Travel Notes: At the Syrian Border

The morning I met Syria, I woke up at 5 AM to the sound of artillery—well, not the sound of it so much as the feel of it: a sudden convulsion in the joists of the house. The Russian was still sleeping. I lay flat on my back, without moving, for a few minutes. Everything was still. I thought: Maybe I imagined something. I was very calm. And then—there it was. This time I heard the sound.

I’ve heard artillery fire before. Friendly stuff, like they use at military demonstrations and Civil War reenactments. Let me tell you: the real stuff sounds the same.

I finally poked my partner, TR, and said, “Hey, I think someone’s shooting.”

“I bet the hostel guy just slammed the door or something,” he said. He rolled over and closed his eyes again. We were thirteen miles from the Syrian border.

Later that day—yes, yes, alive—we drove south out of Qatsrin, around the blue thumbprint of the Sea of Galilee—where mines still lie in the earth like seeds—then down to the Jordan River and back up again by way of the border. There was Jordan, in slopes rising across a deep gorge, and, finally, Syria, looking all green and golden behind a tall metal fence. It was utterly quiet. There was no sign of any human presence, except for a tiny military watchtower on the flank of a hill.

“Oh, they’re over there,” said TR.

I’m sure they were. Still, the hills on both sides looked exactly the same and they were as quiet as hills should be.

(originally posted on Instagram:@bynellesmith)

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