SWF in Syria (2): Torn Between Two Husbands

Syrian actor

(Click here to read Part 1 of this series re: my 1st date with this country.)

Sure I was a SWF in Syria, but I wasn’t there to meet men. In fact, that was the last thing on my mind.

So how’d I end up with with 2 husbands…in 1 day?

Well, it began quite innocently in Damascus, a city I fell for rather quickly.

I was lingering over breakfast in the hotel courtyard, enjoying the quiet and the cool morning air and reflecting on how much I loved the city and almost wanted to commit to him (it) and to stay longer, perhaps enrolling in an Arabic course.

But I was  feeling  a bit torn….between him and his more conservative brother Aleppo (and the rest of the country).

Perhaps it was too soon to be that committed? Maybe I needed to date a little more…

Talent Scout

Lost in my thoughts, I almost didn’t notice the borderline smarmy man in a Hawaiian shirt (like a Girls Gone Wild recruiter), looking both sweaty and frazzled, who’d arrived at my table.

“Hi,” he said, smiling. “We need you. We want British women.”

“What? Who are you and what are you talking about?”  I asked, nearly rolling my eyes. I was not in the mood to be hit on so early in the day. “Also, I’m not British.” I laughed since I’d been mistaken for German hundreds of time, but never British.

“We need people for a special TV show. Would you like to be an extra?”

“I don’t know….I was going to relax today.” I was half tempted to say, “No thanks, I’ve got a headache.”

“We put make up on you and dress you up. You act a little. And you get to eat good food and you make $50.”

“Um, well..I’m not sure.” I chuckled, thinking that I must really  look like a low-budget traveler in need of a meal. And a makeover, too. Truth be told–the money and the meal were somewhat appealing. I was on a 40-day trip and $50 went pretty far in Syria.

“Please?” He looked sort of…desperate. At that moment, one of the kitchen employees, Alla (not to be confused with Allah), gave me the thumbs up. Well, that certainly made it all seem legit and so….

“Well, OK–why not….sure,” I said, immediately feeling like a commitment-phobe with buyer’s remorse. But I knew why I accepted the proposal. It’s hard for me to say no to a once-in-a-lifetime experience–especially one that’s quirky and off the beaten path.

On Set, In the Desert

A couple hours later, I found myself in the middle of the desert with about 7 other foreigners and a bunch of professional actors–including a famous one–in a completely fabricated town, from the late 1800s.

We were made up, dressed up in formal clothes (including stockings and high heels) and then asked to….wait….until it was time for the camera, lights and action. In minutes, I went from American backpacker to an aristocratic Brit from the the late 1800s.

The name of the show? Door of Clouds. The plot? I still don’t quite know–even after googling for a few months.

“There’s a town and Bedouins and British,” said the smarmy agent said when I asked him.  “And there’s a mariage..some violence… and more.”

Where’d the idea for this very costly production come from? An Emirati prince, a poet, who wanted to make it happen. The director? Someone pretty major–like a Spielberg or Coppola. Definitely not small potatoes–or even baby pitas.

The Actors’ Room

Being an extra–as many people know–is often a waiting game. In Syria, it’s no different. There were two choices: outside in the extreme heat (dry heat stops mattering when it’s over 100) or in the Actor’s Room–which I quickly renamed the Instant Asthma Lounge as nearly everyone was chain smoking. I alternated between the two.

“OK…come now…we need you,” a man in a white shirt and jeans said, summoning us. A low-level director, I thought. My fellow foreign actors and I obeyed and minutes later, we were out in the middle of the desert in the fabricated town, getting ready to….act.

Husband #1

His name was Matthew and he was handsome. He reminded me of a young Ralph Fiennes. His British accent was just right and he was sweet.

When I was told that he and I were supposed to act as husband and wife, I didn’t mind at all. Sure, he was a bit younger, but hey–why not.

