Saturday, December 29, 2007

Somewhere Bad But Safe

Now ths should of been the first of the blogs from England, whereby i would be starting to take the riotous preverbial out of the Pom's however in my quest to visit every hotel rooftop on the planet I am sitting here watching the sunset and burning tyres in the distance over Karachi in Pakistan.

The not so gentle drone of the hotels air conditioner plant mingles with the effusive smells coming up from the kitchen vents.

I arrived in the bureau in London two days ago and within twenty minutes, Benazir Bhutto was dead, Pakistan launched itself into riots and I was packing equipment I had never seen or used before.

Luckily my trusty Pakistan Airlines Frequent Flyer card was in my Passport holder and hours later we were on PK 788 direct from London to Karachi flying overnight. Now Business lounges around the world can be graded according to which other airlines share the same lounge, and you know you are in for a treat when waking to the door of the PIA lounge we noted that two other great airlines also shared the lounge facilities those being Turmenistan and Uzbekistan Airlines.

Arriving in Karachi a city of 15 million people, twice the amount of New York City it was as they say in the movies like a ghost town or as Greg Palkot put into prose "An unerry quiet" . The streets are deserted, all shops are closed, buses are burnt and shops banks in some parts of the city are trashed.

Karachi is not a city for the feint hearted and trying to film rioting is to be honest bloody dangerous and driving to the edge of the suburbs with smoke on the horizon, the nerves were tingling, we made it about half a mile into the city before he crowds were drawing in and the mood of the mob ensured that we did a rapid U turn and got the hell out of dodge.

So Somewhere bad we managed to get too , somewhere safe NOT

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

And thus

I have wondered in recent times how i would write this entry as I wait the final hour before leaving Israel for the final time as a resident. No longer when asked where I live will the answer be the "Unholyland"

Five years have passed since what started out as a simple newsletter to friends has developed into this rather bizarre rambling of what happens in my rather strange world.

Much has happened and much more will continue to happen.

Will I keep the title "Unholyland" ? that is still for debate.

I leave behind friends who have shaped and defined my life into what it is today. Each and everyone of you will be missed more than you realise.

I have made it a point than rather say "Goodbye" i prefer only see you later.

And thus

"See you later"

Ben Gurion Airport
Tel Aviv

How Uganda has won the War in Iraq


Thanks to Kerrie, for a correction , the term is "Jambo"

The odds are that most US servicemen serving in Iraq will come home with a better grasp of Swahilli than Arabic. Despite the fact that Arabic is the language of Iraq, very few soldiers will actually meet an Iraqi in the big picture. Whilst they will meet Ugandans a minimum of three times a day, upon which they will utter "Jambo"

The simple fact is that a private security company has won the contract for all bases in Iraq for guards. When you arrive at any base the first person you will meet is odds on to be Ugandan, want to eat today, well guess who checks your credentials to get into the DFAC (thats army slang for food hall) need anything from the PX (again me showing off my vast knowledge of military terminology - the PX is the shop on the bases where you can buy anything from chewing gum to tampons to televisions and of course pouches for your ammunition clips)

Want to shop? well the Ugandans are there to check you. And man do they check always with a smile. If you do not have the right card then it is easier to argue with a brick wall.

To give you an example of the power they can wield, we were coming back from a Special Forces mission flying thru the streets of Baghdad at four in the morning wielding more guns than most small countries have, when we came to the entrance of the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, we planned to drive thru to return to base. Well the convoy stopped at the gate and because the Ugandan on the gate had not been told we were coming he was not going to let us in. Let me say that the Special Forces did not take to this kindly and it took ten minutes of artful negotiations before they let us pass.

Thus Uganda can claim to be the most powerful nation in Iraq , you cannot enter or leave without them approving, want to eat or shop for toothpaste and washing powder the keepers of the gate determine who may pass.

and "JAMBO" well that is swahilli for Hello

Sunday, December 23, 2007

4 went in 4 came out Iraq 2007

Definition of success, in a war-zone: Four go out on a mission, four come home safely.

Perhaps the only thing that matters when it comes to looking back at the last three weeks is that we all went in and came out safely. As the 5th Anniversary of the war approaches early in the New Year, you can ask nothing else than to come back from a war zone safe and intact. You constantly see signs around all the bases that “Complancy Kills”.

True words, then again you also see signs that say “Deadly Force Authorised” , and my favorite “you are not allowed to drive your tank on this road” and in case you cannot read it does not matter because it is one of those picture signs with a tank and a cross thru it.

So what makes life on the road fun in Iraq, how do I stay sane and enjoy company. Perhaps snippets in no order taken from my diary can show you a side to life on the road in a war zone.

Riding in choppers is fun unless it is nearly three in the morning, the temperature is below zero and the crew decides that they want range practice at night. So off into the desert they fly and each gun is fired just to clean the cobwebs and then the pilot takes us up to nearly 8000ft for the rest of the ride before an ear splitting descent into Baghdad to be dumped in the cold by the side of a helicopter landing strip with no one to meet you and our 12 bags.

Now Humvees, they look enormous, they should be able to sleep a complete Bedouin tribe plus goats in comfort however the Military have managed to some how make the seats and leg room the equivalent of sitting in a pre school on those small chairs and desks. You can literally be screaming in pain and unable to walk after a few hours cramped up and remember the door weighs 400lbs due to the armor against roadside bombs. And by the way if you get out in a gunfight make sure you close the door the gunner in the turret does not want his legs blown away, a serious request.

Road side bombs are no longer six sticks of dynamite with a fuse, the one we were shown off the record was an incredibly highly sophisticated bomb complete with infra red sensors, timing devices and electronic circuitry all shrink wrapped and believe it or not it even came with its own little carry bag that any person could walk around with. The armor on the humvee would stand no chance at all.

What was unique about this trip to Iraq was that we spent ten days with the US Special Ops’s Teams from Seals to Delta we met and talked with them, became friends laughed joked and got a great insight into what makes the ultimate warriors tick.

The bottom line is that these guys are good, really good at what they do. They do not take risks everything is a calculation of perfection, sure shit can happen but the odds are that they have planned for it . Then again some plans are very simple; like when we were being given our briefing for a night operation to bag a bad guy in a very bad part of Baghdad.

Asking what the E & E plan was (Emergency & Evacuation) was for the operation, hey we have all seen Blackhawk Down and here I was actually preparing to go and take down a bad boy in the close to the worst area of the city.

The Master Sergeant giving us the briefing looked at Ollie North and me and asked if we had a compass and could we run if required. ‘Well yes in fact we both have wrist compasses on our watches and if needed we could run’ “Well good … Head south till you get to the Euphrates River swim across it and look for a good guy” I shit you not that was the it all gone wrong plan and you are on your own.

The comforting fact was that we had air cover with the flying death star 130 above us, F18’s circling and Apache helicopters were poised for instant support. These guys can summon up what they need when they need it . Truly elite soldiers.

The Medics are something to marvel at they carry close to 110 lbs with their body armor and weapons, if you ever find yourself in a war zone stick with the medics, these are the most protected and respected men in the unit. Before we even went out the gate on anything the medics at all the bases wanted our blood types and to know if we were allergic to anything. The way they ask it is how you would say hello in the morning and would you like a cup of coffee. As a rule I normally have my blood type written on three different parts of my body and kit, it is not something you do to be a hero in photos back home, but a critical piece of information that will save your life.

My medic first aid kit is in fact the largest pouch I have on my flak jacket, two tornaques , one large battlefield dressing for chest wound, a smaller battle field dressing for leg or arm , and the medic on this trip gave me a drip starter kit , needle tape pipe the whole nine yards, as he said one day you may need this hopefully not today.

Now what would you think talking to three young guys in their twenties standing around , not looking like Sgt Rock Jaw, but to all intensive purposes almost college nerd looking who upon asking why they joined Spec Op’s answer

“I like to blow shit up” and my other favorite:

“Why go in the front door it may be booby trapped, when you can go in thru the wall” and proceed to show you what looks like a Childs electric slot racing set from the seventies in a figure eight which is made of high explosives and will in fact take down a wall.

Every office and most family kitchens have a white board with things to do or buy at the shops, well at one base we spent time at I looked up on their white board and here is the quote …Ammo in stock 1,000,000,000 5;56 bullets, ok a joke but made me laugh. Or the classic on the door of a barrack room, no explanations needed

One change in attitude now is that I was asked daily “If I carried a weapon?”

“No, but I now know how to use them”

Both Producer Andy Stenner and I spent time on the range learning from the best how to use a multitude of weapons, and then asked “If needed would I use it?”

“Yes, trust me I am not going to end up on an Islamic web site with a knife to my throat” is by far the

Do I carry a gun?

No, but the day when come I believe I will have to, and it nothing to do with Iraq.

