Februari 14 2003

Euphrates : Pont des Français

What are you going to do there, the somewhat incredulous Ami had asked me ?

It must be said that in general, Syrians do not like to be sent to this region very much. Deir is a bit like the Wild West and last night, I thought so in a cyber  crowded with kids, no one was surfing(way too expensive), but they use the computers to play. The people in charge give me their own pc to access the Internet. On my web page I intend to correct a title, when suddenly a cup flies above my head and comes crashing on the wall behind me. There ia a noise of broken dishes towards the entrance. A window is broken. A melee ensues that becomes more serious when knives come out and two boys (17 and 13 years old) try to cut the cyber managers. Their hands are slashed and when they call for help, they flood the phone with blood. I tell myself that my editing will have to wait and I hand out some Kleenex. Angry at their attackers, they scream in a language I no longer recognize. I don’t think the killers are aiming at me, but still, I’m afraid someone will die. The police arrive and the victims go to the hospital for treatment.

Abou Qamal

When I returned to the scene this morning, I didn’t see them anymore and I hope they didn’t lose their jobs because at first sight they had nothing to do with this mess. The little I understood of the situation made me think of Brussels and the Marolians’ raids at the Jambe de bois (a café near the Place Anneessens) that you are all too small to have known. At that time, the Marolians were underprivileged Belgians while the population of the Jambe was composed of students and it was regularly assaulted with a peak at the Saint V the big student feast.

Let’s go back to Deir. One reason for coming here is the Euphrates, whose name I much prefer in Arabic: el Fourati. There are also the remarkable ruins of some fortresses and especially of Dura Europos and Mari (already inhabited before the XXVth century B.C. and one of the strongholds of the Sumerians) towards the Iraqi border.


At the airport of Deir, no cab, no shuttle. With two other travelers we wait. One of them ends up going to a Rover and soon invites us to join him. An extremely kind gentleman is at the wheel and drives us to our respective destinations. Just like that. It was a good start and the rest is history.

I stay at a hotel that a friend told me was on the banks of the Euphrates. Not so, I am in fact at the edge of the canal. The river is 500 meters away towards the French bridge, a suspended footbridge.

Deir is close to Iraq not only geographically, but also by accent, music and affinity. Here, the war is felt even more painfully than elsewhere.

I have talked about them at length; some of them even make common cause with Saddam, even Ossama. Don’t rush to the conclusion that they are terrorists, but the Americans are pushing some Arabs towards these people because they need personalities who can rally them. They tease me about “old Europe” and I tell them that we have become the new Arabs.

The inhabitants speak a different Arabic than in Damascus; as for the music, I love it: harsh, it has desert accents.


I have to find transportation to visit the sites conveniently and as the hotel is very evasive, I take things in hand.When I boarded the cab of Hani, I knew at once that hewas the man of the situation. The symbiosis is total since he does everything I want which is not obvious in this country where the man often does not even listen to what the woman suggests. Except for MamnouA (verboten), nickname we gave to my sister during her visit; the driver not having lowered the radio after her repeated requests, she must have frightened him so much that we had peace during the rest of the trip. Same thing for the hotels that he suggested so insistently that it was hard to resist, except for MamnouA. It was convenient to have a sister who took the unpopular attitudes for me.

Hôtel à Deir Ez Zor

As for Hani, I spent three wonderful days with this very young man, dignified, classy, who was visibly interested in my visits himself. I even spent an evening at his home with his wife, his children and the mayor of Deir.

I even went as far as Qamishle to see the Tigris, but Ain Diwar is beyond what my back can handle and that will be for another time. Little did I know that I would soon see it in Baghdad.

Deir Ez-Zor

Used by the nomads of the Middle East, the Arabic word zor refers to the scrubby vegetation that covers the lower terraces of the desert river valleys, especially those of the Jordan and Euphrates, says Universalis.  

A look at the city

Qalat Rahba (on the road to Abou Kamal)

Doura Europos



And above all, the people

Below is a crucial character: it is thanks to him that I am sending you these pictures. I had forgotten my camera in his car and he went looking for me to give it back.

I think the restaurant is called Sayag; the happy cooks

The famous tanour, makes the best bread ever

January 2003 My sister and her husband visit

Tekyié Suleimani