tea and scones while you waited for Ibu, Encik Azhar.”

“That would be nice, young lady. Thank you.”

His English accent was unmistakable. Even given his hairstyle of choice and the less than fashionable attire, she felt that there was more to Azhar – much more than he was letting on.

“And, young lady, it would be nice if you didn’t call me Encik. It sounds a tad too formal. It makes me sound like I’m your boss, which I assure you, I most certainly am not.”

She looked him in those gentle eyes and replied, “OK. Should I call you Uncle Azhar instead?”

“That would be very nice”

As she turned to walk away, she heard him speak to her. He could not hide the hesitation in his voice as much as he would have liked to.

“Would… would you care to join me for a spot of tea, young lady?”

She was hoping he’d ask.

“Yes, I think I might just do that… but only if you would stop calling me young lady. Do we have a deal? The name is Embun. Sarah’s one and only daughter“

After a slight pause, Azhar replied, “We have a deal, Embun. And do ask your husband if he’d care to join us, too.”

“My husband?”

“Yes. That young man who was checking me out from behind the curtains just now”

Embun felt a blush coming on, but calmly replied, “Nah. He doesn’t like tea and scones. He’s more a teh tarik and roti canai man… “

“Very well, then”

Talking to the man was easy. It was as if they had known each other all their lives, as if he had been there all those years while she was growing up. At first, Embun found it scary that this was so. But she so enjoyed talking to him that her fears melted away with every sentence, with every question they exchanged.

She knew immediately that she liked the man. Strangely, it was almost as if she had liked him even long before they had met. Talking with him was like being in a sweet, soothing dream that shrunk her fears and insecurities into manageable bite-sized pieces of cotton candy. Embun couldn’t remember ever feeling as safe and as accepted as in those minutes that she spent with him.

The dream was shattered when she noticed Azhar stiffen slightly. The cup and saucer trembled in his shaking hands. Without saying a word, Azhar looked over her shoulder towards the main door of the holiday cottage and rose to his feet.

Almost on cue, the door opened. It was Sarah.

The pain that had tormented Azhar since forever seemed to lift and disappear into the clouds above. Embun struggled with a gush of joy she could not explain – a joy that somehow made her feel like a traitor. After all, Azhar could well have been the reason her father left all those years ago.

For the longest time, Sarah and Azhar just stood there looking at each other. It was as if all the years they had been apart was slowly being erased so that they could start all over again. She was still the most beautiful woman in the entire world; he was still her samurai who would gladly lay down his life to make all her dreams come true.

Despite her misgivings, Embun nudged Azhar gently in the ribs with a teaspoon and whispered, “Don’t just stand there, you silly man. Go there and get her.”

Azhar stood so close to Sarah that their lips almost touched. He trembled as he fought the urge to take her into her arms and melt into her body forever. Lost deep within her light brown eyes, Azhar relived every dream, every fantasy he had had of her while they were apart – years of missing her condensed into a few precious seconds. He didn’t care if he never made it back. He was where he belonged. He was finally home.

Sarah touched his cheek with her fingertips. It felt sweeter than a soft evening breeze after the rain.

“How long has it been, sweetheart?” she half whispered to him, her voice so soft that he almost didn’t hear her speak.

Still helplessly lost within her eyes, he replied, “Twenty seven years, three months and…”

“… sixteen days.” continued Sarah.

Sarah took him gently by the elbow and gestured towards the small country lane that ran in front of the cottage. “Let’s go for a walk shall we?” she said.

They walked without saying a word. It wasn’t easy for either of them. After so long apart, it was difficult to find the right things to say; after so long apart, neither wanted to risk destroying the moment by speaking a badly chosen word. They walked on in silence, each step slowly washing away the dreadful past that had kept them apart.

It was not long before they found themselves in a garden close to that rustic steakhouse that had long since become synonymous with Cameron Highlands. It wasn’t exactly England, but it was close enough. Unable to find a bench of any kind, they sat on the grass, shoulder to shoulder, quietly watching the sun slowly disappear behind the distant treeline. The fading sun left the sky awash with glorious splashes of yellows, blues and reds. It was as if the sky was putting on a show just for them. Secretly, both willed for time to stop. After years of suffering the anguish of their separation, life owed them at least that.

After a fashion, talking became much easier. It was almost as easy as it had been before they lost each other. But their conversation was still peppered with stops and starts, with awkward pauses and mumbled words. Just as it was about to get awkward again, Sarah pulled out a package from her satchel. She unwrapped the cheese sandwich and handed it to him.

