Not too long ago I traveled with a couple friends to a place called Deir Mar Mousa, a monastery about 80 kilometers north west of Damascus. This was easily the coolest thing I had done in Syria thus far. It's a mostly independent Catholic monastery that allows anyone to visit for any amount of time, and as long as you help out with daily chores, it's completely free. The monastery is placed in the side of a mountain and one must climb a large number of steps to reach it. We arrived at night, right before evening services, so the first thing we did when we got there was attend a mass mostly in Arabic, with a bit of French thrown in. Because not all the normal monks were there, and there was a shortage of Arabic speakers, I was asked to read a short reading from the Book of Luke. We spent two nights there, and with two services each day, I got my filling of church for about a year and a half. Although they weren't compulsory, I went to almost every mass simply because they were much more interesting than any Catholic service I had ever been to before. Most of the other visitors there were uber-religious Europeans, and so I had some very stimulating conversations about the pros and cons of the EU over dinner. I decided that if I ever have a month to kill, and really have nothing else to do, I will just come back here, hang out, and study Arabic.
On another note, I'm seriously considering leaving the program about a month early to travel to Amman and Dakar with my mother and sister to visit my other sister who's living in Mali right now. Although nothing is set in stone, it would be a great reason to leave a bit early. We'll see.
|The Deir lodged in the side of a mountain, taken while hiking|
|The path leading up to the Deir|
|The two buildings of the Deir (women's residence on the left) from below|