In Damascus machine guns outnumber purses, and insecticide fogs roll through the streets, stinging eyes and throats and slaughtering columns of mosquitoes. Yet beauty breaks through: every fountain is a celebration and every park a garden; doves whisper, and swallows pierce and embroider the sky.
In 1995 Heather Burles left her job as a computer programmer and bought a one-way ticket to Syria. In Smouldering Incense, Hammered Brass, Burles describes her experiences travelling the countryside, renting a small house in Damascus, learning to speak Arabic, meeting people, and avoiding trouble. As a woman travelling alone, she has acess to women's lives and is often invited into their homes. In describing these encounters, she does not romanticize the people she meets, but reflects unflinchingly on their lives and her own.
Burles becomes an honoured guest at a Bedouin feast, the victim of a deliberate "accident" orchestrated by a police officer, and she spends an afternoon with a mukhabarat (the dreaded secret police). Struggling with the Arabic language and other adventures, Burles experiences countless moments of joyous wonder at the generosity and hospitality of the Syrian people.
Smouldering Incense, Hammered Brass is written with clarity and grace. With an eye for small detail, Burles brings to life an often-demonized part of the Middle East rarely seen by the western media.
"The flavour of daily life in Damascus comes through on every page—the kindly neighbours, the eccentrics, the underlying political tensions, the old beauty, the new ugliness."
–Dervla Murphy author of Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle
Heather Burles grew up on a cattle ranch in the Porcupine Hills near Cowley, Alberta. She has degrees in linguistics and in computing science and is fluent in English and German. She is a travel enthusiast and her memoir, Smouldering Incense, Hammered Brass (Turnstone Press), recounts her spontaneous trip to Damascus. Since returning from Syria, has spent time in China and India. She is now lives in Vancouver.