Thursday, May 31, 2007

Safe and Sound in Baghdad...Sort Of

Jordanian traffic police

I arrived in Baghdad this afternoon after being delayed in Amman for several hours by dust storms over Iraq. When we landed I immediately noticed that the air was intensely hot and very hazing, almost like being enveloped in red-brown smoke. When you step down off the plane the hot wind hits you and you think that you’re standing too close to the jet engines. You quickly realize that’s just the normal, searing winds on the tarmac in summertime Iraq.

It didn’t take long. Five minutes out of the airport and we drove past an active firefight in one of the neighborhoods. While we weren’t anyone's target you’re always concerned about catching a stray round in an unlucky spot. My colleague and I continued our conversation as we gave the car a bit more gas and got away from the area.

Nonetheless, safe and sound in Baghdad.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The women in Jordan make me laugh. It’s a huge game. They see me walking towards them and they try not to stare or even make eye contact. You can see it in their eyes as they fight the urge not to look at the 6’6” gringo with the shaved head and a camera. Inevitably they give in and steal a quick glance, at which time I just smile. They absolutely hate getting caught.

Outside McDonalds four teenagers walked past and one of them softly mumbled a “hello”. I motioned to my camera and then to them. Aghast, they shook their heads no and sort of giggled. After a second or two they had a little conference and decided that it was OK. The next thing you know they are posing all over the place, ice cream in-hand.

The people have a sort of reserved friendliness to them. On the surface they appear to be very serious and closed, but as soon as you smile or wave they melt and return the gesture with gusto.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Viagra For Jetlag?

I took a decent nap today trying to fend off the jetlag from yesterday’s trip. I colleague told me that if you take a Viagra tablet when traveling west to east it will lessen the severity of the jetlag. I’m not sure what the science is behind that theory, but I opted not to test it out.

I went for a walk in downtown Amman this afternoon and took some photos, and put about nine of them up on Flickr. Again, I was a little self-conscious with a camera, but I’m slowly learning some photography social skills.

One of the street vendors stuck a shemagh on my head and had one of his buddies take my camera and grab a photo of us together. I was imagining the would-be photographer making a break for it with my Nikon, and me chasing him through the streets, red and white shemagh flapping in the wind.

No Pictures Here

Like many places in today’s worlds, taking pictures in Amman is not the easiest thing to do. People are suspicious of anyone with a camera. The average Jordanian is more accustomed to seeing assault rifles than he is a telephoto lens, and any westerner waiving one around is bound to attract unwanted attention. To be fair, I am staying at a hotel that was bombed a little over a year ago, so I can see why people might be more than a little security conscious.

Photographers continue to be easy targets for amateur security wonks. Anyone taking a photo of a building or a bridge must be a plotting terrorist, why else would they do it? I guess if I threw on a pair of plaid Bermuda shorts, knee-high socks, and hung a point-and-shoot around my neck that I would be better off.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Finally Amman

After flying all night from New York, I finally made it to Amman for a three-day stay until I go back into Baghdad.

My driver picked me up at the airport and I immediately reached for my camera. The entire 45-minute drive to the hotel was punctuated with, “No, not here. Here OK. Not here. OK here”, as he pointed out places that was permitted to photograph and others that were not. I pretended selectively understand him, which drove him nuts.

Amman is fantastic, and I’ve grown to love this place more and more with each visit. I’m currently sitting outside on the balcony bar of the Hyatt looking out over the city lights, watching the locals smoke water pipes, listening to modern jazz, and drinking Chilean wine.

Tomorrow I have some business to take care of and then plan to take a walking tour of the immediate area. Wednesday I’m counting on a trip to Petra to take some pictures of Jordan’s most famous tourist site.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Heading Out Again

I’m leaving Atlanta and heading back to the Middle East tomorrow. I’ll be schlepping 50 lbs of camera and audio gear with me this time so that I can do a better job capturing what I see and hear.

I’m also bringing some good, Japanese incense and a zafu to sit on. No more Turkish incense. It’s far to harsh and gives me a headache.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Next Generation

Marble bricks memorializing Peachtree City’s fallen service members. Local veterans are laying the new bricks in the city library’s park in preparation for Memorial Day.

