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Venus de Milo

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, Professor Palmer, I’ve been browsing the Internet and came across your work on false memories and external indicators differentiating false and true memories,” Axel answered the man sitting behind the oversized mahogany desk.

“That was based on research and clinical experience with childhood traumas such as those of rape or incest victims,” the professor explained.

Axel laughed, “That’s not my case, not that know of, at least that’s not why I came to you. Something’s been gnawing at me for the last few years now. Something that I took for granted since I was a child, something I believed to be true like the solidity of the ground I walk on.”

“Please go on,” the professor was skeptical but interested. The man sitting in the highback chair across from him seemed somewhat older than himself, physically fit, and not given to believing every passing nonsense.

“It’s something that is of consequence only to me but none-the-less has considerable impact on me,” Axel continued.

“What has been the impact on you?” the professor asked, looking for some classic symptom to latch onto.

“The impact on me has been to call into question all of my childhood memories related to my relationship with my birth mother,” Axel answered, taking the time to choose the precise words.

“Your birth mother?” the professor repeated, raising his eyebrow.

“Yes,” Axel explained. “that would deserve some elaboration. My father and mother divorced each other when I was seven years old. Dad remarried when I was nine. After some initial difficulties in accepting my new mother, I came to refer to her as “Mom” or “my mother”, and to the woman who gave birth to me as ‘my birth mother‘ or ‘my biological mother‘.”

“How did your birth mother feel about your referring to her as that?” the professor probed, thinking he might be getting closer to the core issue.

“Sorry,” Axel offered, “a little more elaboration is necessary. After my parents divorced, my birth mother also remarried. He was an army psychiatrist at the time, a nice enough man, although I didn’t have much to do with him. At first they lived just across the court from us in the same apartment complex my father and I lived in. Then they moved down south, a good day’s drive from us. They came to visit me a couple times a year, sometimes staying at a motel in town, sometimes bringing me back to their home. He never stood between my birth mother and me. I remember him always in the background. Some years later he was transferred to the Philippines. Of course my birth mother went with him. They were there three years. During that time they adopted a little girl. I remember getting a photograph of her in a letter. She must have been two years old or so. She was awfully cute. Three days before they were supposed to be rotated back to the States, my birth mother was doing some shopping in town when she was hit by a car and died. I was thirteen at the time. Her husband returned home with the infant and a coffin. She was buried in a cemetary in his home town. I never had any further contact with him.”

“That was quite a story,” the professor exhaled. “How did your birth mother’s death make you feel?”

“I was devastated,” Axel said, “but I got over it.”

“How did you get over it?” the professor asked.

“That’s the crux of the matter,” Axel also exhaled. “I never inquired into why my parents had divorced, at least not until a year or two before my father passed away. I have memories of my mother taking a switch to me when I was two years old. I remember her walking out of our house with a suitcase, getting into a cab, and driving away. I remember her coming to visit me after she had remarried, my running to wrap my arms around her waist, and her arms hanging limp at her sides. Later, after I’d studied Art History at college, I started associating her with Venus de Milo, because she had no arms to wrap around me. I assumed she never really loved me. Maybe she loved me in the beginning, but sometime afterward stopped. I assumed that might have had something to do with my father divorcing her and getting custody of me. My father always loved me, as much as I loved him. Of that, there was never any doubt in my mind.”

“So what caused you to call into question your childhood memories related to the relationship with your birth mother?” the professor probed further. It seemed obvious that this man was self-analytical to a fault. He might have made a decent psychologist, he thought, although the professor didn’t have much faith in psychologists with their talking therapies.

“A couple years before my father passed away, I took him out for a drive,” Axel answered. “We ended up driving past our old home, which Dad sold soon after the divorce. I was in my sixties at the time. Dad had recently turned eighty. I stopped the car in front of the house and asked Dad why he’d divorced my birth mother. He told me it was because she didn’t love him anymore, at least not the way he expected to be loved. I asked him what he meant and he told me she had said she loved him like a brother. Was that the only reason? I asked. Well sure, he answered, I didn’t want to be loved like a brother. I wanted to be loved like a lover, like a husband. I couldn’t wrap my brain around that. I told him married love is multi-faceted. There are many aspects to love when you are attracted to a person but, at the same time, care for her deeply like a husband but also like a father or like a brother. The existence of one aspect doesn’t preclude another aspect. Anyway, that’s why I divorced her, Dad told me, turning red. That’s the silliest reason for divorce I’ve ever heard, I said and we drove on.”

“Why did that cause you to question you childhood memories?” the professor asked Axel.

“A few years later,” Axel said slowly, “a woman came across my name on one of the social networks I belong to, quite by chance, she explained in a private message. She identified herself as the Philippine infant my mother and her husband had adopted. She confirmed the details I remembered about my mother’s second husband and the events surrounding her death. She said she had been rumaging around the attic of her adopted father’s house soon after he’d passed away. She had stumbled on a shoe box full of returned unopened letters addressed to me. She apologized for opening one of the letters but, after I told her it was ok with me, she read me the letter. The letter told me how much my mother had loved me and how much she missed me. The woman, my half-sister I guess, told me her father had talked about the divorce. He told her that my father had tricked or forced her to accept the conditions of the divorce. That was difficult for me to swallow since Dad had always been a gentle fair man, except when his back was against the wall; however, I could believe my grandfather was capable of being forceful to get his way. Dad had dropped out of college to elope with my mother, who came from a simple background, not that I cared an iota about that. My half-sister asked me what I wanted her to do with the box of letters. I told her I’d love for her to send them to me. She said she would. That’s the last I ever heard from her. I looked for her on the social network and sent her a followup message, but she never responded to me. It might be because of my political views, I don’t know.”

“So how do you think I could help you?” the professor asked.

Axel looked into Professor Palmer’s eyes and said, “After hearing Dad’s explanation about why he had divorced my Mom and then receiving those messages from my half-sister, I don’t know what to believe about my childhood up to the age of seven. Did my birth mother love me or did she not love me? How can I know what happened to me? How can I interpret what happened? How can I assimilate what happened? Were my memories my memories or were they implanted? If they were implanted, then when and by whom? The ground on which I walked as a child has disappeared from under my feet.”

After a moment the professor asked Axel, “What is it that you think I can do for you?”

“Obviously you are a psychiatrist, so you probably don’t put much stock in talk therapy,” Axel replied. “So I was thinking that, if you had experience with and access to a transcranial stimulator, say, a transcranial magnetic stimulator or a transcranial direct current stimulator, you might be able to do an fMRI of my head while showing me a picture of my mother and mapping the cells or regions that lit up. Then you could stimulate just those areas while I reported which memories popped up.”

“A nice idea,” the professor said, “but the TMS and the TDCS coils are only positioned for regions of the brain dealing with depression and other moods. Besides, what you’re asking for is a function not approved for those devices by the FDA. What you are requesting would require deep brain stimulation; which would require open brain surgery while you are conscious. Are you sure you’d want to do that?”

Axel thought about the professor’s words a long time before answering, “If it turned out that my memories were true and my mother didn’t love me, I could deal with that. If it turned out that my memorieswere false, that they were implanted, I could deal with that too. What I couldn’t deal with is thinking my mother didn’t love me when she did. It’s like a major chunk of my memory is missing, like I have amnesia, not being able to trust any of my childhood memories. So, yes, I’d be willing to undergo open brain surgery for the chance of getting back my childhood memories before I die.”

