Monday, November 06, 2006


Amman Airwaves: The Hotel Bombings

November, 2005 Amman Hotel Bombings
Source: Wikipedia (reprinted without permission)

Targets: Three hotels
Date: 9 November 2005 began 20:50 (UTC+2)
Attack Type: Suicide bombings
Fatalities: 60, plus 3 suicide bombers
Injuries: 115
Perpetrators: Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; Abu Khabib,
Abu Muaz, Abu Omaira and Om Omaira

The 2005 Amman bombings were a series of coordinated bomb attacks on three hotels in Amman, Jordan on November 9, 2005. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks which killed 60 people and injured 115 others. The explosions, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn, started at around 20:50 local time (18:50 UTC) at the Grand Hyatt.

The three hotels are often frequented by Western military contractors and diplomats. The bomb at the Radisson SAS exploded in the Philadelphia Ballroom, where a wedding hosting almost 300 guests was taking place. In addition to killing a total of 38 people, the explosion destroyed the ballroom, blew out the large windows bordering the street, and knocked down ceiling panels. The hotel lobby was also affected: ceiling panels and light fixtures collapsed, furniture was destroyed, and the hotel's glass doors were shattered. Cleanup and rebuilding commenced shortly afterwards.

The bomb that exploded in the lobby or lobby bar of the Grand Hyatt Amman was equally devastating. It destroyed the hotel's entrance and brought down pillars and ceiling tiles, along with badly damaging the reception and bar areas. Hyatt began cleanup shortly after the attacks and reopened their hotel on November 19.


Volgograd...The World's Longest City!

Somewhere Over the North Atlantic
Today’s Doonesbury cartoon features an Enron exec calling his wife on plane phone, “Good News Honey!” he says, “I just left US airspace!”

And so did I.

So far so good, but gawd almighty, I have so far to go. This trip won’t be quite as long as my first trip to Russia. Last year I visited Tomsk, one of the closed cities of the Cold War. Tomsk is located deep in the Siberian less than five time zones east of Moscow. Literally on the opposite side of the planet from Hyde Park.

Let Sleeping Astronauts Lay...
The gal sitting to me is an honest to goodness astronaut! Johnson Space Center, NASA, zero G training. She’s 32, with a PhD from UT, lives in Houston, and is on her way to Space City outside Moscow. It’s her first trip to Russia. She’s reading “Carrying the Flame” by I forget which astronaut. The introduction is by Charles Lindbergh. Now, Colonel Lindbergh, pilot of the “The Spirit of St. Louis,” took off for his historic flight to Europe from Robertson Air Base in St. Louis. My middle name is Robertson (not “radio,” as some seem to think) and it was my great great uncles who, as part of the Robertson Airmail Company, backed up Chuck in his successful attempt to cross the Atlantic...and to collect the $25,000 prize. Anyway the pretty young astronaut doesn’t seem particularly impressed. Her NASA ID reads “Astronaut” and she has a red American passport. She sleeps soundly for like, six hours, and wakes up only when we land.

At my Going Away Party, I took an informal, unscientific poll, asking the following question: “Will my SHOES be given any special inspection or attention?” A little more than half the folks said yes. So far customs and security have been a walk through. We’ll see on the return trip in a coupla’ weeks.

Two Cheeseheads and a Texan...
The flights to Moscow are always full and this flight is no different. So far, I have met one fellow, Damon, a retiree from Wisconsin who is on his 52nd trip to Russia and East Europe! He’s an ACDI/VOCA volunteer, staying at the same hotel, the AeroStar, as me. This is great. We will share the driver and it just means a lot less concern about being having to be constantly “on guard.” Damon, a spry 71 year old, taught me a great trick to get through the lengthy Immigration lines. The “Russian Citizens” line is always much shorter than the foreign nationals line. When there is no longer a line in the Russia booth, jump over to there, THEN, jump the line to the “Red (Diplomatic) Passport” booth. Worked like charm! Instead of standing in line for nearly an hour, we breezed through in a coupla’ minutes.

