Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You are in Syria. This is the Embassy

One of Jenny’s old coworkers is Syrian and knows the Ambassador well enough to have his family over for dinner often. last February, I asked if she could email my project proposal to the Ambassador with a good word. Her husband did the favor but I never heard anything from it so I figured the Embassy wasn’t into my idea.
Back in April I had a meeting with both Archbishops to review my findings from the first trip to Aleppo and to discuss the next steps. They gave me full run with my ideas. To my excitement I was granted permission to release cd, TV show, documentary, whatever. We all agreed that the next step was getting approval from the Syrian government, but they felt it may be difficult. I agreed.
I came home from the meeting and decided to call the Syrian Embassy here in DC to introduce myself.
I’ve never had a problem cold calling, so I got the number off the internet and tried to call the Ambassador directly. I navigated through several prompts before reaching the his secretary.
“How may I help you?” She cordially asked.
“My name is Jason Hamacher. I am involved with a project with the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo. Dr. Aman, A mutual friend of the Ambassador and myself, emailed a copy of my proposal to the Ambassador a couple of months back. I was hoping to meet with the Ambassador to discuss to the project.”
“The Ambassador is out of town at the moment. He should be back in ten days. If you could fax a copy of your proposal to our office, I’ll make sure he gets it.” She sounded optimistic.
“Sounds good. I’ll fax it over today. Thank you very much.” I got off the phone and drafted an introductory letter. It took me a week to write the thing. This is what I came up with:

“Dear Sir or Madam:

I write to request a meeting with the Ambassador. I am in the beginnings stages of a project with the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo and Archbishop Mor Gregorios and mutual friend Dr. Aman have both encouraged me to contact the Ambassador directly to discuss my ideas. I would like explore the relationships between Archbishop Mor Gregorios, the Mufti and the President of Syria. I feel that the public and private relationship between Archbishop and the Mufti is one to be admired and could be used as a role model for tolerance here in the US. I would also like to discuss with the President, his ideas and philosophies on governing Syria’s religious state. I am not a journalist or a student, just a young enthusiastic Christian eager to make a difference. Western Christians can learn a great deal from our Eastern heritage and I feel Syria is the best country to use as an example. I have attached the formal proposal describing the other aspects of my project. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

It was faxed it on May 17th. I called the following day to confirm they received it. The Ambassador was unfortunately out of town. I was encouraged to call back in two weeks. I called but missed him again.
“You can try back in ten days. He should be available then.”
By this time Jenny and I were house hunting with every free moment and I let things slip. I kept calling and missing the Ambassador for weeks. I called on July 17th
“Hello, this is Jason Hamacher calling for the Ambassador. I was wondering if he has he gotten the chance to review my proposal?”
“Hello Mr. Hamacher. Unfortunately the ambassador has not had the time to review your proposal.” The woman pleasantly responded.
“No problem. When would be a good time to call back and follow up.” I asked.
“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news, but we are pretty busy these days.” She didn’t come across condescending just stating the facts. I was horrifically embarrassed. Israel began bombing Lebanon several days before and Syria was in the hot seat for allegedly allowing Iran to supply weapons to Hezbollah through their territory.
“I am so sorry! I should’ve thought of that before I called. I’ll call back when the war calms down.” When the war calms down? I couldn’t believe that came out of my mouth. She didn’t acknowledge my remark, thanked me and then got off the phone. I had surely ruined my future with the Syrian Embassy.
The next month was spent settling into our new job and house. I was slammed with unpacking, arranging, installing, assembling, and fixing. I was perpetually on hold or trouble shooting with every tech support guy for days. Jenny and I were stressed beyond description but everything was coming together.
Thursday August 10th during lunch my phone rang. It was from a nameless DC number. So I answered.
“Hello?”
“Hello, name is Ahmed, I am from the Syrian Embassy, may I speak to Jason Hamacher please.”
I was excited but nervous. Israel and Lebanon were bombing the hell out of each other and Syria was all over the news. Why was I getting a call? “This is Jason.”
“I work with the Ambassador and have gone over your proposal and think you have a good project.”
We talked for fifteen minutes going over all of my ideas and concepts. To my surprise Ahmed was in his mid-twenties, from Aleppo, and had many Christian friends. He thought the project had great merit and wanted to arrange a meeting with the Ambassador.
“When are you available to meet with the Ambassador?” He asked.
“My days off are Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings.”
“Great, I’ll go over the Ambassador’s schedule and call back with some possibilities.” Things were looking good. Ahmed called the following day and set a meeting for Monday, August 14th.
I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. If the meeting didn’t go well the project could be canceled. I woke up Monday morning exhausted. I put on my suite, gathered my portfolio, kissed my wife and drove down to the Embassy. I called my dad and said a prayer before stepping out of the car.
I walked around to the Consular basement entrance and hit the door bell.