Perhaps what you need more than anything is a perverse sense of fun, because for three weeks you are locked together with other people and there is no out. You are in Iraq. The secret then is go in with friends and learn to laugh at yourself. Because there are so many times when laughter is the only thing that keeps you honestly sane. We have so many in jokes that to try and explain “The Mexican Police Chief Belt” or “Padawan the Turp” is so unimportant and for the record the “Man Sandwich” and “Budgie Smugglers” go no further.

What counts is that as a team we had highs and lows, far more highs than lows, The lows being dying of food poisoning from the

”Half cooked freshly killed still raw in the middle do not offend the sheik by not eating his provincial wide famous goat kebabs”

The only positive was that the kebabs felt more processed and cooked on the rapid way out.

Now having highly trained Medical staff around is a total bonus as if they are not busy they are generally bored stiff like everyone else and the chance to deal with normal human functions enables me to get on our trips free medical consults. This time I had my right ear cleaned and boy this was like something from the movie Alien being removed, followed up by a Spec Forces Medic armed with a lengthy book sticking needles into my feet which by the way hurt like bloody hell, but I was tough.

Then there is the ridiculous events that make you realize that the war in Iraq is being controlled not by the US or Iraqis but by and wait for this …..

Uganda is the most powerful country in Iraq today, forget Uncle Sam forget Osama Bin Laden. Ugandans control Iraq.

And as they say that is the tease for the next entry

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out Safe

Kuwait Airport
The simple words are out safe another assignment done in Iraq. Perhaps the hardest thing is the incident that I cannot write about for many reasons. But every once in a while you do shoot tape that is so explosive that releasing it would send tremors on a global stage of outrage.
I have been keeping a diary of the trip and will start to put insights down , hopefully on the plane overnight but most likely will fall asleep and wake up in Frankfurt.
Again let me say one thing it is not always hot in Iraq in fact the temp has dipped to below zero over the last couple of days and add the cold rain in Kuwait tonight , glad to be heading to warmer weather for a few days before London.
Kuwait City

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Moments of Definition

A question that faces many of us in conflict and war zones is at what point do you put down the camera and start to help. It is important that you never forget what you are there to film and record not only for the story you are working on but also as a document of history. Bad things can and do happen in conflict zones, and the rule of thumb that I apply is that I switch off emotions and switch on the camera record for twenty seconds to capture what I am witnessing then just as quickly turn off the camera and assist.

It is not a matter of being a ghoul by these actions but a cold hard fact of doing a good job in a bad position. It does not always have to be death or injury to allow these events to happen. They can and do occur when you least expect them too and when they happen it can reduce you to tears in seconds and rip the soul out of you.

It happened a couple of days ago on this assignment in Ramadi Iraq. Not a major event in terms of world news but an image that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. We were at a medical clinic that members of the US Special Operations were running on a football field at the back of a Sheiks house for the poor. Since the war commenced nearly five years ago all semblance of medical care has disintegrated, doctors have fled the country for fear of religious backlash from Al Qaida Terrorists trying to intimidate all authority to the age-old Sunni Shia issue that vexes Iraq.

The end result is that for the poor there is no hope of basic treatment, children stand in line with their parents hoping for a cure for blindness, two policemen stood there with one eye between them, a medic treats a man whose foot is bloated with gangrene and when an old woman is asked whether she would like medicine or blankets for her children, she replied “blankets”.

It was not these scenes of despair and tragedy that drew my breath, but the sight of a man whose son lay on the ground crippled by Cerebral Palsy. Inside the tortured body of this young man was human being, whose thoughts and ideas will never be known due to a disease that has been part of his family fight for help. His father cradled his rolling head slowly moving his hand across his face to keep the flies away.

I did not think much about at the time took a couple of shots and moved on with covering the story of the medics treating the people waiting on the lawn.

About an hour later I looked across the lawn and saw the young man lying exposed alone on a mat, his father was away and he lay on the mat his body contorted with the disease and his face exposed to the sun. That was enough to make me walk over and there he lay his face covered with flies.

At this point the question is, what to do?

I took a breath, framed a close up and let the camera roll. Showing the flies crawling around his eyes and his mouth and I counted to twenty. That was it. I turned the camera off and walked over and knelt down beside him with my body casting some shade over him and I started to brush the flies off his face.

Tears of sorrow rolled down my face as I looked into his and tried to understand what was behind the face and eyes that looked up. Producer Andy Stenner and Ollie North came over and asked to do something. I looked up and glared nothing they saw what I was doing and walked away, understanding that I was doing what I needed to do.

For ten minutes I sat there, brushing away the flies wondering where his father was, I stroked the side of his face. Feeling the texture of his face under my hand hoping that he could realise I understood that he was a human.

I would have sat there all day if I had too; there is no way I could leave him. I had taken an image that will haunt me and now I was prepared to pay the price of capturing his plight, everything has a price. But it was not that I had too, it was because wanted too.

I looked up and saw his father walking to me; he looked and said the most heart-warming words anyone can hear. It was simply “Thank you”.

I walked away and went back to Andy and Ollie and continued working.

Looking back half an hour later the ground was empty, Father and Son had left.

Tragedy in a War Zone sometimes comes when you are least prepared.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sandstorms in Winter

Sandstorms Suck at the best of times , add a freezing cold wind and clear sky above and the added fun of watching the Iraqi Commandos driving around in highly non technical vehicles whilst my camera is being filled with talc fine sand and well thats the type of morning we had . Not to mention that they would not let us play with the guns on the ranges


Commuting Iraq Style

It is like the ultimate muscle car, the roar of the engine and the wind ripping in thru the windows. Except the US Army Blackhawk is capable of doing all of that and flying at 150 knots an hour and at 5o ft above the ground. By the time the bad guy has seen you, you have passed which is a comforting thought.

Flying over Baghdad and across the desert to visit Army Bases and walk thru Iraqi villages is an experience that so few people will ever have happen to them, yet in many ways for me it is the means to get to a location. You cannot help but feel like a king of the universe as the adrenaline kicks in along with the fear. Perhaps it is the fear that drives the excitement. For fear is ever present here.

You will hear on the radio, see on the TV News and read in the paper that another helicopter has been shot down or mysteriously crashed in Iraq and that X number of soldiers have been killed, and that is when the fear factor comes into play.

As I type this entry I am waiting for a night flight from Baghdad to Fallujah. Just a short 20-minute flight. But try doing it at night with a hot landing and off loading, in the pitch black the choppers will land twenty yards away and without shutting down we have a minute to load the ten cases including our personal bags into the chopper. There are no porters or smiling check in counter girls you pick up what you can and ducking trying to avoid the rotor wash approach the bird drop the gear in the doorway and run back for another load. Whilst wearing 30 lbs of body armor and Kevlar helmets. Earplugs and clear glasses. The moment we load we take off and lift into the black. The only noise above the wind and rotors are the loadmasters cocking and priming the guns that are pointing out and down. Fingers never leave the triggers as they peer thru night vision lens and we sit back and say our silent prayers that we will not be hit.

You see nothing but blackness, you only feel your own adrenaline in the darkness and hopefully we will land and scramble to unload as fast as possible, then turning our backs the Blackhawk’s take off and thirty seconds later it is silent and the night remains jet black.

Thinking that again in twenty-four hours we will move once again and the process of fear and adrenaline replays itself.

One heck of a way to commute to work.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Great Hotel Rooms of Iraq

Now life in a warzone is not all five star hotels and room service , but you eat for free and where you lay your head at night or in the morning depending on what time you are up partying too [NOT] . Thus a selection of my rooms of recent

At least this one had a window which is a very rare treat, you could watch the lake being refilled with blackwater [ a tem used to descibe water that is well removed from certain locations } had a nice kitchenbut you need to buy your own coffee maker , tea and coffee provided , in fact we had five industrial size Maxwell house cans and no coffee maker but a quick thirty minute drive to thePX store solved that issue. No check in required and the door code is 4 5 32 . Water in showers runs orange


Comfortable rustic approach with pull chain lights, toilet and showers accross the gravel , No coffee making facilty , but a complimentary can of mountain dew upon check in . gym facilty nearby , restaurant is a ten minute walk . Warning thou no softener is used on blankets


Again the rustic natural pine is all the range in Al Anbar Province these days , centrally located to a food hall that resembles a supermarket where taking anything you want is totally acceptable without paying. Good selection of salt and pepper sachets available. toilets are portaloos centrally located ten feet from the door . Hospital blankets make a nice change , rooms are small and check in involves a ten minute death by powerpoin orientation whilst still wearing body armor.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Unhealthy Bathroom

Now cleanliness is next to ... well for the lack of a better description "The Piss Tubes" , bathrooms are a luxury when in an outpost and the the humble tube allows you to do what nature intend , but just in afunnel and since you wash your hands might as well do the teeth at the same time

