Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How I almost was almost in a terrorist attack

Yesterday, I went to the American embassy in order to inquire about obtaining a letter informing the University of Damascus that I am authorized, as an American citizen, to study there -- one of the several steps involved in registering for classes. After waiting in the sun for half an hour, and passing through two security checks -- one outside and one inside -- I was permitted entry to the consular section of the embassy. There, I learned from a Syrian man speaking perfect English from behind thick panes of plexi-glass -- reminiscent of Washington, D.C., liquor stores -- that I was to formally request the letter between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. So, we will see you tomorrow, he said. Yes, indeed.

I set my alarm last night for 6:40 a.m., with the idea of stopping at the embassy before my Syrian dialect class at 10. The alarm went off and I reset it for 7, weighing whether I really needed to get the letter today or not. I drifted back to sleep. I was tired from my futile errand early the morning before in hopes of recuperating my lost (stolen) camera.

I didn’t go to the embassy today. If I had gone to the embassy, I would have narrowly missed the terrorist attack. It began at 10:10 a.m.

I received a cell-phone text message from the embassy this afternoon informing Americans in Damascus to “keep a low profile.” As a six-foot-six-inch white man that is hard to do here. So, I kept my afternoon appointment with my Arabic tutor, taking two 10-cent public minibuses to arrive at his house, and two more to return, stopping at a fruit stand on the way. Nothing felt different than before. But, now I know that as an American, I am a target. The sense of safety that Americans felt here -- surprisingly, there is a small American ex-pat community in Damascus, mostly English teachers and Arabic students -- has burst.

Westerners have not been targeted here as they have in recent years in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Gaza, and, of course, Iraq. There was no State Department travel warning for Syria. The streets surrounding the U.S. embassy here are not closed to traffic as they are in Cairo and Amman. I suspect that will change.


Blogger Don't Mess w/ Pink said...

You don't know me, but I'm one of the In the Pink Texas crew. I heard about this on NPR this morning and thought of you. Glad to know you're safe!

11:48 AM  
Blogger Christie said...

Bob, Please be cautious. You don't know me but you know my daughter, Elena, from the Statesman. I've enjoyed both your blogs - and appreciate getting to glimpse the people you encounter in your travels. Stay safe.

5:21 PM  
Blogger heather said...

I just read this. I'm glad you are OK - almost being almost in a terrorist attack is still too close to being in an attack, but it's also nice to know (and not surprising) that despite the potential danger, that life goes on in Damascus. Hope you are still well.

10:33 AM  

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