Damascus can be a strange place. This dead chicken sat atop a dilapidated old Peugeot was a portent to events of the evening to come.
At the end of a rather amusing soirée with some friends in their beautiful, traditional Arabic house, it was time to catch a servees back to Jaramana. I stood at an intersection, rapidly trying to read the Arabic of the passing micro-buses’ destinations before they passed, failing to find one marked “Jaramana”. Even at 2am, I rarely wait longer than a few minutes.
A long, cold twenty minutes later, I was feeling a little dispirited, and then a van reversed back up to me, offering a lift. The “Don’t get into strangers’ vehicles” message that was drummed-in twenty years ago was far from my mind. Here I was, in Syria, climbing into the cab of a strange, unknown man, on the hope of my limited Arabic having understood him to be going back to Jaramana, not thinking twice about it.
This man was indeed strange, and the conversation began with him asking me if I liked Syrian girls. Not the ideal starter for ten, as I wondered if an answer in affirmative might be interpreted as the sign of a womanising Westerner… Things rapidly got worse, with questions about my promiscuity in his country (zero), my experience with prostitutes (zero), and my desire to experience both together, tonight (zero).
I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand his question regarding the size of what was between my legs, and as he gesticulated and eventually reached across to my lap, I feared the price of this ride home might be somewhat more physical than monetary.
When asked what I thought of sleeping with men, he laudably told me that it was great; this in a country where the public position is that homosexuality “doesn’t exist”, and is indeed prohibited, and where prosecution can lead to imprisonment.
As we approached my district, he became more insistent that we get “ithnayn binat” (two girls), an experience I was adamant I was not going to engage in. I managed to descend with my Syrian virginity still intact, and as I walked home reflected on how stupid I had been, but at the same time, chuckling to myself about the ridicule of the situation.