Army Outpost Camp Murray
South of Baghdad

Monday, December 10, 2007

Going Dark

An expression that we use when there are things and places where you cannot report or discuss , hence the expression " Going Dark" , best explained in the current context that I am in a city the same size as Baltimore or Boston surrounded on all sides and the only thing that is between me and half a million people are 48 men , thats it total.
Have been keeping a detailed diary and when this is over a long piece that I hope will make up a chapter of my never to released book will cover the next ten days.
At times in the last few days I have honestly felt that I am living a Hollywood movie script, doing things that are so extreme (and I add at this stage yet to be shot at) yet you can stand in the staging area in the morning and listen to a never ending barrage of automatic weapons and around you people just hope that is not an omen
Dark Deep and in Iraq

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snapshot of Life inIraq

Have no tshowered in three days
Have not hd a hot meal for 36 hours >
Wkoken at 4.40am
5.40Live shot
Endureda a famous Iraqi sandstorm
have not slept inthe same bed more than 1 night
Have not been shot at ... That is good
Flown in Blackhawks that s fun
Still wearing the same clothes as three days ago
Cannotremember the last time I showerd three days ago i think
Coffee is bad
Life e is good wish you were here
10 mles south of Baghdad

The School Safety Belt

Lucky for a Pillow

When we checked into housing tonight at the Army Base South of Baghdad, two things struck me. One was that instead of on the back the room door a fire escape map, there was at reception a “Warning Sirens explanation Chart” so that you could tell the differnce between “Incoming, all clear and this siren is ok because it us firing out”. The other was that somehow when Producer Andy Stenner and Chuck Holton, a fellow cameraman/correspondent traveling with us, rushed into our room I somehow managed to pick the only bunk bed that did not have a pillow.

The pillow issue being resolved I find myself at 11:30pm writing this entry lying in bed in my sleeping bag with a headlamp on trying to figure out where the last 48 hours have gone.

The best part of the trip so far has been flying around Baghdad in the Army Blackhawks below 1000ft over the roofs hoping that the movie Blackhawk Down had been a box office failure in Iraq. These machines are like being buckled into a muscle car and bullying your way thru the skies. With the cold winter air rushing past the machine guns and buffeting me as I tried to film the classic gun turrets over rooftops. The adrenalin rush is always tempered by the thoughts of how many times I heard of helicopters beng shot down over the course of this war, whilst at the same time the incredible sense of awe and excitement is a complete rush. For those used to hearing radio reports of traffic on the I 95 I can tell you that traffic was moving well on Route Irish today but expect delays at checkpoints near the bridges.

The question is of course is the war being won, if so how is victory assessed. From what I have seen so far “ The Surge “ has been effective for it has provided Iraqis to have what is being called “ The Awakening”. Local’s have started to organize themselves into teams of Concerned Local Citizens or CLC’S and armed with nothing more than a yellow safety reflective belt, they are cooperating and assisting the local police and the US forces to give them intelligence and help with patrols.

What can a man do with a yellow plastic safety reflective belt, by himself not much but when groups of locals all start wearing the belt, it becomes a symbol of hope and provides the people of the villages and towns a new beginning of hope and of a future for their children. No mother ever wants their child to grow up in an environment where hatreds and frustrations lead her son or daughter to become a suicide bomber for the cause of desperation.

What is evident is that US troop morale is very high, for the first time in a couple of years they sense that there is an end to this war. It will not be tomorrow or in the next couple of months, but the pride of the people we met yesterday armed with a plastic safety belt, has become their new symbol of pride and hope. Small steps and snapshots of life here, now if they could only use this power of for once in long time, the “Yellow Revolution” may be the start of the winter of hope.

Waiting for the Colonel

Many days have passed , since i wrote this but it is a start 4.30 am Frday , south of Baghdad lets go back .....

This entry will be written over the next few hours from the lounge in Frankfurt to Kuwait. Perhaps one of the truly bizarre things about traveling in this business is that you just accept it as travel. I honestly worry more about bus timetables down to the rail station when on holidays in Australia than I do about flying.

Somehow you always believe that it has been taken care of and somehow computer magic will ensure that all flows smoothly without a blemish. So imagine my surprise this morning arriving in Frankfurt to be told that yes I had a seat on the plane to Kuwait but I did not have a ticket and that if I wanted my seat it would cost $3500, the full cost of a return ticket Frankfurt – Kuwait.

I did not bother calling the travel agent who made the bookings back in the states as no one there makes much sense at two am on a Monday morning.

So as I sit and wait for “the Colonel” aka Ollie I think and reflect on how bizarre it is that we can simply say see you in the lounge on Monday and have no idea whatsoever as to the travel plans or flight details of the other members of the team. Keeping it simple like see you in the lounge sounds good just hope they turn up in the next hour before I figure out am I going to get on a plane to Kuwait if no one else from the team is on the plane . Then again all my gear is theoretically on the plane so at least I know I will be getting on the plane if for no other reason than … my gear is in the hold

Hang on … Hello Ollie are you there ?

12:07 pm

Ollie walks in the lounge , off to our ritual photo shop visit .

Rituals and routines are something that I do not like to break on every one of the trips I have done to Iraq with Ollie we have always gone down to the photo shop in the airport in Frankfurt. And we have comeback from every trip safe and sound . Some people have lucky rabbits foots , well Ollie and I go and look around the photo shop at Frankfurt airport. I used to have a lucky red war neck hankerchief but it faded to white and thus became not so lucky

Back soon

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

in the belly of the beast

5.45 am kuwait
Crammed into webbing seats wearing flak and kevlar
33 soldiers and our team heding into Baghda5
Should be an hour half flight hope sleep but flying economy on Pakistan airlines would be more comfortable
Nerves are tingling as another tour begins
More from baghdad
And by the way no movie inflight just a bottle of water you carry
Engines are turning

Monday, December 03, 2007

Game Day Face

Ben Gurion Airport [Tel Aviv]
4:28 am

It is game day, and the airport seems a good a place to begin another trip into Iraq with Ollie North.

What is Game Day Face, it is the moment when you realise that you no longer are planning and thinking various thoughts. But as I was told " I have not been as focused as I normally would be leading up to this trip" . That was my warning that I need to get the face back.

Fact 1 Iraq is still dangerous and whilst everyone seems to be proclaiming things are getting better, from what base are they judging this. Fact 2 It seems that to many camera crews in the last year or so have been killed or injured whilst working in Iraq.

The time has come again to refocus, my personal life will be on holidays till Dec 22, the professional life will be at Defcom 4 , what ever Defcom 4 is, but they use it in all the movies. I worry for my family and friends more for the wishes and thoughts they have for me.

Trust me I will be careful, life is too short. But three weeks can be a long time


Monday, November 26, 2007

A jar of drin

Well as the sun sets over the city ,absolutely nothing has happened as of yet which is good news, talks are about to start in Annapolis and we are waiting in a car park for a live shot in the dark.
The only thing of interest today apart from Urban Renewal which I will write about later is that there is a good business to be had here in selling spell check to printers of restaurant menus. getting the menu is about as much fun as eating the food because basically the food here is like going to Groundhog Restaurant it never varies. We live not in the land of milk and honey but the world of humus and chicken. It will taste good it normally does, but the menus always provide the best laugh, here are todays classic mistranslations

FreAnch Fries
Antrikot (entrecote) sReak (steak)
Fried CalaMARY
Gold Drinks
Coke bottel

and the winner today "A jar of drin"

Was tempted to order the jar of drin, but opted for a Gold diet coke bottel

Later going for a kaffee


Sederot and Annapolis

Two cities thousands of miles apart. Whilst one is the centre of news for the next 48 hours the other is quiet , the newest addition to Sederot is that they have built bomb shelter in the car park .
Over 1400 qassam rockets have been fired into this area around Sederot from Gaza just 3 miles away .
In my last week in the bureau here before going to Iraq next week the onto my new base in London , i find myself sitting and waiting for incoming missiles . Their is always the fear that perhaps one day one of these point shoot and pray missiles will hit . Just another day in the unholyland only six more to go
Life goes on hopefully it will be quiet very quiet and the talks in Annapolis well they will not stop these missile attacks .
More later

Friday, November 23, 2007

Preparing for War

I know that I have been not blogging much of late, due to the fact that nothing major has been happening here in the Middle East of note. The same old same old , quick trip to the West Bank city of Nablus, Bad Boys refusing to gibe their weapons up to the Palestinian Authority because the Authority will not protect them from the Israeli Army, sort of like the right to bear arms argument they have in the States. So we stand around this Mexican stand off for an afternoon where the main concern of the Palestinian Police was that I did not film them eating.

