Syrian Border

Crossing the Syrian border makes me feel like the Cold War is still going on. It’s more about the vibe that I get than any concrete hostility, and honestly the faces are split fifty-fifty between big helpful smiles and stone cold stare downs. The uniforms with their starch stiff pea green and slouching red berets, the buildings which reek of Soviet architecture. Solid cold concrete blocks, no softness just squares and hard blunt shapes. The sheer multitude of what I would call soldiers but I believe are technically border guards, give more the feel of an army base than a place with civilian traffic. I feel like an intruder as I wait for my visa… one… two… three hours. I’m lucky I’ve never had to wait longer, but its not unheard of, for Americans. The guard who is helping me is extremely nice and I contemplate offering to help correct the English on the sign behind him. Until I realize that it is the phrase that states that what I am doing is not allowed “Obtaining a visa at border is allowed only for he without Syrian representation on at his country.” He even looks worried for me when he sees I have no visa and tells me I have to wait. I know, I’ve done this quite a few times, but I appreciate the sentiment. His is one of the few smiling faces I initially see, the rest are either icy stares or ones of genuine curiosity at why anyone would be sitting at the border and not going through (its our privilege as Americans to have go through this, or you could call it a repercussion for persistent bashing and labeling of a country as evil). Today people are especially kind. A man offers help and asks why I am sitting (in perfect English.) He had been a translator in the American Embassy, and after switching to Arabic he says that I will be Ambassador to Syria one day. I flinch because of our location and who might have heard (still waiting on the visa) but in the same moment am grateful for the compliment. More hours of sitting and watching. Green uniforms walking in every direction, always leaving a trail of cigarette smoke in their wake, hurried cab drivers sprinting up and down the stairs, saying hi to each other for the millionth time. People from all over walking in and out, the odd triplet of Polish hippy tourists, German tour buses, Gulfi’s, always lots of Gulfi’s. The faded sign of the Cham Palace Hotel, which serves as the wall between me and Syria, makes me think of the bygone glory days, when Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East and this place was still filled with adventure. While the empty cartons of cigarettes remind me of how every available hole in every cab is stuffed to the brim with cigarettes, smuggled to sell on the other side. Although the vibe is Cold War, the people are not. Our governments may still not get along, but we as people have always been the same. Both sides hold preconceptions that jab into our ability to see each other fairly. We hold on to stereotypes and dehumanize. What we forget is that each one of them is like us, going home to family, like us, laughing with friends, like us, smiling and feeling, like us. This place, this border, this country, is different and at times those differences are overwhelming. But no different than New York or Los Angeles is to a new arrival. Different customs, people, actions. I sit and watch for hours, observing and thinking. Wondering what I would be thinking if it were the other way around, me in the green uniform and him sitting and watching,

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