The two Cheeseheads, Wisconsin dairy farmers both, and I are deposited in the good ol’ Hotel AeroStar. Still suffering from this nagging head cold and a little lag, I took a hot bath, (the bath water a lovely minty green color...) and three naps. Then a nice dinner, and some serious discussion on storing bull semen, neutral sex cows (“Martins”), manure dispersal rate permits (go for the Federal permit), etc. You learn a lot on these trips.

And of course there was a little good natured ribbing about braggart Texans, including the classic joke: A Texas rancher and a Wisconsin dairy farmer were talking, bragging, about their land. The Texan, sticking his chest out says, “My spread’s so big it takes me all day just to drive around it in my truck!” To which the dairy farmer, with a pull on his overalls, dryly replies, “Yessir, I used to have a truck like that!”

BTW, the other volunteer is from a small farming community north of Oshkosh. His name is Bruce and it’s his first time overseas. He’s wearing his highschool gym sweat shirt. He was sure glad to hook up with some other ‘mericans. (Me too. Traveling with a coupla’ other folks almost always makes things easier. But if you want adventure, head off by yourself.) Anyway, Bruce is wearing one of those “WWJD” bracelets, which I’ve come to learn means: “I Don’t Tip.”

The AeroStar is a bustling place. Lots of foreigners and business-types. Last time I was there, I guy hit me up for $600,000 to build a complete state of the art digital editing studio. I told him I didn’t have that much cash on me....

The National Iranian Karate Team, and, uh, Me
While there, the lobby is suddenly full of athletes, coaches and guys who yell in cell phones. The athletes, all young, fierce looking Arab men, are the Iranian National Karate Team! I decide against bringing up Bush’s “axis of evil” comment when I found myself, alone, with four of these slabs of muscle in an elevator car. I’m in the back of the car. My floor comes up. The door opens. None of them move. I have no idea if they had pegged me as an ‘merican, (or, to be fair, if they care...) There is one of those moments; were you begin accessing risk, contemplating danger , looking for paths of escape. I say “excusa” and this one slab of muscle, pivots, doorlike, and lets me exit. I take another mint green bath.

Clearly the travel arrangements for my return trip here to Russia are a big improvement over my first trip. Last February, after enduring the ten hours flight between JFK and Moscow, I had just a few hours until I had to fly on to Tomsk...five more time zones due east into the great frozen expanse that is Siberia. The flight was delayed, of course, barely escaping before a “typhoon” (blizzard) engulfed the city. By time I landed in the swirling snow of the Tomsk airport, I was wasted.

As I write this, I am comfortably, warmly, ensconced in my own private berth. Lap top on my lap, legs up, with pillows and sheets tucked appropriately. The lap top serves as a substitute for my big ol’ geriatric house cat “Lucky” Lucy. Both are warm on your lap and make pleasant sounds. However the laptop doesn’t shed and has spell check. Sorry Lucy. The Russian train cars are quite nice, certainly not as sterile as the Swiss or German trains, more on par with, say, the Italian coaches. I am snacking on dried fruits, nuts and meats. Very comfy. I don’t know how much this train trip and private berth cost (ignorance is luxury!) but it’s worth every Ruble. I was able to get some nice video shots through the window, with the billions of birch trees whizzing by, with a schmaltzy sound track provided by the on-board radio speaker system. If you can imagine the Doodle Town Pipers, in Russian, that’s it.

And in the morning I will arrive in Volgograd where I will spend the next two and a half weeks consulting with a local grocery chain/warehouse/ distribution company.

World’s Longest City
Volgograd bills itself as “The World’s Longest City,” an incredible 90 kilometers long, but only 12 clicks wide, running along the dry side of the Volga River. It is also known as “The Port of Five Seas”: Those seas are: the Black, the Caspian, the Azov, the Baltic and the White.