And then the good news of the week, doing a Medical story on a new device that can predict whether you are susceptable to a heart attack. Now our correspondent Reena a young fit healthy woman decides that she wants to be filmed for the story getting the test done, and scores a 1.99 , the figure you worry about is when your test comes back at 1.67. Reena is pleased with her result and in her way of gloating walks around talking about how healthy she is. I jump on the table do the test and my result leaves the doctors wondering, the old Mal pulls a 4.04 and the doctors start mentioning about how this is one of the best results they have seen. Just have to laugh, Reena just shook here head in dismay.

Ok so where does the title come into play and what does it mean for the Unholyland News. Well Monday week heading back to Iraq for a 3 week embed so daily updates and a chance to report back on life in Iraq.

The move to London looks set for Christmas but as always will believe it when I am on the plane


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pimp My Hump

Now for those who have not watched MTV for a while may not be aware of the show “Pimp My Ride”. Whereby some kids old rundown beaten up car is taken away and rebuilt with all the trimmings and usually a sound system that would enable Helen Keller to hear the lyrics.

But on the desert highway of Jordan, the locals obviously consider having a camel in the back of your pick up as a status symbol. You could imagine the conversation in the gas station

Achmed “ Hey Mo”

Mohammed “ Yo A man”

Achmed “ Yo Mo, nice camel”

Mohammed “ Bitching Man, You should hear this babe moan, when we hit the highway, the wind in our face and this babe just purrs”

Achmed “ Yo Bro, way way cool”

Mohammed “ A man gotta go bro, the bitch in the back may need the little camels room soon and man have you ever tried to get rid of the smell of camel piss from your car.”

And as the sun sets over the highway to Amman, Mohammed and his camel crest the horizon.

Only in the Middle East.

Thusly my day began in Aqaba and ends in Amman, having driven the desert, South to North. Now in any normal country road signs are there to advise you as to the speed limits, however with an election in progress here and basically no trees along the road. Enthusiastic campaign workers have taken it upon themselves to plaster every road sign with photos of their candidate to the point that you cannot read what the speed limit is at any given point on the road.

And as I was waved over by an enthusiastic policeman, he walked up to me with his speed gun grinning knowing that I was done. How do you explain that “Officer I did not know what the speed limit was because … well your desire for democracy precluded me from knowing how fast I could go”

Lapsing into my fluent mother tongue of Australian, I explained with a strewth cobber you would not believe what I am going to say” He responded with a perplexed look and walked to the car behind me waited five minutes passed and he came back and waved me off, obviously the Bazza Mac Kenzie school of elocution paid off.

Speeding ticket avoided , wonder if it had been different if I had a camel in the back of my Mazda 323

The Rose Red City Revisited

“ Match me such a marvel from Eastern clime. A rose red city half as old as time itself”. From a poem by David Burgon

Petra now one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World” is worthy of at least three days of your life, we read endless lists of things to do before you die, and perhaps I will someday write the definitive list of things I would like to do and see or have done, but then again watching an exorcism under a full moon in the Pakistani Desert would not appeal to many people or refusing to shake the hand of a slave trader are high on your list.

Anyway Petra is an incredible place that makes you reflect on history and what has been and what happens to civilizations. A complete civilization that was lost to man for nearly five hundred years, it was finally deserted in the 1400’s and not rediscovered until the 1800’s. What was a major city on the Spice Trade route just was forgotten and thru earthquake and natural erosion we have left now a place that at first sight can take your breath away with what they built.

Now the morning as always does not start well, the hotel I am in Aqaba has managed to complete a breakfast buffet where the hot food is cold and the cold food is warm, perhaps someone should give the chef Bay Marine 101, those candle things under the tray are meant to be lit to keep the food warm and the cold food should be, well cold. Any way that pales into insignificance when it came time to fill the car with petrol. Pulling into the gas station, only to have the attendant walk up to the car smoking a cigarette and calmly commence to fill the car whilst smoking. Now call me old fashioned but hey I saw the movie “Zoolander” say no more, except luckily Sam the Smoking Gas Pumper and I both lived to see another day.

Now the main reason I wanted to come and see Petra again was that when I was here a few weeks ago with the First Lady Laura Bush it was a classic media event whereby there are six designated “Photo Sprays” whereby you get 60 seconds to get the moment before you are told to move it to the next spray, no stopping to look around and take in the majesty of a site but rather get positioned for another 60 seconds. At the same time being told in no uncertain terms that the First Lady Does NOT want to be filmed from behind, to control the local Press they actually made us face a wall so that we could not see her enter a building in Petra from behind.

The down side of being a tourist is that you have to pay to enter but given the fact that IO could actually stop and look at the sheer beauty of Petra is a price worth paying, funny things you never get on the media zoo is meeting the local souvenir ladies. Halfway up the reported 800 steps to the Monastery, I counted 793 by the way. Who can happily converse in Italian as well as they can in Arabic? Or cracking a joke with my guide about whether they threw camels of the sacrificial rock 200 meters above the city, lets face it that would be a funny story “Man hit by falling sacrificed camel”.

I often visit incredible places and witness some amazing events of history whilst on the road, but then again sometimes you visit a place that is worth the effort to enjoy the experience, even if Sam the Smoking Gas Pumper makes you wonder what am I doing here.

Life is too short and there is so much to see and enjoy. Driving back to Aqaba the sun was setting and the light on the mountains makes you realize that we do really live on a beautiful planet.

Back to Amman after breakfast tomorrow awaiting word as to whether I am off to Syria and another adventure, just hope the breakfast is well shall we say hot or cold.

Post note , the breakfast was colder the next morning, well the hot food was colder and I note with humor that the guy behind the breakfast buffet, kept popping my toast out constantly, I suppose just in case it was getting hot.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

There is a little bit of Indiana in all of us

Finally after five years in the Middle East, I made it too Petra , one of the great wonders of the world, having seen the Pyramids of Giza, Taj Mahal , Khyber Pass to name just a few sights. I was truly blown away by Petra which was the first nominated place in the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Will post a more detailed blog about travels with Greta and the First lady, but as they say pictures sometimes say more than words so here here is four thousand words.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Driving Miss Malcolm

Monday Night - en route to Abu Dhabi

Apart from the fact that I or should I say my lords and masters in New York have to pay vast sums of excess baggage, the final count on my kit for this trip was 140kg and eight cases, plus my bag, plus the camera, plus my hand baggage. Had paid over $900 excess baggage things have gone fairly well tonight.

The drive though out to the airport was however totally the opposite, imagine you are waiting outside your hotel and this pimped up mini van turns up, straight out of MTV Saudi Arabia’s Pimp My Van. Where the décor includes prayer beads and confederate scarf’s safety pinned to the roof. And the driver insists on proving his manhood by honking the horn every ten seconds for no reason than his hands cannot touch his private parts because I am sitting in the front seat rather than his friend.

It reached its climax, pardon the non-intentional pun here. When approaching a vehicle at 140 kmh the driver hit the horn to ward of the car that had just turned on in a legal manner onto the highway. “Enough” was all I said in fair but enforceable tone. I have no intention of dying in a mini van going to Amman Airport.

Needless to say both the driver and his ‘friend’ looked disappointed when there was no indication of a tip when we arrived at the airport.

Traveling in the Middle East involves many things from swapping and changing around the four passports I carry, each passport has various stamps that may cause trouble on arrival or departure, and sometimes I have given the wrong passport and then spent twenty minute explaining the other passports.

The there is always the “ethic cleansing of the travel cases” as I like to term it. Which is the term I apply when I have to go over each case and make sure that there is no sticker from Israel on the case when I am going to an Arabic country in case the customs or security upon seeing an Israeli sticker decide to impound my case and classify it as a Zionist enemy. One little sticker with Hebrew writing or letters is enough to send Mohammed into a fit. Just another joy of trying to solve the Middle East Peace process.

Perhaps one day all cases will be free to travel anywhere and airport carousels will live in peace.

Off to the Abu Dhabi Mall this morning, a lay day waiting for a flight back to Amman, more later

Abu Dhabi

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Seven Cases

Whilst the date of the crusade ending is to be determined by lords and masters in far off places, there is always time for another chance to jump on a flying machine and depart for the wilds of sand in far flung countries.

Now for those who do not know travelling in this business mainly involves packing and unpacking boxes, loading and unloading them and counting the missing ones on airport carousels or before some little nigel nicks them off the back of a truck.

For this trip more details to follow, from on the road in the following days.

