When I traveled to Syria more than 10 years ago, there was no Internet. The young people I met, who talked in whispers, had asked me to send them books from the outside world. Books on anything, art mainly. When I sent them postcards or letters, there were some things I couldn’t talk about, as the censors read everything, they said. Talking about Israel was a big no, no. So I had to avoid recounting my travels to the Middle East in full detail. Now, some of the people of Syria in the middle of a revolution, are cut off from the Internet that they’ve had access to over the last years. To get the word out to the media on what’s happening to them, as the government kills protestors and threatens soldiers with their lives, locals are relying on donkeys to transfer video files from Syria to Jordan.
According to the Media Line Syria’s government has shut down all electronic communication inside the country and overseas. Like from another era, “the nearest town Ramtha, a Jordanian town of about 100,000 people 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital of Amman, has become a virtual switchboard for news coming out of Syria, not to mention a swarm of refugees seeking to flee the carnage that has taken some 800 lives across the country, according to a United Nations estimate released last Friday.”
Across the border of Ramtha, is the Syrian town of Dara’a where the rebellion against the Syrian autocracy began. Now without Facebook, email or any form of online communication, activists have been using donkeys to smuggle video clips across the 80-kilometer border. It’s dangerous.
But locals have hundreds of years of experience eluding local officials. “The two cities are connected more than anyone could think. For hundreds of years, the residents of Ramtha and Dara’a have been moving between the two towns easily through the farms and desert area. Now they rediscovered these ancient routes,” says Ahmed Kareem, a Jordanian taxi driver from Ramtha.
Journalists waiting on the Jordan side are hoping to catch the next scoop, by way of donkey. And while it sounds humorous, Syria activists are risking their lives using Jordanian cell phones, and other tricks to get the news out.
I remember crossing from Syria to Jordan, from this area. It was the longest border crossing in my life. First our taxi driver picked up two other people, and had me stuff cigarettes and other commodities in my luggage and on myself. Crossing over, every taxi and bus was scanned from the underside, very thoroughly, probably as border guards looked for weapons and drugs. Over the border on the Jordan side, I was groped by my taxi driver. It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t have the Internet in Syria at the time to tell me what to expect when crossing over (or HarassMap to report abuse), something which made traveling a little different than today.