BIG Mother!
Giant stature of Mother Russia, more than 86 meters to the tip of her sword. Visible for many, many miles. The book, and now Hollywood movie, “Enemy at the Gate” was based here in Volgrograd. The Nazi advance east was finally stalled here. The cost: 1.5 million Nazis dead, 1 million Russians dead, the entire city leveled to the ground. The famous T34 Russian tanks were made here. There are 16 of the tank’s turrets mounted as memorials around the city.

Russian Test Pattern
Unlike Moscow, there is virtually nothing in English in Volgograd, not radio, not print, not even many ads for western products, and not a single English language TV station on the nine channel cable line up in the Hotel Bank.

Jim’s Volgograd Client
SupermarKIT. “KIT” means “whale” in Russian. The company “Service Product” has two retail stores, with another to open, hopefully, while I’m here. Plus a warehouse/distribution system, not to mention a night club with bowling, billiards, disco, liquor, etc.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Texac! It's Like A Whole 'Nother Country!

For Valentine’s Day in Volgograd, the place to be is... Club Texac (Texas) !

The Strangers (or maybe the St. Rangers, I’m not sure...) a local combo were holding forth for the weekly “Country/Western” Night. Plus, for the holiday, there were silly contests between sets. The St. Rangers delivered reasonable sets of all your favorite Texas and C/W standards by James Brown, Dire Straits, Little Richard, Elvis, Credence and the Eagles.

Best band in Volgograd!” says Katya, a stunning young blue eyed, shag blonde beauty. She works in the PR Department of a local grocery chain, that is my client. She is also is a former DJ for ”Echo of Moscow” Radio. She speaks excellent English and has invited me out for the evening. She’s friends with the band and their wives. She also sings “a little jazz” herself, she tells me.

We talk about music. She has been to Oregon and California, but “not to the South, Texas.” I tell her how difficult it is for musicians to make a living in Austin. Similarly, in Volgograd, bands often play just for “karasi,” literally “fish.” She seems familiar with the word for a person who doesn’t have a regular job, goes to lots of events for the free food and liquor, maybe a marginal musician or artist-type. The term is “slicker.”

Now, I have been to scores of “theme” bars in my travels,. Some work, some don’t, some work despite themselves. But this is a bar where the “theme” is a bit too far removed. Nobody here has even ever been to Texas. The idea for the bar came when a friend, visiting the Lone Star State sent some postcards home.

Literally, from the moment you push through the swinging bar doors, which are located knee high like a garden gate, you know that this is a close-but-no-cigar kinda’ place. Besides the fact many of the decorations are merely “American” icons; Harley, Elvis, Marilyn, Chicago Bulls, Marlboro, Coke, Wrangler...there are even displays from New York and London!

I realize now that your definition of “west” is based on just how far “east” you are...

The Texas flag hangs prominently on the landing...backwards. One nice touch, however, was a handpainted mural on the wall by the restrooms. It featured a drunken cowboy asleep against a cactus, “xxx” bottle still in hand. Kinda’ made me miss it when the Texas Legislature is in Austin.

The dance floor fills with scores of beautiful young girls, most dressed in attire that one would associate with the oldest profession back in the States. Everyone sings along to the lyrics, in English. I have always been amazed at how much American music has traveled the world making friends. The kids here, most of whom speak little or no English, can sing all the lyrics to “Californication,” “Hotel California” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and scores more songs...even the band!

Another of the young beauty, wearing a skin-tight Union Jack (“very Western”) sequin tank top, approaches me and asks in passable English, if this is “country music.” I respond, “It’s not even close, but then again we are not even close to Texas!” She smiles sweetly, but I’m sure doesn’t understand.

When Katya asks where else I have been in Russia, I say “just Tomsk, and of course, Moscow. Everything in Russia goes through Moscow, right?” With 11 million “official” Muscovites and another 4 million that the can’t seem to keep track off; Moscow is to New York, what Texas is to, say, the original 13 colonies. “Moscow is like a country,” observes Katya.

