DAMASCUS, Syria—Damascus Airport’s main terminal has no ATM or cash machine. Its sole restaurant and Duty Free shops do not accept credit cards. For the many travelers who pass through the airport quickly and tentatively—the airport’s atmosphere is not what one could call a happy one—such facts might not be critical or even noticeable.
They can be quite important, however, if you are detained in the terminal for an extended period of time. A week before discovering the difficulties of not being able to purchase food in a confined area I could not leave, Syria decided to change its visa policy for American travelers. The reasons, my friend and I were told by apologetic and friendly Ministry of the Interior officers, were largely in retaliation for actions by the United States.
Until that decision, travelers could purchase an entrance visa right before the immigration officers, a system still available to American travelers in nations such as Turkey. Syria, however, has a curious way of sending foreign governments a message—changing its entrance rules without notifying its own embassies abroad. Ultimately, the only people who suffer are the individual tourists denied at its airport and borders—and we heard there were many others.
Over the hours we spent in pseudo-detention, we befriended the officers who appealed on our behalf but to no avail. They spoke passionately of peace and improving relations between Americans and Syrians.
Welcoming university-age students who study the region and its language and could provide informed opinions back in the U.S. about the charms of the country would seem a logical move for the Syrian government. Unfortunately, many of those potential advocates of international cooperation are instead deprived of basic dignities and their passports until they return the way they came.
Alexander R. Konrad ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Quincy House.