We had to walk back and forth in this fake town a couple times, acting married, arm in arm , and it was fun–but hard work (due to the costumes and the heat). In the photo on the right,  he’s  chillaxing, between scenes, in the Actors’ Room.

But then, just at I was getting into the acting groove, something totally unexpected happened–a twist of fate that would lead me and Matthew to an early, unexpected separation and then, divorce.

My hat fell apart.

In regular life–in 2010–it wouldn’t have mattered. (I don’t wear hats–especially silly ones from the late 1800s.) But on set, when you’re a wealthy Brit in the late 1800s, you must have your hat. To not would simply be scandalous.

“Wardrobe man, where are you?” I yelled, panicking. He came running. He glanced over at his boss, the director in the white shirt and jeans, who said something in Arabic, which sounded like “Hurry the hell up.”

Back in the wardrobe room–a hot and slightly musty trailer that invoked instant claustrophobia–he and I began to argue re: which hat. He found a pink hat. I hated it and said, “NO.” He then pulled out a yellow one, which was better, but still not quite right. Finally, we agreed on white and I ran out, back to the crazy scene of people, animals and madness.

And guess what?

My husband was gone. Actually, he was with another woman. A Dutch girl who was a bit younger, I’m sorry to say.

Husband #2

“Um…so who’s my husband now?” I asked the Wardrobe Man in a snippy tone.
He looked panicked and came back a minute later with a German guy whom I’d met in the van (see photo to the left of man chillaxing in Actors’ Room.)

He was nice and also a suitable husband, superficially, but I have to admit I preferred husband #1. Perhaps it was the handlebar mustache that turned me off?

“What do we do?” I asked, trying to go through the motions, feigning an attraction. I guess I was acting, wasn’t I?

“Just walk with me. And pretend we’re shopping for camel saddles.”

That’s what we did. We acted–for real.

And then, the fake rain came.

“Act happy….smile,” the director yelled. And we obeyed. Again, real acting. But I began to think we should have made more than $50. It’s hard to act happy when you’re wearing cheap high heels and stockings in 110-degree weather with a fake husband who’s a replacement for the original. There’s a reason some actors get paid so well.

Us (me in the back) in the fake town from the 1800s.

There were several scenes  like this–where we were “rich Brits walking through town shopping.” A few times we saw real action, such as a woman who’d just gotten married being carried in a box by a camel who seemed a bit ornery. At another point, it looked like some soldiers were investigating a situation of some sort.

At one point, one of the professional actors pointed a gun at me when I told him I was American. Fortunately, it wasn’t loaded and he was…”just making joke,” as he put it.

As for the real action, we didn’t see much of it. It was simply too hard and too hot to stand there; worse yet, the wind was wild and kept blowing around and kept getting into our eyes and mouths. And so, most of the time, we just hung out in the Actors’ Room, enjoying  “backpacker chat.”

Handsome Hero

At one point, one of the real actors, entered the room. I had a feeling he was a good one and maybe even important. I had no idea who he really was…

“So who are you in the show,” I asked, still not sure what the show was even about.

“I am  hero,” he said, smiling proudly. He extended his his hand and I gasped briefly at the wound on his hand, which looked like dried up pizza. The makeup job was that good.

“Great….nice to meet you,” I said. I wondered if was a hero or the hero. A big difference, I thought, since the would mean the one and only…

“You know…I want to go to Hollywood. That is my dream.”


“Yes, but I need to learn English better.”

“I’m actually a ESL professor–that’s what I do. Too bad I’m leaving in a few weeks.”

“A shame,” he said. “I need more time.” He smiled and walked out of the room. Darn, I thought–maybe I should have gotten his number.

This regret was followed by a fantasy about taking a sabbatical from my job to help Syrian actors perfect their English. Sounded like fun. Also, I wouldn’t have minded him being Husband #3. As I later found out, from my hotel receptionist Hoosam, the “hero” is one of THE most famous actors in Syria!


On Dec. 1, 2010, I learned the identity of this mystery man (thanks to a former student of mine from Jordan. His name: قصي خولي .  Qusai Khouli.