"So's Texas!" I respond.

Natalya, the club manager, is friendly and makes time for a “real Texan.” I shudder slightly at the reference, and begin my usual, “well, actually, I’m from Austin, and that’s not exactly the same as being from Texas...” spiel, but stop. It’s not gonna’ be worth the translation.

No one here recognizes the name “Willie,” let alone “Stevie Ray,” much less “Bob.” And a “Texas Playboy,” well, I didn’t even try. My toasts, (ya’ gotta’ be able to toast here...) includes “Don’t Mess With Texas!” and “The Armadillo Will Rise Again!” are well-received. But no one asks what an armadillo is. As the night wears on a creepy “Bizarro Texas” feeling tries to push in to my beer sodden consciousness. “It seems like a Texas bar, nyet...”

I present the manager with a bag full of cheesy Texas promotional items, including a “I went to Texas, and all I got was this coffee mug” coffee mug, that I never thought could be considered valuable. Plus, various Austin pens, magnets, keyrings, buttons, etc. and one of those big orange UT basketball pennants. (I found a box of 200 of them years ago and have been giving them out on overseas trips ever since.) The pennant seems to be considered a true Texas relic, like a recently unearthed artifact from the Alamo. It is immediately and prominently displayed right by the entrance. Just as quickly, my bar tab for the evening is halved. So instead of paying, say, about 16 bucks for two dinners, maybe a dozen beers, and, uh, I seem to have forgotten how many shots of tequila, I paid maybe eight dollars. I added a 50% tip. By the way, another thing that keeps Club Texac from being a real Texas bar, there are no tip jars!

So remember friends, treat Texac like a friend. Nobody understands her like we do.

jim ellinger Volgograd is for Valetines


"Face Control" in Moscow...


Face Control
Some sort of doorman lingo, looking at people’s faces trying to decide whether, or not, to let them in the club...? Often seen in nightclub adverts.

Russian Banya

The traditional Russian banya is __________ there used to be entire districts of banyas, but now few remain. A R ussian sauna, I am told, involves more ____than therapy, but than it may be therapuetic.
The banya is like many public baths, etc, around the world, men and women separate behind oppositie doors. The place is all tiles and pipes and ____________. The men are weaaring these silly looking felt hats. And can’t figure out why they have them. Some men have bows of oak or birch leaves.
Men of all ages are standing around _____when a bousterous fellow, come out from the ________ and calls out in a military-like order, “Okay! Okay! Time to go in! Let’s go! Let’s Go! Everybody in!” Or that’s what it sounds like. All of us, maybe 30 men, file into the sauna room.
Now I have been to quite a few spas and saunas, and I had some idea what to expect.
My pals Ilyad and Sergei tell me “just be quiet...”
After climbing up a stairway to a wooden slat platform, the bigmouth, opens a furnace door and throws in a ladle of water, Sssssst! The humidity and heat rise. It’s the hottest I can ever remember feeling. Hotter than the Texas sun. Hotter than the African sun.
I crouch down to try and stay in the low, cooler air, in the back by the small intake air window. Men are self-flaggelating themselves and each other with the leaf covered birch and oak branches, which have been softened somewhat by soaking in pans of water. The heat combined with the extreme humidity is barely tolerable. I have to concentrate not to panic. No one else is bursting into flames, but I feel I may at any moment.
Then the boiler master comes back to where I am, shouting all the time, slams the little window shut and begins swirling a towel over hishead. “Ooof!” some of the men say, as the hottest temperatures are forced down from the ceiling.
I’ve never been hotter in my life. I can’t take it anymore. I have to get out of here.
Don’t panic. I stand up from my crouched position, and WHAM, the blast of superheated air is upon me. Too hot! Too hot! I make my way past all the sweaty n men,
One step, then another, don’t panic. I reach the stareway, and put my hand on the railing, ow!, five steps down to the door, four, three, keep moving, two, one...
I swing open the heavy wooden door, step through and close it behind me, gasping for air. It ____
There is an elevated pool with a ladder, “the cold plunge.” I carefully climb up, over in drop into the water. It is absolutely frigid. I expect ice to form on the top. I cannot stand it for a minute and climb out
This routine continues for several hours, the cooling off/warming up periods spent hanging out with the guys eating dried fish, _______ and drinking, not water, but beer. Lotsa’ and lotsa’ beer.
On my final trip in to the sauna room, I agree to take a beaten. The guy hits me with the wet oak leaves, which stings. Surprisingly, what hurts more is when they guy fans me with the leaf bow. The increased air concentrating on a small portion of my skin is too much to bear and I yell, “hoo! shit! damn! fuck!” Okay that’s enough, the guy relents. I bail for the cold plunge.

