My past few days have been quite busy.
At work, I have wiped out my “to do” list down to the most unimportant item, taken my favourite colleagues for extended coffee breaks and left the secretary with detailed instructions of unlocking the drawers in my absence. I have double checked the “emergency contact” in my employee file and the exact coverage terms of my insurance. I have repaid whatever I ever owed to anyone and sent a reconciliatory email to that guy who once clipped his bicycle to mine in the shed downstairs. It is not a crime, after all, to lock one’s vehicle to other people’s without permission, is it? He couldn’t have done it on purpose. Right? The bastard.
At home, I have cleaned the entire flat, washed my bicycle and packed away winter clothes. I have emailed the friends I lost touch with long ago and called my parents. I have finished editing my latest travel pictures (the process that NEVER really ends) and started compiling an album of the best ones from 2011. I have organised my bills and arranged direct debit for my electricity and gas payments – something I had procrastinated on for absolutely ages.
Finally, as a reward for this unprecedented effort, I bought myself an ultimate treat – white chocolate mocha with soya milk from Starbucks. I love it, folks. Nothing makes anjči happy like a good cuppa of steaming white mocha. Extra hot, please.
In short, I have been acting like I am leaving and not coming back for a while. Which is most strange given that I am not actually moving anywhere. I am merely going on holiday for 11 days.
Except, of course, that I am going to Syria.
April is the cruellest month
April has proved to be the most unpredictable month in my life. Take 2009 when I was planning to spend Orthodox Easter on the Greek island of Chios with my then boyfriend. Things didn’t go quite as planned: I got a job in London and swiftly left Greece and Easter travel plans (as well as the boyfriend) behind.
A few of you will still remember the April story of 2010. I was due to fly to Hong Kong for a short break when Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland’s world-famous volcano, erupted angrily, casting clouds of rage over Europe and North Atlantic. My flight to Hong Kong was cancelled hours before departure.
The two occasions – which then seemed tearfully unfortunate at best – have taught me a couple of lessons. Firstly, to stay philosophical about things I couldn’t do much about. I most certainly couldn’t tell the volcano to hold off erupting for another week – or to love the country I clearly wasn’t made to live in.
Secondly, I learned to see the positive in the grimmest of developments – even when such were not exactly obvious. Leaving Greece helped me to avoid the economic crisis which broke out in the country shortly after – and to start a new job in London which I am still madly passionate about. On the same note, not going to Hong Kong meant catching Oliver Dragojević perform live at London’s Royal Albert Hall instead – as well as booking a fantastic replacement holiday in Greece a few months later. Add to that the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching a live eruption of the named volcano in Iceland. It was all perfect in the end.
Indeed, missing out on something always translated into gaining something else elsewhere.
Revolution? Didn’t we have one last week?
Come April 2011, and I was subconsciously expecting another travel drama. That I would have to scrap travel plans at short notice for reasons like, say, a war in Libya, an earthquake in New Zealand or tsunami-evoked nuclear crisis in Japan. I was even disappointed that nothing of the sort was seemingly forthcoming in my destination of choice. Out comes Syria.
All that changed when Syria, too, headed for some serious upheaval. Antigovernment protests reached Syria later than other Arab nations. They have also taken a much more gradual pace; first localised to the town of Dara’a in the south of the country and eventually spreading to the central city of Homs, several coastal areas and peripheral neighbourhoods of Damascus. Unlike in the other countries taken over by revolutionary movements, however, the Syrian protests have not really broken out on a large scale. Yet.
As the demonstrations escalated, I wondered if I should stick to the original travel plan. On one hand, Syria firmly sat in my Top 5 dream destinations for quite a while. My tickets were booked as early as 11 (that’s eleven) months ago and my itinerary crystallised shortly after. On the other hand, I was actually planning on hanging around for a few more years, not sacrifice my life to democracy in an obscure Arab nation in the middle of the desert. To go or not to go?
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office didn’t make my life easier. For years, I have relied on their travel advice for the countries where I was planning to travel. This was more out of habit than real need, however, as I never happened to visit a place driven by regime-opposing movements before.
The Foreign Office’s advice for Syria has evolved unrecognisably since last month. From merely recommending not to travel to the town of Dara’a, it changed to avoiding non-essential travel to the whole of Syria – and, eventually, to suggesting all Britons to leave the country by commercial means.
It didn’t, however, say anything about all Britons HAVING TO flee by any means available. Which gave me some comfort.
Should I stay or should I go now
Most of my friends have been telling me to scrap the Syria trip, and I can see where they are coming from. I fully agree that it is not the safest time to visit Syria. It will be a shame if I do not have a chance to discover some of the country’s most famous sites because of ongoing unrest. It will be an even greater shame if, God forbid, the violence escalates out of proportion, affecting foreigners in Syria and leaving them – and their families – regretting their visits for the rest of their lives. It will be a great shame indeed.
But it will likewise be a shame to stay in London for no good reason. To waste two consecutive 4-day weekends on the city where I have lived for five years and where the upcoming Royal Wedding is promising to make enough logistical mess for everyone never to forget. For everyone who chooses to stay here, that is – those of my local friends who haven’t left the country yet are planning to do so shortly or are too heavily pregnant to fly anywhere at this stage.
Even more so, it would be a shame to cancel my trip judging purely from TV footage of localised outbreaks of violence. Yes, some areas in Syria are affected. Yes, some curfews are in place. Yes, there are shootings and killings. And yes, some people have gone missing since the mess began. There are only limited concerns in places where I am personally planning to go, however. My contacts from the region are absolutely cool about Damascus, Aleppo and Palmyra. I am not planning to participate in protests or break a curfew if such is imposed wherever I am staying. I cannot promise that I will keep my camera away if I see a particularly vivid demonstration in front of me. The temptation may just be too strong. But I can definitely promise that I will try.
And, should things get really out of hand, I can always direct my steps to Lebanon just a stone’s throw away. Unless, of course, it will be too late. But that I will worry about later.
Happy Easter, everyone! Let’s hope something good comes out of all this.