Thomas Webber stoops to check his car for bombs every morning before heading out, but the 71-year-old American has no plans to leave Damascus, a city he has called home for more than four decades, the AP reports. He's one of the very few Americans not of Syrian origin living in the capital—perhaps the very last one—after the US closed its embassy and urged citizens to leave the country in 2012. He said that when the Czech Embassy contacted him, urging him to leave, it told him he was the last American not of Syrian origin still living in Damascus (an official at the Czech Embassy contacted by the AP said he couldn't confirm that). At 6 feet 4 inches, Webber is a lot taller than most, and his silver hair and bespoke suits with pocket squares also make him stand out. But the policemen at nearby checkpoints wave him on with a smile, and he stands by his decision to stay. "The Syrian people are just the most beautiful people in the world," he says. "There's no way I'm going to leave this country. They're going to have to carry me out."
Webber was born and raised in Orchard Park, NY, a Buffalo suburb. He arrived in Damascus in 1975 to teach science at Damascus Community School, a private American academy, and went on to convert to Islam and marry a Syrian woman. Except for a brief stint teaching in Iran, he has lived in Syria ever since. The country was relatively safe for Americans until 2011, when full-blown civil war erupted, and in the chaotic early months of the conflict, foreigners fled, fearing kidnappings and bombings. The security situation in the capital has improved since, and over the past week a US and Russia-brokered ceasefire has brought the first major lull in fighting. Webber has three grown children, 11 grandkids, and a great-grandchild living in various countries, and he visits them often, but he always comes home to Damascus, where he teaches English part time at a local high school."When it's your time, it's your time," he says. "I could leave school and slip on a banana peel and die. It's God's will." (Read more Damascus stories.)