Down by "Phone Law"
In ‘merica, there are two types of law, civil and criminal. In Russia there is a third kind: Phone Law. While not an official form of law, it nevertheless carries condsiderable weight. As I understand it, phone law occurs when a business gets the call from a mafia boss,
or enforcer, “laying down the law.” Corruption, intimidation, pay me if you want this, pay me if you don’t want this to happen...
My client says they “resist” these extorsions, that they “don’t cooperate” with the mafia, but, if they have truck, and you must have the truck, then you must pay....

Top Ten Reasons NOT To Visit Moscow

#10 To let your hair bleach out in the sunny tropic breeze,
#9 To cut back on your drinking,
#8 To drink freshly ground and brewed coffee,
#7 To tune in to the nearly one dozen cable TV channels, a couple in English,
#6 To pay $5 for a 30 milileter Coke at the Hotel Lobby Bar,
#5 To walk around bare footed,
#4 To walk around bare headed,
#3 To discuss the situation in Chechnya,
#2 To contribute to the population boom,

and the #1 Reason NOT To Visit Moscow
To listen to Russian sports fans cheer on their teams’ triumphs in Salt Lake City.


Petra, Jordan

Historic Petra,
Dazzling Sights for a Small Audience

By MICHAEL JANOFSKY September 10, 2006 [Reprinted without permission]

No matter what you know of Petra — the Jordanian historical site famous for its deep pink rock facades and (to some movie fans) as the setting for the final scene inIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade — nothing quite prepares you for the experience of seeing it in person.

There is no other way to say it: Petra is dazzling!

This makes Machu Picchu look like a pile of stones,” my wife, Joan, said to me as we spent nearly seven hours this past March walking among vast rock formations and the facades, carved exquisitely into canyon walls, that have survived centuries of earthquakes and neglect.

What was more amazing, perhaps, is that we practically had the place to ourselves.

Even before the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and fears of more violence in the Middle East, Jordan wasn’t exactly attracting tourists in record numbers — despite an aggressive marketing campaign its government has aimed at Canada and the United States in recent years.
While airports in Amman (three hours away by car) and Aqaba (one hour) make Petra reasonably accessible to visitors, the persistent unrest in the Middle East has discouraged more travelers from visiting, although there have been few disturbances in Jordan. During out visit in March, we stayed at a thoroughly modern Movenpick Hotel in the town of Wadi Musa, just steps from the entry gate to Petra, but the hotel appeared half empty, and another new Movenpick several miles away remained closed.

We have been a victim of misperceptions,” said Malia Asfour, director of the Jordanian Tourism Board North America. “People think the Middle East is all bad news, and the violence, Islamic fundamentalism, Osama bin Laden don’t help. But a shift is happening.”

Certainly, Petra alone is worth a visit.

Hidden away in the mountains of southern Jordan, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, Petra is a former trading city sitting among vast rock formations.

