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Shalom and Sheiks: 95 - Deported From Syria

John Powell is forced to leave the Middle East.

To read earlier chapters of his excellent autobiography please visit

A week or so before I was due to leave for England, I was given my last task in Syria .A Government Labour Inspector had to go to T2 on inspection and I was to escort him to ensure his task was made easy. They gave us a company 'plane for the trip. After he had completed his work we took off again. Knowing that I would be leaving shortly, it was a sad return trip to Horns. I sat in the 'plane looking at the familiar landmarks passing slowly below me. I knew it was for the last time. The desert tracks that I had travelled along so often with Hassan, crisscrossed in lazy, meandering patterns. We passed over T3 and I looked down at the scene of the riot when the Bedou tribes ran amok, then at the small village, just outside T3, to which Mike had been asked to call to see a sick child. He had diagnosed diphtheria, which had sent me diving for my Arabic dictionary to look up the word, in order to inform the Syrian health authorities.

The child died the next day and the distraught parents were desperate to take the child back to Soukne for burial. I let Hassan take them in the car. The whole village tried to get a lift and the Humber started off with passengers crammed into the back and sitting on top of each other. I thought the engine would drive off and leave the car behind.

Now, as T3 dropped behind, I could see Wadi Marraba in the distance and the black tents of the Spa'a tribe and my friend, Sheik Soua'an; shortly afterwards I saw the tracks leading off to the village of Soukne; it was on one of them that Hassan stopped us from crashing into a wadi where the track stopped so abruptly, and when he became so angry with the driver from Horns for not following him.

Then we were over the fort of the Syrian Desert Forces and, in the distance, the Crusaders' castle overlooking Palmyra. I smiled as I thought of the goats there and how Hassan had laughed as I made my quick exit from the stench. I stared down at Palmyra, as the memories flooded back of recruiting there and the Mouktars washing their hands in alcohol. Farewell, Palmyra, and you citizens of Tadmor'; farewell Tewfiq; and the Mahmouds, the Alis, the Khalids and the Bedou, "Allah ma'a kum!" — Allah be with you. It was good while it lasted, maybe too good to last. The town dropped slowly behind and then we were over the Roman ruins and the square, stone tombs of those forgotten warriors until, even by twisting my neck and with my nose pressed flat against the window, I could no longer see them, as they too passed from sight. Yes, farewell you nameless and forgotten warriors. From 'Julius Caesar' a parody of the sad words tumbled into shape —they were never sad before: For ever, and for ever, farewell Arab friends! If we do meet again, why we shall smile; If not, why then, this parting is well made.

We landed in Horns and as I stepped out of the 'plane, three Security Police officers accosted me and took away my 'Permit to Work'.

"On orders from Damascus, you are no longer permitted to work or to remain in Syria and are to be deported. We give you one hour to get your things and leave. If not, you will be arrested. You will report to the Security Police at the border."

I was astounded, "On what charge am I being deported?"


"Spying? Spying? Spying on what?" They did not reply but turned and walked off.


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