I’m on a street called Medhat Basha. I’ve walked the three quarters of a mile from Baba ash-Sharqi to Bab Al-Jabiye two times. The exotic sights and smells of this historic thoroughfare no longer entice me. I can’t find the shop with the striped awning which signals the hotel turn. My stomach grumbles, my feet hurt, my palms sweat and I have to pee. Mild waves of anxiety roll over me.
I had parted company with my son Mark about an hour ago after spending the day together checking out all the gates to the Old City of Damascus. I wanted to sketch the magnificent Sinan Pasha Mosque, with its green tile minaret, just outside Bab Al-Jabiye. Mark said, “Okay, see you at the hotel. You know how to get back, right?” “Yes,” I agreed. It was late afternoon and our group would be gathering for dinner that evening.
When I sat down to sketch the mosque a local sidled up next to me to try out his English. Our thighs nestled together and as he rambled on with questions his face was just inches from my cheek. I hurried the sketch and left him, crossed the street, entered the mosque courtyard for some reflection, walked past the mosque and took the first right into the Old City. It had been a long day.
But now I’m lost, frustrated and getting a little desperate. Darkness is falling, evening is coming on. My iPhone doesn’t work in Syria, no texting Mark. I imagine myself spending the night on the street while Mark and the others head out to search for me—not a good scenario.
I’ve been lost before. Once in Canada canoeing through an archipelago in Wabigoon Lake we suddenly didn’t know exactly where we were. Had to canoe all the way to the end of the lake and check compass and map to determine our whereabouts. But this was different, I couldn’t just pull over, set up a tent and cook dinner. Ruminating over the concept of ‘lost’ I rationalized that I am not lost, the hotel is lost—I know where I am (or so I thought).
Stopping at Al Khawali for a cup of tea I use the restroom. Although feeling relieved, the anxiety hangs on. Luckily I remember the card from the hotel and show it to the man who waited on me. He is of no help. I exit the restaurant and start showing the card at likely shops—those with young clerks who might understand some English.
Then all of a sudden I spy what seems to be a police office. I cross the street, step inside and present my card to the two uniforms on duty. They fall silent as I enter then start a lively debate over the card but in the end they are stymied. They don’t know where the hotel is but they do understand that I’m eager to find it. Abruptly one of them jumps up and runs out the door and up the street. He returns in a minute bringing with him a shop clerk. She has the answer and one of the cops escorts me back to the hotel corner. Turns out I took the wrong right turn. There were street signs, but I couldn’t read Arabic.
Back at the Damascene Palace Hotel, Mark and the others are anxiously waiting for my return.
“Where have you been?”
“Sorry, guess I lost track of time.”