THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Road Trip to Syria, 2011
BY LAURA MERZ I G FABRYCKY
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
elsewhere. Her first collection of poetry,
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
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-
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
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
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