Monday, October 23, 2006

Gnawing it off at the elbow

Well, the title of this post was going to be "Biting the hand that feeds you," but I didn't think that was quite appropriate. I needed a bit more extremism.

I'm back in the US now, after spending 4 days in Amman, rather than 1. Why? Because Israel wouldn't let me cross the border. Oh, yes, that's right. That day, they turned away a bunch of people with American passports that were trying to go to the West Bank. Among them, me - with my travel letter on US government letterhead, and a French guy who works for UNICEF.

Yup, that's right. UNICEF. Because everyone knows that the safety and security of the world is put in jeopardy by UNICEF.

I'm actually too angry to write about this yet, but someday, I'll describe it all in great detail. Preferably in a major newspaper. Or on CNN. Just wait.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Ubiquitous Gulicks

Weird event of the day . . . nothing much was going on today, and I stayed home tonight to do laundry. State and Main was on one of the movie channels – it’s definitely weird to be sitting in a foreign country and see your relatives’ names scroll by during the credits! There was a plethora of Gulicks in the prop crew of that movie, and rightly so!

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Tel Aviv to spend the weekend with a friend of mine who just got posted there. She the first of the bunch to actually be called into the Foreign Service, and it’ll be interesting to talk to someone on the other side of the policy line.

Anyway, all is quiet here – I may come home a few days early, since it doesn’t make sense to try to work during Eid. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my weekend on the beach, and try not to think about everyone who’s not allowed to go.

Next week, we're planning to go to Amman for a day (and a night, since the border closes at 1pm, so you can't go back the same day), so hopefully that will yield an uneventful border crossing and some interesting Jordanian adventures. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fast Car

Last night, after a party at Mohammed's house, we headed out into the city. Everyone here drives like a crazy person, which makes the trip out exciting, to say the least. People zip confidently around the narrow streets and traffic circles, and up and down the steep hills. No one ever seems to hit anything (or each other) though, which makes me a little less nervous as we careen around town.

We went out to a bar called Zan, which is very low-key, with lots of little tables, and an outdoor patio. As we drank our Heinekins, and I managed to follow most of the conversation, I realized that the guy sitting next to me was humming a song I know. Then I realized that the bartender had changed the CD, and that Tracy Chapman was the score for the evening.

At first, I thought, "How weird. I never hear her anywhere but the US. She barely exists in Europe." And then, as I really listened to the lyrics I've known since I was a kid, and my parents had the record, I realized how relevant these songs must seem. Her album is full of songs about change, revolution, escape to a better life.

As much as I like it here, I have an automatic escape route - an American passport and an airline ticket. If I didn't, maybe I'd be listening to Tracy with a different set of ears.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Condi Pays a Visit

Condoleeza Rice came to Ramallah today - I didn't see her, just her motorcade as it went by my apartment. She's here to show support for Abu Mazen, but the overarching sentiment here was, "why did she bother to come here?" A great deal of this sentiment stemmed from the fact that she just met in Cairo with other Arab leaders about the Palestinian situation, but didn't invite a Palestinian representative. Hm.

Meanwhile, I learned something interesting about security today - it's obviously dangerous for the US Secretary of State to travel to Ramallah. There were security forces along the route to Fatah headquarters, although we could still walk down the road (with our large bags, which happened to be filled only with books and gym clothes, but still...). The intersting part is that CNN reported the meeting at the wrong time. Rather than showing the live news live, the report came at 5pm that she was headed into Ramallah for the meeting. In reality, I watched her motorcade leave Al-Bireh (sort of a suburb of Ramallah the way that Cambridge is to Boston) at approximately 4:30. I'd say that's far more effective than 30 guys with guns.

Whether her visit was as effective as her security? Well, that's the most unlikely prospect of all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The News from Ramallah

Just a quick update, for anyone who’s reading the newspapers or watching CNN today, and has started to worry. First things first, I’m fine, as is everyone I know over here. Now, on with the news.
Background: Since Hamas was elected, everyone in the West Bank and Gaza who works for the government has not been paid (apart from a cash transaction by Haniyeh earlier this summer), because the vast majority of government salaries are paid out of a combination of donor money and VAT revenues. The donor funding has been curtailed, and Israel has not made any VAT transfer payments, and the workers have not been paid.

Current situation: Yesterday, the deteriorating wage and labor situation, coupled with tension in the government, led to an armed clash in Gaza between the security forces of the two main political parties, Hamas and Fatah. Dozens of people were injured, and nine killed. In Gaza, this continues today. In the West Bank, where I am, there have been isolated incidents of violence, but nothing like the scale in Gaza. There is a general strike today, so we left work early, and are working from home to stay safe and out of the way.

I think that’s the bulk of the news from Lake Woebegon – I’ll keep you updated if anything new happens. For more info about what’s going on, and background, Al-Jazeera has the most coverage, and their English-language website is:

An interesting mental exercise for everyone who needs something to ponder today... Picture this situation, but in Washington, DC. There are thousands of government workers, none of whom has been paid since early Spring. The Bush administration has been on strike, as have transportation and health care workers (you can't, therefore, use the metro or go to the hospital). Imagine, then, how long it would take before people decided that they were fed up, and you'd be surprised how much restraint everyone here has shown.