The professor tried to talk Axel out of what he considered to be a rather frivolous dicretionary but dangerous medical procedure. “We wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a true memory and a false memory; neither could we be able to tell apart a self-acquired memory from an implanted memory.”

Axel told the professor, “I’d be satisfied if you found a memory in which her arms are wrapped around me.”

The professor told Axel to go home and think it over, talk to his wife and children about it, and then give him a call if that’s what he’s decided. In any case, an elective surgery such as this would take up to a year to schedule, what with all the real life-and-death cases requiring surgery.

Axel thanked Professor Palmer for his time and patience, and promised to call him one way or the other.

*

The surgery was scheduled for 2:00 New Years morning. He reported to the hospital reception desk the day before the surgery, accompanied by his wife and children. He was assigned a private room and told to don the hospital pajamas. The nurses stuck him and probed him. He was taken to get an EEG, EKG, X-Ray, MRI, and fMRI.

“Do you still want to go through with this?” the professor asked Axel.

“Yep,” Axel answered.

“Can’t you talk any sense into him,” the professor asked Axel’s wife, glancing also at Axel’s sons.

“No,” Axel’s wife answered, her energy depleted. “Just make sure you bring him back to us, alive and functioning.”

“You know open brain surgery is never a slam dunk and Axel signed a waiver form protecting the hospital and us from any liability if the procedure has complications,” the professor said

“Yes, I know,” she responded. “He explained you wouldn’t perform the surgery if he didn’t sign the waiver. We wouldn’t sue you or the hospital if he were to wake up a vegetable, or didn’t wake up at all.”

Axel’s sons gathered closer around their mother, putting their hands on her shoulder.

A male nurse shaved Axel’s head. His wife gasped. Then she stood up and bent over him, kissing him on the cheek. “I love you,” she said. “See you on the other side.”

“Good luck, Dad,” the sons said and, one after the other, kissed their father.

The male nurse wheeled Axel out of the room and down the hall to the elevators.

*

The timeline bifurcated again, as it does every moment; afterall, we live in a quantum multiverse.

In one universe Axel’s surgery was a success in every way. The professor had stimulated a memory cell in Axel’s brain that triggered a memory of when his mother had hugged him warmly.

In another universe Axel’s surgery was a success but all the memories were of a mean cold-hearted mother who had no arms for hugging Axel.

In yet another universe Axel’s surgery was not quite successful. The young doctor assisting the professor had been handed an unsterilized scalpel. There was an infection and the inflamation spread through Axel’s brain. He went into a coma and, three days later, died; however, the professor had managed to trigger a memory of Axel’s mother hugging him. Then he lost consciousness.

Venus de Milo

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What Do You Mean “What Does It Mean to Be a Jew”?

The other day I submitted a poem to a Jewish writing project. What follows are my poem and the polite rejection received:

Rosh HaShana 2016/5777

Raanana, October 2, 2016

Enough of idle dreams and wishes

Enough of sweetness, honey and apples.

The light does not come from East

And not from West,

But from inside us.

Peace will not come from one of us

But from all of us.

There is no time but marching forward

To futures where Abraham’s progeny

Sit together at a table

Sharing food and drink

And all men’s children

Play and grow in health

Uneducated in the ways of war

But wise in the paths of peace,

All men necessary on this march because

No one knows from whence come saviors,

What will be their color or creed,

What language they will speak,

Whether man, woman, child

Or stranger.

The response:

Mike,

Thanks for sharing your poem with (name withheld).

As much as we admire the sentiments that it contains, we are looking for something with a much more concrete link to the author’s own Jewish experiences and how such experiences reflect on his or her Jewishness.

So I’m afraid we’ll have to pass on this but hope you’ll keep us in mind for future work.

May the year ahead be a good one for you and all Israel.

Best,

(name withheld)

The response got me thinking about my own Jewish experiences, what it means to be Jewish, what is meant by the question “what does it mean to be Jewish”, and why would one Jew ask another Jew what it means to be Jewish. Don’t misunderstand: I’ve received rejections on the poetry I submit before; just never one like this.

In Anne Frank’s diary she talks about how, after being cooped up in the attic hiding place for a year and a half, all she wanted to do was “ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young” and to know that she was free. She wondered whether anyone would ever not worry about whether or not she was Jewish and merely see her as “a teenager badly in need of some good plain fun”. The diary was not about a teenager who had been grounded for some typical teenage infraction. It was about just one instance among millions of perfectly normal people who were hunted down and murdered just because they had the misfortune to be born as Jews among people who hated Jews with every fiber of their being, whatever being Jews meant to them.

Jews are just like everyone else in that we are all different once you individuate us sufficiently, once you listen to our stories, our desires, our aspirations, our fears, and our perspectives. It’s true we have our rabbis instead of your priests, but there are Jewish soldiers, Jewish cops, Jewish firefighters, Jewish intellectuals, Jewish weightlifters, Jewish actors and actresses, Jewish presidents (in Israel), Jewish geniuses, Jews of mediocre intelligence, Jews below average intelligence, Jewish prostitutes, Jewish criminals, sociable Jews, unsociable Jews, Jewish farmers, Jewish truck drivers, religious Jews, Jewish agnostics, Jewish atheists, Jews for Jesus, Jewish poets, Jewish artists, Jewish paperboys, Jewish lifeguards, healthy Jews, sick Jews, and dead Jews. There are Jews who’d be hard to tell apart from Christians, Jews who’d be hard to tell apart from Muslims, Jews with big hooked noses, Jews with little ski-slope noses, white Jews, black Jews, sallow-skinned Jews, American Jews, British Jews, German Jews, Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, French Jews, Hungarian Jews, Syrian Jews, Iranian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Kurdish Jews, Turkish Jews, and even a Jewish astronaut.

The Jewish population is not statistically skewed. What is skewed are non-Jewish perceptions of Jews but, in this respect, Jews also have skewed perceptions of non-Jews because that, unfortunately, is human nature to skew our perceptions based on the availability of the limited narratives and experiences to which we’ve been exposed.

There may be some Jews who sit around congratulating themselves for being Members of the Tribe and feeling comfortable in their Jewishness, but mostly we look outward with our Jewish eyes at the non-Jewish universe trying to find our meaning and purpose in it just like everybody else.

That was the spirit in which my poem was written.

Those who know me know that I am a Jewish agnostic. I have never found evidence of God’s existence. I think I would prefer to live in a universe in which God existed, but I don’t believe that is the case. I often use God as a metaphor in my poetry though.

In another five hours, Yom HaKippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, will begin. If I have offended anybody please forgive me as I forgive those who have offended me and may you all be inscribed in The Book of Life.

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CALLING ALL POETS, WRITERS, ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS: We need your most passionate work

Source: CALLING ALL POETS, WRITERS, ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS: We need your most passionate work

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A Walk in the Desert | Fiction by Mike Stone | Sunday Brunch Tuesday

A short story of mine was published and illustrated on Michael Dickel’s beautiful blog. I’m so honored…

Meta/ Phor(e) /Play

A Walk in the Desert

October 8, 2014


Mike Stone


Tuvi Ornat put the old concert ticket he’d been using as a bookmark between the two pages he had been reading and laid the dog-eared paperback gently on the table beside his chair. He stood up and stretched his arms.