“Sayang, you remembered”

“Did you think I’d forget?”

Azhar shook his head.

“And I brought coffee, too. It’s just as well. You never could make a decent coffee – even back then” she teased.

With her head gently resting on his shoulder, Sarah asked, “Tell me, sweetheart. Tell me now, tell me while we’re here like this. Was there ever anyone else?”

Azhar felt as if the rest of his life would depend on what he was about to say next. Should he lie?
Could he even think of telling her a story he knew she wouldn’t believe?

He took a deep breath. “Actually, there was this Uzbek girl I once knew while I was on assignment in Tashkent…”

Instead of the anger or tears he expected to find, all he saw was Sarah looking into his eyes and smiling.

“Tell me more, sweetheart. Was she beautiful?” she asked.

“She was absolutely gorgeous…”

“And was she good in bed?”

“She’d put a porn star to shame, I tell you.”

Sarah laughed and smacked him playfully across the chest. “Oh, stop it, sweetheart! You’ve never been any good at lying. There’s never been anyone else, has there?”

Azhar shook his head. “How could there ever be?”

Sarah brushed a stray strand for hair from his forehead. At the very last second, she held back the kiss she so desperately wanted to give him. They were in Malaysia now; they were no longer on that blue bench in Regent’s Park.

“Sayang, while we’re on this road… what ever happened to Embun’s father?”

“You mean my ex-husband?”

Azhar stroked her hair and waited for her story.

“Well, there’s not much to it. He upped and left not too long after Embun was conceived. Haven’t heard from him since”

“Not even to visit Embun?”



“Don’t be. Better this way, I guess”

After a fashion, Azhar could no longer hold back what he wanted to say to her.

“Sayang, I must tell you I’m a tad disappointed.”

“Disappointed that I now have wrinkles all over my face and that my breasts have gone all droopy?”

“Don’t be silly, sayang. I’m a bit disappointed that you named your daughter Embun. Don’t you remember our promise?”

“Oh, that promise…”

“Yes, sayang. Didn’t we make a promise that if we ever had a daughter together that we’d name her Embun?”

Sarah cupped his face in her hands and wondered if he was ready. She decided that the time had come. She had waited twenty six years for this moment.

“And I have kept that promise, my darling…”

It took a while before he finally understood what she was trying to tell him. Even then, he had to be sure.

“You mean…”

“Yes, darling. She is. God! Didn’t you have a good look at her?”

Azhar drew her close and held her as if he’d never let her go. Neither noticed the tears as they rocked slowly in each other’s arms for what seemed like forever.
Sarah and Azhar sat close to each other and watched the light disappear from the sky. When the stars first stars appeared, Sarah spoke, “But she must never know, darling… “

“But… “

Sarah placed her fingers softly against his lips. “Promise me you’ll never let her know…” she pleaded.

Azhar took her hand in his, kissed her fingertips and replied, “I promise.”

It was dark when they finally made it back to the cottage. In the jealous light of the moon, he kissed her on her forehead. “Keep well, sayang. It’s time for me to go” he said in a voice that was on the verge of breaking.

Sarah didn’t say a word. She nodded once and let go of his hand.

Azhar straddled his ageing Triumph Bonneville and inserted the key into the ignition. He wondered how many more times would he have to leave his sweet, precious Sarah before he would be able to stay forever. Would he ever live to see the day when he would never have to leave her again? As he was about to gun the engine, he felt a light touch on his shoulder.

“Please stay…” said Sarah in a voice that melted Azhar’s heart.

He climbed off his machine, took her hand in his and walked with her to the cottage. After twenty seven years their dreams finally came true.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A blind couple who made me see

This entry is in a way an attempt at my already failed challenge with Datin Rosmah Yaakob.

Makan Cafe, right in the heart of Portobello Market, is the place to be on Saturday - or any other day.  The atmosphere, the people and of course the food. Yesterday, a little late, the children decided to have their favourite all day English breakfast of toast, halal sausage, baked beans, fried eggs.  I had my usual laksa lemak and Hulaimi ordered satay.  I have always wanted to be a fly on the wall in Makan Cafe.  Ani and Azhar - the owner have what it takes to attract all kinds of people to their popular eatery in one of the most popular street markets in London.  It was made even more popular by the film Nottinghill with its blue painted door.  

Yesterday, the crowd at Makan Cafe was a mixture of the usual tourists to the area and regulars like us. Ani, after making whatever she had to do in the kitchen, came out and talked to her customers, chatted with her regulars and even sat down with them for a natter.  She is the magnet to Makan Cafe, apart from the food.  She listens to their worries, shares their good news and generally a friend to those coming in from the cold.