Anyway back to cases, I like to think that I pack light when I travel for work and getting everything into seven cases was a pretty good deal, luckily we are not taking transmission eqpt as this automatically puts me at close to twenty boxes and 300 kg, so seven cases and under 100kg of excess baggage

Tales from the desert to follow next week

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Crusade Ends

Thus after five years in the Unholyland my crusade to bring peace, stabilty, religious tolerance and better driving skills is about to come to an end. At the end of the month I am moving to join the London Bureau.
The time will reflection will come later, probably on the plane as I take off and look at the land of humous and pita disaapearing under the wing and then I can reflect on what has happened and how my efforts as an unofficial Middle East Envoy have changed the course of history, NOT.
The question now raises as to how to change the name of The Unholyland News to reflect The land of Curry and Kebab, a new chapter is about to begin in my career and the challenges of life that this brings is exciting.
The blog continues and I get to drive back on the left side of the road.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Hong Kong Airport

OK There has been a reason for the absence of posts and over the next twenty four hours all will be revealed. I apologise for the lack of posts of recent but there are times to write and times to allow the world revolve. Last few weeks in Australia on holidays have been great and the highlight was last Thursday night when Louise was confirmed , which was a very big moment in her life and made one father a very proud man to have two such wonderful daughters.

So tomorrow all will be revealed, will not say anymore than ... wait for it LOL

In one of his favourite places in the world , the lounge at Chep lap Kok airport Hong kong, pity it will be spoiled by a 12 hour flight on Elal , trust me a dentist can be better than a long haul Elal flight

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Breaking NEWS

Breaking News, don't you just love it when the sting music comes on tv and suddenly a graphic whizz's across the screen and a breathless anchor tells you in sombre tones , this just in .....
Well many things are happening and the next few weeks will reveal all for the future of the Unholyland News, the issue of a book is now getting more serious and I hope to start seriously in the next few months working towards a draft on what I am using the working title of " ? [Secret at this stage] " , have always wanted to call it "Great Hotel Roofs and Car Parks of the World" but that is the title that someone else came up with from the old days of the London Bureau.
Anyway more News to come very shortly , and this is one story when you will not hit the mute button.

[and nothing to do with Australia]

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Watermelon Man

The Watermelon Man

One of my favorite training runs has always been out along the Marina area and up to the Number 2 Hwy, you run past the beach and some of the most hi tech research companies in the world (think Silicon Valley type Research Companies) are located here, and of course some farm fields.

True to its foundations Israel maximizes it’s land usage and if is not being built on or having rubbish illegally dumped on it then it will be used for farming purposes, and over the years this field has been ploughed and fertilized with various crops over the seasons.

Now you would think that with all the wealth that surrounds these fields that theft would be of a cyber crime nature. Thus I was surprised when a couple of months back I started to notice that there was this car parked on the edge of this field it was always there twenty four hours a day, then a shelter with a platform was erected and as I ran past I could make out an old mattress on the platform and a camping stove for making coffee.

It now dawned on me that a watchman was living over looking these fields, guarding watermelons against theft. With all the social and political problems in the world, theft of watermelons is a problem. It is the most popular fruit in the country and everyone there is an expert on all matters watermelon. Now stealing watermelons is not a simple task, I mean how times have you heard of people shoplifting a watermelon.

So watermelon theft in Israel is a “Clear and Present Danger” run by the lords of the Underworld, farmers over the years must have had fields stripped over night and thus now the Watermelon Man stands guard.

He must have done his job well as the crop survived and was duly harvested. Last Saturday I was out running with Chaim and as we past the now empty watermelon field I told him the story [as above] and jokingly wondered what had happened to “The Watermelon Man”.

Ten minutes down the road on our run, lo and behold on the edge of another field there is the shelter and in the dawn light “The Watermelon Man” was patrolling the field, either that or coming back from relieving himself.

Now the absolutely funny thing about this story is that across the road from the field is a group of buildings that are probably one of the most high tech security aware buildings in the world the global HQ for the famed Israel Mossad Secret Service, these guys can trace a person breaking wind in Kazakhstan, have access to satellites that can zoom into postage stamps on postcards in China.

Chaim and I laughed at the irony of this situation, Mossad for all its power and Global resources could not monitor the watermelon fields across the road, forget hi tech spying Mossad it seems cannot protect a watermelon field it can see from its windows. It just struck me as ironic that with the resources of the world not a 100 m away, you still need “The Watermelon Man” for security.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Going to Oz

Sorry for lack of posts, many things happening and it is 4am at the airport , en route to Australia , yes widescreen will be down in Melbourne for a day or so and will try to contact you.
Next post is a great story titled "The Watermelon Man" it will make you laugh
Ben Gurion Airport and 19 hours flying to go

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Bloggers Dilemna

What do you write about when in reality not much is happening at the moment. One thing I will not do is just post for the sake of posting so that readers will log expecting an insight into my slightly off beat world and stories.
You can surf around and find blogs that tell you how tipples the family cat is happy or that they are off to the Aunties for the weekend and try to launch a broad discussion on travel directions. It is an unwritten code of the male DNA that we cannot follow directions so try to post directions on a blog in the vain hope that the male of the blog will read is, is as pointless as giving the female of the species a map and ask her for simple coherent directions, this is the missing female DVA gene.

So back to the subject of today " A Bloggers Dilemna" . It is not that there is a lack of subjects to write about in the News at the moment, from the Tour de Pharmacy that concludes this Sunday on Champs EPOeeyse, to epidemic that Hollywood Stars face in their personal battles with Drugs, lets face it don't we all agree that poor Lindsey Lohan did not know who put the cocaine in her pants pocket and she must be innocent till proven guilty in a fair court of law. Or how about the story that Shuttle Pilots flew drunk, you can just imagine all the astronauts chugging back a "roadie" before walking to the launch pad, and of course the big question is in a space suit how do you get rid of the beer without triggering fourteen alarm bells in Houston Control on the medics console.

Then again I could write about how a 48 year old man is reading a book about a [deleted word] who cannot say a [deleted word] because of a new [deleted word] , but then thats a spoiler. And no I have not read the last page.

So I suppose you can beat a bloggers dilemna and prove the adage that given a typewriter a monkey could write the words of Shakespeare , or in my case a blogger taping the keyboard can write nothing of interest and yet cover topics that make us laugh, because life is simple in a quiet week.


Friday, July 20, 2007

The are two cliches here

Covering the News in the Middle East comes down to two stereotyped cliches. You have two choices when it comes down to it.

Cliche 1 , All stories start with the Natural Sound of the "Call to Prayer" Allah Ackbar and a lot wailing over a montage of shots with slow dissolves naturally distinguishing the setting as not out the front of middle class surburbia, the usual is then to follow follow up with shots of masked men carrying guns and firing into the air. It does not matter if it is a wedding or a funeral, masked gunmen firing into the air makes good television.

Now my theory is that the "Masked Gunmen" wear masks not because they are wanted but probably because they are Bank Tellars and Accountants in the real world and putting on the Mask transforms them into raging Militants to be feared by all, when in fact they have to be home before ten because there Mum will worry.

So there is Cliche 1 , now what happens if you do not have a Mosque nearby and no one is wearing a mask or carrying gun. Yes Dorothy there are places here where neither exist in the West Bank. Gaza well that is another matter.

Anyway this morning saw the release of 256 Palestinian Prisoners from Israeli jails back to their families in the West Bank and it was a near media feeding frenzy. Every TV Network from around the world was there and each one of them seemed to have decided to cover the same family that we had supposedly lined up, Asaad our talent, should of had an agent trying to set up a book deal.

His wife had been in an Israeli Prison for 3 and half years and Asaad had been raising his five children and they all came out and stood in the sun with us and waited and were filmed by at least ten other Networks, from Italy to Canada Asaad and the kids were asked the same questions just in different languages translated by local fixers and producers.

Eventually the buses came through and the families and the media did what is natural in such events, by this I mean we all tried to get run over by the buses and the released Prisoners hung out of the window and celebrated as they were taken up to meet the President.

I mean these Prisoners were not released for good behaviour, they were released by the Israelis who along with the rest of the world are trying to bolster the image of Palestinian President Abbas after the debacle of his supporters in Gaza last month losing power and anyone with any power fleeing like rats up a drainpipe.

Thus todays token release of Prisoners makes Abbas look like a man of power, the fact that thousands more languish in Israeli jails, roadbloacks and checkpoints make it impossible to travel between towns and villages and Israel holds onto all tax money that belongs to the Authority. The bottom line is that Israel will probably arrest more than they released today in the next few days just to get the numbers back up to the status quo.

Anyway Asaad was happy and managed to throw his two smallest children through the bus window to his with so she could share some quality time, I fear the two small children were totally terrified of this woman screaming and clutching them in this bus being mobbed.

So we get back to the bureau and face the dilemna of the classic cliche start to the package. No Mosque, no call to prayer, no masked bank tellars.

Have no fear enter Middle East cliche 2

The Warbling Women , yes the Arabic Woman dressed in National Costume coming up to the camera and warbling with there tongue olllllaaaaa ollllaaaa [well hard to translate warble] then after a couple of warbles up come the hands and holding there face and staring down the camera ala woe is me.