So…did I see ever see any of see this show? No, but millions of people in the Arab world did–and during their special holiday Ramadan. And knowing that–and having had 2 husbands in 1 day–somehow made it all worthwhile. Would I do it again? Maybe, but for more than $50…

By the way, the next morning, when I woke up, I had knew what I needed to do with my relationship with Damascus. As sad as it was to break up with that wonderful city, it was the right thing to do.

Read about my love affair with Aleppo and the rest of Syria in the part 3 of this series: Juicy Details of the 2nd Date, which is coming soon. It includes a special slide show that will make you want to buy a ticket to Syria–or at least, get up and belly dance!

How about you?

Have you ever been an extra on a foreign TV show? If so, what was it like? Have you ever been torn between two…places? Staying vs going? Do you know the real identity of the famous actor–the “hero” with the hand wound? Please share with readers in the Comments section…I/we would like to hear from you!

PS: A few days after this adventure, I had another one you won’t want to miss reading about. Just published today (my 1st guest post ever, incidentally) on the Travelated website, it’s about what happened when I spent the day with a Japanese couple in a beautiful but eerie crusader castle–also in Syria. It involves shisha, odd sausage and a place where one can easily be held prisoner by those who lurk in the evening. Click here to read it.

By the way, my guest post is one of many “Travelations,” stories that can inspire you  to “get out of your own little corner of the Earth, if only for a little while.” Travelated is  a cool site where travelers “get inspired and get going”; check it out!

Learn more about “Door of Clouds”

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49 Responses to SWF in Syria (2): Torn Between Two Husbands
  1. Emma
    November 24, 2010 | 1:21 pm

    I think there’s something about you (or maybe it’s the way you approach travel!) that draws all kinds of fascinating experiences to you. What a fun thing to get involved in!

    I love the photos… :)
    Emma recently posted..Helping Each Other – Your Vote Needed!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 24, 2010 | 6:06 pm

      You think so? Thanks–you may be right! :) It was fun (although I complained re: the heat and the long day a bit–as did the others). Still, all in all, it was cool. I’m itching to know who that actor really was, you know?

  2. Sabina
    November 24, 2010 | 1:41 pm

    Well, I guess this is the ultimate cool story about what can happen to you while traveling! – or at any time. Too bad it only paid $50 for all the hard work 😉 And I’m glad you understood that not wearing a hat would be scandalous. I had no idea!

    • CB Driver
      November 24, 2010 | 6:08 pm

      The “ultimate cool story….”….I love that. Thanks! I do think that $100 would have been fair since I had to expose myself to so much secondhand smoke in the Actors’ Room! Still, the meal was fabulous and the company was fun.

      Thank you, Sabina, for visiting and for your feedback! :)

  3. Backpacking Journalist
    November 24, 2010 | 2:12 pm

    Wow I love this post – what a bizarre (but amazing) thing to happen on your travels. Looking forward to part 3! x

    • CB Driver
      November 24, 2010 | 6:11 pm

      Thanks, Chloe…very bizarre! :) I can’t wait to share the next part with you….the “juicy details of the 2nd date” and a video-style slide show, which is going to be amazing! PS: You may have seen it, but I wanted to share my other Syrian misadventure just published today: http://goo.gl/xjCMu Enjoy!

  4. Sprite
    November 24, 2010 | 3:56 pm

    what an awesome and yummy story! love it!!!

