The 40-Year Plan:
'cause it ain't gonna happen overnight...
Be sure to visit the Shrine of John the Baptist in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Before Sen. Dodd and Sen. Kerry head over to Damascus on their foreign policy junket, I figured I could offer them a little advice, having spent a few days in the Syrian Arab Republic.
People are so friendly and hospitable, a few words of Arabic will go a long way.
Marhaba means hello. Chokran means thank you.
Khamza means five. Khamzin is 50. "Ana yajib ya'tadhir la'ajili hukuuma 'amriikiyy. Afwan." means "I must apologize for the American Government. Pardon us."
Once you're done with a hard day of meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, you'll want to be a tourist. Canadian flag patches for your backpacks are available here.
The International Red Cross hasn't been able to get Al-Assad's network of secret prisons listed in Lonely Planet yet, but I bet if you ask nicely, the Mukhabarat who are following you around, for a small bribe, will show you secret prisons where Maher Arar was held. After all, the CIA's extraordinary rendition program sent Arar there. It would be good to check out the accomodations.
The old city in Damascus is one of the most ancient in the world. When you walk into the Umayyad Mosque, don't lose your head and offend your hosts: take your shoes off. While you ’re at the Umayyad, rub the brass fence on the shrine of John the Baptist for good luck.
But if you really want to be the envy of the evangelical Christians in your neighborhood, make a pilgrimage to the spot south of the old city where St. Paul was lowered out of a window and escaped his pursuers. It’s described in Acts of the Apostles, for you atheistic liberals.
Be sure to send all your friends postcards, because no one will really believe that you went to Damascus. Their kids who are philatelists will love you for the stamp with Bashar on it.
Take a detour to Palmyra to see the ruins of a conquering civilization that overstretched its boundaries. The desert-preserved Roman ruins at Palmyra are stunning. And while you’re driving along the highways, check out the Syrian reforestation projects where the government is trying to grow forests at the edge of the desert.
The American dollar goes a long way in Syria, so if you plan on buying anything, haggle. If you want a nice Persian rug, start low. You can get them cheap. In fact, everything is inexpensive there, including the fresh squeezed orange juice and falafel.
Before the Republicans in your retinue get all excited, the salesmen in the marketplace trying to sell you trinkets and gold jewelry who sound like drag queens aren’t really gay. It’s only a sales tactic they learned from American movies. A fool and his seat in Congress are soon parted.
If you want to go to Israel, make sure you don’t get a Syrian stamp in your passport. And don't worry about the heavily armed Syrian soldiers standing on street corners. You get used to it after a while. When you think about it, the streets of Damascus are probably safer than some of the streets in your own states.
And finally, when you're in your funduq (hotel), think of Basil Fawlty and don't mention the war.
Next week, we'll post some photos of sights the good American delegation is likely to encounter.