Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just My Luck!

Well, I have to admit the whole thing was more stupid than ominous.

Something did indeed happen. I was turned back at the airport. But no, not because of a security crackdown in the form of a new travel ban, but because of sheer bureaucratic incompetence.

Ten months ago, while doing my fellowship in DC, I received a kind invitation to attend a cultural festival in Italy and be honored for my novel Menstruation, which had only recently been translated to Italian. but, siince I was not a resident of the US, I was not allowed to apply for a visa to Italy from there. So I had sent my passport via DHL to Damascus to get the visa from one of the European embassies there. This was not exactly kosher, but I had enough friends in the diplomatic community to “wing” it.

Weeks passed but the passport did not arrive in Syria, and finally DHL declared lost. Naturally, I reported the matter to the local Syrian embassy and applied for a new passport.

But the Embassy could not issue a passport for me locally seeing that the format of the Syrian passport had recently been changed and that the new machine has not arrive yet. The passport, therefore, needed to be issued from Syria and sent via diplomatic pouch. So far so good.

The bureaucrats in Syria, however, were just so competent they kept on making one mistake after another in the application process and the whole matter dragged on for months. Until one day, someone knocked on our apartment door in Damascus and delivered the old passport to my daughter, Ola. OH yes, DHL finally came though for us, albeit five months late.

So, I reported the passport found to the people at the Embassy and the appropriate authorities in Damascus, and I used my newly found passport, that had been sent back to me through the diplomatic pouch, to return home.

Then, and as all know, upon arrival at Damascus's International Airport, I was immediately slapped with that infamous travel ban, which was, however, lifted a couple of months later, and I used my passport to travel to Doha. Everything was going fine.

Until yesterday, that is, when I found out that someone had reported my passport lost again to the Airport security and, as such, I couldn't be allowed to travel.

The security people wanted to take away my passport even. But I shouted and threatened and I spoke with such authority that they decided to play safe and allowed me to keep my passport, just in case I was really connected you see. You just never these days. Indeed, mentioning General Dashing’s name and threatening to wake him up to handle the matter personally did the trick. Otherwise, the passport would have really been lost, along with my US and Schengen visas.

So what was the story? What did happen?

Well, not much really. Someone in the police department seems to have finally noticed that little report about a lost passport that had been sitting on his desk for the last ten months now, and he must have decided to read it, worse, he must have decided to do something about it. Unfortunately for me, he did not bother to read the follow up report which said that the passport had been found. It woul d take him probably a few more months to get to it. I don’t think I am going to wait that long.

First thing Sunday, I will go to the central police station and pay the necessary bribes and expedite the whole thing.

Damn it, if it’s not one thing it’s another in this fucked-up country. Blows come from all sides, and even a heretical dissident like me has to use General Dashing's name in vain and has to take part in the local corruption schemes, to survive.

Is this culture still reformable? Are we still viable as a people? These are the real questions at the heart of everything around here?

But the answers can only be found through trial and error. For reform in these parts is but a continuous testing of the limits of the viability of the human spirit, a continuous search for that ultimate breaking point separating man from biological machine.

Considering that most of our reformers need to be reformed themselves, can I really tell for certain on what side of the breaking point I happen to be at a given point in time? What are the clues that I should be looking for in this regard? How do I really know for sure if I am still a viable human being?