I escaped the city one day last week with my Syrian friend, Itab, to hike in the mountains and visit some minor Roman ruins -- an aqueduct and cisterns. (In Syria, one is never far from Roman or Byzantine ruins.) In the Barada River Valley northwest of Damascus, where the air is crisper, the leaves are changing.
We hired a taxi to visit a valley of fig trees and the driver, Bakr, invited us to his home for tea and for breakfast -- in truth it was the afternoon, but the only food he could offer us was breakfast. I enjoyed some Syrian staples: labaneh, makdous, pickled olives. I left some food on the table, even though I was hungry, to which Bakr said, “You haven’t eaten anything. Eat! Eat!” So, I finished it.
Members of his family were harvesting olives in the terraces below the house. The harvest season started about a month ago and continues until the olives are collected -- for some families, the activity can continue into the new year. To Bakr's objections, we insisted on helping. His father, Abu Bakr, has 700 olive trees. He was joined by his two sons, their wives, two grandchildren, and us. Small black olives went in one basket -- for pressing -- and large black olives in another basket -- for pickling.
Itab and I worked for an hour or so, helping to harvest a half-dozen trees, then we plucked some pomegranates and sat down to eat them. As the afternoon sun began to ebb to the ridge line, we bid farewell and walked back down to the road to catch the 20-cent, 20-minute service taxi back to Damascus.