The Arba3een: Part II
The days have come my friends. So we gather our strength for the ensuing stairs and trudge on, imagining the wonders that await us at "The Shrine of the Forty." Also we saw a lot of graffiti on the rocks up the mountain. Apparently Eminem has a lot of fans in Damascus.
After another 15 minutes or so of climbing we finally make it to the end. We find ourselves facing two structures, a two story house which is obviously the main building and a smaller structure about 30 feet to its right. The only sound to be heard is the wind. We weren't sure what to expect or who we would see, but we weren't expecting it to be completely desolate. A bit on edge at the eeriness of the situation what with the wind and and houses and the ominous 40 somethings that nobody knows about, we decide to inspect the smaller side structure first. I'm not sure what it was in the past, perhaps a house for the servants, maybe a kitchen, whatever it used to be, in present times it is a storehouse of garbage - filled with water.
We proceed to the main structure, not sure where the front entrance is, not sure if we were even allowed to be there.
This part of the story deserves a bit of background. A few days before we left for the Arba3een we were in class, and one of our professors told us of a practice that men visiting houses in olden times used to do before they entered. They would knock on the door and call out "ya Saatir." Basically they would say that before they entered so as to let any women that might be present inside know that a man was about to enter the house and that they should cover up.
So at the entrance to this random house on top of this mountain, Bud yells out, "Yaaaa Saaaatir!" We look at each other waiting for something to happen, and when nothing does, we open the door.
We enter the house and find it completely deserted. It is silent and empty. We don't really move around a lot, we're just standing there waiting. We see some doors in front of us and decide to investigate. I take a step forward toward the door and suddenly pause. You know that idiotic, "pause for a second before you step forward because you've got that creepy feeling somebody's behind you" that you see in movies? yeah, I did that. I whip my head back and see an old man with a beard to rival Zeus standing silently on the balcony of the courtyard staring at us. If I hadn't scanned the balcony 2 seconds before my cliche step and pause routine, I would've guessed that that man had been standing there for ages. A bit freaked out by his sudden appearance, I automatically shout out the first thing that pops into my head.
"Asalaamu 3laikum!" This was to let him know that we were friendly and that we weren't random tourists. He didn't exactly seem tourist friendly.
"Wa 3laikum asalaam" I heard as if a whisper in my ear.
He slowly started his way toward us and Bud and I are completely freaked out. Is this man going to kill us? Does he exist? What the hell are these 40 somethings?? Are we about to find out? These questions are racing through my brain as the old man is walking toward us. Finally he reaches us and I say salaam to him again. He stands there in silence and Bud and I look at each other not knowing if we should just leave or what. One of my friends had told me of some miracle water that drips from the mountain as if it were crying, so I ask Zeus to take us there. Without a word he walks toward one of the doors in front of us and unlocks it with a key. He takes off his shoes and enters and we follow in kind. We walk through a corridor lined with stones and Qurans and a red carpet on the floor. The corridor flows into a small circular room with a low ceiling. He points to two prayer mats on the ground and says in arabic,
"This is the prayer space of Abraham and that is the prayer space of Khidr. Many people make prayers here."
Zeus leads us to another room that has a ceiling so low we have to stoop to enter. It's completely made of rock and seems like a mini cave. The man points to a hand print in the stone and says that it was left there by the hand of Angel Gabriel. He then points to two points on the stone where water was beading, grabs my hand and makes me touch the water. Two drops of water fall onto my finger. Not knowing what to do with these two drops of water on my hand I touch my two fingers to my forehead and rub it into my hair. I'm not sure why I did that, but really, who knows the protocol for mountain tears?
We left the stone room and I ask Zeus if there is a wudu' area so that I can pray at the prayer spaces of Abraham and Khidr. He nods and points toward the right. I thought he was pointing to a faucet about 3 inches from the ground and was about to do my ablutions very awkwardly in front of him and Bud but then he mumbled something that I didn't catch, probably "what the hell are you doing you idiot" and pointed again, this time to a room about a foot away from me that turned out to be a wudu' area.
Anyway, I make my ablutions and head to the prayer areas. I must say, I found them to be quite spiritual. I can't really explain what I felt as I prayed on those prayer mats, and not really sure that I want to try.
Anyhow, on the way out, Bud and I are about to leave and Zeus is standing silently watching us. I say salaam again, and he gives the traditional response. I'm about 80% sure he called me by my name in this little exchange. (I never told him my name).
In any case my friends, Bud and I left the Arba3een and made our way down the mountain, trying to remember the twists and turns and old people that we saw on the way up. We saw Naqabis speaking English with American Accents and men brandishing daggers that they hid in notebooks. Needless to say we got off that mountain as quick as possible. It was an adventure to say the least and I'm glad that I went up there. My only regret is that I never found out why it's called "The Forty." I'll ask Zeus next time I go up there, you know, if he actually exists.