“I’m going for a walk,” Tuvi called upstairs but there was no response.

He scribbled a short note and slid a small corner of it beneath her tea mug on the kitchen table where she’d be sure to see it when she returned. He buckled a fanny pack around his waist and placed his keys and wallet in the zippered pockets. He put a notebook, pen, and the book he was reading in an old backpack one of his sons had left at home. Tuvi locked the door and walked outside.

It was a pleasant enough day, not too warm…

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Dreams and Memories | Mike Stone | Sunday Brunch Tuesday

Michael Dickel posted some of my poems on his beautiful blog site along with appropriate digital landscapes from photos. Enjoy …

Meta/ Phor(e) /Play

Saint Yellow’s Gate Revisited


Mike Stone


Raanana, March 24, 2017

Through light Saint Yellow’s gate I’ve fled
Leaves long fallen, trees long dead
To come full circle as she said
No meaning, only clues instead.

Clues pointing to eternity
Open graves to see through pity
Stilted men walk through the city
The death of rationality.

What say you now of dreams my friend?
Succubi make love pretend
Climax waking in the end
Nothing left to comprehend.

St. Yellow’s Gate
digital landscape from photos
©2017 Michael Dickel


When I Was a Kid


Mike Stone


Raanana, March 30, 2017

When I was a kid
Everyone round me was larger than life,
Only my sister and I were the size of life
Or maybe a little smaller
When I was a kid.

When I was a kid
Magic was the color of the rainbow
‘Tween green and blue,
It was time that lasted…

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A Plea to Reform Jews

The two subjects that should never be discussed in polite society are religion and politics; but society has not been polite for an awfully long time. If you are easily offended by religious discussions, you’d best skip this post and move on to another one.

A thoughtful analysis of religiosity will show that the road between the states of disbelief and belief are bi-directional; that is, one may start off as a non-believer and convert to a true believer, or one may start off as a true believer and become a non-believer. Of course we can imagine all sorts of permutations and combinations derived from a wide range states in between. One may even start out in one direction and turn back towards the opposite direction or even stand still wherever he/she happens to be between the two end-states.

I’m talking about the possible, not necessarily what may or may not be desirable in someone’s eyes.

I’m a non-believer, somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic. I don’t really have enough evidence about the existence of God as He/She/It is commonly defined (Creator and Prime Mover of the Universe) one way or the other. I would prefer to exist in a Universe in which God exists, but I don’t have any evidence that I’m in such a Universe. Of course I wouldn’t prefer to exist in a Universe in which God, as commonly defined (Chooser of one people over another ignoring the rest of His Creation, Creator of Heaven for true believers and Hell for non-believers, and Tester of peoples’ faith by commanding them to sacrifice their children) existed. I would prefer and follow a God who loved all his creation equally, who was fundamentally rational, and who was ethical; who was patient with questioners and doubters, and provided us examples we could live by.

I was raised as a Reform Jew. I grew to appreciate many elements of it over time. Much of what I wrote above about my preferences for a God are derived from what I learned from Reform rabbis in sermons, weekly religious classes, and frequent family discussions. There were some things I disagreed with, like the moral of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac on the improvised altar on Mount Moriah. I thought Abraham should have stood up to God and rejected His command to sacrifice his son. How many people since Abraham have heard voices commanding them to kill their spouses or children? We hear lots of voices in our heads but we are not supposed to act uncritically on them. Anyway I learned that moral arguments were acceptable.

I would say that, for me, Reform Judaism was probably the last (or the first, depending on which direction you’re going) gas station on the long road of religiosity between belief and disbelief.

From what I had been exposed to, it became clear to me that Reform Judaism was an enlightened, tolerant, and liberal religion. We studied the other religions around us in order to understand the differences and commonalities between us. That orientation spilled over into the daily lives of Reform Jews. When I came across Voltaire’s famous quote from his letter to Monsieur le Riche, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”, it came naturally to me to accept it as an ethical and worthy statement. It was the kind of thing we were likely to hear in a Reform Jewish sermon.

I continued to grow within Reform Judaism, often comfortably but sometimes struggling with some aspect or other, through high school, college, the US Army, marriage with a beautiful Israeli sabra (native), and raising our son in America. Then we decided to pick up our roots and make aliyah (immigrate) from a Democratic country (USA) based on a written constitution, majority rule and minority rights, and the separation of Church and State to a Democratic country (Israel) without a written constitution, majority rule but without minority rights, and no separation of Synagogue and State.

When I arrived in Israel I found that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbinate and religious parties maintained de facto control over marriage, divorce, burial rights, access to the Wailing Wall (Western Wall of the Temple Mount), Jewish conversion, etc. That’s all part of the political status quo, an unwritten agreement that maintains whatever the situation was current at the time that the ultra-Orthodox agreed to support Ben Gurion in his bid to establish a Jewish state. Ben Gurion was desperate. Without the support of the ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-ultra-Orthodox, he felt he would not be able to claim that God promised the land of Israel to the Jews. It was written in the bible that all modern monotheists hold holy. Ben Gurion apparently didn’t believe the Holocaust would be enough to persuade the geopolitical powers that be that the Jews deserved to have their own land. In Haifa the buses and businesses are open during the Sabbath; in Jerusalem they are not. Now the status quo is not good enough for the ultra-Orthodox; they want to codify it into law. They want the Israeli Supreme Court to accept the status quo as axiomatic.

Other things I discovered after arriving in Israel were that Reform Judaism is just about the most despicable thing that exists, worthy only of being spit on or stoned, desirous of diluting the blood of the Jewish people, misleading them, and attracting believers away from Orthodoxy to Reform. Frequently, on slow news days, you’d hear reports of veiled or unveiled threats made over phone to Reform rabbis and cantors, stones thrown through Reform temple windows, and spray-painted slogans on temple walls. The police never found the perpetrators. I used to mention how I felt about it to my local friends, but I soon discovered a lack of empathy on that score. It appeared that even among traditional believers and non-believers, the ultra-Orthodox propaganda against Reform Jews was taken as in the case of “where there’s smoke there’s probably fire”. I learned to keep my particular brand of religion to myself.

As time went on I found my belief in Reform Judaism eroded, along with my belief in Judaism or any other religion. There are too many reasons to go into why it happened in this post; maybe another time.

This is just so that you will know where I’m coming from.

Reform Jews comprise roughly 80% of American Jewry; Conservatives roughly 15%; Orthodox the remainder. American Jews have been very generous and charitable, but Jewish American support (financial and political) for Israel has been declining over the years (1997 – 2017).

In spite of the fact that there are many reasons why Reform Jews around the world would rather not give their hard-earned charity and support to Israel or would prefer to redirect their funds and support to more democratic or pluralistic groups in Israel, Israel needs your support and funds now as much as ever. People outside the Middle East (including the Americans) seem to believe that Israel is invincible; after all, they have won every war since gaining their independence in 1948. Those same people don’t seem to realize just how close Israel came to losing the October War in 1973.