I used to think of veterans as old guys that hung out at the VFW remembering days and friends long gone by; men that emerged every Memorial Day carrying the flag at the front of the local parade. These men aren’t quite so old any more. Sadly we have a new generation of foreign war veterans; every bit as somber and injured; twenty-somethings with young families. Men and women are again bound together by common hardships, just like those that preceded them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stop Being So Damn Crabby

Why are tourists so rude? They always appear to be in a bad mood. I spent yesterday morning in the CNN Center, a major tourist mecca for Atlanta, and in the afternoon I flew up to Connecticut. The result was that I was surrounded by tourists for the entire day. They never seem to be having fun.

I watched parents yelling at their kids, air travelers becoming aggressive with gate agents, husbands being short with their partners. I thought traveling to new places was supposed to be fun and relaxing. It seems to me that it’s the exact opposite for many people. So why do they do it?

Tips for better travel:
  • Just flow along with your surroundings, don’t try to manage everything. It causes stress.
  • Expect nothing.
  • Be patient and empathetic.
  • Understand that, more often than not, the other person is really trying to please you.
  • Manage your paranoia.
  • The customer is not always right. I've been wrong more often than not.
  • English may not be their first language. Try going to their country and ordering a double espresso with skim milk in Pashto.
  • Don't take things personally.
  • Speak softly, and smile at everyone.
  • Be nice. You're talking to someone's mother, child, sister. How would you feel?
  • Observe, listen, smell, feel. Be quiet.
  • You are not the center of the universe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fitness While On The Road

Years of being a runner and triathlete have left my muscles extremely tight. I think that I’m probably the most un-flexible person on the planet right now. To remedy this I’ve decided to start practicing yoga as part of my daily routine. I am, however, a ‘yoga idiot’ right now, and am struggling to learn enough through classes, books, and DVDs so that I can at least begin a practice during this next trip to the Middle East. I think that it'll also be a good adjunct to my zazen as well.

I’ve always found it hard to workout while traveling, as I think most people have. Baghdad is just not one of those places where you can walk out the door and go for a ten-mile run, although dodging gunfire would make for some interesting interval training. Yoga will allow me to work on my flexibility and strength, and daily sessions on the treadmill will go far to maintain some cardiovascular fitness. Swimming and biking will have to wait until I get home again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Perfect Incense

After much searching I’ve found, what I think, is the perfect incense, Nipon Kodo-Hinoki Cypress. A box of 120 sticks can be had at Chopa Imports for $7.50. A box of this has become a permanent fixture in my suitcase.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Isolating Subjects

I went to Atlanta’s Renaissance Festival this morning with the thought that it would be a great opportunity to take some photos. My problem became that it was too much of an opportunity; there was so much going on around me that I wasn’t able to identify and isolate single subjects amid the flurry of colors, characters and oddities.

I suppose a veteran photographer is able to parse through all of these inputs and quickly capture one subject after another. I’m not there yet.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Law of Averages

I went to the Atlanta Zoo this morning with my three-year-old son. As it’s been two days since I've pressed a shutter release so I was excited to finally take some pictures.

Here’s how it broke down. I ended up taking 107 shots over 90 minutes. I thought this was a good number given that I had one eye in the viewfinder and the other on my son. Sometimes the two lined up, other times, not.

I imported all 107 into Aperture and began to stack and rate them. Out of the bunch, I ended up picking 12 of them for cropping and editing.

From the 12, I uploaded one to my Flickr account, and none made it up to the Flickr’s Utata group. I have pretty high standards for what I put up there.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Off To The Ball

We attended the “Digital Ball” last night here in Atlanta; a fund raising event to provide technology and like services to local none profit organizations. It turned out to be an astounding production; complete with it’s own circus! Lot’s of fun.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Coming home is always the best. Landing at the airport, Immigration, collecting bags, Customs; none of it ever happens fast enough. That moment of seeing my wife or son for the first time in six weeks. I notice all of the little changes; the smallest details. My son has new words and expressions. My wife bought new sunglasses. Everything is a discovery amide the haze of jet lag. It's always magical coming home.