Storyteller of Damascas


It has been a long while since I have posted and I apologize. I spent January and February finishing a novel and then set out to do research in Turkey and Syria during March, April and May. I will post more from this trip in the coming weeks on this blog as well as on the Middle Eastern pages on my website. Highlights included meeting with writers, editors, translators and publishers at Bogazici University in Istanbul; interviewing a search and rescue specialist who worked for The Turkish Red Crescent for a novel-in-progress; learning to felt hats worn by the whirling dervishes; visiting with friends and traveling in Syria.

While in Damascas I met Abu Shadi, a storyteller who has been carrying on the tradition in the Coffee Shop Ainfora beside the Ummayid Mosque. (Among other things, this mosque houses a shrine for John the Baptist.) Since time immemorial Arab men gathered in tea houses to drink tea, smoke waterpipes and talk. Even under Ottoman rule they continued to maintain this aspect of their culture though the cafes were subject to scrutiny by their new rulers. Men whose wives were giving birth waited in the tea house among friends who would congratulate or console them, should the baby or mother die. Storytellers, like series writers today, always ended their tales with a cliff hanger, so people would return to the coffee house the next night. Check out the Middle Eastern pages on my website in the coming weeks for more photos of this most expressive and conversant storyteller as well as to view a video of Abu Shadi telling his story.