An old man, sat at the table by the toilet - I couldn't see him at first, but heard his booming voice, sometimes agitated , sometimes, bursting into a song.  Ani told me he was one of her regulars - perhaps a singer in his younger days and now a little confused and in his own world in his advanced life. He found sanctuary in Makan Cafe, he found someone who accepted him for what he is, or what he has become.

As one by one customer left to see what was left of the market, a couple walked in. They held on to each other - each with a white walking stick. Both, visibly impaired was the proverbial blind leading the blind.  Obviously regulars too to Makan Cafe, they found a table opposite us.  The man, perhaps in his sixties, and blessed with a better eyesight then his wife, adjusted the chair for her to sit on. She is hijabbed, and kept her dark glasses on, whispering constantly to him and he responding back.  

I couldn't take my eyes off them and felt so much an intruder into their private space.  All around me , couples , families, groups of friends were communicating and getting connected - but via their gadgets; whatsapping, sms'ing,, bbm'ing and what not.  But this couple, though blind were looking at each other and communicating.  The husband would only look away from his wife when he cut and diced the food on her plate.  He guided her hand to the cutlery and with saw that she ate her food.

For once I didnt finish my laksa lemak.  I watched them enviously.  How beautiful is their way of communicating with each other.  How connected they are without their Samsung S3 or iPhone or the latest gadget in the market.  

When we were done, I took a snap of them together but mysteriously, there was no trace of that picture.  Perhaps I wasnt supposed to intrude into their private space.  Perhaps they were not even there - but others with me saw them too.  Perhaps, the blind couple were there to make us see what we have lost.  Yes, perhaps.

We left Makan Cafe, after a rendition of My Way by the old man sitting by the toilet. The cold evening air greeted us and I left Portobello Market with memories of the couple who have more sight and insight then us with 2020 vision.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Musings of a Muruku Marauder

Knightsbridge was bathed in Christmas lights, courtesy of Harrods – the corner shop for the rich and famous. I was momentarily blinded by the glitters and mesmerised by the window display.

They certainly have style – Harrods. Christmas shoppers were leaving in droves clutching their famous green carrier bags, while others rushed in in search of last minute Christmas bargains. I was not the least tempted. I have better things in mind - a mission almost impossible. I braved the cold and the crowd, all the while the sound of jingle bells and Christmas carol drifting from the solo steel band drummer at the top of Knightsbridge station.

The night was still young but I felt old. I was a young bride when I first walked on the streets of London, shivering under my paper thin kebaya.
Now, I am much older and wiser – I wore my new coat bought at a 50 percent discount from Debenhams.

My mission didn’t take too long and soon I was also clutching that green Harrods carrier bag, boarding the C1 homeward bound. I was happy to get a window seat and oblivious to everyone around me, I started to dip my hand into the bag and tore open one packet. I was consumed with guilt but with every munch and crunch I felt good. The Harrods carrier bag was full of the scrumptious muruku courtesy of my buddies and accomplice back home.

I didn’t know when it happened, but I remember Kay bringing me a packet when I was back home. A packet wasn’t enough…and like an addict I went round looking for more but nothing was as good.

Some friends who came to London brought me more…but the crunching and munching was no music to some other ears…and with the best of intentions, my muruku supplies began disappearing. I coaxed and cajoled but to no avail. But yesterday, without even looking I found them.

Kak Nasirah Aris and Kay through PS Fadzillah brought me more supplies – thus my trip to Knightsbridge. As I walked to the front door, I perspired in the cold winter air and  wiping off crumbs from my mouth I walked in.

Dipping into the bag, I offered him the acar ikan masin. This is from Kak Nasirah to you, I said sweetly. And dipping further into the big bag, I said,” and Kak Nasirah bought me these books,” referring to Malaysian Tales etc.

“….and er…of course some muruku that I will share during the tazkeerah session!”

Phew! Suffice to say, I am still in one piece. After 32 years together, he knows how to deal with my obsession;  Alleycats, Ferrero Rocher, Cocoa Dusted Almond Chocolates and Chocolate Truffle Cake.These obsessions soon disappeared.

This will soon go too – but in the meantime, thank you comrades!!!
Kak Teh's other harmless obsessions:http:

As I was Munching Muruku

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A Learning Curve with two Odd Socks

Work was about start in fifteen minutes.  I was still in last night’s clothing.  Managed to find a decent top, grabbed an Ariani tudung and my reading glasses and was right in front of the laptop within five minutes flat.

