Travel to Syria .
2 - The Airport Nightmare
by Rhea of
from Part 1
They were residents of England and the wife worked in a Montessori school in London. They
had gone home for the Christmas holidays to their native Bhutan and somehow ran afoul of the Syrian airport authority who were
unable to decipher their travel papers as the mother's and the child's were
back to back and not separate. All attempts to reach England were futile and the Internet access could only play
computer games. Too bad they didn't have any friends in America.
Finally the phone rings. The number I was given was the wrong one and all
attempts to reach me had been futile.
sister had reached Maria and Vasso who
works in the Athens airport. Vasso had contacted Syrian airways whose
personnel had remembered me as I had asked where it was
better to fly to, Aleppo or Damascus and where to stay. They
contacted the airport in Damascus, where the real number
was located. As it was still the middle of the night,
early morning, Vasso advised
calling the Syrian embassy in Athens in the morning to
do the paperwork. Nicoletta,
another student married to a Syrian, had worked for the
Syrian embassy in Athens and would do the legwork. I went
back to the family from Bhutan and listened to more of their story. Morning came
and I went downstairs to try the visa authorities. "He
come in 1, 2, 3 hours, maybe. You wait." I went to every
office but received the same response.
More telephone calls from America and
Athens and, shock and horror, I learn that a visa cannot
operate from Athens as they haven't my passport or a
photocopy of my passport.
I make a mental
note to leave a copy of my passport with the grocers next
door. Vasso tries now to pressure
the Syrian airways authorities in Athens. I run across
13 Swedish musicians and dancers bound for Abu Dhabi to
do a Brazilian show for new years at a big hotel. All
their papers had been cleared by the Syrian authorities
in Sweden and no one could explain why they were being held
up. It was determined that one of them, their manager,
had visited Palestine in a peace endeavor
some years before, and we mean years before. Finally
the 12 were allowed to go to a hotel in Damascus and the
one remained waiting for his papers to be cleared up. They,
like the Bhutan family, were transit passengers, not desirous of entering Syria, only to pass though it.
What would happen to me, who actually wanted to enter Syria?
The next plane
back to Athens was January 2 and I had left the night of
the 29th. Now it was the 30th. Well,
I thought, perhaps the people will bring me food as well,
although the hotel, with private bath and shower, was beginning
to look more attractive. Maybe I could bargain them down
for a stay of more nights.
phone calls from Athens. Nicolettas husband's godfather, Maher Baracat,
has a travel agency in Damascus and they gave me the
number. The phone calls to Damascus were free from the
airport and, to my great relief, I found him and he
spoke English. We hit on a strategy. Both Egypt Air and
Syrian Air had flights to Cairo - only $350.00 round trip. I
could go there, fax him a copy of my passport, he could
fix the visa and have someone hand-carry it to the airport
and hand-carry me to Damascus for only $100.00.
the cost, much better than staying in the airport. but. I
had just returned from 5 days in Cairo with Education
Minister Maria, airport Vasso, Belina my
only English student, and Maria, my official photographer
with her consort, Seraphim.
We had a great time, saw the best dancer I've seen
in years at the Semiremis in
Cairo, ate at the Mepidien Hotel, more like a museum or a small Topkapi, shopped until we dropped, all of us acquiring some,
or many, dance purchases.
I wanted to
go back at the pre-Lenten 3 day holiday in March. Now
was a little anti-climatic. I was paralyzed. I could
have gone to Aman, Jordon, Beirut, Lebanon, or even Turkey, but I know Cairo like Athens and I felt safe
there and had friends. Oh, well. O.K. "Do it. Book
the flight for tomorrow morning. If the visa hasn't come
through by then, it must be a sign from God. I'll (gulp!)
By this time
the airport personnel know the intimate details of my plight
and know of my intimate whereabouts. "Telephone for you." "Okay." (Flush.) They
sympathize with me but lack the authority to do anything
but offer me cigarettes, cardamom coffee, and sweets, and
such conversation as we can creatively construct.
I go to the
hotel and ask the rate in euros after having been told
by immigration authorities that the authorized visa person
would be there in 1, 2, 3 hours which was by now 1, 2,
3 hours after the first 1, 2, 3 hours of the morning. "$127.00" "No
dollars. Younan. (Arabic for Greece.) Euros worth more." "No. Same." "No. More." "No.
Same." "No. More." "How much?" "E110-115." "O.K. 115E." "No,
110E." "No, 115E." "No, 110E." "No, 115E." "O.K. You
win. 115E. But I only have 110E." And, I take it our and
show him, that being my spare change stash. He took it
and gave me back the 10E.
The airport personnel had followed me into the hotel
and were wringing their hands and moaning like a Cassandra
please. It's too much money. Just wait 1, 2, 3 hours." By
then I hadn't slept since I woke up Monday morning and
it was Tuesday afternoon. Forget about eating. They all
agree that it was a shame. It was too much for me and
I retreated to the hotel room to bathe, eat at the restaurant,
and slip into grateful sleep in a room so overheated that
my cold dried up in self-defense.
I awoke, of
course, to telephone calls; by this time I was treated
like a visiting dignitary. Wherever I was, instead of
being called to the telephone office, my call was switched
to a phone close to me so everyone had a chance to hear
me speak English and Greek. It gets pretty boring at the
Damascus airport. It was obvious from the non-existent
tray tables at more than half the seats and broken toilet
seats and the half empty plane that Syria wasn't regularly visited. No wonder no one knew what
keep coming by to enquire on my progress and encourage
me to keep after the emigration officials downstairs. I
went so regularly that I was given an update on the whereabouts
of every official I had talked to. But it was a very different
Downstairs they were all military, all men, no English
and no attention unless you pushed yourself on them in
a supplicating but complaining and demanding manner,
like a Middle-Eastern grandmother.
I used my Jewish
grandmother's image in my mind to lend me the power of
grinding the opposition to powder, but slowly. Someone
very handsome, obviously delegated by the others to handle
this devilish woman (she needs a real man to calm
her down), took me to customs, opened my suitcase in front of the inspectors (verboten,
but I lied and said I had contact
lens stuff and allergy medicine inside), allowed me to
retrieve my toiletries, weighed them, weighed the suitcase
without them, and gave me a slip of paper with all this
information to present to the officials when I left the airport, either with
a visa for Damascus or on a plane to Cairo.
I have my special desk in the lobby of the hotel, my feet
are up on the desk, unshod, and I have enough coffee and
sweets to stock a cafeteria.
I give it one
last shot downstairs and see that there has been a changing
of the guards. Instead of the village-like out-of-high-school
boys, or the dull gray lifers, is a handsome man, older
than the first, very debonair and affable. He acts as
though this is the first anyone has said anything about
this, although it is now 20 hours in the airport for me. His
English is limited, but he seems eager to help.
I go up to
the room to sleep for the night. I ask one of the airport
girls who will sleep there all night to wake me at seven
and resign myself to the 10:00 am flight to Cairo.
At 2:00 am there is a loud knocking at my door. It's
the handsome affable guy.
continued... with Part
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