The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Syria

Sacred Places

During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.













I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.







I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.

Palmyra in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers














A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.







This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.


Syria. Since March 2011 Syria has been making headlines. One would literally have to live under a rock to not be aware of the civil war which has been going on for over 4 years. Leaving at least 220 000 people killed. Some reports estimate that this number is in fact over the 300 000 mark. For my friends and family back home in Canada, that’s like the population of the city of Kelowna being wiped out. Twice.

I traveled in Syria in the fall of 2010- months before the civil war would make travel completely inadvisable, and change the face of that country forever. I feel fortunate to have seen the country, and meet its people before it made the headlines. I went with my dear American friend, and to date the land-border crossing from Jordan into Syria has been the funniest and most bizarre border crossing I’ve experienced. Basically we drew crowds everywhere we went, as people (mostly men) would cross the street and crowd around, everyone throwing in their thoughts as we tried to negotiate a taxi for the crossing, all the while clapping and applauding every time I attempted to speak Arabic. We spent 4 days in the city of Damascus and did a couple day trips to historical sites during our time there. I found the people to be kind and friendly. We had only one tense moment at the border where a man saw my friend’s passport and yelled “American” in a not-so positive tone, from then on we told everyone we were both Canadian, and never had any other safety issues. In fact we traveled via public bus, and had people go out of there way to give us directions, feed us, and generally make sure we enjoyed their country.



Public bus

Public Bus







So why am I writing this now? In the last week or so CNN and the BBC have almost on a daily basis had stories about the ancient city of Palmyra and reports that the entire site will likely be bulldozed as ISIS nears the site. As of Wednesday they have reportedly taken control of the site. Why does this matter? Why is this site significant? Why does this destruction matter?

On the most basic level this is the destruction of culture. Pure and simple. They are taking away the history of these places, and replacing it with a very grim future. In addition to the destruction of ancient sites in Syria, ISIS has destroyed a number of culturally significant sites in Iraq as well. The ancient site of Palmyra lies almost in the center of the country about 200km from Damascus. It dates from the Neolithic period, and was established in the 1st and 2nd century. It had major significance a caravan center on the trading route connecting Persia with the east. It is believed to be one of the best preserved historical sites in the Middle East, and became a UNESCO site in 1980. Today many of its statues have been removed in the hopes of preservation, but as you will see from my photos the site is extremely large, as are the many columns and remaining ruins, and therefore impossible to protect them.














This post is not meant to take light away from the death toll related to the Syrian civil war in anyway. And I’m not pretending to be any sort of expert on Middle Eastern conflict. I’m just shedding light on a place that in the following weeks may cease to exist. May be obliterated. Destroyed at the hands of people who wish to erase the culture of people who share different beliefs than they do. This post is meant to make you realize that if you put off traveling and seeing the world, the places of significance may cease to exist. Be it civil war, or an earthquake, or global warming. The earth is forever changing, and if you wait too long the only thing that may be left are photos on the internet, and memories in the heart of those who visited before you…

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