That’s the beauty of online teaching – this new technology which once frightened me has proven to be quite exciting.  Within minutes of logging in, the student came online, hardly aware of the fact that I had a kain pelikat on with different coloured socks.  What mattered was from shoulders upwards I was professional looking, ready to do the job at hand.

The first lesson went smoothly as if I had worked with the tools for years; different from the confines of a classroom.  While student was doing exercises, I could let the cat out, start the drier and make endless cups of coffee!  As long as the camera stays in place, who was to know that there’s a pile of laundry on the sofa, or another pile in the laundry basket near the garden door.  All the student could see was an impressive stack of books behind me. Impression counts.  And he still couldn’t see my odd socks!

But during the three hour session, I learnt a few things that one must not do during online sessions; teaching or coaching.  Do not hover over the camera to reach out for something.  Tudung or no tudung, your breasts would be suffocating the person at the other end.  DO NOT look over the camera as the other person can see up your nostrils, and DO NOT munch muruku when you thought student is silently doing exercise.  If you need to do so, remove the headset…the munching and crunching of muruku can be annoying.

And when you need coffee, remember to remove the microphone or push it aside, as you risk dunking microphone in mug of coffee!

It has indeed been a learning experience!!
(Now excuse me, I need to have a bath!)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The power of social networking - the Asyraf Haziq Experience

THE video clip on YouTube showing Mohd Asyraf Haziq, 20, bleeding and in shock after an attack during one of London's worst riots, touched so many people.
There was an outpouring of sympathy which then turned into anger when his so-called saviours, apparently from the same gang who attacked him, ransacked his backpack and took away his PSP.

He cut a forlorn figure as he staggered home while the gang went off with their spoils of his STG60 (RM293) bicycle, a hand phone and his PSP.

They missed his wallet in his back pocket. The one who ransacked his backpack, disdainfully threw away an empty plastic container that Asyraf had brought to pack food for his sahur (pre-dawn meal).
Asyraf, a first-year Association of Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) student and a Mara scholar studying at Kaplan Financial College in nearby Tower Hill, was cycling with a friend to break fast at a friend's house when they were attacked.

His friend managed to cycle away, thinking Asyraf would do the same.

Unknown to him and his attackers, the incident was filmed by someone from a nearby building and it was posted on YouTube and repeated many times on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Sky TV.

This one-minute-15-second video clip was ironically as powerful as the tweets and SMSes that the likes of his perpetrators had employed to plan their mindless attacks and carnage throughout London and cities across Britain.

So powerful was it that tweeters got together to collect money to replace the things that he had lost, and a search was launched for the person who recorded the dastardly act on a helpless student.
Asyraf Haziq in hospital after the attack

Someone on my Facebook had contacted me about his identity. And apparently, he, too, was making efforts to collect money to donate to the student, who is now nursing a broken jaw as he awaits surgery at the Royal London Hospital.

Asyraf, on his hospital bed, was still oblivious to the publicity and attention his misfortune had caused.

With his lower jaw wired and a swollen right cheek where he suffered another broken bone, Asyraf looked vulnerable but a far better picture than the one on YouTube.

Abdul Hamid, who filmed the attack, wrote a caption under his clip: "Footage I captured of some men using the riots as an excuse to just harm and humiliate an innocent person. I hope to get in touch with the victim and I am also trying to raise money for him."

In an interview with Hamid, he said he was very sorry he couldn't help Asyraf as he was too far away.

He only noticed Asyraf when he was lying on the pavement after the attack.

"When I saw him , I then realised I should get something for evidence," he said, adding that he would be collecting money to donate to Asyraf and hand over the recording to the police.

And that is not all. A group of facebookers-cum-tweeters are also busy generating interest among sympathisers and friends of Asyraf.

A friend, Zaila Idrus, a travel consultant with Iman Travel, started a GetwellsoonAsyrafHaziq campaign which has been gathering support among her Twitter friends.

Another tweeter, ShaunCFC1866, has started a campaign to buy back and replace everything that Asyraf had lost to the young criminals.

This article was first published in the NST here

Friday, 27 May 2011

Surrealistic Syria - Part 1 - Delightful Damascus

Ever since I came back from Syria, this charming and beautiful country had been preying constantly on my mind. The short and brief visit had been like a dream and could have been a dream had I not been literally touched by the beauty, charm and hospitality of this Middle Eastern country which enjoys the characteristics of the Mediterranean to the west, hemmed in by Lebanon on its western frontiers, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the East , Jordan to the south and Israel to the Southwest - all these close proximity making it such an attractive package but at the same time also by virtue of the close proximity, a whole region that's volatile politically.

