“When we cross the border can you guarantee my safety?” The American said.
I rolled my eyes. “What do you mean?”
“When we get to Syria. Am I going to be safe?”
“Why wouldn’t you be safe?”
“I’m an American. Don’t they want to kill me?”
“The only thing they’ll fucking kill you with is kindness.” I said.
I fanned myself with my passport. We were stuck in a queue on Jordan’s Ramtha border. Tendrils of sweat raced their way down my back.
At the time I just wished he’d shut up and sit down while I did my job and got the group’s passports exit-stamped. Now I just wish the clocks could be turned back. That I could have those same annoying border conversations again and show people the Syria I know.
A week on from that conversation, that same American had performed a hip hop dance for a bunch of very amused (and bemused) kids in the back streets of Damascus, been stunned by Palmyra’s columned ruins marching across the eastern desert, walked on top of the ramparts at Krak des Chevaliers, and been convinced by me to have a traditional barber shop shave in an Aleppo old city alleyway.
He came back to the hotel, slick with oil and reeking of the barber shop’s cheap cologne.
“He didn’t kill me!” He said. “And I told him I was American and everything. All he wanted to do was make me drink too much tea.”