I appeal to your tolerant and liberal hearts to give what you can to support Israel as it is today, good, bad, and the ugly. If any enlightened, liberal, or tolerant voice is raised in Israel and it becomes known, hinted at, or public record that that voice received special funding from overseas, that voice will lose its legitimacy here.

I appeal to you to remember the words of Voltaire and take them to heart in our case: I [may] detest what you [say or do], but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to [say or do so]”.

According to Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity, “The greatest level (of charity), above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others”.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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The Mountains Are My Friends

Up until the point of writing this journal, I would have characterized my life as not being particularly interesting, unless you happened to be in the computer programming profession like me. Don’t get me wrong. I have no complaints about my life. It is just that I have had a certain degree of difficulty in persuading other people that what I do is interesting. I write programs and do consulting for a living. I have written a compiler for some exotic micro-code and am somewhat of an expert in the subject of digital signatures in Israel. I have lived in Israel for the last 25 years. I guess that is pretty exciting for a guy from Columbus Ohio, good ol’ USA. I was drafted into both US and Israeli armies and did my best to avoid combat. I was always more afraid of having to shoot someone than of being shot. I was too cowardly to be a conscientious objector, so I went where I was told to go and did what I was told to do. My life was about to get pretty damned interesting.

Wednesday 1/10/03 10:30-11:00> A professional article I wrote on our experiences provisioning Internet-over-Cable TV networks was published today in a respected web site (Cable Datacom) in the USA. Nissim, our group CEO, called me up to his office to congratulate me on getting the article published. Then he told me that’s not the reason he called me up to his office and asked me to close the door so that nobody would hear what he was about to say. He asked me whether I possessed a foreign passport. I said yes and that I had an up-to-date US passport. He told me about a business opportunity that involved developing Iraqi Kurdistan’s communication infrastructure. Nissim asked me whether I would be willing, in principle, to travel to Kurdistan to survey the infrastructure to evaluate what we can build on and what needs to be done. I asked whether it might be premature to invest in a business project in Iraq while the Iraqis and Americans are still shooting at each other. Nissim assured me that there is no shooting going on in the place I would be visiting, Suleimaniya. I would probably be going through Turkey, cross over the border into Iraq where we would be met by Kurdish officials and conveyed to Suleimaniya. In fact, it was untouched during the latest war. I said that it sounded interesting in deed and I would be willing to go, as long as it is reasonably safe and my wife agreed that I go. I also insisted on telling Rony (my boss). Nissim said he would tell Rony and Moshe (our company CEO) personally and that I should keep it secret until he did.

Today 1000 demonstrators stormed an Iraqi police station about 3 blocks from the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad to demand jobs as policemen. US troops arrived to help quell the demonstration 45 minutes later. At a mosque in southwestern Baghdad, some Shiites rallied to protest the brief detention by the US forces of the local preacher yesterday. A few US military vehicles arrived on the scene to disperse the crowd, but were driven off by a hail of stones. A US soldier fired a warning shot and some security guards at the mosque fired back with small arms.

Friday 3/10/03 10:20-11:50> I met with Nissim, Eli, and Gabi at the Tapuz in Batzra near Ra’anana. Eli and Gabi are partners in this business venture. Eli is Nissim’s counterpart and Gabi is higher up the totem pole. Eli checked me out to see whether I was suitable to do the survey. After I passed muster, I asked my own questions. What I did not know about the place, the people, the politics, and the project would have filled Encyclopedia Galactica. I told Eli there may be a problem with my going to Iraq because of my security classification. As far as I knew, I would have to get permission from our Ministry of Defense. Eli said he had connections and would try to obtain permission for me to go. Eli thought it would be a good idea to schedule the trip when Uri would be available to travel with me. Uri was supposed to survey the place and people from the point of view of physical security, and to set up an office in Suleimaniya. Uri was ex-service, as were Eli and Gabi. He had operational experience and could be counted on. I left feeling that everything was well planned and under control, and I knew everything I need to know in order to set out on this little adventure.

Tuesday 7/10/03> I began researching Suleimaniya, the Kurds, Iraq, and the technical areas I had to survey over the Internet. I downloaded maps of the area and advisories from the US State Department, US Congressional committee papers, and UN assessments. I started developing a detailed questionnaire that would form the basis of my survey.

Wednesday 8/10/03> I continued my research and survey questionnaire throughout the day.

17:00> Meeting with Uri, Nissim, and Eli

I met Uri for the first time. He was waiting outside Nissim’s office. Uri looked rather nondescript – a bit roly-poly. I wonder how I looked to Uri. Over the next several days of our time together, Uri subtly changed shape in front of my mind’s eye.

Nissim told Uri and me that we would fly to Jordan tomorrow, where we would meet Polad and drive together across the Jordanian-Iraqi border to Suleimaniya. Eli said Polad should be about 25-30 years old. I asked how long the trip should take, start to finish. Nissim estimated four days: 1 day to get there, 2 days to perform the survey, and 1 day to get back.

Tension is growing in Iraqi Kurdistan over the prospect of Turkey sending its troops into Iraq. KDP and PUK Kurds threaten to take up arms against the Turks if they enter Iraqi Kurdistan.

Thursday 9/10/03 14:00> Meeting with Oded (MoD)

Artnet gave me a digital camera to photograph the infrastructure. I received a Sony video camera from Isfar, cell phone, Iridium satellite phone, open airline tickets, and cash for expenses.

Oded instructed me about field security when I travel through Arab countries. Two things he said to me were memorable. I should remove any and all tags in Hebrew or containing Israeli content – no Hebrew/Israeli documents or equipment with Hebrew engraving (pc or cell phone). I could not even take my credit card since it contains a Hebrew word in English letters. Removing all Hebrew/Israeli signs turned out to be harder and more elusive than I would have imagined. After checking and double-checking with my wife and son, before leaving home, I discovered later, at the hotel in Amman, that I was carrying Israeli coins in my pocket. I threw the coins in a public trash can. Next problem was what to do with my Israeli passport. As a dual citizen, I am required by both countries to enter and leave Israel with my Israeli passport and the US with my US passport. Anywhere in between does not matter. Even my US passport was problematic, since a change on the last page was stamped with the location of the embassy where the change was made: Tel Aviv. I decided to bite the bullet and hope that no Arab official would read every page of my passport. The other memorable thing Oded told me was that I should make sure that Uri and I stayed in the same room together. Sorry, but there were limits to what I was willing to do for field security.

16:00-19:30> I go home to pack for the trip. Talma and I go over all my clothes and equipment to make sure there are no signs of Israel or Hebrew. Ari drives me to the airport.

20:30> I meet Uri at BG Airport. We switched from speaking Hebrew to speaking English to each other. After checking in at the Royal Jordanian ticket counter, we go up to departure passport control. Once we are through, Uri and I went to the VIP lounge to avail ourselves of a specialized service. We deposited our Israeli passports in a pouch so that we would not have to carry them with us. We would receive the contents of the pouch upon return to Israel, just outside arrival passport control.

