A Spy Like Me

by Laura Weatherly

A leap into the unknown Lebanon


The Syrian army officer leaned back in his chair and took a drag from his unfiltered cigarette. I sat across from him, the August heat causing sweat to snake down my neck from a high ponytail, my American passport splayed open on the metal desk that divided us. He let out a stream of smoke and jabbed a stubby finger at my passport. "Israel." I shook my head. "American. I've never even visited Israel." For all my travels in the Middle East-Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt-I had only danced around Israel, approaching its border but never entering. In fact, the reason I was sitting at a Syrian border crossing as I drove from Lebanon to Jordan was to avoid the Israeli stamp in my passport that would prevent me from reentering Lebanon. Flying was faster but costly. Besides, Lebanese drivers were never dull and the one I'd hired claimed to be an expert at getting people across the border with ease. Michelle, a wiry man with a thick mustache and a passion for classic American TV, drove like he was being chased by the devil himself. We'd climbed out of Beirut that morning over the two-lane mountain road where the air was cool and the sleepy villages had not yet roused. Even though traffic was light, Michelle still passed blind on tight curves, skirting the edge of the steep road that didn't boast a single guardrail. All while he kept up a steady patter about Magnum P.I. and Dallas. I'd been grateful when we'd descended into a valley and reached the border crossing. That was before I'd found myself sitting across from a burly officer with just enough bars on his khaki uniform to be worrisome. He spoke in rapid fire Arabic to Michelle, who perched on the edge of a chair beside me. Michelle's eyes widened. "He says you're a spy." I tried not to laugh. Being an American or Israeli spy (I still wasn't sure of which I was being accused) attempting to enter Syria wasn't something to chuckle over. I pointed out the lack of Israeli stamps in my passport but got glares in return. When Michelle's gentle offer of money was refused, he stood up. "They must really think you're a spy for Israel. We should go before they try to keep you." I grabbed my passport and we hurried back to the car. Michelle spent the return drive assuring me that flights to Amman were no problem. Easy. "No problem like the border crossing was no problem?" I wanted to say. But instead I closed my eyes and imagined the exotic life that lay ahead of me now that I was an accused spy.