Back through the rolling white-rock/earth hills with their low trees and scrub, on the road from Damascus to Beirut.
Every visit to Syria is too short. My first belated visit, from April 9-29 passed quickly. The second, June 6-15, even quicker. But in both visits, I met an array of people, from those in markets to university students to shared taxi occupants to those in a Damascus cafe to members of the only rugby team… to Syria’s compelling Grand Mufti, Sheikh Hassoun, to the Minister for Reconciliation… With the peace delegation and also in independent meetings, I also met survivors of massacres and terrorism from Kasab, Harem, Yarmouk, Homs, and even Damascus, where mortars do rain down on civilian areas, killing and maiming indiscriminately.
As I noticed when going to Ma’aloula the other day, in spite of battling against foreign-conceived, backed, and supplied terrorism, Syrian roads are being freshly-paved. The road to Beirut for the most part is smoother than many Canadian highways, and in the areas where it isn’t, the reason is that its been primed for re-paving.
In the taxi I share with three other Syrians, I get to know two of their stories. One is leaving for Germany, if all goes well. Work? I ask him. “No, I’m getting out of here.” He’s from Aleppo, hasn’t seen his family for the past three years because of the presence of the terrorist-“revolutionaries” there.
Will you go back when they are gone? I ask him. “Yes, of course,” he replies. I ask if he, they, have a problem with the Syrian government.
“Nooooooooooo,” the second guy, a Palestinian, replies. “It’s the fault of those from outside, they’re the ones destroying the country.”
At the Syria-Lebanon border crossing I’m now very familiar with, I spend a mere few minutes getting my passport exit-stamped. Holding a foreign passport I am made to jump the queue, ahead of the waiting masses of Syrians who are being held back. It’s always hard to deal with this ridiculous birth-privilege of mine, to see the complete opposite doled out to people who are no different from me save their birth location.
The Palestinian, who had cheerfully chatted with me and told me of his hopes of starting over in Europe, doesn’t make it through customs…at least not at the time that the other two men are stamped through. The taxi driver wants to continue. I was there a month and a half ago being left behind by the taxi, know a degree of the frustration. But I did, after 12 hours, get to move on. I fear this guy won’t have, will be like so many Palestinians, relegated to no-human’s land.
Those Palestinians who I met in Syria, however, did say that life was good for them before the last three years’ proxy war began: they enjoyed near-full rights as Syrians, one of the exceptions being they didn’t vote. But they work as professionals like any Syrian, enjoy the education and health care system…. In the case of this guy, he had to flee his freedom-loving-terrorists-controlled area and was now seeking an alternative.
The taxi continues, minus him, and finally reaches Beirut.
Z, the Syrian from Aleppo, repeats to me, “if you need anything, just call me, you have my number.”
The driver, instead of dumping me at Charles Helu transit hub, where he clocks out, drives me on into Hamra, one of the few areas I know in Beirut, without extra charge.
Back at the simple hotel I’ve stayed in here I see Mahmoud, the young Syrian teen I’d spoken with a couple of times while here last month.
“How’s the situation in Syria?” he asks earnestly when he understands I’ve just come back. I tell him Damascus, while still being mortared by those terrorists, is a little quieter now that the Syrian army has cleared them out of some areas of the Damascus countryside. And I mention that Kasab has now been liberated. “I know! I was hearing that just now on the news,” he says.
I’d been unsure of where he stood politically when I spoke with him before, but tonight he made it clear.
“I haven’t seen my family in three years. Those dogs “Jaysh al Horr” (“Free Syrian Army”) control the area of Ghouta where my family lives. If I go back to Damascus, I can’t see them. If I tried to go to my home, they’d slaughter me. God rid us of those bearded men.”