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May 10, 2002

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Does a trip to the Iraqi border sound interesting? We left Palmyra by bus and arrived in a town called Deir ez-Zur in central Syria, the middle of almost-nowhere. We contracted a taxi for the rest of the day from a cabbie who low balled his rate at $20 US dollars and then kept asking for more money as the trip continued. His favorite phrase, "You must have an open hand." The ride took us down the Euphrates River, from Deir ez-Zur to Abu Kamal, the Syrian border post with Iraq. We didn't wave American flags but we told those who asked (just about everyone) we were Americans. Their eyes grew wide as they muttered some Arabic comment, then they offered tea. Everybody carefully avoided talking politics.
Dura Europos: a work-in-progress excavation of an old Hellenistic fort that overlooks the Euphrates. Unlike most ancient rivers, the Euphrates looks clean and preserved.
Border post barber shop: friendly people tried to make us feel at home by turning the channel from a Saddam speech to an American television show.
Rather than spend the night on the Iraqi border - the one hotel we found was grubby and expensive - we went home with our cab driver and spent the night with his family. The young girls were anxious to show off their English and we became neighborhood celebrities.