22:30> Departure from BG Airport to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman Jordan

In Baghdad today, a Spanish diplomat was shot as he left his home, a suicide bomber drove his explosive laden car into a local police station killing 8 Iraqis, and a US soldier was killed in a rocket propelled grenade attack on his convoy in Baqouba 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Friday 10/10/03 01:30> Check-in to Intercontinental Hotel and call Polad

09:30> Meet Polad for breakfast

Polad was young (age 24), thin mustache and goatee, and dressed elegantly. He was built solidly under his suit. He said he worked out at a gym every day. He knew that Uri and I were Israeli. He seemed a bit nervous with us. There were sweat stains in unexpected spots on his white shirt.

I asked Polad which route we would be taking from the Jordanian-Iraqi border to Suleimaniya. Polad said we had to go through Baghdad, swing north up to Kirkuk, and then east to Suleimaniya. My blood turned cold. Who decided on our route through Amman-Baghdad-Suleimaniya? A whole new load of unplanned risk had just been dumped in our laps. Polad explained that the risk for him to travel to Kurdestan via Turkey was just too great. The Turks would certainly abduct him along the way to the border. As for us, Polad had heard that the Turkish border guards would not have permitted non-Iraqis to cross their border into Iraq. The only other alternatives were Syria or Iran, which would have been problematic for us.

He said he had to meet someone in the city. We agreed to meet for lunch around 1 pm.

Uri told me the story about his fishing photo album and his hobby of free-diving off the coast of Panama. He explained the technique of free-diving without intention; that is, without betraying your intention to the fish you are hunting, even though you want very much to catch a big fish and you have no air left in your lungs. This was the first in a steady stream of stories (most of which I’ve forgotten unfortunately) which I would refer to as our 1001 Kurdish Nights.

13:40> Lunch at Fakhar-el-Din

The three of us walked to the restaurant. We had trouble locating it on our own, so Polad stopped a group of locals to ask for directions in English. It was amusing that Polad spoke no Arabic. The youths he stopped were polite. One of them took us around the corner and pointed out the correct way to get to the restaurant.

Polad told us how Saddam had attacked his family and people, and chased them into the surrounding mountains. At first they hid. Then the Kurds took control of the narrow passes in the mountains to prevent Saddam’s soldiers from reaching them. Polad told us that the Kurds have a saying: “the mountains are my friends.”

After lunch, Polad ordered a nargila (hooka?) with apple tobacco to smoke. He offered to let me try a puff of the nargila. He told me to inhale the smoke deeply. I did as told and fully expected to cough the lining out of my lungs, since I am not a smoker (except for secondary smoking, which I am trying to give up). I was surprised by the amount of smoke that issued from my lungs without incident. The smell of apple smoke reminded me of the smells of pipe tobacco, like cherry blend, from my father’s meerschaum that I loved so much.

22:00> Oktober Fest at hotel

We all decided to attend the Oktober Fest hosted by our hotel near the pool. It would be good practice for Uri’s German cover and it made me nostalgic for my previous life in the US Army when I was stationed in Germany. I figured the beer would flow freely and help me sleep this night. Polad begged off as we approached the entrance to the Fest. He said he wanted to get to bed early. The beer was good although it was Amstel (Dutch); the umpa-pa band was ok, though the yodeler in the lederhosen was probably American; and the sausages were good, though we were in a Moslem country.

Saturday 11/10/03 04:50-05:10> Check-out from hotel

05:15> Taxi ride with Ali and friend to border

Ali drove too fast for my taste (little did I know that within just a few hours I would be looking back on Ali’s driving with some nostalgia). He was a polite driver and the truck drivers he passed on the road were polite too.

08:45> Arrival at border crossing

We waited a long time for the passport clerks to check our passports by phoning up the next echelon in the bureaucracy. The clerk called Polad up to his window just to tell him to go back and wait two or three times. When the Jordanian appeared to tire of his game with Polad, he released us all.

09:30> Cross border and meet family security detail and convoy

We were met at the border by Polad’s family body guards and drivers, and smiling US soldiers. Polad took our passports into an office and came back in less than 5 minutes with our passports stamped. We were on our way.

The body guards wore combat fatigues, black chest webbing, and M4 carbines. There were 3 Saddam cars (SUV’s) for us. Uri and I would ride in one SUV, and Polad would ride another. The body guards were distributed among the three cars. The “Saddam” cars are suburban jeeps (SUVs) that used to belong to Saddam and his henchmen. After the US and allies drove Saddam underground, the Kurds expropriated the cars for their own soldiers. The rest of the Iraqis are afraid the cars are haunted by Saddam’s ghost.

09:45> Journey to capital

We traveled in close formation, flying low at 160 kph (100 mph), often swerving suddenly to avoid bomb craters in the middle of the main road through H3 desert. Uri pointed out to me that we were traveling through “Scud Country”, the area from which Saddam launched his scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

We stopped for gas and oil. I told one of the body guards that I had to go to the WC. A body guard with an M4 accompanied me to the latrine. I entered a stall and was confronted by a squatter toilet (a hole in the floor with a foot print on either side) and a plastic pitcher of water to clean the left hand (fecal wiper). No toilet paper and no poop from this camper.

11:00> Lunch at truck stop/restaurant

The restaurant laid out quite a spread for the body guards, drivers, and us. I was not particularly hungry and the food did not look particularly appetizing, but the effort was appreciated. The meal included bamiya (ochre?) and rice, a bit of lamb meat on a bone, pita, and thick tea. There was too much competition with the flies and I finally gave up.

16:00> Stop at Mum’s residence in the capital to rest a bit and look around

The picture below is Mum Jalal’s back yard. The house used to belong to one of Saddam’s half-brothers. The property extends to the banks of the Tigris. The area in which the house is located is known as the “Green Zone”. Newsweek called it the “Beverly Hills” of Baghdad. I am the one in the red shirt.

16:45> Continue on to Suleimaniya

We continue driving at 160-165 kph, weaving in and out of traffic, narrowly missing oncoming trucks, cars, and motor bikes.

Uri tells me a story about a friendly fishing competition with his free-diving buddies.

After dark, cars drove without headlights. Trucks parked in the middle of the road, in the dark, without warning lights.

20:00> Arrival in Suleimaniya and check-in at Abu Sanaa hotel

This is the hotel where an English news reporter, Gaby Rado, fell to his death from the roof, 30/3/03.

The bathroom had a leaky but Western-style toilet and douche, but no toilet paper.

21:00> Picked up for dinner in the back yard of a nice restaurant

Meet with Qubad and Lahur (Polad joined us later)

Meet with Norwegian prosecutors (meeting with Kurds to decide whether or not to extradite Mullah Krekar, the Ansar al-Islam terrorist, to Iraq), US Special Forces, and FBI liaisons

Sunday 12/10/03 09:00> Breakfast at hotel and change $50 to KID

I commented to Uri that it was strange that I had not heard a single dog bark. Later someone explained to me that the people do not like dogs and are usually afraid of them.

Uri told me about one of his more famous clients: he trained Noriega’s security staff.

11:20> Picked up, driven to Suleimaniya Palace, and checked-in

We were told Aras would meet with us at the hotel around 13:00.

14:00> We decided to go to the restaurant on the top (7th) floor to photograph the surroundings.

I talk to the maiter’d with the pale blue eyes while Uri clicks away on his camera.