So when the masked bank tellars and mullahs in minarets are not available , have no fear the warbling grandmothers are ready to step up and solve the medias cliche conundrum.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Three symbols, a world of possibilities. Let the games begin.

Define Sport , here I could insert a quotation from dictionarycom , but in a quiet moment of channel surfing in the office I came across a new sport.

It has coverage on ESPN … following are the quotes from the telecast commentators.

“Thousands of pumps down “
“He has been unflinching all night”
“Oh no he has stumbled getting into the ring”
“Fatigue could be an issue”
“Slices paper for the point”
“Must throw flawlessly”
“Players must stay in sync”
“He is exhausted”
“These players are tired”
“On the verge of making sports history”
“He has done the unthinkable”
“One day we will see that fist in the Hall of Fame”
“This is the greatest moment in RPS history”
“He is my champion today”

Ok what is this sport?. Which somehow managed to elicit every sporting cliché from the commentators, there are some clues and even the acronym that it goes by.

I like watching sport and have even been known to comment on sports from curling to my personal favorite “solo synchronized swimming”. Yes they have solo synchronized swimming what the sync against is still a mystery perhaps they put a nose plug on the side of the pool and use that .

Anyway today I have to say that the second annual championship held in Las Vegas complete with $50,000 prize money was won by the “The Brain” in a tight match that included the referee having to stop the match for being out of sync.

Yes folks “ROCK PAPER SCISSORS” is now a serious sport

Check out the web site and if you are truly patriotic American please admit to cringing.

This article was on the site to promote the telecast that was my inspiration today …

After logrolling, spelling bees and hot-dog eating, you might think ESPN has run out of sports.
That would not be the case. Tonight, ESPN2 presents its first rock paper scissors competition.
The 2007 Bud Light USA Rock Paper Scissors League National Championship doesn't have the cachet quite yet of the Super Bowl, but it's growing, according to Matti Leshem, co-commissioner of the USA Rock Paper Scissors League.
Although the competition, held in Las Vegas, has been televised before - last year on the A&E Network - this is the first time it will be covered by ESPN, which still likes to call itself "the worldwide leader in sports."
"It's a real validation for the sport," Leshem says by phone from Los Angeles.
The competition was held in May at the Mandalay Bay Resort Casino, with enough underwriting from Bud Light that 300 finalists from nationwide barroom competitions were flown in with a guest for the finals, which carries a top prize of $50,000.
The league has only been around since 2005, Leshem says, "but this is a game played since the beginning of recorded history."
Really? Before the invention of scissors? Or paper?
"Back to the caveman days," Leshem says, though he adds, "it was known as rock rock rock in those days."
The discovery of new materials led to a change in the approach. "For a time, it was known as rock papyrus spear, which you may have heard of before," he says.
Clearly, the development of paper in China, along with the invention of scissors, made great strides in the hand game where, of course, rock smashes scissors, scissors cut paper and paper covers rock.
There is a historic angle to the other name by which the game is known, Rochambeau, after the French general who aided George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and whose march through Connecticut (through Farmington, not too far from eventual ESPN headquarters in Bristol) marked its 225th anniversary last year.
The French general, according to Leshem, "adjudicated several disputes with rock paper scissors."
That may be just as much a myth as Rochambeau supposedly plotting the Yorktown battle with Washington in Wethersfield. But it explains why school children pumping their fists three times in anticipating shooting their desired signal will often shout "Reaux! Sham! Beau!" instead of "One! Two! Three!"
Clearly, there are different styles of the game, which is obviously not treated in complete seriousness by the league. But what exactly makes a great rock paper scissors champion?
"Skill, athleticism, the ability to read an opponent - to know what your opponent is going to throw before they throw it," Leshem says.
Statistics play a role - women often open with scissors, while men often choose rock first; paper is the least often used first signal, studies have shown.
But athleticism?
"There are different styles of play," Leshem says. "It gets quite energetic. A lot of power goes into it. The mental drain of it has a toll on the body."
Besides that, he adds, "there are injuries, people dislocate shoulders or sprain wrists."
Because reading the opponent's intent is so important, a poker champion, Phil Gordon, has agreed to officiate.
Also, like poker, "it takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master," Leshem says. "It's like chess, right? You have to practice, and you really start to feel the Zen of throwing."
Eventually, a world view develops, he says. "You look at life as a tripartite thing, that life is not black and white, it's not a binary on-off switch - there's the possibility of third choice."
As for those who don't think it's a sport, Leshem says, well, it takes all kinds. "There are people who think golf is a sport."
Ilan Ben-Hanan, the network's director of programming and acquisitions, says, "For us, I think ESPN is all about competition - traditional stick and ball sports, for the most part. But there's room for something a little bit different."
And the childhood game of rock paper scissors is nothing if not that.
"Everyone knows how to play the game, so that helps," Ben-Hanan says.
Whether it returns next year depends, in part, how it does tonight.
"We'll wait to see what the response is," he says.
Leshem says the initial ESPN telecast coming on 7-7-07 isn't completely lucky for them.
"It's kind of a hard night, there's also that Live Earth thing on," he says. "But we're honored to be on the ESPN networks."
The 2007 Bud Light USA Rock Paper Scissors League National Championship runs tonight at 9 on ESPN2.

Now to add a bit more cringe factor I add one last paragraph from the official site …

“American players embody the ideals of the sport - aggression, cunning and intensity. Finally, they have the stage to showcase their mad skills. Annual nationwide tournaments will honorably determine the best RPS player in the USA, and bring on a new breed of elite athletes to make all Americans proud and unify our polarized nation. The red, white and blue will be properly represented in international competition and inspire a new form of patriotism. The USARPS League is destined to bring on new strategies, training techniques and of course, great American heroes.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Smells Like Paper to me

Amman Jordan

The trip to Amman Jordan to film the family of one of the doctors suspected in the failed UK Bombing Attacks in London and Glasgow had been uneventful, that is easy because Amman is probably one of the most uneventful places on the entire planet. I often refer to Jordan as The Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom, and Amman is a city with absolutely nothing of any interest for the tourist.
The hotels in Amma, though are good and the Hyatt is one of my favorite hotels in the world. Apart from being bombed a year or so ago and the foyer bar area destroyed by a suicide bomber that walked in off the street, that night two other hotels were also targeted by Al Qaida in a co ordinated attack. They had been soft targets with no security, you simply walked in off the street past a doorman. Now there is extreme security to almost airport standard.
Then again there is an equation in the Zen and Working in News. The better the hotel the less time you get to enjoy the hotel. The worse the hotel, you can count on spending hours and days trapped surrounded by white walls, cockroaches, intermittant power and naturally your room will be next to the loudest mosque in town. Now Mosques are not exactly heavy metal factories operating 24 hours a day, but then again Mosques suddenly come to life at 4 in the morning with the call to prayer blaring directly into your room, and that scares the life out of you.
Luckily this is not the case at the Hyatt Amman a great 5 star hotel but not enough time to enjoy it. We arrived in Amman at two in the morning Tuesday and after a few hours sleep were out tracking down the family of Mohamed Asha, we turned up at the house only to be told they were not going to do any interviews, so I suggested we find a coffee shop drink a cup of badly made black mud and go back and ask again.
Our driver interpreted the lets go and find a local coffee shop as "lets drive accross the city and drink coffee" and rather than a cup of simple mud served in a couple of minutes we ended up, yes you guessed we turned the corner and pulled up at a Starbucks. Twenty minutes later the coffee arrives and an hour later we end up back at the Asha Household which is now under total seige from media around the world and the family is talking. We get an interview with the father, who in true fashion cannot believe that his son would in anyway be implicated in such an act and butter would not melt in his mouth.
The rest of the day was a blur rushing here there back and forth and finally getting to bed around 2 am given the time differences between the Mid East and the East Coast.
When I am on the road I am always thinking about what I am going to write about and the trip to Amman gave me plenty of material, from the security man at Starbucks to the Mecca Mall of shopping boredom. But the title and highlight moment of the trip actually came when we were on the plane coming back last night.
Correspondent Reena Ninan, Producer Ibrahim Hazboun and I were buckled in ready for the flight between Amman and Tel Aviv, the only flight were you spend more time taxing than in the air, flight time 18 minutes distance 86 miles think of those frequent flier points everyone.
Anyway you know how in magazines they have those scratch and sniff folds, lift the tag and smell the new perfume male or female and the smell seems to last no matter how many times you lift the fold. Hey the one at my dentist still holds the smell after a year of use.
So here is this foldout in the magazine Reena took from the hotel, I peel it back and well there is a small amount of smell, not enough to overpower my senses, I pass it across to Ibrahim who reluctantly lifts it to his nose and with a casual shrug of his shoulders says he really cannot smell anything. Reena smells the fold and simply says "Smells Like Paper to me"
What was the mystery scent, well I have to say advertising has a lot to answer for, the product was a new line of female hygeine pads "Always Fresh".
Give me a break perfume yes hygeine no, but after a long couple of days it was a very light moment on the road.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Favorite Country

When asked the question, What is my favourite country? People often stare in amazement as to my answer. Pakistan

Look there are far better places in the world, Australia, USA, England, Hong Kong to name just a few. But they are easy places safe places where everything works and life for the majority of people is easy and there are few negatives.

