Friday, May 9, 2008

Just wishing...and hopin...and thinkin...and prayin: crossing the Syrian border

Today was the day we would cross the border for Syria. We'd heard horror stories of people waiting 18 hours, but we didn't think it would take that long. (Note: apparently before the Bush administration took office Americans were pratically waved through.) We'd been told the reason for the wait was that officials had to fax American passports to DC for confirmation. Since the DC office doesn't open until 8:00 AM or so, Americans were spending a lot of time waiting for the office just to open. 'A ha! Perfect!,' we thought. We'll just time our crossing so we're at the border at 2:00 or 3:00 PM our time so the faxes will be waiting for the DC officials when they come into work in the morning. We decided to prematurely congratulate ourselves on our know-how and craftiness.

When we got to the border, our two taxis went through several Jordanian checkpoints with lots of friendly guards. The guards had been very welcoming. At one point when they asked us if we spoke Arabic, we replied "shwaya," or sort of/a little bit. They asked if we knew the song. There's a song!?!? They then proceeded to burst into a musical number, complete with dance. The song goes like this: shwaya, shwaya, shwaya, shwaya, shwaya, shwaya, know the rest.

We finally arrived at the Syrian visa office. Everything had gone well so far. Furthermore, the owner of the taxi company we'd hired had told us we'd probably wait for two...three hours max. When we got to the visa office, the guard at the door told our driver it could take two, it could take 7.5 hours. Our driver's face fell. So we sat ourselves down on some very uncomfortable chairs and proceeded to read The Economist, people-watch, and take walks around the parking lot. After a few hours we finally discovered a decent way to keep ourselves occupied. Three words: Duty Free Store. The Duty Free Store was a giant candy box, glittering with chocolate bars, perfume bottles, electric kettles (random), and...liquor. Vodka, gin, wine, whiskey, Bailey's. tequila, schnapps, etc. Ariel and Ainsley went in first and bought two bottles, then Alison and I went and bought two more. We were well stocked and feeling good about things, so of course it was time for something to go wrong. Right about this time our driver threatened to leave us instead of drive all the way to Damascus. Apparently the bus company had told the drivers they only needed to wait until 5:00 PM. While Tim practiced his Arabic/international diplomacy skills with the drivers, I headed back to the Duty Free Store to notify the rest of the troops. I found them not crowded around the chocolate or cologne sections, but rather focusing intently on complex lego structures they were constructing while sitting on chairs sized for four-year-olds. Their tongues and elbows were sticking out and the guards were all gathered around, highly intrigued by these foreign creatures constructing little block masterpieces. It was a sight to behold, and my heart swelled with pride for the genius of my fellow compatriots. I had to tear them away, though, and we headed back to the office.

Fortunately my timing was quite fortuitous because just as one driver was about to leave, our passport approvals came through. Hamdulullah! Now there was only fee paying and a trip to the sketchy stamp office, and then we were on our way. We were actually half hoping there would be another small delay. It was getting late, but Andy could still theoretically make the flight he had booked for the same night out of Damascus. His parents were visiting Cairo and had demanded Andy take a Spring Break detour to go visit them. He really wanted to see Damascus, though, and fortunately we didn't roll into the hostel until after 11:00. His flight was in 15 minutes. Oh darn. We went to our rooms and passed out, happy to be in Syria.