We all remember that archaeology was one of the consuming passions of Grandpa's life. In the autumn of 1979, Grandpa and Granny set off on one of their eventful tours of the Middle East. Grandpa very much wanted to see the cuneiform tablets that had been recently discovered in Ebla, and he and Granny somehow managed to end up in Syria without visas and a guide who had been recommended as someone who could get them to Ebla and back alive.
It was at this point that an incident occurred which more than verified our guide’s good judgment. Without any warning a half-track desert vehicle and two four wheeled drive jeep type vehicles rose up out of no where on the road in front of us blocking the road, As he stopped, our guide said to us: “Don’t get exited, don’t act like you are afraid. Just open the windows and smile!” The windows came down, and uniformed soldiers with automatic weapons appeared at each of the windows, and an automatic weapon was pointed at my head about a half inch away. I tried to keep a smile on my face. It must have been a sickly one. All I could think of was “No Visas,” “No visas.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see the driver and Maxine each had their own soldier with a like weapon almost touching their heads. All this happened in perhaps five or ten seconds.
Our guide began talking to the man guarding him in Arabic. I didn’t know Arabic, but you knew by the sound of his voice that Mr. Akia had a story to tell. His tone was relaxed and friendly, with a “glad you dropped by” inflection which after a few minutes was returned by the man with the gun, with his own questions while pointing his weapon at Mr. Akia, Maxine and at me. He also pointed a few times with his weapon directed to the cameras.
Mr. Akia responded cheerfully and I began to pick up a word or two like Ebla, tablets and archaeologists. From the tone of his voice and his hand and head motions I understood that we were getting a super build up as being some very important people going to Ebla, that we were expected at a certain time and that to be late would never do. They seem more relaxed, by then, and I began to feel more relaxed and found less trouble smiling. The weapons were not quite so close to our heads and the soldiers seemed to relax a little more.
Then suddenly there was a sharp command, the soldiers turned and were gone and the armored vehicles disappeared into their hiding place.