This picture is looking north-east from the tallest building in the center of Suleimaniya, in Kurdistan. The 4-story white building with the larger satellite dish on its roof is KurdTel, the local PTT.

Somebody notifies Qubad (or he comes by accident), who comes and politely but firmly asks us to leave the restaurant immediately. Apparently they were making arrangements for lunch with some high-level dignitary.

We go back to our rooms on the 4th floor and wait

16:00> Qubad called me to meet with Uri and me. He came to my room. I went over to Uri’s room to bring him over. I saw Polad and Iwah (Polad’s body guard) standing on the stairs in the hall way.

Qubad gives us the 3rd degree (politely but firmly). He had not been told about Uri’s arrival – only mine. He insisted on knowing who was informed about our visit. At first he seemed to believe that we were both intelligence operatives. I do not know whether Qubad would have been more comfortable with the idea of both of us being intelligence operatives or civilian businessman. I told Qubad the truth – that we were businessmen with business objectives (the evaluation of local communications infrastructure in order to make a business proposal to the local PTT) who were officially sanctioned by our government. I told him that our Ministry of Defense was aware of our trip and that I could not have come to Iraq without the MoD’s express approval. I said that my bosses and their business partners also knew – as well as my wife and three sons.

16:20> Qubad says he has to leave and will come back around 18:00.

17:30> Qubad came back to talk with Uri in his room. Uri thought Qubad would come over to talk with me too, but he did not.

18:00> Uri came over to my room to tell me about Qubad’s 2nd visit to our rooms and I told Uri that Qubad never returned to me after our first interrogation.

I wrote down my impressions regarding this business trip so far. I described the obvious snub of the family not meeting with us, our political liability in the eyes of Qubad, and our security exposure. Uri asked to read my notes. After he finished reading them, he asked me whether I could remember what I had written, and then he proceeded to rip them up into little pieces of paper and flush them down the toilet in my room. I told Uri that I had committed my notes to memory and could reconstruct them when we returned home. Uri was concerned that my notes might be embarrassing to our hosts and therefore dangerous for us.

I don’t know whether Uri was trying to calm me or we both found each other interesting to talk to. Maybe he was trying to prevent me from being sucked under in a whirlpool of fear and analysis. In any event, we talked constantly and non-stop about everything that we had learned or experienced. At one point, toward the end of our stay, I expressed a fear that we might run out of subjects to talk about at the current rate at which we were running through verbal material. As it turned out, we hardly scratched our respective surfaces.

20:00> After waiting in vain for Aras and not eating since breakfast, Uri and I went back to the top floor restaurant to eat dinner.

Today a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed in a car just outside the Baghdad hotel killing 7 people and wounding 40.

Monday 13/10/03 09:00> Uri and I met for breakfast on the ground floor.

Uri tells me a bit about his part in the Sabena affair with Barak and Beebee Netanyahu.

We continue our wait for Aras in our rooms. None of the local phone numbers that we have for the family or the body guards are in service. We call Nissim and Eli. I say I want to go back home. We have accomplished nothing and there is no prospect of accomplishing anything in the near future. Eli asks us to give him a few hours to see what he can do about our situation. I have no viable choice. Of course, we did have other choices and alternatives: we could have thrown ourselves on the mercy of the US or allied soldiers or we could have left the hotel on our own and tried to reach the Turkish or Jordanian border, like in Bravo-2-0, without maps, weapons, or a snowball’s chance in hell.

We have lunch at the Indian restaurant on the 1st floor.

18:00> Aras calls me from the lobby. I get Uri and we go down to meet him. Aras is very genial and explains to us that something important came up and he had to take Mum to the North Western border. I was so relieved to finally meet with Aras and hopeful for the first time since arrival about being able to do what I was sent to do. Aras promised he would try to set up the meetings that I requested and provide us with a driver, translator, and a local cell phone that would work (AsiaCell).

19:00> We go back to the top floor restaurant to eat dinner.

Around 10 p.m., rival Shiite factions clashed in Karbala at a local shrine about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad. A fire fight ensued with small arms and RPGs throughout the night.

Tuesday 14/10/03 08:30> Uri and I meet for breakfast on the ground floor.

Uri and I talk about the US special forces and British SAS team sitting at tables near us. He tells me about his invention which is still called Uri’s ear to this day. He tells me a story about being unemotional while playing backgammon.

09:10> Aras calls Uri while he was waiting in the lobby (I went upstairs to brush my teeth). Aras confirms the meeting with the local PTT.

09:20> We meet our translator (Rebaz) and our driver (Qatab). They take us by car to our meeting at the PTT.

09:45> Even though the PTT is less than 5 minutes walk from the hotel (as we later found out), we drove around and around until we found out where the meeting was supposed to take place. We met with Hushiar, Bakhtiar, Shezad, and the support guy from the country north-west of us. The meeting went very well. Bakhtiar gave us a tour of the facilities.

From left to right: Rebaz, Hushiar, me, Bakhtiar, Shezad, and the Iranian chap.

13:20-15:00> Bakhtiar took us all out to lunch at our hotel. We walked to the hotel. We ate lunch on the top floor. It was a power lunch and generated a lot of productive information. Bakhtiar asked me whether I would like to accompany him tomorrow to see one of their residential communications closets (boxes). I thanked him and said I would call him when I knew my schedule tomorrow.

16:30> Rebwar and Qatab picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Lake Duchan to see the dam and hydroelectric power plant.

Uri asked our driver to stop by the road so that he could take a picture of the approach to the lake. He walked through the front yard of this family’s home and was met by the family. Uri took a picture of the family on the side of their home and showed them the picture on the digital camera display. The old woman said that she wanted the picture. Uri promised to give it to her next time he passes through. In the picture, you can see half a bomb shell next to the side of the house.

Qatab and I are standing on top of the dam, overlooking the hydroelectric power plant. Rebwar is standing behind us near our car.

20:00> We returned to the hotel. One of the Americans we met at the dinner on our first night in Suleimaniya recognized Uri just outside the hotel and called over to him.

We had dinner at the Indian restaurant on the 2nd floor. Lahur walked into the same restaurant with his wife and Iwah. We waved and invited Iwah over to our table. He sat down with us but did not want anything to eat or drink.

Polad calls me and says that he will try to tear himself away from his mother to come and see us tomorrow.

Before dawn today there was gun fire near the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. The local police came and shot at a few buildings in the area, in response, and then left. Later on, a car bomb exploded outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad killing 2 besides the suicide bomber. A group of people trying to cross the Syrian border into Iraq were intercepted by US and Iraqi forces in the area. The group fired RPGs at the US and Iraqis. The friendlies returned fire killing several infiltrators. No friendlies were hurt.

Wednesday 15/10/03 09:00> Uri and I met for breakfast in the usual place.

Uri tells me a story about the time he played a trick as a chauffer on Ephraim Kishon in Berlin.

09:30> Rebaz came to collect us for our meeting at the Ministry of Communications and Transportation.

10:00-11:20> We arrived on time at the office of Minister Dosky of the MoC&T. Dosky called his technical staff to join us. The meeting looked like it was going south. Maybe we violated protocol by meeting with the PTT before we met with his ministry and maybe we exuded the impression that we were white men trying to sell cheap trinkets to the Indians. On top of it all, Dosky was not physically well that day. Nothing we said could distract him from his dark mood. He dismissed us to go down to the director’s office and continue our technical discussions. The staff turned out to be quite friendly and helpful.

