Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Syria Part II

So, as I noted in my last post, I was a little anxious to get out of
Lebanon. I think, really, there were just a few people in Beirut that
got on my nerves way too much. The rest of the country wasn't so bad,
as I recall now, but I had heard the phrase, "It's better for you"
just one too many times. Inevitably, the "better for me" route was
more expensive. Plus, as a later rough calculation would reveal, I
don't necessarily have that much time left.

So I took a bus from Tripoli to Homs, in Syria. Or rather, I tried
to. Now, coming from Syria into Lebanon, the Lonely Planet guidebook
says there shouldn't be a departure fee. All the same, I got charged
500 Syrian Pounds (about 10 dollars), and everyone else I talked to
also seemed to. But they gave me this ticket, and although nobody
really explained what it was for, it had printed on it "Return
Coupon". Throughout my time in Lebanon, I heard various speculations
to the effect that if you travel through Lebanon, then return to Syria
that there isn't as much scrutiny at the border. And someone else
thought the "Return Coupon" would waive the Visa fee (I only had a
single entry visa before, so presumably otherwise I'd need to a) get
another visa, and b) pay for said visa). Thus, I was honestly
expecting to be able to pretty much waltz across the border, no




I get in, and there's a couple Argentines also on the bus, though they
claim to already have a visa. I first try to go up to the "Foreign
Arrivals" window, but the bus driver pulls me out of line, and hands
my stuff to a border control officer. We stand around for a while,
and they get handed arrival cards to fill out, and nothing really
happens to me. I sit down for a bit, anticipating that, despite
everything I've been hearing about smooth sailing, it may,
nevertheless take a while. I try and give the border officers the
copies I had made of my passport, but they don't take them, or my
"Return Coupon". Suddenly, this guy not in any discernable uniform
comes up to me, asks me a few questions, then takes my passport away.
I start to walk with him, but he tells me to stay put. He returns a
few minutes later with copies of my passport. Then I get called into
this office behind the windows, and answer a few more questions,
mainly things like "What your father name?" (They seem to care about
this on all sorts of immigration documents). Then, they tell me to
sit down, and that it could take a while.

So I sit. I note my watch, and it's 3:00, and I've probably already
been there for half an hour. I read for a bit. The Argentines leave.
I listen to music. I finish <em>Dreams from My Father</em>. I just
stare off into space for a while.

The border crossing I was at before was a pretty fancy thing... there
was a hotel, Duty Free Shop, restaurant, and a bonafide arrival hall.
This place was more like an arrival hall-closet. No hotel, no
restaurant (that I could find... someone told me there was, but after
some searching, no luck. I made it as far as the actual border
crossing, where they told me "ma fii mTaam", meaning: no restaurant),
and certainly no DFS. I, expecting either a breeze or at least a
well-appointed wait, did not pack any food, and just a little bit of

Five o'clock rolls around, and nothing. I figure either my previous
theory about the bored civil servant is wrong, or somebody in Damascus
read my blog post and hates me. The first seems more likely, since a)
Blogspot is banned in Syria (I won't see this post until I"m in Turkey
and am submitting it by email), and b) it would take a little bit of
effort to associate me and my passport number with the blog (though a
truly bored and malicious official could no doubt do it). Also, c)
that's paranoid. But mainly a) and b) are why I think there may
actually be some amount of processing that happens, though I still
can't figure out what processing that would be, exactly.

I get through a modest chunk of Aristotle's <em>Ethics</em>, which
Alex loaned me. Maybe only 50 pages, but it's slow reading, and I
spent a fair amount of time staring off into space, and also figuring
out how to construct the center of a given circle using compass and
straightedge (this was inspired by something Aristotle said...
apparently I qualify as a Geometer).

Around 9, the first real english speaker I've seen shows up. I think
her name was Mahaa, though we never really exchanged names (for
students of al-Kitaab, she looked closer to Old Mahaa than New Mahaa).
She, I think, had a visa, or at least some special way to get through
that I didn't, so she didn't have to wait nearly as long. But she did
give me a couple candy bars, one of which I ate on the spot, and the
other I saved, thinking at this point that I might need it for
breakfast. Then, she left, and I was alone again.

Finally, around 10:30, they give clear me for a visa. It does,
however, take another half an hour to deal with all the formalities,
including a significant chunk of time where the guy dealing with my
passport just disappeared for no apparent reason.

Still, I was thinking they were going to keep me until morning, so
this is a big victory for me. I find a service taxi to Homs, and get
into my hotel.

Today, I went to Krak des Chevaliers, as I said that I would. It was,
indeed, pretty cool. The chapel, though not as large as Princeton's,
had some pretty good acoustics. I dunno what else to say, really,
other than it looks frikkin' cool, and is in really good shape given
that it's 800 years old and was captured by invading armies a couple

Finally, I went on to Hama, wandered around town for a bit, then came
in here. I should go back to my hotel and meet my other dorm-mates.

1 comment:

  1. I stand by the comment I made about blundering from one place to the next.