1994, the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor, Syria. While in Syria for a month on that longer journey, I decided I had to reach the Euphrates. My travel companion since Aleppo (and until Jerusalem) was Gaye from Newzealand. We had reached Palmyra, and walked the deserted ruins of this stunning ancient city. There’d be a tourbus or two in the morning hours dropping some tourists. After that Palmyra was yours alone. On the second day we checked out connections for busses to Deir ez-Zor, and a guy must have overheard us. He approached us and offered a ride the next day. We were hesitant – his leather jacket and gold chains left mixed feelings, but eventually we agreed. Thus we met in the early morning, and off we went for the 200km-trip through the Syrian steppe.
There really isn’t much out there, for our Western eyes anyway, except vast expanses and some dust tracks every once in a while. They suggest people do live “out there”, and indeed during bus rides I’d seen people get off at such places where several dust tracks would trail off into the distance. Anyway, our host did everything possible to entertain us, biscuits, drinks, music and all, and part of it was showing-off, another big part was genuine hospitality. He did import/export, Russia to Lebanon, that sort of thing, and it matched the associations I had with those gold chains around his neck. Once in Deir ez-Zor it became difficult to get some time off from him and his family – of course he had taken us to his family house. We were introduced to his old mother, whose second question was whether we had children (though we weren’t, we sold ourselves as a couple to avoid irritation). We got an hour off to walk along the Euphrates, and this picture basically shows what I got to see in Deir ez-Zor, plus a lovely Syrian family and their friends with whom we spent the better part of the day in their house over delicious food and tea. When we said we would travel back on a late bus at night, they not only saw us off to the bus but insisted on paying for it. They wouldn’t take a no for an answer. It was an expensive one, by Syrian standards, around 3 DM for the 2.5-hour ride, including some snack and a drink – and a rather psychedelic Indian movie on full volume with Arabic subtitles to round off another exciting day in Syria. Deir ez-Zor became a stronghold of the IS in recent years, and it too is largely destroyed. In the absence of email or social media back then one would simply say good-bye, probably for good, so I have no contact to any of them anymore, neither that family nor Gaye. I hope that family got away in time, or made it through somehow.