The first vehicle that comes along we stop. Too late we notice that the lorry is going at about 5 mph. Since the driver speaks no English John and I complain freely about the speed and wistfully look after all the speeding personal cars that overtake us. Within five minutes we even both have opened a book on our knees and are trying to kill time by reading, despite the letters jumping at each irregularity in the road. “At this speed we will be in Damascus in, like, 8 hours” we mock this big bad bone shaker. At some road side café the driver stops, leaving with a short hand-sign (the first three fingers of the hand pointed up in a little pyramid meaning “wait”). “What’s he doing that long?” “He’s probably pissing”, we grumble to each other.
Or buying us coffee and baklava. The friendly act can be said to have pacified us. From now on we are munching happily on sugar-soaked filo dough and smiling politely and feel quite bad about being so impatient. We only go about 20 minutes longer anyway, then we abandon the big noisy snail, find ourselves on the road again and are trying to stop another car.Try is good actually. The first vehicle coming our way stops again. It is one of those classic Mercedeses from the fifties. Quite a cool, comfortable ride. Our driver keeps crossing himself and we understand he is boastingly letting us know that he is Christian, just like us (more or less). He insist to take a detour to show us an ancient stone church with time-eaten frescoes on a hill from which have a pretty view over large waves of Syrian badlands.
When we make it back to the motorway, he stops at a garage, greets the boy outside with “Merhaba Habibi”, then disappears inside the shop next door. He comes back with ice-cream for us. I pretend it is just the regular hitchhiker’s day, but it is the first time John is travelling this way and he marvels: “Do other people know about this?”