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SEPTEMBER 2016

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

REFLECTIONS

Road Trip to Syria, 2011

BY LAURA MERZ I G FABRYCKY

W

e had no idea then just

how slender a needle’s

eye we were threading

when we set off as a fam-

ily to explore Syria over a long (Ameri-

can) Presidents Day weekend in 2011.

Traveling with our 4- and 2-year-old

daughters, we planned an ambitious

itinerary, secured visas and headed

north from our apartment on the

western edge of Amman, to the border

crossing at Daraa.

The Arab Spring was still in its heady

early days. Egypt’s youth had electrified

the region a month earlier by toppling

a dictator. We wondered if Syria, too,

would soon taste freedom, but couldn’t

have anticipated just how hard and with

what hell-fury the window that had

been cracked open would be slammed

down upon a people and a place.

Our happy memories of this trip now

seem strange and incongruous alongside

accounts of the civil uprisings and the

regime’s brutal retaliation in places like

Daraa, Damascus and Bosra—not to men-

tion the growth of ISIS and ensuing brutal-

Five years on, ourmemories are in a

kind of interpretive ruin, andwe have

no place tofix them.

Laura Merzig Fabrycky,

whose husband is a State

Department FSO, is a

freelance writer and editor,

poet and essayist. Her writing

has been published in

Books & Culture, the

Review of Faith & International Affairs

and

elsewhere. Her first collection of poetry,

Give

Me the Word

, was published in 2015. She and

her family are currently posted to Berlin.

ity throughout major parts of the country.

As we drove up to the border, we read

Little House in the Big Woods

aloud in

the car, eating Goldfish crackers. On the

Syrian side of the border, we piled out of

the car for passport control. The guards

laboriously scrutinized our passports for

signs of travel missteps into enemy terri-

tory, a familiar, delicate dance of Levan-

tine travel.

Eventually, after much waiting, the

kids and I returned to the car. Yet the

scrutiny dragged on. My husband, David,

attempted to speed up the process with

polite chitchat while I continued to read

Little House

aloud in the parked car.

The Goldfish bag was now empty.

Frustrated but not quite defeated, David

returned to the car. “I need Hannah” (our

youngest). Ten minutes later, he emerged

from the building beaming, with pass-

ports in hand and Hannah in his arms.

Apparently, seeing her energetic

blonde pigtails and enormous brown eyes

once more helped the guards regain their

perspective, and they gave up looking for

signs of enmity. We drove off.

Listening to a Dora the Explorer

“World Friendship” CD, we made our way

through Daraa—where, in a few weeks’

time, children who had scribbled anti-

regime graffiti on a wall would be dragged

away to torture chambers.

Children’s songs from France, Russia,

Australia and China blared from the car.

Just outside of Daraa, Hannah said she

had to go to the bathroom, so we pulled

over. I hopped out of the car, but just as I

lifted the hatchback to retrieve the plastic

potty, Dora’s unmistakable voice belted

out: “Shalom! From Israel!” Hardly the

tones of a delicate dance. We jumped

back in the car and zoomed off.

We ventured on to the still-inhabited

Roman ruins at Bosra—taking in its basalt

amphitheatre, climbing up to a perch to

gaze down on the stage, where in March

2015 rebel forces would battle with regime

troops. Winding through its ancient,

cobbled streets, we stopped to let our girls

play amidst the grassy, time-softened

remains of a basalt Byzantine cathedral.

They played “house” and “farm” around

the toppled structures.

David and I sat on upturned column

segments watching them, happy that we

had ventured here and not to a cloistered

tourist resort for the holiday. Residents

waved and smiled at us. We waved and

smiled back.

Later we headed into the mountains

north of Damascus, to Ma’loula—one

of the few towns where Aramaic (the

language of Jesus) is still spoken. We ran