8 hours at Syrian Immigration
Jun 19, 2007
Syria: It's on the list of states which sponsor terrorism, but that's not the issue I'm having with it. Syrian immigration has an odd rule, where you can only get a Syrian visa in a country where you have residency.
Syrian embassies exist in Cairo, and Amman, but I'm not allowed to get a visa from them. In order to get a visa, I either need to FedEx my passport to the Syrian embassy in Washington DC, and hope that I get it back relatively soon, or to actually fly back to America to get permission to go to Syria. Neither of those ideas seemed particularly appealing. However, I heard a rumor that if you show up at the border, and are patient, they'll give you a visa.
Travel is a bit more fun when there is some mystery involved. So, I'm heading to Syria without a visa. Maybe they'll let me in, maybe they won't. That's my sort of plan.
I get to the bus station and find a shared taxi to Damascus. I tell the driver that I have no visa, and ask him if that will be a problem. I actually ask him three times to be sure. Each time he insists "no problem with visa at the border." I'm not quite convinced, but decide to take his word for it.
Well, of course he's lying. We zoom along good smooth roads for a couple of hours until we reach the border. I walk into the immigration hall, hand my passport over to the official and right away he asks me "Where is your visa?" When I tell him that I don't have one, he simply says, "Wait there", pointing to a bench along the wall. My taxi driver doesn't want to wait. He was the one who said it wouldn't be a problem at the border. I give him the option of waiting, it could be a while, or refunding half my money because he only took me half way. We get into a big argument, but eventually he agrees to refund half the fare.
So, it's back to sitting and waiting; trapped in no-mans land.
Three hours pass. The immigration building is a big tan open area with ceiling fans slowly circling. A half-height wall separates the immigration officers from the people. There really isn't much to look at, but at least the people watching is good as groups of people from all over the middle east come through - plus 4 tourists. I read, finishing the book that I was reading. I do some work. I play some chess against my computer. Then the laptop battery dies. I put on my ipod, and things get fun for a while. I'm sitting there, endlessly waiting, but giggling over the incongruity of listening to the 80's classics "Safety Dance" and "She Bop" in the midst of a crowd of women in burkha's.
Every couple of hours, I head back up to the counter and ask if my visa has been approved yet. They keep telling me that they haven't heard back from Damascus yet. After 8-hours of sitting there waiting, I'm suddenly called up to the counter. My visa is ready. My theory is that they were simply too polite to tell me "no", and when I didn't get the hint to leave, they eventually had not choice but to give me the visa.
After 8-hours of waiting, I'm free! There are queues of cars entering the country. I'm not quite sure where I'm supposed to go on foot. I walk past all of the cars, and at the front of the queue I ask where I'm supposed to go for the custom's check. This is Syria. I suspect that they'll fully search my bags for contraband, especially signs that I've been to Israel, but instead the customs official just asks me "Is that all you have?" Then he waves me on with a simple "Go."
"Go where?" I ask him. It's a serious question. It's 10:30pm at night. There is nothing in sight, except a dark and empty road ahead of me. "Go", he tells me again. "It's only 2k ahead".
I don't even really care what "it" is. After 8 hours of sitting, I'm thrilled to be standing up and walking. And so, I'm heading into the unknown, walking through the Syrian night.
Suddenly, someone jumps out of a bush. Is it a thief? Secret police? Does he have a gun? It turns out he's just a beggar.
Two kilometers later, I come to the checkpoint and arched gateway. I don't think they were expecting a white backpacker to come walking in through the night. There are greetings, smiles, and handshakes, and they wave me through into their country.
Right across from the checkpoint are a bunch of taxis and a hotel. It's been enough traveling for today. I chose the hotel.
I have a good dinner of grilled meat and salad, and then head off to sleep.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Great one Adam! It's amazing how Syria is touted as one of the Evil Doers by the idiots in Washington, I look forward to visiting there some day.
Kay - Feb 13, 2008
Wow! Good for you to have the courage to give it a try!