Its builders were the Nabataeans, a Semitic tribe who recognized Petra’s strategic location along early trade routes between the Middle East and northern Africa. As architects, artisans and tradesmen, they lived in the valley from about the seventh century B.C. through the early years of the second century A.D. and prospered until trade routes changed, the Romans took over and the city’s importance slowly faded along with its vitality.

Over the centuries, Petra was known only to occasional plunderers and the Bedouins who remained in the area. It was altogether unknown to Westerners until 1812, when a Swiss explorer, masquerading as an Arab in Egypt, heard tales of an ancient city in the mountains 250 miles to the east and coaxed a guide to take him there.

Petra is now a United Nations World Heritage Site, a status that helps preserve its main attractions and protect areas that have suffered erosion. The daily entry fee is 21 dinars, about $30 at 1.43 dinars to $1, and the basic tour is a 7.5-mile round trip on foot that takes the better part of a day. But à la carte options abound, starting the moment you pass through the entry gates.
We arrived just after 8 a.m., and Ali, our guide, suggested that we rent horses to carry us along the rough stone path leading toward a narrow, half-mile passageway known as the Siq. The stones, laid by the Nabataeans, are manageable with comfortable shoes, but who could resist the friendly Bedouins swarming to rent us their steeds? We paid the equivalent of about $8 each.
Horses are prohibited from entering the Siq, so we walked the next half-mile, marveling at the towering canyon walls that finally give way to a plaza and the most famous of Petra’s remarkable facades, The Treasury, known locally as Al Khazneh.

Carved into the canyon wall in the first century B.C., the Treasury stands 130 feet high and suggests Hellenistic and Middle Eastern influences. Its sharp details have been preserved from wind and rain by the facade’s indentation in the rock wall. Especially impressive are the intricate figures and patterns carved between columns and inside pediments.

The Treasury has no real interior space, just a large room with recessed areas on the side. Experts are divided on what it was actually used for. Some say it was a place of worship, while others say a tomb. Its name derives from an apparently apocryphal story about a pharoah’s need to hide his riches in an urn at its top. But no treasure was ever found.

We spent an hour in the plaza, staring at it from all angles while Ali waited in nearby shade, sipping tea. Whatever the view, we found it hard to imagine how its makers achieved such exacting detail.

From the Treasury, we walked through what was once the center of Petra, past ancient temples, a marketplace and a spacious Greek-style amphitheater.
Interspersed through the rock formations that rise in the distance are remnants of tombs, which look like open-mouthed caves. The ancients used them for burial. Ali told us that archaeologists have identified more than 800 tombs.

Resuming our walk toward Petra’s other famous facade, Ad Deir, known as the Monastery, we confronted a major decision: The Monastery sits atop a plateau, accessible only by climbing a winding trail of narrow steps. Guidebooks number them at 800; Ali said there were 1,200. In either case, we could walk or hire mules. [recommended, jim] I looked at Joan and instantly knew the answer. “Best $20 we ever spent,” she said after we reached the top.

The Monastery is less ornate than the Treasury but much larger, looming over a smaller plaza than the Treasury’s to give it a more imposing look. Experts are uncertain of its original use.

Within 90 minutes or so, we were back at the Treasury, which now appeared softer in the late afternoon light. Again, we were transfixed, and pulled ourselves away only after Ali reminded us that someone was waiting at the gate to take us to our crossing point back to Israel. Sadly, we left, with no expectation that anything else on our trip could match the magic of the last eight hours.

Royal Jordanian Airlines offers daily service to Amman from New York, Chicago and Detroit. Most European carriers have daily connections. Petra can also be reached from Israel, by crossing into Jordan by car or foot on the Allenby Bridge east of Jerusalem and driving south or by crossing from Eilat to the port city of Aqaba and driving north.


"So, um, I can pay that"

Why Yes! You Can Pay That ‘Fine’ Now...”

