Every other journalist is trying to get into Syria, but on Saturday I was trying to get out. The government had made it perfectly clear: My visa was expiring and unless I left on April 23, I would "face the full force of the law".
I had agreed the night before with my cameraman, Ben Mitchell, over a drink that neither of us wanted to discover what "full force of the law" meant. So the debate was really whether I should fly out from Damascus or drive to Amman, Jordan, and fly from there.
The decision was made that he would fly out from Damascus, the Syrian capital, with the gear and I would drive to Amman. I had left my second passport there with a friend. One for Arab countries and the other for Israel. Welcome to 21st century diplomatic relations.
I decided to wait until after noon prayers before setting out south to the border. If the roads were going to be blocked with various pieces of burning detritus, as they had the day before, I wanted to know first. It's about 125km from Damascus to the Jordanian border - a drive that should only take an hour or so, especially with the way Syrian drivers tend to step on the gas.
I was in a really bad mood on this particular morning as I was by default being expelled from the country. I said very little to the driver as we set out, which is unusual for me. I've been grilled in the old school style of journalism: I can still hear the voice of one of my mentors saying "eyes and ears Mr Perry ... eyes and ears".
The only two questions I asked my driver as we left Damascus were his name, and where he was from. "Abdel … from Daraa," he told me.
"Beautiful city," I responded.
Truth was: I didn't know if it was beautiful or not. It was less than four weeks ago when I tried to access the city (which lies right against the Jordanian border in the South) and was turned back by the army. It was my first week in Syria when we tried to cover the initial protests in Daraa. I remember coming across that army checkpoint and two machine gun positions had been "pre-sighted".
US Marines technique
An old military technique that I learned from the US Marine Corps about after years in Iraq: Soldiers will simply take two posts, put them at approximately "two o'clock and ten o'clock" as your eyes would scan the horizon: a certain distance out – fire off a few rounds until you hit the post. Then mark that spot on the machine guns sightings – and just like that ... you've got yourself a "pre-sighted kill zone".
A kill zone. The name says it all. US Marines have a particular knack for naming things that describe exactly what they really are.
I knew that day, seeing those posts and that "kill zone" that the government was taking these small demonstrations (at the time) very seriously. Syria up until these past five weeks had been a quiet country, while the rest of the region seemed to continue to burn.
Of course it became clear the day before, on April the 22nd, that the government would no longer stand for the type of dissent that had spread: clear opposition to the regime. Over a hundred people were killed across the country on a bloody Friday, the bloodiest since the protests began.
I tried to get out of the hotel and around the country as best I could throughout my month there. But as I told a colleague: "I don't blend in really well – and this government is rounding up journalists."
It was really that, and a few bad incidents I had come across while trying to get out and about. Be it my camera being wrested away from me outside the main mosque in Damascus or my drive through the neighbourhood of Barza in Damascus the previous week.