Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A Billings readers sends along this message from a friend in Jordan (no, not Jordan, Montana):

Earlier this week I spoke with a young man who was also passing through on his way back to the USA. He was ex-Special Forces and had been with them since 1995, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. (He too was in the Al Rashid Hotel that was hit.) He retired from the military, went home to GA and purchased some land to start his own construction business. Then he "got an offer he couldn't refuse." He was hired at a salary of $400,000 a year to go back to Iraq as a private security person (mercenary). Yes, $400,000--I asked him to repeat the figure because it was so unbelievable. He took the job, thinking that in one year he would be able to get his business going without having to take a loan.

However, after a short time, he had second thoughts and was going home for good. He told me that conditions in Iraq were worse than before. Humvees and the military are easily identifiable targets. Whoever was his employer brought in Toyota trucks, banged them up, and tried to make them appear more 'local' so they'd blend in. He said it's best to drive in the middle of the road because many bombs are placed on the edges and camouflaged, some with Styrofoam that has been painted or covered with sand. He also told me it's safer to drive after 12:00 noon, because by then most of the bombs have been detonated. He said a few of the explosives are rigged with wires, but those require someone to set them off and require a line of sight. So you become more cautious if you're not in the desert but someplace where there's a structure or place for someone to hide, watch and wait.

In the military, he had all the latest, sophisticated equipment and worked side by side with those who were trained as he was. But when he returned, he had a gun and not much else. I think the main reason he left was that he also lacked confidence in others with whom he worked, some vintage Viet Nam era.

He said Royal Jordanian had a few flights from Marka Airport in Amman to Baghdad and that they took evasive action, such as circling down steeply instead of an expected straight-in landing pattern. (You probably heard about the DHL plane that was hit by a heat-seeking missile on takeoff yesterday.)

Since returning to Amman, Malcolm has completed training of 30 Jordanian consultants and is now working with a company that makes kitchen equipment for hospitals, the big hotels, etc. It has been difficult for him as one of the females he's training is completely covered except for her eyes. Hard to judge whether someone understands something when you cannot see a response or reaction.

He now has several days off since the Eid al-Fitr feast (marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan) should begin tonight, depending on the moon. Then, hopefully some of the 'singing' from the minarets will ease up, and the dogs will stop trying to emulate them. I swear one dog near us has a sore throat trying to keep up with the imams.

Severe sandstorms in the south affected power stations in Jordan yesterday and left most of the country without electricity for an hour or two. The Inter-Con has an emergency generator, so the elevator and some of the lights worked.

There was a big to-do in the Jordan Times this week. One of the new Ministers stated that part of the MPs salaries came from foreign funding. This offended her fellow parliamentarians and she made a public apology saying she was mis-stated. However, Al Rai newspaper commented that there should not have been such a reaction because she's right. Finance Ministry figures for Jan. through Sept. of this year show that about 30% of the treasury revenues came from foreign donations; 24.3% per cent from the US. It appears that next year Iraq will get the most US taxpayer money.

In Aqaba I would ask the front desk for the Jordan paper every day. One day the guy said, "It's always bad news." The next day I said, "Is there any good news today?" He said, "Same, same, just new picture."

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