Josh Wood in the Boston Review:
One night last January, Rami Nakhle bounced toward the Lebanese border on the back of a motorcycle. A gang of smugglers—the kind who usually transport guns, drugs, fuel, and more mundane commodities—had agreed to take him from Homs, Syria, to Beirut, less than one hundred miles away.
To get out of Syria, Rami had promised to pay $1,500—six months’ salary for the average Syrian—cash to be paid on arrival, by a friend. The smugglers ordered him to ditch his small bag by the side of the road and proceed with only the clothes on his back, though this may have been a trick to cheat him out of his belongings. Smugglers can be dangerous people to deal with, but it was a risk worth taking. Rami had just been discovered by the Syrian security services. He had few options but to leave.
On a dirt track leading to the border, Rami waited with one of the smugglers until after dark. When the lights of the nearby Syrian military outpost finally flickered off, the pair inched toward the border. Everything was going according to plan.