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SYRIA | Saturday, 4 April 2009 | Views [2193]

65 km north-east of Hama, on the road that leads from the fertile valley of the Orontes river to the stony plains beyond, are the bee-hive houses of Sarouj and Twalid Dabaghein. Though few now remain these two villages contain enough of the dwellings, storehouses and granaries that it is possible to imagine how once they housed the sparse population of the district. It is hot here in summer, and cold on winter nights, so the mud brick walls are thick and ceilings high. Like old fashioned bee-hives - or the borg al-hamam of rural Egypt – they taper upwards, four or five metres, and tower above sheep and goats and modern buildings.

Inevitably the traditional designs are being replaced by breeze block and reinforced cement. But the children of the villages know it is the old houses that tourists come to see, and so maybe it is possible that in this way they will survive. The dozen or so still standing seem in good repair, with modern traces like steel pipe chimneys and glass windows attesting to their continued habitation.

The children are eager to escort you around or say hello or ask 'what is your name'. When they see me drawing they ask for portraits, and so I sit and draw Abdal, Aola, Haleema, Joahu, Mohamed, and arm in arm Ahmad and Oahl. Some write their names in English and Arabic, others in Arabic only. An older girls steps in when the children are too young or cannot write at all.

When it is time to leave they wave good bye, and I walk off into that dusty plain. They call after for just a little while, then a passing motorcyclist stops and offers a ride back to town, and all is lost in the rush and roar of air and engine noise.

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