For me to be my favorite country means that there must be a sense of adventure. You need to be challenged, frustrated and amazed.

In Pakistan I have filmed exorcisms in the middle of the desert at night, goat sacrifices in ancient ceremony grounds, flown on flights with gun packing guards protecting a person on the Most Wanted Terrorist list in the world, seen the effects of an earthquake on thousands of people that have left me emotionally shattered. Seen mountains and skies that leave you breathless in awe. Been frustrated with beaucracy that defies logic and have driven through the Khyber Pass.

Have been locked in my hotel whilst people riot in the streets and wondered street markets buying Osama Bin laden posters. Madrassahs were boys spend their days chanting the qaram in a sing song melody.

Have eaten great meals and signed pledges that I am an alcoholic and I need alcohol for medicanal reasons so the room service boy can bring up a picnic basket of awful beer. Been on stage with the biggest rock band in the Sub Indian Continent in front of 20,000 fans. Danced with locals in the mountains during ceremonies at night and skimmed stones over holy rivers.

These are just some of the things that to me make Pakistan one of the most exciting places to visit, nothing makes sense in a country where the majority have so little and the minority everything. You need a sense of humour to enjoy a country that offers so much for so little. Nothing is easy trust me in Pakistan, but then again if it was?

Would I like it so much?. I doubt it


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A question that had to be answered


Now I have been thinking about different questions that you have been asking and will in course give my views, some are political and for safety reasons may be answerwed diplomatically as I have to work in areas and the last thing I will ever want in the event of being held by "bad boys" is for my words to come back and haunt me.

As they say silence is if often the best sound.

However one question has to be answered a cryptic anonymous left a note and asked if I had turned fifty, now that set me aghast so to set the record , No I am only 48 in a 24 year old body trying to do the best I can to stay fit and healthy apart from two vices that I allow myself .

For those who question my age, my birthday is May 3 1959, so it is still a couple of years away LOL


Friday, June 22, 2007

Apart From The Axe

There is a famous joke quote that I always think of that goes along these lines

“Apart from that, how did you enjoy the show, Mrs. Lincoln”?

Referring to the murder of President Lincoln at the theatre in April 1865.

So what the hell does this have to do with life in the Unholyland?

Well after nearly a year of not going into Gaza, following the kidnapping of two fox Journalists last summer. We finally stepped back across the border into Gaza to cover the Fatah refugees holding up in the tunnel in the no mans land that separates Gaza and Israel.

Following the collapse of law and order in Gaza with Hamas staging what can only be called a military coup like takeover and destroying the Fatah security regime. Many Fatah members and their families trying to flee possible retribution tried to get out of Gaza via the tunnel and across Israel to the West Bank. Basically Israel said “No way Jose” and these people had been stuck in the tunnel for three days.

With correspondent Reena Ninan, we passed thru the metal gates that separate the two countries and found ourselves in a concrete funnel, the heat, mounds of rubbish, urine and a couple of hundred humans makes for an odor that somehow defies any advertising gurus thesaurus.

The aim of the shoot was to get in, shoot a package and get out of dodge before any potential risk to our safety.

I wanted to get down to the other end of the tunnel, to what we call the Palestinian end approx 400m walk. The trouble was that the tunnel after a 100m became, well not a tunnel anymore but an open walkway. Following the collapse of law and order, scavengers had descended and were in the process of removing anything and everything from bricks to the tin roof and once that was gone, then they were taking the steel framework from above our heads as we walked down.

Now this is not a professional demolition of property, but a complete anarchic loot carried out by men and boys, using anything and everything to smash property, and they obviously do not want to appear on the next edition of that popular Palestinian TV show “Crimestoppers”. So as I Reena and I made our way down the tunnel filming the offenders two kids above us screamed what has been translated as the foulest possible Arabic phases at us that questioned my mother and other issues in one sentence and the little Nobel laureate above us threw his axe down narrowly missing us from a height of 20ft making what can only be described as a bloody loud noise.

You have two options one to stand and argue or two keep moving and allow them to go back to looting. It made one hell of a picture that was duly put in our package that night; I just hope that the next edition of Palestinian Crimestopper’s uses the material to help the public identify the criminals.

We walked to the end of the tunnel, well what was left of it. This is a tunnel I have walked on hundreds of occasions over the past five years covering events in Gaza and now there is nothing left, everything has been taken where buildings and checkpoints once stood, now only holes in the sand remain.

It is if a society is simply eating itself, and law and order is enforced with a bullet. But there was not one person in any position of law and order to stop what was happening and if there were they would not have cared.

It was Reena’s first time in Gaza, and this was her impression. It is weird to reflect that she has never seen what we consider normal. Because the normal no longer exists in Gaza.

We shot an interview with the Red Cross, did a couple of On Camera’s and then after all that we found ourselves stuck behind a group of Russian refugees fleeing Gaza. Yes Russian refugees you ask. Trust me I had no idea that there were any Russians in Gaza but somehow a couple of busloads had to be evacuated and we were behind them.

These were not just day-trippers on a day out to the beaches of Gaza, but families who had been living in Gaza, doing what I have no idea. But they were fleeing the collapse with suitcases the size that could house families. The trap is that to get out of Gaza you have to go thru turnstiles similar to what you see at stadiums and here we were trapped behind the group as they tried to squeeze and cram these cases thru the turnstiles. It was a Monty Pythonesque scene to say the least and we still had personal security and bomb checks to go through.

This is where your worst nightmare and hold up can happen.

I found myself in the cubicles leading to the bomb detection machine with a Russian mother and her two small children a girl aged maybe four and a three-year boy. Just as they are about to enter the bomb detection machine the small boy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a spent bullet casing, no doubt a souvenir from his time in Gaza and drops it on the floor by accident. His mother freaks and checks his pockets for more whilst I just groan that this is all that we need, what else could go wrong today.

First the axe now the bullet.

Somehow the worlds most advanced bomb detection machine did not detect any gunpowder on him and we passed through to passport control. I just wonder what the cleaners thought later in the day when the found the bullet casing.

It had been an interesting day, Reena has now been into Gaza, I had returned and I thought “Apart from the Axe” how did you like Gaza Reena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Souring Gunmen and the Nokia Ring Tone

Monday 18th June 2007
West Bank

The first question that has to be answered with the title is the word that probably breaks every grammer in the book, as I have never heard the term "Souring" . The answer actually lines in a bad translation from Arabic to English, as the word sour means film in Arabic, thus in my brillant linguistic brain I have adapted the term sour to souring, as defined as "filming".

So translated the title could be interpreted as Filming Gunmen and the Nokia Ring Tone, the part that Nokia plays in the story comes later.

We drove up the Settlers road through the West Bank in my armored car , this is a road where in past times you never would of considered travelling along unless in an armored car as many attacks have occured here, mainly snipers shooting at settlers cars, so the the armor just gives you a sense of security. Actually the worst thing is that the shock absorbers have become totally useless and all I have are the springs so it is like travelling in a bouncy bus more than a classy secure car.

We parked the car and walked thru the Hawara Checkpoint just outside Nablus, this is one of the checkpoints that make life hell getting in and out of Israel and the West not only for journalists but even more so for Palestinians, the rights and wrongs of checkpoints can be debated on both sides. But for us they can just be a pain in the preverbial. Going in is easy , coming out can take minutes or hours you never know.

So our local fixer Ali picks us up and takes us for coffee in the centre of town, we have an appointment with the Fatah gunmen who basically control the town as the bad boys. Previously we been taken in taxis and waited and transfered and moved from camp to building before we meet the bad boys. However the Israeli Defence Forces having been raiding the Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Nablus where the bad boys have lived and operated from. So we had to wait have coffee and be told where to go at an undisclosed location in the town.

Ali's phone rang , words where exchanged and we drove off , now there is no blindfolds or hoods on the head to a clandestine location, just a never ending string of Speed bumps. I am convinced that Nablus has more speed bumps than any other city or town in the world.

We pulled up outside the building and you are always nervous to some extent as these guys are the real deal and not parading for show. There were about six of them with their leader Abu jabel, who is a big big boy, handshakes and smiles. I thought that we would be doing the interview inside, but Abu Jabel insisted we would do the interview in the street.

So out we go Correspondent Mike Tobin, Producer Ibrahim Hazboun and myself standing in the street with six gunmen, so what do you do well we did the interview and then they asked if we needed some walking shots with them and Mike. (These guys are media savvy and do not need some dizzy PR person buzzing around) We did the walking shots all good Mike and the gunmen pix.

