The atrocities in Syria are all over the news now, and it's desperately sad as it's one of the most fascinating countries I've ever been to, with thousands of years of history covering so many religions, and the Levant Christians, Muslims, and several other religions cohabiting in a fairly peaceful manner. Until now.
Just over a year ago I was in the three most oft-mentioned cities on the news. Damascus, Hama, and Homs. All were peaceful and in particular Hama, which is famous for its ancient Byzantine wooden waterwheels, or norias, on the Orantes river.
I remember my first night in Hama how I was staring into the window of a kind of patisserie who were making pastry the oddest way. I was beckoned in and the man showed me what he was making - a kind of sausage shaped rather sickly pastry, and we communicated in the common language of food.
John Wreford, based in Damascus, wrote this moving passage late last year on his facebook, about Hama:
In commemoration of Faisal and many more like him we'll be holding a Syrian Supperclub. MSF already has worked in Syria for many years with the over 1 million Iraqi refugees, and are currently working with the victims of the conflict through their existing network of local doctors.
I wandered the riverside cobbled streets; boys were diving from the Norias into the Al Asi River named after its penchant for rebellion, I stopped to take photographs, a gang of dripping youths surrounded me clambering for me to photograph them, which of course I did. When I finished I walked over to a sandwich stall for some lunch, the owner had been watching me photograph and was smiling as I walked over and that is when I first met Faisal, this also the last time I ever paid for my lunch in Hama.
Faisal was softly spoken, serious yet friendly, we got on immediately, he told me I was the first foreigner who had greeted him with Salam Alekum and every evening while in Hama I would come to the café and sit with him and his friends, each night I would arrive back at my hotel to find it locked up and have to wake the receptionist, once somebody at the hotel asked me what the hell I did every night until 2am.
Faisal was killed by the Syrian regime on the 22nd September; he was 38, married with a family.
This was Faisal’s second revolution, as a child he had been imprisoned by the regime for what he just described as ’82, he had shown me a photograph of where his house had stood before being razed along with countless others, they even killed my horse he said, he showed me around Hama pointing out bullet holes, missing buildings, rebuilt Mosques.
Faisal was a proud Muslim but never was this a barrier to our friendship, I am sure he must have despaired at my seemingly debauched life but like so many other of my Muslim friends in Syria and elsewhere he was tolerant and accepting, Hama is known to be a conservative Muslim city but does also have a sizeable Christian population as well.
I would return to Hama as often as I could over the years, Faisal spent some time at the American University in Beirut studying political science, he switched his business, he got married and had children, always our conversations were about how Syria would find its freedom, what happened back in the 80’s shaped Faisal’s future and what is happening now will shape the lives of the next generation.
Faisal only wanted Syria to be free; he died for this.
As I am writing this in Hama today already 9 people have been killed.
On the menu will be
Sabenirh Bezzet - Spinach and onions with spices
Kibbeh Bel Ferroun - Quince and Pomegranate Kibbeh, truly a “feast” dish
Yehlanji - Vegetarian stuffed vegetables
Kibbeh Bil Saniyeh – Damascene kibbeh, the kind Syrian Christians typically eat for Sunday lunch
Tabbouleh - Parsley and Burghul salad
Labna - Home made cream cheese balls
Falafel – homemade and really, really good
Fattoush - Typical Syrian salad with croutons
Hirak Isbaoo - Fabulous Lentil dish from “Naranje”, arguably the best restaurant in Damascus
Mutabal Kusa - Courgette pulp gently fried with garlic
Bulghur - Chickpea, Tomato and Bulghur Salad
Fasolia Bzait - Green Bean Salad
Homemade Syrian Cheese and Za’atar Bread (see photo below)
Arabic Bread and Olives
Ma’amoul – homemade Syrian date cakes
For more photos of the fascinating Syria, click here to go to an album on Facebook
Please e-mail us with bookings on firstname.lastname@example.org
Price will be £50 of which £45 will go direct to MSF to help with their work there.