So there we are...

flying along on some paved road, about 50 klicks from the now-closed Zimbabwe frontier, with these incredible straight-up-out-of-the-ground-to-1000+-meters-high-in-the-sky mountains looming on the horizon. We’re heading back from a lovely lunch of goat meat and Amstels at some fat Brits’ farm/restaurant.

We’re heading back to town when two of Chimoio’s Finest flag us over for... speeding. Which we certainly were in the spunky little 2001 Ford Ranger. It’s double-cabbed and roll-barred with a Detroit Six Pack under the hood, 4x4’d with five forward and three reverse, six cup holders, but only a single disk CD player. Apparently these Rangers are the vehicle of choice for most of the NGOs operating here. Except, of course, the tall and tony Land Rovers, with snorkels and power whip antennas driven by the Blue Hats. I can’t bad mouth the UN folks here though, they put Radio Communtaria Gesom, the local community radio station, my client, on the air, with a promise of ten more stations nationwide. Go Big Blue!

My traveling companion, also tall and tony, is from DC and goes by the name “Charity.” This is her first ACDI assignment, but she has traveled extensively and describes herself as “fearless.” She speaks fluent Spanish, and therefore passable Portuguese.

The policeman, in a tattered white uniform shirt and frayed hat, informs me that I was speeding and would have to be “fined.” This did not need translating. He motions me to the other side of the road where his partner’s car was parked on the shoulder. He points to his radar gun, which looks more like an orange juice can spray painted black with a piece of wire shoved in the back. But sure enough, the little red LED is blinking “64.” It was a 30 zone. That would KPH, on the left side of the road, of course.

He wants to see my drivers license. “I don’t have it,” I cheerily respond “No?! Well, let me see your passport!” “I don’t have that either,” I tell him with a smile. “But, but, uh, well, where are they...?!” he sputters. “There at my hotel.” This apparently befuddles them both. After much back and forth, we’re informed that the “fine” will be “un mill Meticais.” Charity, apparently a stickler for details, begins to argue with the poor public servant, “Do you mean one THOUSAND Meticais or one MILLION?” The difference would be a $4 dollar, uh, fine, or a $40 one. I discretely pull out the ol’ money clip and start flipping through currencies. Rubles, nyet, Ukrainian Greivnas, no way! Let’s see, Moz Mets...a million?

Now, I have been on the ground here the Land of mOZ for a week, and had not yet been able to spend $50, despite considerable effort! My single Big Ben has changed into a fan of two point five million Meticais. (Which were, BTW, the most tattered currency I had ever seen. Worse than the Nicaraguan Hat Dollars of the Sandinista era, if you can imagine...)

Why, I would be GLAD to pay a $40 speeding ticket! Definitely cheaper than Houston! Friendlier cops too! Charity asks for a receipt. This seems to spook them, and I further compound it by offering him two crisp twenties, folded and cup-handed below the waist; the way I was always told to pay a, um, fine. His eyes widen and he breaks a sweat. His partner has already bailed and is looking down that long African road for the next speeder, when he sees another police vehicle approaching, fast. Unlike the rusting tin bucket with no back seat that these two officers were assigned, this police vehicle is another shiny Ford 4x4 Ranger (with the spiffy Sports Package, no less.) The policeman looks nervously as the police vehicle looms towards us, turns to me and says, “Go! You now go!”

And go now we do...with my two twenties still folded neatly in my sweaty palm.

just past the speed trap, maybe 40 klicks southwest of the Zim/Moz frontier
(now closed except for cattle rustlers...)


Security Concerns in Amman

I am often asked by friends, "aren't you worried about visiting all these hot spots...?" I usually respond with the same answer... "the most dangerous portion of international travel is the drive to the airport." Especially when it is the Bush Int'l Airport in Houston!

