Irish writers experience of Syria to be recalled at IMMRAMA Festival of Travel Writing

As international diplomatic efforts continue to seek an end to the violence
inSyria, one of the few Irish people to have travelled extensively in the
country  Mary Russell  is to speak at the 10th IMMRAMA Festival of Travel
Writing in Lismore, Co Waterford next month.

The Dubliners My Home is Your Home tells of her experiences in
Aleppo, Homs and Hama as well as remote areas of eastern Syria. An
overnight desert taxi trip from Damascus to Baghdad also features in the
book published late last year.

Mary Russell

Among her previous books are The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt which
is about women travellers and explorers through the ages; Journeys of a
Lifetime which recalls some of the many places she has visited as well as
her reasons for going there and Please Don?t Call it Soviet Georgia *about
the then Soviet Republic.

Recalling some of her experiences in Syria ahead of her presentation in
Lismore, Ms Russell said two particular photographs conjure up particularly
vivid memories for her: If there’s one sound that tells me I?m in
Damascus, its?sthe call to prayer which wafts from minaret to minaret like
a piece of gauze blown in the wind. But there?s another sound, which I
heard in Aleppo, in a sufi mosque that I visited one chilly day. Inside,
the men, standing shoulder to shoulder, swayed and chanted, their voices
rising and falling with that of their leader, the sufi sheikh. No women
were allowed but outside, this slim, black-clad woman clung to the metal
grille of the window, her body, swaying rhythmically, telling of her
yearning to be inside. I never saw her face but the image haunts me.

It was in Aleppo too that I met the great family in the second photograph.
I’d been checking my street map when Ali, the father, offered to help. When
he heard I was from Ireland, he was delighted. It turned out that he
regularlytravelled to Co Cork to buy second hand Massey-Ferguson tractors,
imported from England, bought by him and then sold on in Syria.

These are two images of Syria, one of a quite reflective moment, the other
of laughter and fun. Now, I wonder how many of the people I met in Aleppo,
Damascus, Deir Ez Zour, Abu Kamal and all of the places I visited, whether
by bus or bike, are alive and well. There?s only one way to find out, of
course, and that?s to go back. Which I will, Inshallah…?

Looking forward to Mary Russell speaking in Lismore, Jan Rotte,
Administrator, IMMRAMA Festival of Travel Writing, said: ?We have all seen
some of the horrendous scenes on television from Syria over the last year
and, given the repressive regime there, we have every reason to believe
what we?ve seen only represents a fraction of the grim reality in what is a
beautiful, richly historic but clearly very troubled country.

Mary’s appearance at IMMRAMA offers an excellent opportunity for those
attending the festival to hear a first-hand account of life in various
parts of Syria as seen through very observant Irish eyes.

A book edited by Paul Clements and featuring contributions from some of the
travel writers who have spoken at IMMRAMA since 2003 will be launched in
Lismore during the festival. The Blue Sky Bends Over All features
contributions from writers on their impressions of Lismore and takes its
name from the writings about the town of William Thackeray in his 1843 *Irish
Sketch Book.

Other international speakers at this year?s festival include Lonely
Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler; Colin Thubron; Jan Morris and Anthony
Sattin. For the full programme details see www.lismoreimmrama.com or call
058 53803

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