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Published: July 24th 2009
The Marlboro Man--The Diplomat
After a smoke and a cup of tea, relations between the US and Syria seem amicable! By the way, I do not recommend taking photos at a border crossing!
We left Syria and headed to Lebanon not knowing what to expect. From the level of anxiety evident on our driver Wael's face, we were concerned the crossing would be an ordeal...and we were not disappointed!
We drove through some back roads, wandered around some small villages and passed through some military checkpoints before we found the border crossing. Of course, there were soldiers everywhere and very little English was spoken. We pulled up, parked the car and got out with many eyes fixed on us. We stood by the car for awhile as our driver worked on the paperwork for the rental car to leave the country. We noticed that no one else was attempting to cross the border from either side. We were the only show in town and it stayed that way for over forty minutes.
To our surprise, four older-looking Syrian soldiers who were sipping tea and studying us, signaled for us to join them. They gave us chairs and attempted, in extremely broken English, to figure out who we were and what we were doing. They studied my passport and tried to learn how to say my name. They wanted to know where we
Short break on the highway to make some new friends
We found a farm with about 12 to 15 camels and several babies. They wanted some attention and we could not resist!
were from--Chicago is as close as we could get. To demonstrate that they knew where Chicago was located, one of them acted out "mafia" while another soldier shouted "Obama."
We talked about Obama, about Bush, about the guy who threw the shoes at Bush and what we thought of Syria. Then one of them gestured that my dad should smoke with him and pulled out a kit to roll your own. Dad's attitude of "when in Rome" kicked in and he channeled his inner 9 year old who used to pick up rocks on the Wabaunsee township roads and watch Kenny Zerbe roll his own cigs. Dad's channeling was not particularly good. He looked like he was lighting a clump of prairie hay! This sent the soldiers into hysterics! The oldest looking soldier took the mess my dad made and helped him get it right! They then decided that I needed to smoke. Until this border crossing, I have never smoked a cigarette, I guess you might as well start with a hand-rolled cigarette on the Syrian border! They were excited for me to smoke with them and never offered one to Kyle!
The next stage of the
process involved us going to another building where we were asked a million questions...we have never seen such a process to LEAVE a country! We gave them our exit cards and our passports and there were about 6 soldiers working on our paperwork. Much of the information was being written by hand on random pieces of paper. They wanted to learn how to say our names, they need to know our parents names, they were fixated on where our passports were issued in the USA. (FYI: American passports used to say where they were issued--ours typically identified Houston--but the newer passports are simply issued from the State Department. I guess the Syrians did not get the memo!) They wanted to know why Kyle's picture looked different than ours...on and on. Then they sent us outside to wait and wait and wait. At one point one soldier leaned out the door and wanted to know whose mother was named J-U-N-E!
It took over an hour but we finally made it to the bridge to cross the small stream into Lebanon. The Lebanese soldiers were a serious, all-business (and pretty attractive) group of professionally looking soldiers. They spoke in curt, brief
At the Cedars of Lebanon
The Cedars have Biblical significance because they are said to have been used to make the pillars for the first temple in Jerusalem.
sentences and rarely did more than grunt at us, but they moved us through the process with more ease than the Syrians. Their facilities were nicer, their uniforms matched and they seemed to have some protocol. They were insistant that we provide the address, phone number and a contact person for the hotel we were staying in Lebanon. Since we had strayed from our original itinerary and were being a bit nomadic, we had to say a few more harmless lies!
Needless to say, we did not smoke cigs with these guys. However when we left the building and went to customs, a solider approached us with some interesting questions: Why were their two female passports and only one female traveler? (They thought Kyle was a girls name!) Did Roys last name begin with a "C" or a "G"? Was Kyle's family Deutsch? And why did I look so familiar to him? (He thinks I must have a Lebanese mother...yeah right!)
This border crossing took over two hours to cross a little over 200 yards and customs on both sides of the border demanded bribes but did not search our belongs. All three of us got hit on
We have to look good on vacation too!
In Ehden, Lebanon we lived the high life like the locals who resort here every summer. The village is where they come for reprieve from the heat. It is a small mountain village with a relaxed feel and great food.
during the process...me by the soldiers...our driver overheard to Syrian teens talking about how cute Kyle was in Arabic...and one of the women crossing the border kept smiling at dad. (She saw him offer his seat to an elderly woman crossing the border and she was smitten!)
We found out later that the process took so long because the border was relatively new and we were the first non-Arabic people to use the border. The soldiers had never dealt with anyone who used English or our alphabet. They were learning the new letters and the had never entered them into the computer before! At one point, the confusion over the letters/information locked up the computer system!
As we reflected on the turn of events, we decided we were breaking barriers and practicing diplomacy by simply smoking cigarettes!
A final note: To all the girls of BBBS of the North Region, Dad said to tell you if you are not positively commenting in print on the blogs he assumes you are not in the office. He said to set aside some time when he returns for one-on-one evaluations. (I can't tell if he is kidding!)
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