Whispers From The Past

words + photos by Jolandi Steven

 

In the pursuit of progress, the past is often overlooked, neglected, discarded or forgotten. 

But to me, it holds an allure that is enticing, charming, mesmerizing and utterly seductive. Not so for everyone: When I first mentioned the abandoned village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra on the outskirts of Ras-al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates to my husband, he evinced his non-committal with a shrug of his shoulders.

Thanks to Google, I learned that Al Jazirah Al Hamra means “Red Island,” and before the discovery of oil and subsequent land reclamation that linked the old town permanently to the mainland, it was on a peninsula that, with high tide, became an island. The questions puzzling me were: “Why did the people abandon their homes?” “Where did they go?” 

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American ambassadors in Arab lands

 by Judith Fein

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

View in Photo Gallery

 

“What country you from?” two young men shouted at me from the stalls where they sold clothing.

“United States,” I answered.

“America! We love America!” they replied, grinning broadly.

The stalls were in the souk in Aleppo, and Aleppo, which has been inhabited by our species since the llth century B.C., is in northern Syria. Yes, an Arab country. Where cautious Americans are not supposed to go.

In Damascus, the capital, I was picking food from a sumptuous buffet and piling it on my china plate when the restaurant owner approached me.

“Where do you come from?” he asked.

“The United States,” I said. “And it’s my birthday today. This is my celebration.”

“Your birthday? Come with me, please.”

I followed him over to a large, standing, locked glass showcase which displayed jewelry and antiquities. He unlocked the case and withdrew a stone.

“Here, for you,” he said. “It’s a rock from the moon. May you have a wonderful day.”

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