  5. Jools Stone
    November 24, 2010 | 6:02 pm

    Brilliant, I haven’t read a post this funny for months! A true road to Damascus moment! You should enter this for the GranTourismo competition, Lisa. If you don’t win I’ll eat my 18th century hat!
    Jools Stone recently posted..Comment on Give a Tenner- Build a Village- win a Spa Break by Jools StoneMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 24, 2010 | 6:14 pm

      Thanks, Jools–so glad that you were entertained…awesome!! I’ve never heard of that competition….will have to look into it. PS: For another good laugh, check out how I got lost/trapped in a Syrian crusader castle with a Japanese couple–my guest post over on Travelated’s site. It was quite a trip! http://goo.gl/xjCMu

  6. Sally
    November 24, 2010 | 7:50 pm

    Wow, what an awesome experience. I totally would have signed up for this — if anything, it definitely made for a cool blog post. And, yes, Husband #1 was definitely hotter.
    I think I’m going to have to hang out in hotels eating breakfast & acting British so I, too, can get my big acting break!

    • CB Driver
      November 25, 2010 | 1:12 pm

      Thanks–and funny that you mention the blog post thing. When I was there having the experience, I thought–this would be a great blog. I didn’t have Chicky Bus at the time, but was considering setting something up.

      I think you should act British during breakfast….some very cool things could very well happen!

      As for Husband #2….yeah, definitely. :) I think I’m going to send him the link to this post; I’m sure he’ll be flattered by what we’re saying. :)

  7. Emily @travelated
    November 24, 2010 | 11:13 pm

    That is such a great story :) How fun to be an extra… and to ‘get married’ twice in one day :)
    Emily @travelated recently posted..5 Tips for New Year’s in VegasMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 25, 2010 | 1:14 pm

      Thanks, Emily. Yes–it’s not every day that one gets to have 2 husbands in 1 day. I think I should have gone for a third–the famous actor whose name I still don’t know. :)

  8. ayngelina
    November 25, 2010 | 2:58 pm

    I keep hearing travelers talk about getting asked for films, what a fun time! Unfortunately my dark hair in South America means I get asked for nothing…

    Oh well, at least I can live the experience through you :)
    ayngelina recently posted..Serendipity of the solo female travelerMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 25, 2010 | 5:16 pm

      Hmmm….maybe should go to Scandinavia or Eastern Europe? I think you would do great there! :)

    • Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
      November 25, 2010 | 10:28 pm

      I was asked to be in commercial in Lima about tourism… alas I was too shy :(

      and by shy I mean hungover… hahahha surprise!

      • CB Driver
        November 26, 2010 | 12:47 pm

        Were you? Good thing you said no–feeling shy due to hangover plus all-day work as an extra would have been too much! LOL :)

  9. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
    November 25, 2010 | 10:27 pm

    Haha! This is awesome! I would totally tap husband #1… hubba hubba!

    • CB Driver
      November 26, 2010 | 12:48 pm

      Thank you….and that’s funny (and probably the consensus). I wonder what he’ll say if he sees this.. :)

  10. Rease
    November 26, 2010 | 1:49 pm

    What a great post! I definitely like husband #1 better, that handlebar mustache is a turn off for sure. I love the story, I was led here by your guest post on our site! Emily gets the sneak peak at all the posts, I usually wait until they are live. Thanks for sharing!
    Rease recently posted..Guest Blog- Emily SimsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 26, 2010 | 2:11 pm

      Hi, Rease–and thanks! You’re from Travelated? V cool…great site…nice to know that my guest post there brought you here. I’m so glad you liked the story. Awesome!

      You prefer Husband #1? LOL…I’m starting to feel bad for Husband #2. Of course, it’s not his fault–it’s the mustache’s, right? :)

  11. Jodi
    November 26, 2010 | 2:27 pm

    Fun post and I second Sally’s vote for Husband #1. Hadn’t seen your blog prior and glad to have found it via Andy (@501place)’s tweet. I’ll be reading from here on in!
    Jodi recently posted..An Afternoon in Paris’ MontmartreMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 26, 2010 | 3:01 pm

      Ah…so the Brit is winning. He’ll be pleased, I’m sure (I’d better let him know that he’s got some fans out there!).

      So glad you’re digging this and I can’t wait for you to see the next part–the 2nd date, which includes juicy highlights and a super cool video-style slide show. Nice to meet you, by the way, and thanks for the visit!

