Visa #1559

Earlier this month, my dad, mom, brother, and I took a quick trip to Lebanon. Border crossings are always a tricky process; no matter how many times you've done it, it's still never quite routine. Your successful entry/exit depends entirely upon the disposition of the individual border official handling your passport. If he's suffering from indigestion that day, you may be out of luck, even if all your paperwork is in order. This is especially true on the Syrian side of the border, but the Lebanese side is no piece of cake, either.

We had made it through the Syrian side and were now in a shabby cement block building on the Lebanese side, waiting for them to finish processing our passports. We hit a minor snag when I used a green pen to fill out my entry card - the border officials insisted I fill out another one in a more tame color such as blue or black.

Suddenly, one of the officials beckoned my 12-year-old brother Steven over to his window. I was momentarily seized with panic that there was a problem with his passport - what possible reason could they have to single him out?

"Your visa number," he announced in a stern voice, calling the attention of the other officials, "is 1559." At this, all of the workers' faces broke out into grins. My family looked bewildered. Quickly, before the guards decided we didn't appreciate their humor, I explained that 1559 is the number of the United Nations Resolution that calls for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. This particular resolution has obviously been in the news a lot lately, and is a popular one with the Lebanese people. We all smiled and laughed along with the border officials.

As the officer handed back Steven's passport, he said, "This means good luck in Lebanon." They all laughed again and we were free to enter the country.

There was a fitting coda to this story...

On our way out of the country, we passed through the Bekaa Valley on the main Beirut-Damascus highway. Just before the border, at around 11 pm, we passed a convoy of huge military trucks packed with troops, tanks, and weapons, also leaving the country. We witnessed 1559's implementation - here was Syria pulling its army presence out of Lebanon.

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