Life in Syria continues and, elhamduallah, my life continues to be in it. The was a nasty moment when ‘Saddek’ from the Department of Passports and Immigration, or al jowazat as we call it, told me he was very sorry, but he couldn’t extend my iqama. I had until midnight to get out. If the Syrians decide not to extend your iqama, or ‘stay’ as it means in Arabic then, contrary to what language and logic would have you believe, you can stay in the country for as long as you like. The problem is that you can’t leave without running around Damascus for days trying to bribe people to give you an exit visa. Not being able to leave at will seamed pretty dangerous, bribery is unethical and all 8 or so Arabic words for ‘please’ really mean ‘if you would like.’ As Saddek definitely would not like to extend my visa I stopped begging and went to Lebanon on a shotgun holiday. Worrying about getting home put a bit of a downer on my trip, but it was nice seeing R again. He’s joined the small army of Syrians who went to Beirut believing the streets were paved with gold. What they find is work with impossible hours (R is doing 9-3 then 5-1 six days a week, with a second job to fill in the split between shifts), accommodation overcrowded with other Syrian guest workers and European prices. Often they’re effectively trapped in Lebanon as they’ve not got much money to survive on until their first pay check and are fleeced for all they have. As soon as they’ve got one they borrow money from their employers ‘until they get paid,’ quickly getting into the kind of debt it takes a long time to pay off. Lebanese and Syrian Arabic is similar, but Arabs can easily tell the difference. As a consequence of Middle Eastern politics the Lebanese hate the Syrians, which adds to the fun.
As it happens getting home was surprisingly easy. A Brit who tried to renew his visa at the border the day before I did has been MIA for a fortnight, so I was pretty lucky. The story scared my boss, who has a scheme to get me a 6 month medical visa. As I keep on trying to explain to Habibi why I’d trust my life to, and sink my money into, Syrian hospitals rather than going home to the NHS is a non question.