Featured Story: Election

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Driver, Turn South

The dashboard is covered with a faded pink shag carpet. Tassels are hanging around the sides of the roof. The speedometer is stuck at 0. In the back are a young boy and a man in his late 30s. Behind them, next to two tires, is my backpack, full of clothes and a bottle of cologne I bought at one of the many perfumeries in Amman just so I could see how they mix the scented oil with alcohol and water. The man on my left has greying hair and a jolly smile. He drives the pickup with the steering wheel almost resting on his large belly, coaxing it as it struggles up slight inclines and accelerating on the downsides. In about 4 hours we should make it south to Petra.

How I came to retrace my steps through Jordan is a hard tale of rejection. I returned to Amman on the 24th after passing 4 weeks in Israel. Despite 3 previous setbacks in my attempt to visit Syria, I wanted to try once more. I had heard more positive stories about the friendliness of Syrians and the beauty of the city of Damascus than anywhere else.

So I found a taxi going north from Amman and shared the space inside with 3 others. It took an hour and a half to reach the border. I paid the Jordanian departure fee, changed my money to Syrian pounds, and continued to the Syrian border.

I made it close enough to feel the presence of the Axis of Evil, but the immigration checkpoint stood in the way of my entering and actually seeing the greasy cogwheels turning slowly, spreading badness across the globe.

The passport control hall was slightly chaotic — the type of setup where 10 people crowded around each window trying to find a space to put a hand through and wave their passport around, hoping it would be taken next by an immigration official. The man who took mine was short and grumpy. I had given him my second passport, the one without at Israeli border stamp in it. Unfortunately it also lacked a Jordanian entry stamp. It didn't take him long to figure out what was going on.

"You've been to Isra-eel! You — back to Jordan. No Syria."

I protested but to no avail. I considered trying to bribe him with the $10 I had in my pocket for that exact purpose, but there were too many people around. I preferred that my first attempt at bribing an immigration officer be in a more inconspicuous setting. Lack of courage got the better of me. In short order, the official gave my passport to a lackey who motioned me to follow him outside. There, he waved down a taxi, waited while I collected my bag from the car that brought me to the border, gave me back my passport and waved me off. And so my hopes of visiting Syria were dashed for the fourth and final time.

The next day, back in Amman, I decided to go south to Egypt, following the same route through Jordan I had travelled with Eppu a month prior. I timed my arrival at the bus station precisely — when I got there the last bus south had left long ago. I decided to wait and see what turned up, and as I sat on the curb, an old white pickup truck with faded pink shag carpet on the dash slowed to a stop next to me...

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