From left to right: Jamela, me, and Saman.

11:30> We drove to the family’s headquarters in town. Uri saw and pointed out to me Mum’s wife driving past us. She does a lot of charity work for the local orphans. We also met Aras.

Rebwar and Qatab (who knows a few words of English, but I’m not sure which ones he knows) took us to the market for a short tour. Uri was looking for a bush jacket like the body guards wore.

12:20> We drove to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce (or Chamber of Commerce). We arrived at the minister’s office late (12:40). Aras had set up the meeting for 12:30 but the secretary said she had understood that the meeting was set for 12:00. The minister came out at 12:45 and said he had waited since 12:00 but now he had to leave for a meeting with the parliamentary council. We scheduled a meeting with the minister at our hotel at 17:00.

I called Baktiar and we agreed to meet at 19:00.

13:00> We went back to the market to walk around a bit with Rebaz.

Rebaz warned us that we may see pairs of men walking together holding hands, but we should not conclude that they are gay. It is a culturally acceptable show of affection between men, liking kissing the proscribed 4 times on alternating cheeks.

14:20> Rebwar found us in the market and told Rebaz to tell us that there had been a mistake at the Ministry of Trade and Commerce. We had met with the wrong minister in the wrong office. The gentleman we met at 12:45 was actually the Minister of Humanitarian Aid and Welfare. The Minister of Trade and Commerce was waiting for us.

14:35> We met the Minister of Trade and Commerce and some of the members of the Chamber of Commerce. They were all gracious and helpful. After the meeting, the minister invited us out for lunch across the street but apologized that he would be unable to join us. Some of the Chamber of Commerce members took us down to lunch. I asked Rebaz to go to the office of the Ministry of Aid and Welfare to explain the mix up and to politely cancel our appointment with the minister at 17:00 at our hotel.

I called Bakhtiar to ask whether he would like to meet at 16:00 instead of 19:00. He said that slot was filled, but we could meet at 17:00.

15:30> After we finished lunch and said our good-byes, Rebwar dropped Rebaz and us off in the market. We looked around for maps. In one book store, Rebaz showed us a book of popular songs he had translated from English to his language. Walking along the narrow passages, Rebaz warned us that public displays of affection between man and woman was culturally unacceptable and that soliciting or engaging in prostitution could land a person in jail for months, whether he was a foreigner or not. Rebaz bought a small sack of hot fool. Uri stopped to get his shoes shined for a couple dinar and I did the same.

17:00> Rebwar picks us up, drops Uri off at our hotel, and takes me to the PTT to meet Baktiar for our small excursion.

17:20-18:00> I meet Bakhtiar and Shezad. We drive in Shezad’s car out to the residential area of Suleimaniya. We stop at a communications box. Bakhtiar explains how the phone cables are distributed from the Main Distribution Frame to the communications boxes to the houses. We discuss his plans to increase capacity by putting up fixed wireless cellular antennae near the boxes and replacing copper trunk runs to the MDF with fiber optic cables. We drive back and they drop me off at the hotel.

18:10> A few minutes after I checked in with Uri, Aras called us from the lobby. We came down and briefed him on the good results from our meetings. I told Aras that we had accomplished everything we needed for our business plan and proposals. We were ready to leave. Aras said he would arrange a 2-car convoy of armed guards to drive us back to the border tomorrow morning, sometime between 09:00 and 10:00. We thanked Aras for everything. I joked with him that it would be nice if his people could drive us all the way home.

18:40> Polad and Iwah join us in the lobby. Aras invites us to dinner at a very nice restaurant on a mountain top overlooking Suleimaniya. Aras apologizes that he will not be able to join us, but Polad and Iwah will accompany us. Polad gives us a half hour to freshen up in our rooms. We are to meet again at 19:10.

19:30> Polad and Iwah pick us up and drive us to the restaurant. We sit at a table outside at the edge of a precipice. Later Polad receives a call from James, a British chap working at the local TV station as a news broadcaster, and invites him to join us.

Polad explains to us the local custom that we should not be too ready to leave tomorrow, right on time, as that would insult our hosts. We should be a bit late and draw out our stay, so that our host will receive the impression that we would stay longer if only we could. For instance, we should not be all packed and ready to go at 09:00 tomorrow morning. 10:00 would be a good time to come sauntering down.

Thursday 16/10/03 09:00-09:30 Uri and I have a leisurely breakfast at the usual place and check out of the hotel.

Uri tells me about his surprise somersault at his stuffy client’s office in Berlin.

10:10> Aras arrives with our escort. He tells us that he has arranged to pick up a taxi driver in the capital tomorrow morning, who will join our convoy to the border and take us from there all the way to Amman. Aras gives Uri and me each a gift: a beautiful chess/backgammon board with pieces, in canvas carrying bags. We thank Aras profusely for the gifts and everything else that he has done for us.

10:30> We take off – 2 cars and 6 men (not including us).

11:00> I asked to stop at the air strip just southwest of Suleimaniya to judge its suitability for commercial flight landings and take-offs. It is on our way.

13:00> We stop for lunch in a small restaurant in Kirkuk, a 100 km west of Suleimaniya.

16:30> We reach the capital city. We drive through town to the Babylon hotel. There were no vacancies. We drove around some more and pulled in back of the Palestine hotel. There was heavy security there and the local police had us sit on the sidewalk while our body guards went into the hotel to check for vacancies. We were alone with the local police and quite exposed. Our body guards came back to collect us. There were no vacancies there either. We drove back up the street and tried the Al Safeer hotel. It was about as flea-bitten as Abu Sanaa, in Suleimaniya, but at least they had vacancies. Uri and I shared a room on the 3rd floor. I thought to myself that Oded would be happy that I was finally taking his advice. The body guards took rooms on either side of us.

We heard a dog barking in the distance. We also heard the sharp report of a gun shot not so far away.

19:10> The body guards knocked on our door and called us down to supper.

Friday 17/10/03 03:40> One of our body guards woke us up. We dressed, packed, and went downstairs to breakfast. Mariwan had gone to get our taxi driver (Majid) and get some food. We all ate at one table while the cab driver ate alone at another table.

04:10> We checked out of the hotel and began our final run to the border.

05:00> We ran into a check point manned by US soldiers. They told us we could not go this way. The area was closed to civilian traffic indefinitely. We were told to turn around and go back. Our two cars and the cab crossed over to the opposite lane and regrouped, in sight of the armed soldiers and tank. Our cab driver (we were in another car still) took the lead and started driving up the exit ramp in a wild and ill-considered attempt to pass over the check point and drive through the closed area. Our drivers started to follow him. I was about to ask Uri whether he knew how to say “stop” in the language of our drivers, but he had already grabbed the right shoulder of our driver and yelled at him in English to stop. We told Mariwan that this attempt would get us all killed for sure as the US soldiers would not hesitate for a moment to shoot us for driving so suspiciously. Somehow, Mariwan communicated to our other driver and the cab driver in the lead to stop, turn back, and regroup. We decided to drive back in the direction of the capital until we were out of sight of the check point and then turned off on a side road that took us on a slight detour around a lake that eventually rejoined the main road to the border. This bit of resourcefulness was thanks to our crazy cab driver’s rather intimate knowledge of his country’s back roads.

