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Five Years in Damascus – ForeignPolicy.com

BY STEPHEN STARR | FEBRUARY 29, 2012

A bloated dead donkey greeted me as I entered Syria in January 2007. “Welcome to Assad’s Syria” read a huge billboard hanging over the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey.

The first person I spoke to upon arriving in Damascus was a machine gun-toting soldier guarding a government building. “Where is the Harameih hostel?” I asked. He had no idea what I was saying, never mind what I wanted.

Mosquito and bedbug bites, sunstroke and diarrhea. Agonizing Arabic-language classes and cold showers thrice daily. Weight loss. Dust. I had no idea how I had found myself in this country. But I would stay five years, before the horrors of the country’s incipient civil war drove me away this month.

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