It is difficult not to push away the images that we see in the media recently as a result of the wave of protests sweeping the Middle East, but it is difficult too to forget images of Syria that will forever be friendly and full of history and culture. That is something no one can ever take away from anyone that has ever stepped foot on Syrian soil.

My journey to Syria started with a lot of apprehensions. I didn't know the country and my initial skimpy knowledge of the country was coloured by whatever political reports dished out by the western media. Suffice to say, a week was not enough to take in the country so rich in culture and steeped in history. You will want to go back, because that's what Syria does to you. It beckons you to go back.

The journey started early on Boxing Day. The lack of hospitality on Syrian Air was very much compensated by the overwhelming reception throughout the visit - be it from the friendly vendors in the souks of Damascus, the beautiful girls dancing on the top of Aleppo Citadel, the farmer's wife making bread in a small Syrian village or the bedouins in the deserts of Palmyra. Their smiles just broadened when they recognised you as a Malaysian!

With a friend, Zaila Idrus from Iman Travels, and Ali and Nagi tour guides and driver Hassan from Mowiashe travels, the trip was more than I could ever ask for.

Day one in Damascus was planned by Mr Ali - a walking encyclopaedia on things Syrian -
he briefed us before we said goodnight and retired in our comfortable room in Semiramis Hotel. The next morning after a typical Syrian breakfast, we headed for the old city of Damascus , the sights and sounds that has the capacity to transport you to a totally different world, in a different era.

The Hamadiyeh souk of Damascus
The first thing that crossed my mind as I entered one of the many alleys in the souk is that I could easily get lost in the souk that dates back to the Ottoman rule under Sultan Hamid. And what wonderful adventure it would have been dodging mules bearing goods, motorbikes and people doing their shopping. It would have been a welcome respite away from the hustle bustle of modern living - to be sipping tea in one of the caravanserais listening to travellers' tales from the deserts of North Africa.

Alleyways lead to alleyways with merchandise to entice you such as beaded tablecloths, table runners, prayer mats and many, many more. It was simply amazing that you can browse around, pick up a thing or two without any pressure from the vendors. Instead, they offered tea, with no expectations in return.

Ummayad Mosque
We exited the souk into another world that left me in awe of its majestic presence - the Ummayad mosque - one of the oldest and holiest mosques in the world. From a temple built by the Armenians in 1000 BC, it went through several periods under the Romans, the Christians and finally the Muslims - making it the interfaith place of worship - where a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist or Nabi Yahya to the Muslims. The building was once shared by both Muslims and Christians as a place of worship.

Standing on the vast courtyard, I took in the three minarets, the Minaret of the Bride, the first to be built, the Minaret of Prophet Isa, believed to be the place where the prophet will descend from on the Day of Judgment and the Minaret of Qaitbay. I did my prayers in the vast opulence of the Ummayad before leaving for the tomb of Saladin which stands in a small garden nearby. There was already an orderly queue of Muslims and non-Muslims entering the shrine to pay respects to one of the greatest Muslim warriors. Standing there before the tomb was one of the most emotional moments during the visit - a prelude to things and places connected to the great Saladin, such as the Saladin Castle and Krac de Chevalier. But that will come later.

Tomb of the Bilal
Damascus is not a city to do in a day but I suspect that a month wont be enough as well. But we did as best as we could, taking in the enchanting Hamam and the hospitality it has to offer. My only regret is that the day we visited the Hamam it was not a day for women. After that we went on a long search of shrines and ended up in Bāb Saghīr Cemetery which houses among others the shrines of Umm Kulthum, daughter of Ali and Fatimah, granddaughter of the Prophet pbuh and that of the Bilal. Again, tears welled up in my eyes as I offered prayers to the Bilal. I couldn't believe that I was there. Shrines are popular places for Shiah tourists who come from far and wide on a pilgrimage of a lifetime. Young and old were carried and piggybacked to enter shrines and women and men wailed out loudly.

As the sun was about to set, Hassan sped towards Mount Qassion where you can feast your eyes on the whole of Damascus as the sun goes down. There are stalls with middle eastern music from transistor radios and hot teas are endlessly poured as the temperature dipped, making me yearn for my bed. According to legend the Prophet Mohammad pbuh stood there and was asked why he didn't go to the city. His reply was, he didn't want to go to paradise twice. Wallahualam. But indeed watching the colour changing over the Middle eastern skies. I was mesmerised.

Surrealistic Syria - Part 2
To Palmyra, Hom, Hama and Aleppo