Let me tell you about Charlie.
He lost his leg when he stepped into traffic and was hit by a car years ago, but that’s not the most interesting thing about him.
If you ever go to Baramkeh, a major transport hub in Damascus, you might meet him. He hangs out there most days – maybe even every day. Every time we’ve gone to Baramkeh at the start of a trip to Jordan or Lebanon, he’s been there.
The first time I met him was as we were setting out on a trip to Irbid, Jordan in September of 2004. As our small group of travelers was standing around waiting for our service taxi, I heard someone call out, “Hey, blondie!” I had been subject to a lot of different catcalls from strange men on the streets of Damascus, in both English and Arabic, but until now, “hey, blondie” had not been one of them.
Our small group of travelers turned around to see Charlie. He loped towards us and continued talking in English. “Whatcha doin’ out here, eh, fellas? You’re a heckuva long way from the States.”
You see, Charlie speaks a very rare and rudimentary form of English. He spent several years working for the American navy in Lebanon during the 1960s. And as you may have guessed, that’s where he learned English. His speech is made up entirely of 1960s military slang, and it hasn’t changed or evolved in the 40 years that have passed since then.
The Wednesday before last, we showed up at Baramkeh to get a ride back to Jordan. We were waiting outside the service taxi as usual when suddenly I heard, “Hey, blondie!” Only this time, I think he was talking to Miriam. And this time, we made sure to get a picture.
And so he hangs out at Baramkeh calling the girls “darlin’” and the boys “buddy.” A conversation with Charlie is so bizarrely out of place in Damascus, Syria, that after it’s over and you’re driving away toward wherever, you’re not quite sure it really happened.
Charlie says he doesn’t have a job, but I think he does – it’s entertaining (and probably helping many of) us tourists and reminding us, in case we’d forgotten, that everything in Syria is a surprise.
And if that is his job, at least he’s very good at it.