What Is Wrong With My Ass: Stories From My Time In Syria

The shawarma that did me in

I spent about four months in Syria, living in a neighborhood called rukn al-din, in the northeast of Damascus. While there, I lived in a house with several other Muslim men (and one Christian) from around the world. Eventually, everyone in the house except the Syrians and the German did not speak with me, refused to let me eat with them, and branded me a Sign of The Day Of Judgment.

Suffice it to say, I make an impression wherever I go. More on that in a follow-up post, though.

During the last few days in Syria, a bad shawarma gave me a serious case of food poisoning. The morning after I ate it, I was puking every few minutes from my second story window. It came out all foam because, there really was nothing left in my stomach.

Hearing my pleas for help, Muhammad, my Syrian roommate who only spoke Arabic, ran out to a pharmacy and bought a syringe with some medicine. When he returned, I asked if he was going to give me the shot, to which he just shook his head and laughed. Somehow, he got me to walk down the mountain we lived on to a street I had never been to before.

After some time, we reached a door where a young couple with an infant waited silently.

“Is this a doctor’s office?” I asked Muhammad.

“No,” He smiled mischievously.

It turned out that Muhammad had taken me to a free clinic for infants. After a few shorts minutes, he convinced them that I was a poor student that just needed someone to perform a simple injection! Despite feeling like someone had hit me [repeatedly] with a pile of bricks at this point, I had to smile. This is why I loved the Arab world. You can literally finagle your way into just about anything. This is true of when I successfully stowed-away on a bus in Egypt, how I managed to secure a Saudi ‘Umra visa from Cairo because a man I never met or spoke with wrote a letter praising me, and how I ate for free for a year in a restaurant in Cairo, among other things.

In any case, Muhammad and a staff member at the clinic led me into a room with just a couple chairs and an examining table where I sat. The couple with the young infant stood outside the open door of the room watching me with curiosity. Muhammad stood across from me, smiling, as he had seemed to do during that last month. I’d like to think that the ever-present smile was the result of the drama that surrounded me, and consequently amused him to no end. Or at least that’s what I hope.

At this point, the male clinician prepared the syringe. As he approached me, I motioned to each arm, and asked, “Which one?”

After a pause, he patted his own back-side, and smiled.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA!” I turned to the door and saw the young couple laughing hysterically. I could have sworn that their baby was tilting its head back and roaring with laughter as well.

“Okay, thanks, now close the door, please!” I yelled over to them in Arabic, thanking God for all of the humor in my life.

I turned back to Muhammad and the clinician to see them barely holding back laughter. Before they could say anything more, I jumped off the examining table, turned around, and pulled my pants down.

“Aoouthubillah!” exclaimed the clinician. Literally, “I seek refuge with God!”

He approached me and stuck the needle in my right cheek.

And I thought, “Did he just seek refuge with God… from my ass?”