Formalities

Beirut, Lebanon -- 31 March 2011 | Permalink

The wall of the immigration area is covered with notices that hint at complex tariffs for different kinds of visas, and even more arcane procedures to be followed. I'm pretty sure it's all supposed to be free and automatic, but by the time it's my turn to step up to the desk, I'm in full-blown "what if I've done it wrong" paranoia.

The young man in uniform at the desk isn't helping. He riffles through every page of my passport, then does it again, backwards. He stops at the Syrian visa I'll probably never get to use.

"Why do you go to Syria?"

"Tourism?" I say brightly.

"Why?" he repeats.

I stammer something about history and beauty. He gives me the look reserved for halfwits who contemplate playing tourist in a country in the midst of a full-on insurrection.

"You are not a journalist?"

"Oh, no definitely not. Look - computer programmer."

"You are not with any journal?"

"No."

He does the slow riffle again, inspecting every page.

"How many passports do you have? One, two, three?"

I wonder about the penalties for lying and finally confess to holding dual nationality. I hand over my second passport, and he gives it the front-to-back, back-to-front treatment, then hands it back. He goes back to inspecting the other passport. At last, he stamps it and hands it back.

It's only afterwards that I realize what he was really looking for: a stamp from Israel or the West Bank, still grounds for an instant and absolute refusal in much of the Arab world, Lebanon included.

I take my unobjectionable passport, and enter Beirut.