Syrian Embassy

Syrian Embassy DC



The door buzzed opened. I stepped into a dim room with low ceilings. A larger plexi glass window separated me from a man sitting at a desk. “How can I help you?” He asked with think Arabic accent.
“ I have a meeting with the Ambassador. My name is Jason Hamacher.”
“Have a seat Mr. Hamacher.” He pointed toward a small waiting area decorated with faded tourism posters. There was a couch, coffee table, a few chairs, and a water cooler. I took the couch and picked up a news paper. A large man, who I thought might be Ahmed, entered the room and asked me to follow him. He was in a suite and looked like Syria’s smaller version of The Rock. I followed him outside and around to the front of the building. The Embassy is an old DC stand alone brick house with white trim and a large front yard surrounded by a tall black iron fence. He unlocked the gates and we approached the front door. We chatted a bit on the way in and I was directed to sit in the salon. It was very reminiscent of the informal meeting areas of both Archbishops. I sank into the couch and the thick gentleman asked, “Would you like a tea or a Turkish coffee?”
“Now I really feel like I’m in Syria. I’ll take a coffee” I said with a laugh.
“You are in Syria. This is the Embassy.” I felt stupid. I forgot that an embassy is technically soil of that country. Nice diplomacy.
I had been freaking out wondering how to address the Ambassador. Was it Ambassador, Mr. Ambassador, Dr Moustapha, I had no idea. My head was spinning as I sat waiting in a foreign country that happened to be in my neighborhood. Ahmed walked in and introduced himself. We spoke for a minute or two and then the Ambassador walked in. We both stood and I shook the ambassador’s hand. Before I could say anything Mr. Ambassador beat me to it. I never officially addressed him. It was to late so I went forward.
“How can we help you?” He asked with a smile while gesturing for us to sit down.
“I presume that you have reviewed my proposal, so I am here to discuss your thoughts and to seek permission to execute this project.”
“Permission is not a problem. Tell me your ideas.” It was that easy. I had permission within the first 60 seconds! His demeanor was very pleasant. I was expecting a stern individual but he seemed dignified yet down to earth. I felt welcome.
I went into my whole deal. What was nerve racking was thinking how to be diplomatic while still getting my point across.
“We both know Syria hasn’t been getting the best press lately. I find it interesting that our president has claimed to be Christian and yet your country, an “Enemy” (I gestured with quotes) houses one of the oldest surviving forms of Christianity. I think that we as a nation can learn from the examples of tolerance shown by the religious leaders of Aleppo.” I spoke with confidence but was pretty sure they could hear my heart beating. The Ambassador nodded his head with understanding, calming my anxiety. “I am requesting your permission because three or four young Americans showing up to Syria with a plane full of electronics won’t look to good at the border.” I said with a slight laugh.
“Of course. You will be fine just as long as you don’t bring any tooth paste or liquid with you.” He said smiling. We all laughed. The Ambassador was also funny! This was turning into a hang out. One of the reasons he liked the project was because Aleppo gets little coverage. Most of the media covers Damascus and that tended to be mostly negative. “Who did you meet while in Aleppo?” He asked.
“Several people. It was the week of the big Islamic Cultural celebration. I have photos if you want to see.” I offered.
“I love photography.” He began looking through my portfolio. “Your pictures are great. They are more than pictures. They tell a story. I would love to display some of these here at the embassy.”
“Thank you very much. I am in the process of making a photo book of all my photos from Aleppo and I can bring it by when I’m done. That way you can choose which photos you would like prints of.” I was beyond excited.
I also wanted to discuss the possibility of filming a documentary TV show or movie as well. My goal is to research the strong Christian- Muslim relationship in Aleppo. I have permission from the Church and I hope to interview Grand Mufti Dr. Sheikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun, and with your help, President Assad.”
“What would you speak with the President concerning?”
“I am looking to discuss his ideas on these old Christian tradition and his thoughts on governing a 90% Muslim country with a highly respected and, for the most part tolerated, Christian minority.”
“I think this is a good idea. An Interview would be tricky, but not out of the question. I think we will have to show him some footage or progress of the project before he agrees. You know some people have a hidden agenda and try and paint our country in a different light.”
I nervously responded, “I would like to clear that my intentions are cultural not political. I could have all my questions written out before hand of that would help.”
“I understand.” He said with a comforting nod. “Mr. Hamacher you have not only permission but support of the Embassy and Syrian Government. If you need assistance in Syria I can help arrange support for you there. You will be able to freely enter our country with your equipment.”
I lost 100 pounds. “Thank you very much!”
“If you need anything else we can talk again. Not just regarding the three issues we have discussed, but anything. Continue to liaise with Ahmed and I look forward to seeing your project unfold. Is there anything else we can help you with?”
“I think we’re good. Thank you for taking time to speak with me.”
We stood up and shook hands.
“You’re welcome anytime.” and he exited the room.
I just crossed the finish line of an emotional marathon. Ahmed and I recapped a little as he walked me to the gates. We shook hands. I walked slowly to my car trying to keep composure. Once inside I prayed in utter joy and then called my Dad. The 7 minute drive back to my house felt different. After years of touring, chaos, and adventure I finally felt like I was heading down God’s path. I felt like everything that I have done has prepared me for this project. I just have to keep on going.

5 Comments:

Blogger Graham Land said...

I'm amazed by your progress, but at the same time I know how disarming and sincere you are, so I'm not surprised. Great work!

10/27/2006 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know we just talked about this but I really enjoyed reading it sir. You are following your path and you are succeeding. You continue to be an inspiration to me and I am sure others.

erik

10/30/2006 1:03 PM  
Blogger ♥Nova said...

Amazing!

10/31/2006 3:08 PM  
Anonymous mike said...

this is really a great story, i've been following since the beginning and i'm completely engrossed in how it will turn out.

i pray for your continued persistence in seeing this vision come full circle.

10/31/2006 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Shahid said...

Tremendous! This is truly an amazing story as you have shared your experience.

While I am most excited about your progress and the shared-intentions behind your research and recordings, I am also completely enjoying the radically intense and joyful process as you walk through this. It is amazing to read along from my home in India. Thank you for sharing.

I (like many others), are truly enjoying the chance to listen in.

Looking forward to your future news. In the meantime, you are in my prayers!

May the Lord truly use this to bring greater understanding and fruitful interaction between Muslim's and Christians.

11/01/2006 12:54 PM  

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