Security Update from AMARC

I am sure some of you are concerned about the security situation in Jordan following the lone gunman’s attack on a visit tourist in Amman on September 4th. While no one can provide any 100% security guarantees, as a host organization hosting so many of our friends from around the world, I would like to reassure everyone that we are confident about the security situation for the upcoming Amarc9 conference. Please read the statement below of the Jordanian minister of tourism. The statement as well as a lot of other information about Jordan is available on the web site .
and are pleased with the level of cooperation and preparation that the various Jordanian governmental- and especially- security agencies are doing to ensure the safety of tourists and visitors. We can safely say that while the region is still in turmoil because of events in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, that Jordan remains as a safe and secure country.
Safety in hotels has been effective ever since the tragic events of last year. The metal detectors that have been placed in major hotels (which includes the hotel that Amarc9 will take place in) has provided a strong sense of security. In addition to the technical protection visible police and local security companies are available in many locations. Our hotel has a private guard but during the conference will be supported by uniformed policemen the entire time of the conference. The uniformed police will be present at all official locations outside the hotel in which the AMARC9 participants will visit. In some cases we will also have uniformed police accompany the group on their various visits.
I reassure all that we will have a safe and secure conference as well. It will be an enriching event that will encourage many of you to come again to Jordan and the region.

A Jordanian gunman fired a dozen shots at a group of Western tourists visiting an ancient Roman amphitheater in central Amman Sept. 4, killing one British man, and wounding six other foreigners and a tourist police officer who was accompanying them. Despite being wounded, the officer subdued the gunman. The attacker was from the same region as the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but authorities announced that he acted alone and had no connection with a terrorist group.

Gunman Kills British Man and Wounds 6 in Jordan
By SUHA MAAYEH September 5, 2006
AMMAN, Jordan, Sept. 4 — A gunman opened fire on tourists visiting a popular site in downtown Amman on Monday afternoon, killing a British man and wounding six other people, Jordanian officials said.

[photo deleted]
Jordanian policemen secure the area around the Roman amphitheater in the center of Amman, Jordan, where tourists were attacked today by a gunman.
Hospital officials identified the dead man as Christopher Stoke, 53. Wounded in the shooting were two British women, an Australian woman, a woman from New Zealand, a Dutchman and a sergeant with the Jordanian Tourist Police, Jordanian officials said.

Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, identified the gunman as Nabeel Ahmad Issa Jaoura, 38, from Yajouz, near the Islamist stronghold of Zarqa. Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said security officials were interrogating Mr. Jaoura and investigating whether he was acting alone or was part of a terrorist cell.
Officials said the shootings would be considered a terrorist act unless the gunman was found to be mentally unstable. It was the most serious attack of its kind since suicide bombers attacked three Amman hotels last November, killing 63 people. Nasser Joudeh, a government spokesman, said the police would be stepping up already tight security in the Jordanian capital and elsewhere.
“This is a cowardly, terrorist attack, which we regret took place on Jordanian soil,” Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez told reporters.
Witnesses said the shooting began shortly after midday when Mr. Jaoura, cleanshaven and dressed in jeans, opened fire on the group of tourists as they walked in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Amman, a popular tourist destination. He fired at least 15 bullets into the crowd, shouting “Allah-u akbar,” or “God is great.”
The wounded were taken to Al Bashir and the Prince Hamza hospitals, about one mile away. The two British women underwent surgery and were in intensive care Monday evening in critical but stable condition. Hospital officials said the 32-year-old Dutchman was recovering from a bullet wound in his abdomen, while the Australian woman had been treated for a bullet in her thigh. The tourist police sergeant, Awni Falah Ayed, was treated for bullet wounds in the chest and thigh. The condition of the New Zealand woman was not known.
Jordan says it has thwarted numerous plots against Jordanian landmarks and government buildings as well as against Western tourists. Last November, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia took responsibility for the attacks on the three Amman hotels, the deadliest terrorist act in the country’s history.

Excellent blog on the day-to-day turmoil from occupied Palestine.
Caution: this gal can be graphic in her song and dance.

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