First Day of the Syrian Revolution

My last day in Syria, with my family.

My last day in Syria, with my family.

On the eve of ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011, I found myself traveling by car from Amman, Jordan to Damascus, Syria – unknown to me that the Egyptian revolution was about to see a victory, and that the Syrian revolution was about to begin. It was a three-hour drive between Amman and Damascus – we were a car full of women, snacks, shopping bags and some dirty jokes.

Imagine, four Palestinian women traveling alone! In a conservative Muslim society, women strengthened by their educational accomplishments and elevated by their social class, are feminist revolutionaries when left to their own merits. And a feminist revolutionary in this part of the world, well, they are women who travel without the accompaniment of a man.

So, try to imagine: 3 out of 4 of us in headscarves – 2 are young and unmarried, 1 widowed and 1 very independent married woman, if I may add. Four women on a road trip to Damascus. We were visiting my favorite Aunt – my only hope to visit Damascus at that point in my trip, because I was returning to America soon afterwards. My mother’s youngest sister, and my youngest Aunt –  was our driver and fearless leader – nodding her head and pretending to obey the Syrian border patrol, scolding us for not traveling with a man – yet, still letting us go, because they were too busy monitoring the final days of Mubarak’s 40 year dictatorship to really enforce these arbitrary rules. My oldest Aunt, old enough to remember Palestine as a young woman, and now old enough to use a walking stick, made the best front seat passenger with her dirty humor and caring demeanor. My younger cousin, Mona, and I were in the backseat, giggling about the nerdy guys who recently went to her father for her hand in marriage.

We arrive to Damascus, late that night. We spend the next 24 hours monitoring, waiting, hoping for Mubarak to step down, the tiny television in my Aunt’s flat across from  presidential palace, eating every three hours as we pulled an all-nighter. We ate so much. We told stories. I heard stories about my grandfather no granddaughter should hear!

The next day, we waited all day next to the television, waiting for this damned man to resign. But, he didn’t. Around 7 pm, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer, and began our commute back to Amman before it became dark.

When I was young, my mother always taught me to say good-bye like I meant it. She had survived enough wars to know that there was always a chance we would not see our loved ones again – in particular, those that were in Syria. Maybe that’s what explained my progressively tearful and difficult good-byes at the end of every trip. At the end of this trip, as I usually do, I promised to return. And, as with every trip, I was overwhelmed with the hope that I could see them thrive in a different, stronger, safer society — as well as with the grief of my departure.

There is a long road between the Syrian exit and the Jordanian entry, where there is no reception for Internet or mobile phones. During the exact time between leaving Syria and entering Jordan – Mubarak stepped down. We arrived to the Jordanian border right when all of the officers were too busy celebrating to check our passports and let us pass. We were only women, after all, there was no way we could be Israeli or American spies. The moment they noticed us from their television, we got the nod to pass.

So we continued on until we reached Amman, Jordan. It was after dark when we arrived, and the streets (particularly around the Palestinian embassy near my Aunts house) were full of celebrations. At that time, I realized that it was actually the day Mubarak resigned that ignited the Syrian revolution. My last day in Damascus, was the first day of the Syrian revolution.