Sunday, 10 October 2010
Saturday 2nd October brings our mad dash to the Syrian border. Thousands of trucks are lined up ready to pass through the checkpoints, but we have a police escort and jump the queue by several days.
Hardly have our passports been stamped than the welcome begins. We have driven all day and are dusty and tired, but the Syrian government has given our visit state status and the welcoming committee of Arabic marquees, fancy chairs and Turkish delights held high on trays a yard wide begins. The government officials greet us ceremoniously, but I am delayed as usual by the little children and by the time I get to my allotted place in the ceremonial tent I have an entourage clutching at my hands and offering gentle kisses. These are the Philistines, or Palestinians, of modern day, unable to move for more than three generations, grateful beyond my understanding for our willingness to do what they are forbidden by international law to do - to travel to their homes. All around us is the cacophony of rousing speeches, orations of great professionalism, voices alternatively soaring to erupting applause and falling to near silent pathos. A thousand flags high on long poles salute in the gusting breeze, the black, and red and white of Syria, the orange and green and white of the Irish, the rainbow of my peace flag. Music deafens us and we sit politely amid this medieval pageant and wonder.
Then it is photographs and kisses and goodbyes. A few press interviews on the way back to our vans and we speed away as the red carpet is rolled up behind us. The hour is getting late and we are heading for the port town of Lattikia for the night. Currency madness ensues at the filling station as we grapple the new exchange rates in the darkness of yet another country and the decreasing quality of the lavatories.
Our leaders have elected to take us the long way round to Lattakia as the road is rumoured to be better. An extra 200 kilometers brings small groups of us us to town at 2.00 in the morning, spread out, tired and with a few missing. The local refugees have waited all night for us and their numbers are depleted. Nevertheless they try their best to wake up and chant their messages of love and welcome. Bed is an tattered mattress in the old refugee camp and we fall exhausted into oblivion.