  12. Tracy Burns
    November 26, 2010 | 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the amusing traveling tale! The handlebars put husband no.2 at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps you should be contacting him and asking for a better headshot to get a fairer result! I think I’d had to pursue Husband No 3 just for the cool, mysterious factor. Looking forward to reading more on your site – its fun seeing the other side of travel as a female (me being a mum on the road with her family as opposed to a single woman … slightly jealous!!!)

    • CB Driver
      November 26, 2010 | 6:29 pm

      Hi, Tracy…nice to meet you!

      I did get to see Husband #2 without the mustache and must say that he was better that way. However, #1 was….#1. I do think you have a point re: #3, though, as he does seem to have a certain something… I can’t wait to find out what his real name is, you know? Maybe I could go back to Syria in the summer and teach him English….. :)

      As for being a mom on the road with your family….I think it’s really cool! I respect and admire anyone who is a mom or dad (not an easy job) and especially if you’re traveling with your children. I think that you’re giving them the best education possible and an incredible childhood…they are very lucky to have this opportunity–and so are you! Will come visit your site and check out your adventures…

  13. Bethany
    November 26, 2010 | 11:54 pm

    Wow – how awesome! I loved this story. I think even for less than $50 it was worth it, i mean that is really a once in a lifetime thing. My favorite picture is the man on the horse who is rearing up, that is hysterical and seems to fit the story so well! All the husbands were pretty cute too! :)
    Bethany recently posted..Bridge of Gold – Ponte Vecchio in Florence- Italy – Somewhere In TimeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 27, 2010 | 12:57 am

      Thank you! I think you might be right re: the $ thing….some experiences truly are “once in a lifetime” and this was–although I bumped into the “agent” the next day and he asked me if I wanted to do it again. I laughed and said, “No”! As you’ll see in Pt. 3 of this series, I sort of broke up with Damascus and moved on to Aleppo.:)

      I love that photo, too–but must give credit to Husband #1. My camera battery died and he agreed to send me some of his pics. A nice guy, huh? I agree re: the hubbies, too….each had his charm in his own way. :)

  14. Mila Shakya
    November 29, 2010 | 7:25 pm

    Super entertaining! Your adventures and the way you write about them are really wonderful and amazing! You should really write a novel that will thread all these personal experiences all together into a unique tapestry! Hugs and blessings, Liz! Will try and search for that famous Syrian actor who’s quite good looking!

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2010 | 1:27 pm

      Thanks, Mila. Actually, I am writing a book–my travel memoirs, in fact. And this is one of the stories that will appear in the book (written slightly differently, though)!

      Thanks for the wonderful feedback and encouragement–much appreciated. And guess what? I found out the Syrian actor’s name and know what he looks like without makeup. I’ll try to post this later…

      • Mila S
        December 2, 2010 | 5:12 am

        Await the name of the actor in your next episode!

        I’ve just read the episode next to this one and will comment there. Hugs, Lisa! I so look forward to your finished travel memoirs!

        • CB Driver
          December 2, 2010 | 5:43 am

          Guess what? I have the guy’s name. One of my former students, a guy from Jordan, found out and share it with me. The mystery man is:

          قصي خولي . (aka, Qusai Khouli)

          Here’s a link to him being interviewed.

          Here’s a link to his “actor’s reel.”

  15. Zablon Mukuba
    November 30, 2010 | 5:08 am

    now that is the unbeaten path, i have never heard anyone being an extra in a show. its unfortunate you had so many husbands in one day. nice post

    • CB Driver
      November 30, 2010 | 1:28 pm

      Yes, it is. Crazy but fun day for sure! Thank you…

  16. Workers of the World #1 | The Working Traveller
    December 4, 2010 | 12:07 am

    […] SWF in Syria: Torn Between Two Husbands From American backpacker to British aristocrat in one take. […]

  17. Gray
    December 7, 2010 | 5:29 pm

    OMG, how much fun must that have been?! Okay, I’m sure part of it was probably tedious (like all the waiting), but what a great story you have to tell! Fun stuff.
    Gray recently posted..Hotel L’Annexe- A Budget Paris Hotel for the Solo TravelerMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 8, 2010 | 3:37 pm

      Yes, it was fun!! But you’re right–there was a certain amount of tedium in between shoots. And it was hard being in the “actors’ room” with all the cigarette smoke (although the AC was nice). Overall, though, it was fun. Happy you had fun reading the story!

