8 August - I got up at 7 by myself, in spite of explicitly asking the night porter for a wake-up call, which never arrived. Oddly enough, I found my room door wide open… yet I'm positive I'd locked it last night and even bolted it. While I was sleeping someone must have got through the window giving on to a shared balcony, then got out of the door. I immediately check my valuables: last night when I opened the window I had thought of this possibility and had hidden everything in the bedside table and turned the drawer towards the bed.
However I decided I'd gamble with the risk rather than stifle in the hot stuffy air of my room. My important belongings are all there, but when I try to get dressed I notice that the whole backpack is missing. I rapidly review in my mind all that was in it: clothes, a library guidebook to Syria, spare underwear, a camera battery charger… I consider the possibility of carrying on my journey with the very little possessions that I'm left with. Possible, but hard.
I am booked on a tour to Ani at 8 am. I think how lucky it is that I'd put my camera, memory cards, credit card, diary, and cash out of sight. I ask for the manager and explain the problem. He sends someone to look for the backpack, and luckily it is found in a room nearby on the same floor, all its contents strewn on the floor. I tidy everything up and realise that only my sleeping bag is missing.
I leave to Ani. I feel pensive, immersed in a whirlpool of thoughts. I reflect my state of mind in the sunless landscape. I could be depressed, but don't actually let myself reach this state. I would like to vent my feelings, and in fact I tell someone about my adventure.
I meditate on friendship, on its value as a support. However how difficult it is to find a trustworthy friend! How many people of those that we usually call friends are actually able to give a helping hand, and not just greedily grab a piece of news, a confidence, and relate it as gossip, with a heedlessness that hurts? Plenty of people are often unable to be depositary of news, but have to turn it into a show, regardless of the effect on whoever is concerned. Discretion, such a beautiful quality, is hard to find. But I myself have erred many times in my relationship with people, in this respect and for other reasons.
I am inclined to be meditative during this 45 km drive to the Armenian border on this bleak moor land. I reflect about Ibrahim's sincerity. I find him nice, but I can smell a rat: can his alleged instant crush on a foreign tourist be an unemployed guy's plot who has to make both ends meet? Can the text messages that Mariangiola receives every day, supposedly from his relatives, be authentic? How could Ibrahim afford to stay in a hotel in Damascus, however cheap it may be, without working? I'm sure his father with 8 more children to maintain can't have given him the money to stay there, after falling behind the course of his studies. Rather the hotel must have been a hunting place. And that very hi-tech phone of his, with a huge display, looks as if it is the fruit of another relationship. I feel disappointed by these aspects of his personality, but the overall picture seems to make sense.
I visit the impressive site of Ani and at 12 am we get back. I have lunch with two Dutch people, then I go for some fun to report the theft to the police. Several uniformed men are soon around me to listen to my tale, but without much knowledge of English nobody can understand a lot. Then a guy comes that mumbles some English, but even he doesn't get too much of my account. We get into a van to the hotel, and stop on the way to ring an interpreter's door bell, to whom I repeat my story. I am with 6 policemen in the van. We break in at the hotel, they start taking with the manager, then I lose track of what is going on. Everybody says goodbye and leaves.
I stroll about town. I refuse to visit yet another fortress, rather I sit at a café to sip a cup of tea. I hope I will come across Mariangiola and Ibrahim, who should have got here this afternoon, as far as I know. Then I resolve to phone home from an internet shop where a nice boy helps me around Turkish menu items.
I put forward a good-mannered request for compensation at the hotel, that I know will be ignored, but I will do it all the same. I also find a message from Mariangiola that is expecting me for dinner. I go to her hotel, but find her out of sorts – she doesn't feel up to going out. I chatter with Ibrahim, then go out for dinner with him. After a rather general conversation, he starts confiding about the problems that afflict him and have to do with his family. His father got in debt to maintain him and allow him to study. The same thing happened with his two older brothers, and now a forth one has finished school and will be attending university in Damascus. He is not ready to work for miserable wages that would only cover his board and lodging expenditure. He now seems to have a rejection to finish off his studies. I understand that his family is leading a very difficult life, much harder than I'd imagined. He says he cannot put up with this sad situation, he cannot stay at his parents' house. He asks me a rhetoric question: "How can you put up with seeing the people you love suffer?" I am speechless confronted with a question left without answer. We fall silent for a long while, a silence that for my part doesn't contain any embarrassment, but sympathy, that I show in this manner. I know he feels I am sharing it with him.
After dinner, though, he starts talking about clothes, I bring to mind that fancy phone he's got, and go back to my theory, that to escape this vicious circle he's stooped to compromises down an easy path. Well, now that he's given me a picture of his woeful situation, nearly a blind alley, I nearly sympathise with his point of view, but am nonetheless sad about his choice. We part, forever I think, at the door of his hotel.
9 August - They gave me a new room for free last night. This one doesn't have a balcony and I left the window open again, but I saw a rope dangling from the floor above. As a precaution I placed the heavy wood radiator cover in front of the window. During the night I heard noises and once I even got up out of curiosity to watch what was going on in the street.
I go down for breakfast. They say they cannot do anything about compensation as I expected. Never mind! I go to the bus station, passing in front of the butchers' shops, one of them with a bad-smelling hide crumpled in a wheel-barrow. There are two French people and a Hungarian family, all bound for Yusufely. The driver invites us all to tea in the waiting.
The road at first goes through moors and grassy plateaus, then into mountainous regions and we drive up a valley of bare, contorted, stratified, extraordinary rock. The last 9 km are covered by another minibus. I arrive at 1 pm, but I won't stop here. I will go on up the valley, that however has become plainer, covered with vegetation and many poplar trees near the water. In the 2-hour waiting for the bus, I sit at a café and read. There are many Israelis in the bus.
I get to Barhal, quite exhausted after a long trip, at Mehmet's delightful guesthouse where the roaring stream waters make a sound frame to the landscape in the narrow valley. The house is lovely and cosy, wood lined and with a large covered terrace on which people walk barefoot. I go to the nearby Georgian church, then walk down to the village crossroads where the two streams meet. I walk up the other branch to stop a long while on the bank throwing stones into the water.
At the guest house I enjoy reading in the time up to dinner, then the nice company of a merry French girl and his witty English boyfriend, with whom I spend the whole evening laughing.