Day 039 Syria : Lake Jabool

The day started off unremarkably enough.  We had a relaxing lie in, fired up the kelly kettle and had our first cup of coffee. I broke out the laptop again to work on the blog as I didn't want to fall behind.  We were a little surprised when the bloke who had visited us yesterday drove over again to say hello.  About 30 minutes later a new bloke in a checked shirt arrived on foot.  Trevor was having a shower so he sat down to wait.  He could speak a tiny bit of English so we sat there passing the time, using our Arabic phrase book to show him what I was answering and miming the rest.  Trevor hurriedly finished and came out to chat.  After about 30 minutes Checked Shirt left.  Another 30 minutes later he was back again with Grandad!  We thought they were just a really nice blokes wanting to have a chat.  Checked Shirt pointed at my laptop this time saying "google, google".  I gathered he thought I was connected to the internet so I said "no google, for photos" miming a camera. 

He then asked for our passports, took them and our Arab phrasebook and walked away starting to make his first of many phone calls.  We kept on hearing "google, google".  All this time with our passports and phrasebook in his hand, between phone calls, Checked Shirt kept saying to us "no problem, no problem, welcome to Syria".

We remained calm and about 1 hour later, 2 local policemen (no uniform) arrived.  They began opening Sully's doors, looking up at the GPS, and asked "GPS?" 

We said yes.  They pointed at the laptop (we hadn't hidden anything at all and were mostly open and honest with them).  "Laptop?" they asked.  I nodded. 

"Google?". 

"No, no google.  No internet."

"Mobile?"  I handed over mine leaving Trevor's and our spare where they were, out of sight and prayed that they would ring or receive any messages.

They started to try and interview us but of course our joint lack of understand the others language was a bit of a barrier....  After another hour 2 more officers arrived.  These were the big guns and everyone was now deferring to them.  We were introduced to them as the Military Police with "no problem, no problem, welcome to Syria".  I was starting to get a bit freaked out but having Trevor there as calm as anything, helped me.  One of the MPs offered Trevor a cigarette.  It was at this moment that he started smoking again and took up being a football supporter.  Huhh????!!!  Luckily we had bought a carton of Winstons at the border and Trevor started to offer these out as well. 

With the MPs now taking an avid interest in Sully, the laptop and GPSs we stayed where we were and let them get on with it.  An hour later another man arrived with a couple of guards.  He was the translator and was an English teacher that had been brought in from Aleppo.  Poor man was a wreck and kept repeating himself.  After questioning us for another hour and carefully requesting information on each electronic gadget, he asked if we had anything else we needed to tell the MPs about.  Anymore laptops?  With another laptop and a sat phone that they hadn't found, Trevor took a quick gamble, "no, nothing else".  We were asked time and time again why we needed GPS, was it for navigation or for tourism?  Trevor showed them the map on the door (Thanks, Paul, for suggesting this, I think it got us out of a really sticky situation) and explained that we had many countries we need to find our way through on our way down to Zambia raising money for SOS Children's Villages.  We were asked "why Zambia and why not Syria - they have an SOS village"?  We explained that they were a much more advanced country and had hospitals and schools whilst Zambia didn't.  That pleased them. (phew!)  Then they jumped on this - did we have help from the government for this trip.  No we didn't.  And as suddenly as they arrived, they went.  Left our passports on the table, all jumped into their cars and bikes and with "welcome to Syria, so sorry" they were gone.

We sat looking at each other, quietly tidied up the cups of water and as it was now 4pm and we hadn't eaten all day, I set about with the mundane task of making a salad with some cheese and biscuits.  We sat down to eat, still not really talking, managed a bit of food then started to pack Sully up for an early departure the next day.  As we had repeatedly told them our itinerary in Syria, as scared as we were, we felt we just had to hold our nerve and leave when we said we would, which was the next day.  We went to bed at 7:30 even before the sun had set and, in the safety of our tent, I finally had a good cry and we talked and talked about what had happened.  Sleep was a little restless that night, afraid that they were going to come back.  They didn't and we left as planned for Jabar.

As a last word, whilst we weren't officially arrested and taken away, our passports were taken away from us and not returned until they had left.  And even though we had done nothing wrong and our intentions were entirely innocent, this experience left us with a really sour taste in our mouths and, even though we tried our best not to let it, it coloured the contact with Syrian people for the rest of our stay.  And while we always knew that every country would present a different face to us as tourist, this was the face of Syria that we hadn't expected to see.