  18. gaby
    December 8, 2010 | 4:47 pm

    Hi Lisa…it was an awesome story…i’d love to have an experience like that someday….btw u look pretty on those pictures and husband #1 is haaaandsome :) lol

    • CB Driver
      December 8, 2010 | 5:01 pm

      Thanks, Gaby! I hope you do have a fun experience like the one I had…you would enjoy it! And thanks for the kind words re: my photos.

      So you like Hubby #1, too, huh? I think I can officially declare him winner of the Most Handsome TV Husband Contest! :)

  19. Helena
    December 9, 2010 | 12:43 am

    What a trippy and bizarre experience!!! Yeah, great pics. You HAVE to put everything together in a book. …and echoing the comments of others, I had NEVER thought about vising Syria, but you’ve really piqued my interest.
    Keep ’em coming!

    • CB Driver
      December 19, 2010 | 2:27 am

      Thanks, Helena. Wild, right? :) The book is being worked on…sort of…and is 75% there. I hope you’ll be one of my 1st complete-draft editors…. Thanks for joining in!

  20. The Arabic Student
    December 21, 2010 | 2:12 pm

    Great story! When you go to another country you really do some interesting stuff (or at least you have the writing ability to make it sound interesting :P). Great blog! And even though it’s meant for women, I enjoy it a lot!
    The Arabic Student recently posted..Ya Reit يا ريت – if onlyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 21, 2010 | 2:56 pm

      Thank you very much….perhaps it’s a combo! :) And actually, funny that you mention the blog being “meant for women.” When I first set it up, that is what I thought. But about 2 months later, I realized that wasn’t the case. Over the next week or so, I’m going to remove that wording. from my header. Chicky Bus is really for anyone interested in the “off-the-beaten path and in-the-moment experience.” (Occasionally, I post something just for women, but not very often.)

      Thanks for stopping by and for your unintentional reminder to change the header….appreciate it!

  21. Iain Mallory
    January 1, 2011 | 5:32 pm

    Always suspected you were a star!

  22. Lost in a Castle, Syria Style | Travelated
    November 8, 2011 | 3:56 pm

    […] Read Part 1 of Lisa’s Syria Series! var Scribol; if(typeof Scribol=='undefined'){Scribol={}; Scribol.frames=[];Scribol.site='http://scribol.com/';} Scribol.frames.push('129574'); […]

  23. Alan Horton (@TravelFlag)
    December 27, 2011 | 8:51 am

    I’ve never been on a foreign TV show. The closest I got was when I came 2nd out of 500 to appear on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in Florida. I nearly had the fastest finger.

    This story is really enchanting, the way you had 2 husbands in one day for $50, I thought you’d ask for more than that, LOL – Husband #1 was undoubtedly better – I have to stick with him as a brit myself.

    Maybe you could make a living appearing on Arab TV, or as you say, teaching English to Syrian Actors. Another quality post.

    • CB Driver
      December 27, 2011 | 9:04 am

      Hi, Alan. You came in 2nd? How fun!

      I was tempted to ask for more $$–especially once I was there in the extreme desert heat (and/or suffering in the asthma room)–but the price was fixed. Yeah, Hubby #1 was cute. I sort of liked the famous actor, too! :)

  24. #TravelTuesday: Chicky Bus
    July 2, 2014 | 11:37 am

    […] posts Morals and Ethics of Travel Photography: When Shouldn’t You Take That Photo? SWF in Syria (2): Torn Between Two Husbands Dialog in the Dark: Journey Into Blind […]

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