One thing you shouldn’t do in Syria is take a trip in bad vehicle. There’s enough things that will go wrong. Especially don’t ride in a SUV that’s been rolled several times and has no windows and is painted in FSA colors. Especially when you will have to drive for hours through the Kurdish countryside. When it’s raining.
We were attempting to go to Laramoon, the suburb north of Aleppo where the FSA had taken a regime checkpoint and apparently had the Air Force intelligence center surrounded. We arrived wet and cold and the commanders promptly told us all filming/photographing was prohibited. This happens sometimes and it really sucks. They tell you how dangerous it is, usually true, but don’t tell you the other reasons- whether it’s because Islamists are control on the front, they believe all foreign reporters are spies, they generally resent your presence for your country not intervening in Syria etc.
Oh yeah, as soon as we arrived our vehicle had a flat. Of course the spare was also flat. After a few hours some kind FSA came back with a re-inflated tire. Hours later we made it back on the road for the long ride back to Aleppo. It was already getting dark and raining again.
Yousef, our talkative but rather incompetent rebel driver, decided for some reason decided to “Allah Akbar it” up a dirt switchback between villages and promptly got us stuck. A rig driver with a chain pulled us off the hill but Yousef’s careless driving seemed to have seriously f-cked the radiator.
Every few kilometers we had to stop to refill the radiator, meanwhile the thing was probably leaking through a detached hose. We had passed the beginning of a Kurdish wedding earlier in the day, and as fate would have it we broke down in front of the wedding in full swing.
Sheepish, we walked into the wide courtyard full of separated sexes, musicians, two camera men and took a seat. One male in a shiny suit was pissed, whether because some foreigners in battle rattle had crashed the wedding or because we’d done it with two FSA friends carrying AKs.
Yousef just had to let off a few rounds as is tradition, but it went over kind of awkward with the Kurds. Meanwhile, the extended family couldn’t have been nicer, feeding deliciously us for the first time that day, letting us film some amazing drumming and male line dancing. We were kind of awestruck.
But after a half hour we were told to “finish up” our coverage; we re-filled Yousef’s crippled radiator and limped to a gas station half a Km away where we broke down again. The mechanics generously tried to work on re-clamping some radiator hoses while we drank rocket-fuel espresso.
The Kurds warned us a regime checkpoint closed down the nearby roads to Aleppo at night. Not worth the risk. We headed back to a friendly town, when Mustafa our translator decided to tell us the mechanic said his fix-it job would only last 5 km. The engine began to grind metal on metal… We ended up walking to that friendly town. Poor Yousef was determined to stay with his beaten truck, which belonged to his brigade.
Abu Azz, a serious guy with the military council, picked us up on the road like a scolding father. We were fine. Yousef got kicked out of his brigade though. Bad idea to go on a trip with a battered battle vehicle. Lessons learned…
Some shots of Laramoon from a building, the music of the Kurdish wedding, and complaints about Yousef firing his gun…