8 - Dispatch From the Guardhouse

Yesterday, just like Condi Rice, we had a date with David Hale, the US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan. Do you wonder which appointment he kept? But it all worked out for the best - except for the lipstick.

We arrive in Amman after an eventful day on buses and crossing the
Allenby Bridge - named after Granddad's commander. Amman means "place of the Ammonites" a people Moses ran into before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to resume the dispute over "Holy Land." Amman wasn't even the capitol when Granddad arrived in 1918. It is a sprawling city of 2 million now and growing - by the minute.

The hotel Jean has arranged is next to an old bus station and a mosque - I fear her string of winners has run out. But not so - the bus station has just moved to a newly constructed site, and the huge crowd outside our window is just using the space for the Friday Sabbath street market.

The hotel general manager asks if we might know his family in Los Angeles. We explain that LA is a very big city. He counters that he has a very big family in LA. He also advises us to wait for the afternoon sermon and prayer at the mosque to end, before entering the area. So we stand at the window to watch the overflow mass of men kneel and rise, kneel and rise to the beat of a song praising Allah - that blares from the mosque's loudspeaker. Prayers are 3 or 5 times a day, depending on sect, the times change daily - and are published in the paper like tide tables.

After a few days roaming Amman on our own, we move uptown to the
Intercontental Hotel to meet up with a mixed group of interesting people - all attached in some way to Jean's stint at Harvard. It includes an Irish chap, who had lunch last week with the Queen of England; two MBA brothers from Cancun and Mexico City; their professional and chic wives; a Rhodesian / Indian / Bangladeshi / Egyptian raised Englishman living in Thailand with a Swiss passport; a Jordanian Catholic academic specializing in English lit and Middle Eastern history; a Greek Orthodox woman traveler; a Texas author doing research - and a couple of boring Americans.

Harvard has arranged easy access to the usual tourist highlights, but also to places otherwise unavailable - like this trip to the US Embassy briefing room. Security, to say the least, is tight. The streets, in front of the walls of the imposing compound, are blocked off - a machine gun is manned on each side of the gatehouse. Police cars line the opposite side of the road. No photos, purses, cameras, cell phones or other electronics please - and no running. Duh!

If I told you all about the security, you would have to be killed. Yet I will reveal what I learned:
1. Names, passports and faces are scanned - and questions asked.
2. The serious men and women manning the sequential rooms, full of sensors and scanners, we pass through, one at a time, have little resemblance to the
TSA buffoons at our airports. (Think Marines wearing wraparound shades and leather gloves - and women that may have leather outfits and riding crops at home).
3. A wife without her purse still needs to have fresh lipstick when visiting the ambassador, and may drop things into her husband's pocket with no notice.
4. A metal lipstick case will set off a metal detector.
5. Lipstick, in spite of being used on the skin and ingested by the pound, is not a food item - it has a hydrocarbon odor detectable by some sensors.
6. Face recognition software may alarm when scanning the features of a man being exceedingly embarrassed by having to explain to the third room full of guards, that the lipstick is not his - and not even his color.

But we at last get in to find the ambassador is off with
Condi, Abbas and the King - too bad, as I want to ask her if Stanford won. Instead, we are around a table with four Embassy staffers including the press chief, deputy economics chief, USAID head, and the director of public affairs. They look haggard and admit to being stressed by recent visitors - including the head of our forest service, 2 Senators, 3 members of the Bush cabinet, the Vice President - and now, yet again, their boss Condi Rice. I don't help their sleep by asking if Jordan's Kingdom is not just going to be a historic repeat of the Shah's Iran.

Some tidbits from each of their talks: US aid to Jordan last year was $360M plus $300M for their military … next budget hopes to TRIPLE that amount … and even more money is going to Israel … most of the population is not Jordanian but Palestinian and other refugees … severe water shortage … prices are skyrocketing as is population … Sec. of State is on her 17
th visit with little to show for the effort.

The Q&A was the real meat, and frank answers were given "off the record" - which I have to respect as all
internet traffic here passes through government monitored servers. I may already have said too much. If you don't hear from us again soon, call the State Department and tell them to pay the ransom - or I'll will tell the world about that guard that winked.

- Ruby Red Rod