Along the way, our car (Land Cruiser) had some problems, but after stuttering and stammering for awhile the problems worked themselves out.

09:20> We reached the border. Meriwan paid the cab driver half the trip price ($100) and asked us to pay the rest ($100) when we reached our hotel. We said that it was no problem and would be happy to pay the whole amount instead of Aras paying half, but they refused to take our money. We said good-bye to our body guards and got into the cab to make our ways through both border controls. To speed our passage through the long lines, our cab driver told the local soldiers that we were traveling on diplomatic passports. This was neither true nor a very good idea in our humble opinion, since our passports were not diplomatic. Our cab driver gave us his passport and we went into the border control office to get exit permits. I was sure we would be arrested for impersonating diplomats. The clerk looked at Uri’s passport, which was German, and said “Germany good”. Then he examined my passport, which was US, and pronounced “America not so good”. After that remark, I was wishing that my cover had a cover. On a large fresco on the wall where our cab was parked, a likeness of Saddam gazed at me unrepentantly.

09:50> We re-entered the cab and drove the 2 km no-man’s land until we reached the Jordanian border control.

We were directed to the office where an entry visa could be purchased. We passed through passport control. It seemed to go faster than last time we went through and obtained our exit permits. The young officer was friendlier this time. Our luggage was checked thoroughly for security and customs. I had to pay 1 JD for the extra cameras I was carrying in my suitcase.

12:00> We finally cleared the Jordanian border controls and drove towards Amman.

12:30> We stopped at a small restaurant in a dusty town along the way. We paid for the driver’s meal too.

16:10> We drove into the northern suburbs of Amman and stopped at the cab company’s dispatch office, so that one of their people who spoke English could ask me which hotel we wanted and direct our driver to the hotel. I told the guy we wanted to go to the Intercontinental Hotel. He explained directions to the driver and we continued on our way.

17:00> We pulled into the hotel and paid the driver with ample bakshish. We entered the hotel and I tried to call the Royal Jordanian reservations office to check whether we could catch an earlier flight back to Israel this evening. There was no answer from reservations. We decided to check into the hotel for one night.

We showered and went to sleep until 21:00. Then we went up to the 8th floor lounge where we partook of the happy hour and had a bit to eat and drink.

Today a bomb exploded at a police station in Kirkuk. A suicide car bomber was shot and killed near the police ministry in Irbil before he was able to detonate the explosives in his car. A US humvee was damaged by a home made bomb near Falluja. In Baghdad a US MP was killed by a roadside bomb. In Karbala the fire fights continue, killing 3 Americans and 10 Iraqis.

Saturday 18/10/03 09:00> We met for breakfast at the 8th floor lounge. Afterwards, I tried calling RJ reservations again to check whether we could get a flight home today. The reservations office answered the phone but said there was not routing available for us today. We had no alternative but to stay with our original confirmed flight schedule tomorrow. I reserved our rooms for another night.

We had lunch at the Atrium restaurant buffet in the hotel. It was excellent.

Uri told me about the free-diving people he met in South Africa and he showed me his photo album.

Uri and I worked on our notes in our rooms.

We had dinner at a Lebanese pool-side restaurant at our hotel.

Two US soldiers sent to investigate an explosion were ambushed and killed in Kirkuk today.

Sunday 19/10/03 09:00> We had breakfast at the usual place. The reception desk said we could check out as late as we liked.

I went down to the hotel book store to look around.

We packed and worked on our notes.

We had lunch again at the Atrium buffet.

We browsed through the gift shops.

18:00> We checked out of the hotel and a cab took us to the Queen Alia airport.

We arrived a half hour earlier and waited before check-in for our boarding cards. We passed passport controls and security inspections without event. We visited the impressive duty free shop.

22:30> We boarded our flight at 22:00 and took off on time. The flight lasted about 25 minutes. We touched down, cruised to the disembarkation point, and took the bus to the arrivals terminal. As we landed in Israel, Uri and I switched back from English to Hebrew. At the entrance, we were met by a stewardess who gave us our Israeli passports.

After we went through passport control and picked up our luggage, Uri and I walked through customs control with nothing to declare except, perhaps, how good it was to be back in our country once more. Ari was waiting for me as I came out. Eli was waiting for Uri. I said hello to Eli and good-bye to Uri.

If you want to know whether or not I was afraid we would not make it back alive, that is a secret between me and the poor laundry staff who had to clean my underwear. I thanked Nissim for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure on which he had sent me, but also told him never again in this lifetime.

Friday 10/12/04 12:30> The following picture was taken by my wife at Coffee Anan on Mt. Bintal on the Golan Heights in Israel.

Mike at Cafe Anan

Ten Easy Steps to Kurdish for English Speakers

Rebas was working on a book with this title. I could have used it. Unfortunately, he feels it unlikely that he will ever get it published. We picked up a few Kurdish words from Polad, the cleaning girl at Hotel Suleimaniya, and Rebas, but most of the following gold mine came from our body guards and drivers during supper on our last night in Baghdad.

Kurdish english comments
Peshmerga Those who face death The name for Kurdish men and women who are ready to die for their cause; Kurdish guerillas
besachmat Please
Spas Thank you
Zor Very
Zor spas Thank you very much
Sha’eniniya Not at all (you’re welcome)
Mum Uncle As in Mum Jalal (Uncle Jalal); a term of respect. Everyone calls Jalal Talabani Mum Jalal.
Kaka jan Dear elder brother
Ser chow On my eyes (OK, etc.) Good for everything unless you don’t intend to keep your promise
Bash Good
Bash niya Not good
Kerra Donkey
Bayar matit Sorry (excuse me)
agadarba Watch out!
Bu’osta Stop
burro Go Or “move”
saber Slow
Sor serria Go fast
Ded min mo’a See you
brader Friend
bra Brother
mamk Tits
ser Head
pertch Hair
chow Eye
Lute nose
Lute berrez snob Literally “high nose”
smil moustache
dan mouth
dest Hand
katch Leg
dol Heart
tcher Prick
Ser tcher Prick head
otombil Car
check Gun
Au Water
Chuwarden Eat
Bechuein Eat Not sure about that
De me we bechom I would like to eat
Deteve becut Would you like to eat? Or “You would like to eat”
Sorum yu’ard Bon appetite
qab plate
sup Soup
beber Hot pepper
chiar cucumber
tomat tomato
tirchat Zucchini
brench rice
kitch Girl
kurr Boy
men I Pronoun
Sa’ana Nice
rast right Or “straight”
chep Left
La pesch Forward Or “future”
La dua Backward Or “past”
sard Cold
garom Hot
kamus Book
daya Mother
bow Father
gol flower
sag dog
hushtir camel
Baani bash Good morning
Pish me’en Gezundheit!
safer

0

yak

1

Du

2

Se

3

Chu’ar

4

Bang

5

Shesh

6

Chant

7

Hascht

8

No

9

Da

10

Yansa

11

Du’ansa

12

Se’ansa

13

Chu’arda

14

Pansa

15

Shansa

16

Sat

100

Hazar

1000

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