The Levant: Part Six
The closest I came to gunfire was just after we crossed the border into Syria. They told me it was dangerous, but I thought it would come from the cities, from the police, from around the crowds, and not on the road that cut up from Beirut through the mountains and back down again toward Damascus, Ash-Sham.
Leaving Lebanon at Masn‘aa, we would first reach Haloua, the town whose name means “sweet”. I had passed through each country’s checkpoint without an issue, accepted into Syria without knowing my destination, with nothing but my visa and tempered American smiles.
I sat in the back of the taxi. Just me, and the driver’s fat friend in the passenger seat. They had gained interest in me with the altitude, but lost it quickly when I told them that I wasn’t at all ethnically Lebanese. We entered into Syria and the fat friend lent me his phone, or rather rented it, fidgeting angrily when I had spent too long trying to make out my friend’s directions to a meeting point. Tension mounted as he demanded eight thousand lira, almost six dollars, for a five minute call. The scruffy driver took his friend’s side. Pressure.
I didn’t even have that much left — I had accounted for my final spendings in Lebanese currency before the taxi left Beirut, and I wouldn’t give him more than five thousand lira, I said, groping for a liter-and-a-half bottle of water down on the floor. My mouth was dry. Someone grumbled. Outside there was no one, nothing but empty green and brown hillside one thousand meters above the Mediterranean. And then: a low thunk — something shot fast through the air — and I tensed as it struck me square in the forehead. A moment of shock… broken by the fat friend’s laughter. I was laughing with him: the blue plastic bottle cap rolled on the seat.
There was no pressure here (as there certainly was below in Beirut) — that was all. Welcome to Syria, said the hills and their faces; we were nearly in Damascus. And the driver kept driving, smiling, on the threshold of the town whose name means “sweet”.
More pictures from Syria here: