Monday, October 25, 2010

The Matrix of Syria

The Matrix Of Syria

Have you ever felt like the powers that be: the media, the political elite, the big corporations, are trying to blind you from the truth. You can’t see it, or really intellectualize it, but it’s there- like an itch in your mind that won’t go away. And that feeling, that itch, finally pulls you somewhere so you can rip off those rose colored glasses they have you looking through, and see what lies beyond the collective world view of your culture …
sunrise over the Syrian desert
I decided to go to Syria for two reasons.
1. My travel agent (Basel, who is Syrian), urged me to go.
2. I’m game

Many of you who knew of my plans also added “Crazy.”
At first I paid no heed to your numerous warnings, but shortly before I was set to leave, an idiot preacher in Florida threatened a Koran burning ceremony, in what was no doubt an effort to fill the cultural divide left by the events of 9/11 with peace, love, and understanding. The State Department subsequently cautioned against any unnecessary travel to the Middle East, my Mom begged me to cancel, assuring me of Mother’s intuition, my adopted brother, Chad, told me to be careful because I would surely be a target, and a Jewish friend assured me I would be killed if I went.

It is not common feeling for me, but I have to admit, I felt a twinge of anxiety boarding my aircraft, but that was probably more a function of the tiny propeller plane being seemingly constructed out of balsa wood.
Transferring in Romania, I ran into a platoon of US Marines on their way to Afghanistan for a tour of duty. I’m struck by the thought that not all these eighteen and nineteen year olds will return, and their steadfast belief that in sacrificing themselves, their minds, and their bodies, they are protecting their fellow citizens. I yearn for public figures to serve with as much honor as these brave soldiers.
I wished them God’s speed, and made a vow that I would do my best to bring some understanding between the US of A, and our implacable enemies of the Middle East (or so most Americans believe) with the goal that my son will never have to protect his country by handling a rifle, but rather by further cultivating the bonds of mutual understanding between peoples that helps make acts of violence and warfare nearly impossible.

The only other person transferring with me to Syria from my tiny plane was another American, who was currently living in Damascus studying Arabic, named Tim, and after a pleasant conversation through the flight, as our plane began its descent at 2 AM local time, I explained to him that my hotel reservation was for the next day, and I wasn’t exactly sure where I would spend the night, and if he was game and had room, I wouldn’t mind spending a few hours of sleep in his apartment. He readily agreed, and I now had a place to stay in big bad Syria. Maybe I travel too much by the seat of my pants, who knows.
Getting through immigration in the Middle East is another story though. I passed (or tried to pass) through five borders, and none of them went exactly smoothly. (Massive understatement as you will find out when I get to Israel) Waiting in line, I couldn’t comprehend why in the world it was taking so long. There were only five people ahead of me, but they were spending twenty minutes a person. The thought came, “And I’m American …”
Well, my turn finally arrived, and I walked calmly to the counter, and handed the immigration official my passport. My visa, (which by the way, costs Americans $141, a big FU from the Syrian government to the US of A, as they only charge the European Union $35) was immediately located by Agent Smith. He gazed at it for a minute, attempting to determine whether I had counterfeited it, then dubiously looked up at me, and asks, “You’re American?”
'That’s what my passport says,' I wanted to reply. Instead came an obedient, “Yes sir.”
He then proceeded to examine my passport with a magnifying glass for a full twenty minutes. He would start in the front, look through every page, turn it back over, and sift through it again and again, spending a good minute pouring over each page.
My suspicion that he was looking for anything to do with Israel was confirmed when, finally finished to what was his current satisfaction, he questioned, “Have you ever been to Israel?”
Not yet … “No sir, I have never been there.”
“Are you Israeli?”
“No. I am American.” (That’s what my passport fucking says!) Tim told me later that if you have an Israeli stamp on your passport, God himself could not get you into Syria, and they’re not helping you with your plane ticket home.
Metal Israeli flag on ground in Damascus. If you step around it, you might be hassled
Then he proceeds to ask me my address in Syria, to which I was exceedingly grateful that I had booked a hotel for the next day, because I think he might have been in the mood to send me back to America if I hadn’t. After casting me dubious looks on every follow-up answer I gave him, like when he asked why I came to Syria; “To assassinate Bashir Ashad,” he finally stamped my passport and let me through.
one of the ubiquitous photos of Bashir Asad, Syria's dictator
It was now 4 AM, and all foreigners were escorted to another room to wait for customs to search our bags. (In case we were smuggling any Israeli flags into the country and didn’t have a burn permit yet I guess.) I saw a European girl smoking a cigarette, and asked her whether she got the fifth degree as well. She was from Germany, her name Annie, and this smokestack would become a companion for the rest of my trip through Syria.
Tim had waited for me to clear customs, and since he was letting me stay with him, I offered to pay for the cab ride into the city of Damascus. I asked Annie if she wanted join us, she wasn’t sure, she had planned to find a hostel. Look, I just met Tim on the plane, it’s 4 AM, ride with us to Damascus. She cocked her head from side to side, and finally agreed. Tim, as if on cue, being a gracious host, offered to let Annie crash at his pad. She took some convincing (believe it or not) but finally agreed, and we were off.
Unfortunately, a fan belt was broken, and to combat his overheating engine, our cabbie would pull over every single kilometer, trying to reset the fan/let the motor cool. Every kilometer. I suppose if we had further to go, it wouldn’t have been nearly as amusing. Then again, I doubt he was laughing at all.
Finally, we reached Tim’s apartment, where I quickly fell into a deep, four hour slumber.
Waking up the next morning, gazing out the balcony window from atop a steep hill, overlooking smoggy Damascus below, I felt a bit like Alice, having just tumbled down the rabbit hole of Syriana.
Now it’s your turn. You take the blue pill, you forget you ever read this, you wake up in your bed, and you believe whatever you want to believe about the Middle East. You take the red pill, you follow this blog over the next week, and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth.


  1. Fantastic introduction. Can't wait to read the next chapter!!!

  2. well said!,
    and a great adventure...

  3. Absolutely wonderful read! I'm seriously considering a trip to Syria soon to meet up with a long-time pen-pal, and I consider it great luck to have stumbled across your blog! Very fascinating. I will be following this blog religiously =) Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is a great blog post. I didn't know about the metal flag.
    And wow, you are definitely spontaneous. Traveling will do that to you I guess!


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