I thought the shoot was over as the boys would move on quickly, when Abu Jabel asked if we wanted some pictures of him shooting his gun. That is how crazy this place can be " Here is a big time gunmen of Fatah asking if we need pictures of him shooting.

"Sure why not?"

So we take to the edge of the building and Abu Jabel takes aim at a bottle or can down the hill and just as he is about to fire, the sound that we all know echoes , his Nokia Phone rings breaks the silence . He apologies and takes the call, so we set up again and just as he reaches for the trigger the Nokia Phone tone again breaks the silence, then as he answers one call his second phone rings, so picture this big gunman , M16 gun and two small cell phones against the side of a building with me pointing a small camera at him.

Eventually the phone calls end Abu Jabel points and fires camera jumps such is the sound that makes me jump, so I ask can we do it again.

"No Problem"

And without the Nokia we get the second shot.

"Now 'sour' us driving away"

With guns poking out they drove away, big guys with guns in small japanese cars, they could barely fit in with all there weapons and jackets packed with spare clips.

We only had a piece to camera to film before stopping for lunch and let me tell you the chicken breasts at Mister baker could be used for tiles on the space shuttle. Our exit was OK as we timed it for before workers tried to leave the city, out thru the gate and back to the office.

Just another day working in the Unholylands

Monday, June 18, 2007

Thanks for the Comments

To everyone
Many thanks for all the comments , will get back to everyone of them and answer, today was yet another one of those days in the West Bank and tomorrows blog entry will be aptly titled

Souring Gunmen and the Nokia Ring tone

Till then thanks again

Friday, June 15, 2007

At the end of my run last night

This is a funny , only in Israel could this happen at the end of a run.

Thus, last night I was running with my hash group the Thirsty Knights Hash House Harriers, commonly using slogans like runners with a drinking problem or drinkers with a running problem. Simply you run with friends then rehydrate with beer. Ok not the best training program but it adds a great alternative to speed intervals or long runs.

So as we ran back to the car park at the end of the run last night, there was a police car with its lights flashing next to my car. Now your immediate thoughts are of course , expletive my car has been broken into oh expletive.

However the car was untouched and the concern was that my car with its TV signs painted on the windows was in fact a suspected terrorist vehicle.

The background being last week Militants in Gaza had tried to kidnap another Israeli soldier down in Gaza by getting a SUV and painting TV on the windows they had approached an israeli checkpoint. There attempt was thwarted one was killed and three others fled back into Gaza.

This story was palyed heavily in the local press, and last night whilst my car had been parked and left unattended two boys had seen my car and being good concerned citizens called the police and reported a "suspected potential terrorist vehicle"

The policeman was cool about it all and drove off smiling, after we explained to him dripping in sweat " That hey no, thats just Mals car".

So a funny only in Israel way to end a run. You have to laugh.

The vehicles look so similar LOL

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fear Junkie Syndrome

Wide screen is his response asked the queston?

At what point though are you a ‘fear’ junkie? You put yourself in it everyday and you could do this job in ‘civilian’ land but you choose otherwise.

Do you need it? Can you live without it?

This is a question many people ask me, and the answer is always the same.

We are given a jar of jelly beans when we are born, we never see the jar. But everytime you do something dangerous a jelly bean is taken out and when the last bean is taken out , then you are living on borrowed time. I figure that my jar is getting close to empty but then again with every good deed perhaps a jelly bean is put back in.

I do enjoy the adrenaline to deny it would be a lie to myself, but at the same time I also question as to what my alternatives are. One day something will come up and I think it will surprise me.

I should also point out that not everyday is living on the edge, like any other newsroom in the world we also have quiet days even weeks as working in an International bureau means that we are out of the loop of domestic issues, somehow New York HQ only likes us when boys play badly in most cases.

The thing is that if something happens you must always be prepared to go anywhere at anytime and with no thoughts to your personal life and that comes with a heavy price.

(doing nothing in the Jerusalem Bureau)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quelling Fear

Thanks to those who asked questions, as it gives me topics to write on that perhaps I might not of thought about, 21st Century Mom (Great Blog linked below) posed this question?

When you are sitting on the edge of war, camera in hand, unable to listen to music, how do you quell your fear?

There are few times when I actually feel "fear" in a combat zone. Given the amount of times I have been exposed to dangerous zones. But I do, like the fear of being slimed during the invasion of Iraq or sitting in a humvee being a magnet for incoming RPG's in Ramadi Iraq.

I remember those times and the reality is that there is nothing you can do and this is when I do have fear, it is that absolute feeling of sickness in your stomach, it comes in spasms and the terror is often that you cannot do anything about it. It always tends to be in moments when nothing is directly happening as in being underfire.

I do not want to sound like an adrenaline or war junkie, but being in any situation where fear comes into the play, your senses are risen to a level that is hard to explain. But always the most over riding factor is planning and experience. Knowing where to go, what to do, and being able to make fast rational decisions, when you are working at these levels there is no time for fear.

Without a doubt experience is the most important weapon in my arsenal of survival, no shot is worth dying for, and the aim everytime I go somewhere is not to get into a situation I cannot control, and if it happens and it does on a more regular basis than I wish for. It is the ability to maintain control of your own senses and use them to get the hell out of dodge.

In a combat zone a matter of a couple of hundred meters is generally all that separates you from safety sometimes even less, it is often a matter of having a plan to get there and a back up to that plan and a back up to the back up. Because Murphy likes to lay down the law in a way that only he can


Thursday, June 07, 2007

You Ask I Reply

Today , I was figuring out whether to write about the lack of bladder control suffered by male motorists in Israel or continue my series on music for when everyone plays nice for a change to give you an insight perhaps into the sounds that shape my world. Then again I thought perhaps it would be fun to offer to anyone who for some reason another a chance to let you ask me a question about what I do and respond to these for a change.
Any question is fair game and I will write my thoughts and ramblings in response, I enjoy the feedback and incredible things I read on other blogs, and just wish I could figure out how too do the same.
So readers of the Unholyland here is your chance , anything on any subject , you know me and my world

Oh and i will write about the bladder issue soon

Monday, June 04, 2007

Music For When Boys Cannot Play Nice

Now when the preverbial hits the wall and as the title suggests when boys cannot play nice. I do not repeat do not put on my ipod and chill out, in fact you need every single sense working 110% to state the obvious, and music whilst it sounds good in movie soundtracks has no place in a battlezone, I am yet to hear the US Army Psych op's team drive into an Iraqi Village with the ghetto blaster to end all ghetto blasters blasting out the Ride of the Valkeryie (ala Apocalyse Now)

But there are times when I do crank up to Volume 11 (as according to the gospel of Spinal tap)

I remember sitting inside a tank in Kuwait leading up to the war talking with the crew about what music they listen to and the loader pointed to a dusty portable cd and said in his southern drawl we ramp up Enimen and play it through the in board headphones as they speed accross the desert, "lose Yourself" is not a track of music for the peaceniks.

Last year in the Israel Lebanon War, I would start my morning by playing the Kid Rock Bawitada blaring and get completely pumped up for the adrenaline rush of incoming katusah rockets, it is almost like a drug the need to get ready and psyched up for mayhem. When it goes down in big way your own personal adrenaline is coursing through you and your music tastes in conflict zones reflect that.

Each War or Conflict has a piece of music attached to it for me, during Kosovo it was Fat Boy Slim Right Here Right NowFunk Soul Brother and Rockafellar Skunk. The Gaza Disengagement "The Killers - Somebody Told Me", China "Ray of Light - madonna" Iraq "ACDC Thunderstruck", Sudan "dave Matthews The Space Between", Afghanistan "The Doors Break on Thru" the list goes on.

Guns & Roses "Live and Let Die" Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell", Inxs "Devil Inside", Lenny Kravitz "Are You Going My Way", Social Distortion "Ring of Fire", Billy Idol "Rebel Yell", The Clash "London Calling", Foo Fighters "learn to Fly" TRex "Spirit in the Sky", U2 "Elevation".

A funny aside earler in the year I was driving down to Sderot to go as we say "Kassam Catching" when driving into the town Correspondent Jennifer Griffin & Producer Yonat Freling asked me were we were going, without saying a word turned the dial on the ipod and cranked out Petula Clarkes "DOWNTOWN" they just both cracked up laughing.

But in closing as Howard Jones would say "Things Can Only get Better"

Now do not think I am a music freak given any oppurtunity I will actually listen to live sport on the radio as these photos will attest to. The other week sitting on the hill overlooking Gaza and Sderot I had drawn the night shift and it happened to be the night of the European Champions Football Match so there I am with a portable radio with crackly reception trying to watch the game on a small screen with no sound, well it had sound but it was in hebrew and the radio had english