oh, did i mention i was in aleppo for a couple of days? i'm not there now. i guess aleppo misses its chance for a post. sorry aleppo.
i'm in lebanon now, fighting off fatigue. last night i took an overnight bus to beirut. i like taking overnight buses when i travel. it seems so efficient; it's a mode of transit and a place to sleep all rolled into one. so when i was told that beirut was 6 hours from aleppo, i opted to go overnight.
there is a flaw, of course, with my overnight plan: i can't sleep on buses. so the vision i have of dozing off in one place and then waking up refreshed somewhere else, never really pans out. and yet i keep doing it.
so last night, i boarded my bus at 11 p.m. after about 3 hours the bus stopped. i thought at first it was the border crossing, but all these other cars were speeding past us. it didn't seem to be prayer time either--only the driver got out and i could see he was not on some rug by the side of the road. instead it sounded like he was banging a metal wrench against the back of the bus. no one else seemed concerned, so i just pretended nothing was happening. about 30-40 minutes later, the bus started again and we drove to the border crossing.
i was the only foreigner on the bus--everyone else was either syrian or lebanese. all they need to do to cross is to present their national ID card. the driver called out each passenger's name and he or she handed over their card. the driver then took the card over to the customs office while the passengers sat on the air conditioned bus. they never called my name. so i just watched out the window.
30 minutes later we drove further along approaching no-man's land. we stopped again and i tried to fall asleep while the bus was standing still. i dozed for perhaps a second, when suddenly a bunch of people were shouting at me. "y'alla! y'alla! y'alla" they yelled. a syrian soldier was on board too. the bus company's ticket taker asked for my passport. when i pulled it out, he led me off the bus and said: "follow me! hurry!" then he sprinted away. i was still woozy from my sleep but i ran after him, leaving all of my stuff on the bus. we pushed our way through crowds of travelers smoking on the side of the road until we got to the syrian customs office. the ticket taker pushed me to the front of the line.
the officers looked at my passport and said "al-bitaqaa al-zarqaa'?" "the blue card?" at first i had no idea what he was talking about. he kept demanding some blue card, and then i remembered. when my plane first landed in damascus, they gave us this blue immigration card to fill out. in customs they stamped the card and gave it back to me. i was pretty sure i kept it, it's just that it was buried in my backpack somewhere, which was back in the bus. i tried to explain that to the custom's agent. he told me to go back and get it. then the ticket taker from my bus started yelling. it was too fast for me to follow it. there was some kind of argument, then the officer picked up my passport, stamped it, and gave it back to me.
"y'alla y'alla" the ticket taker yelled again and we ran back to the bus. we got all the way to the front of the line of buses waiting to drive into lebanon, but our bus was gone. i started to ask where our bus was (thinking of all my stuff on board), when the ticket taker gave me a "shut up" look. he then told the guard "here's our bus", pointing at the first one in line to cross. we got on, what was clearly the wrong bus, which drove across no-man's land to lebanon.
in lebanon, we could see our bus. i went on board to check on my stuff. it was sitting where i left it undesturbed. the ticket taker, however, started dragging me into the lebanese customs office. he wasn't going to tolerate another frantic run with me. once again, he pushed me to the front of the line.
if you get a lebanese visa on the border, it is free if you are planning to stay less than 48 hours, or US$16.00 for a 1 month visa. i wasn't sure how long i wanted to stay so i asked for a week. the guard asked for the fee and i asked if i could pay in dollars, i didn't have any lebanese pounds. he looked at me and i tried to ignore the sign clearly visible over his head "all fees must be paid in lebanese pounds only." he glanced down at my passport, then at an array of 4-5 stamps he had sitting in front of him. he picked up one of the stamps and stamped my passport. "i give you one month. welcome to lebanon" he added as he waved me away without a payment.
after everyone else on the bus went through the customs office, we all got back on the bus, and drove ten feet before the engine conked out. for the next hour, i sat outside watching the ticket taker and driver rebuild the engine. it was almost 5 a.m. when we finally left the border crossing. i could see the full moon reflecting off the mediterranean sea as we passed a grove of cedars, heading south for beirut.