Tuesday, January 10, 2006


While international community accuses Syrian Intelligence for the murder of Lebanese ex-prime minister Harari, my own encounters with that disintelligence make me think that it is more likely that Ghandi took Lady Di's life. Up to a moment it was a sum of interviews where I pretended to be an arqueology student and naive looking officers shared their argilleh (water pipe) with me. Even in Ein Diwar, on the Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish border itself, things go quite smoothly. When I am asked for my reasons for visiting the area, I declare my interest for all things old and say I hope to catch a glimpse of the ruined Roman bridge over the Tigris. And so the story satisfied the officers. I am allowed in, understanding Mr Bush's protests that Syrian border controls are not tight enough to fence off jihad fighters caravanning happily to and from Baghdad.

Inspite of this they make me victim of their overwhelming hospitality, which is in fact much more akin to surveillance: firstly, they confiscate temporarily my backpack, securing my return. Walking towards the border I soon find myself chatting with kurdish speaking shepherds, at shouting distance of Turkish watch towers. When I am back they insist in me sleeping on the police station (no thanks) and they give me a ride to Malakya, where I was coming from. This is nothing new for me, I already got used to the fact that everybody wants to know what I do and where I go. The greengrocers asks for my passport and people who would be happy to live in a glass house sneak inside my notebook while writing, extending to me the symbiotic social bonds among them.

It was curiously on my way back to Hasakeh, 150 kms inland from the red zone, where I had already sojourned, where things got worse. Apparently the officers of every town exchanged information on the phone about that week and everybody reported having interrogated the Argentinean arqueology student. While these phones rang I, totally unaware of my recent local fame, was drinking some beer with Silvia, Matteo and Marco, three Italian agronomists working on a cooperative farming project between Syria and Italy. The snack bar, called Venus, is one of the two places in town that sell alcohol, a product only consumed by a christian minority in the area. It is also the most appropriate place where to start a search.
Our conversation was interesting indeed. My friends are an opened book on the local matters. Silvia, who daily interviews dozens of farmers about domestic economy, tells us about the man who headed the enumeration of his property with 200 sheep and finished it with two wives. Then he looked Silvia straight in the eyes and told her: ¨And I am looking for a third one.¨On the contrary, Silvia’s interviews to women farmers ended up with the participation of police officers. How could someone speak with theo sheep without the presence of their husbands? - Police officers and husbands exclaimed. Maybe they had read Orwell and feared a revolution in the farm. While wives do their duties on the field, these husbands spend their time in an activity that Silvia calls Field Watching.

We finished our Jordanian lagers and stepped on the Italian mission's 4WD towards their office to continue drinking. My senses had forgotten such kind of Westner luxury. I refer to the chair and the toilet, and to the Bacardi, that mixed with local Master Cola is, not Cuba Libre, but Saudi Cuba... at most. It was eleven o’clock when the party was over and I was taken to the house of my local contact, in a nearby town. Next morning I would return to use internet.

I couldn’t. Silvia’s voice on the other side of the phone combined anxiety and indignation. It is 9 am and 4 agents of the Political police entered their office to interrogate Silvia, Matteo and Marco. Silvia has to go to the toilet in order to answer my phone call, and it is probable that the phone is pinched. Thanks God almost nobody in these areas understands the dialect of Dante. The agents asked about me, what was I doing last night in their lab and if I had slept there. From the questions it was clear that they had been following me the whole day except for the moment of their nap. At that moment (precisely where it was easier to find it) they lost their track of me. With a little more will they could have solved the mystery. They should have followed the van to my local contact’s house. What is the mistery? If Syrian intelligence wanted to catch me they would have already done so. What mostly irritates them is that I could attempt to start some bonds with Kurdish insurgence. After listening to their questions, I deduced that their fers were fuelled by my appearance in the triple frontier Turkish-Syian-Iraqui, plus the fact that they could not find me in any hotel. How can they pretend to control American spies when they can’t even follow a Latin-American backpacker? Good question!
The Italians and I arranged to meet in Damascus during the weekend and hanged the phone. Meanwhile I had to think of the way of sending last weeks' article and leave the city without revealing my Kurdish freind's identity. In the cyber, the man of the computer next to me watches my screen too much. Through the webcam I can see a brown Nissan Patrol parked outside. I click SEND, I put on my backpack and I go out. The man next to my computer leaves as well, naturally.

This man asks me about my destination and if he can help me. ¨To Deir ez Zor¨. The man doesn't believe that I am going on foot to Deir ez Zor, because it is 180 km away. He believes that I am going to somebody’s house. He offers to come with me to the exit of the city, that is 3 km away, he wants to see me leave with his own eyes, or (he hopes) take note of what door I knock. When we reach the roundabout the unfit plain cloth detective calls it a day, greets me and shifts heels back to town. The roundabout is decorated with a painting that shows the ex-president Hafez raising his hands to the sky while some farmers behind him work as hell. He is the first to do field watching. A few minutes later the man appears again, this time on a brown Nissan Patrol. He offers me a lift. No, thanks. When the Nissan's out of sight I walk far away from the road, spot broad shadowful olive tree and camp under it.

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