The Stafford World Report, August 2010

Special to ReadJack.com

The Stafford World Report, Aug. ’10 edition

By Sven Stafford

World correspondent Sven Stafford has lived and worked in Germany and Kazakhstan, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Central America, and South America. This fall he begins work in Kyrgyzstan. The Stafford World Report will be syndicated every month at readjack.com.

Sven Stafford, world correspondent, in Cairo

The American University of Central Asia, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has employed me to direct projects so top secret that I do not even know what they are.  My report date is August 16th, and my next report to you, inshallah, will be two weeks later.

It has been a year and a half since I last wrote, during which time I have traveled to Russia and Ecuador, and completed a masters degree in public administration from a school far superior to whichever one they have in Ann Arbor with that pathetic football team.

I am currently on my way to the Kyrgyz Republic, a journey that will take six weeks and go through Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.

In honor of the nomads who lived in yurts (tents), and who populated much of Central Asia, the first issue of “The Daily Yurt” is dedicated to travel and movement.

These letters from abroad have always helped me stay connected with the people that I care about, and stay grounded in the work that I am doing. Thank you for the encouragement and support you have given me to keep writing. It is something that I love.

Please Enjoy Yurting…

ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

Students on their way to class at Al Quds University (photo by Rina Castelnuovo, for The New York Times)

I have wanted to visit Israel ever since I got turned down for the Birthright trip.  I figured that since I attended at least 5 Bar/Bat Mitzvahs growing up that I should qualify.  However, thanks to Bernie Madoff and the fact that I am not Jewish, I had to find another way.

Luckily, Syracuse recently started a three week counter-terrorism course in collaboration with Herzilya IDC.  In addition, we also spent three days at Al-Quds University in Palestine.

To state the obvious, Israel takes its security seriously.  Their shoot first policy derives from equal parts paranoia and prior experience.  One example of this policy is surely the current flotilla debacle, but the most interesting was provided to us during the second week of the class.

We were escorted to the security fence that encompasses the West Bank by a former advisor to Ariel Sharon.  He was present when the wall was being designed in 2002.  When asked about the process of designing the wall and where it would go our guide simply remarked, “It was just Sharon and his pen.”

Only 3% of the security fence is cement. The other 97% is neighborly chain fence, with razor wire.

The Al-Quds University is located on the other side of the security fence. Al-Quds is the Palestinian word for Jerusalem, which is cut almost in half by an 8 m cement wall (only 3% of the wall is actually cement, the other 97% is chain fencing).

During our time there we spoke with the chief negotiator and central committee members of Fatah. Everyone we met had fought at some time in their lives, and everyone we met looked tired from it.

There was disdain for foreign leaders who took advantage of their struggle with Israel to promote their own politics.  There was also little hope that the current Israeli government would negotiate a peace.

Although the two sides seem to agree on much and little at the same time, we had excellent hosts in both countries and were granted unprecedented access to current and former decision makers. Both countries are worthy of a visit.

There was one thing on which both sides agreed. The current agreement to suspend the building of settlements ends in September, and both sides agreed that the coming fall would bring more violence.

JORDAN AND EGYPT

According to world traveler Sven Stafford, Jordan and Egypt are both picture perfect.

The last two legs of my journey to Kyrgyzstan were for pure curiosity. The first thing I found out was that it is probably better to be curious in this part of the world in winter.

We started in Jordan with some snorkeling in the Red Sea, led by a local guide with no teeth but great lungs.  We then spent the next week touring between Petra and Wadi Rum.

Petra is famous because of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Although the structures there were not originally constructed for the movie (they had another life as an ancient trading hub for Nabataeans, ca. 400 BCE), the people who built them had a flare for the dramatic reveal.

Wadi Rum is famous because of T.E. Lawrence. It has desert landscapes that are nice by day, but better by night when they are lit by the moon and look like another planet. Here we were able to eat chicken that was cooked buried in the sand, and sleep out under the stars in a Bedouin camp.

From Aqaba we took a ferry to Egypt, where we spent our first hours trying to guess the ATM sequence that would get us the requisite money for the visa to enter the country.  We then made our way to Dahab, from where we would make our way to Sinai.

To climb Sinai you start your journey at 11 pm the night before. You drive two hours to the base, climb for four hours to the top, and watch the sunrise with the other 1000 people who made the trip with you. Only after you get back to the bottom can you see the burning bush, which is no longer on fire.

We arrived in Cairo next. Cairo comes alive a night, with people flooding the streets and every shop open. There are 18 million people here, and it feels like it. The city spreads without boundaries for miles in every direction, only taking pause to ensure tourists an unobstructed picture of the pyramids.

After visiting the mummy collection at the Egyptian Museum, we traveled south to see where they came from. We arrived first to Aswan, a gateway to Abu Simbel, where Ramses II built one of his many temples.

Luxor and the Valley of the Kings was next. We got to see King Tut (small guy), and graves with impeccably preserved wall paintings. We were also introduced in our hotel to the Foxmovies channel, which played Picture Perfect, featuring Jennifer Anniston, at least three times in the two days we were there.  Each time she finds love at the end. It is magic, like Egypt.

WHITE SOX HAT DIED OF BUS-LEAVING, AGED 6.

Goodbye White Sox hat -- hello Mt. Sinai. (photo by Stephen Whitehorne)

The last known photo of my hat was taken on top of Mt. Sinai just after sunrise. It is altogether appropriate that this should be, since at the same time the ten commandments were being passed down to Moses, White Sox fans in Chicago were perfecting the Polish sausage with sauerkraut.

The hat was first purchased in 2004 from one of the friendly vendors at beautiful U.S. Cellular Field, on the corner of 35th and Shields in Chicago, Illinois.

Although it would spend much of its first year of life in Europe, it successfully repealed socialist influences and embraced winning. Indeed, in its first full season of White Sox baseball the team won 99 games. It went to Game Two of the World Series that year, and in combination with a green Sox shirt and blue shorts, spurred Scott Podsednik to hit a game winning home run and the Sox to a World Series victory.

Many hats would stop there, but this one continued to pursue victory in the many corners of the world.  It and its owner proudly took on the White Sox Man’s burden, trying to convince others that “Sox” does not automatically mean Red Sox.

It served its owner well, and although it will be replaced by a shinier and potentially cooler White Sox hat, its service will never be forgotten.

Unfortunately, just like Moses, the hat will not get to see this promise land.  Its destiny remains in Egypt, where it will wander in the desert forevermore, cheering the White Sox on every step of the way.

Stay tuned for another Stafford World Report next month.

Check out more of Stephen Whitehorne’s work at whitehornephotography.co.uk

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One Reply to “The Stafford World Report, August 2010”

  1. I just re-read “The Daily Yurt” aka “The Stafford World Report”. Upon second reading, it still remains as one of the great travelogs of all time, comparing favorably with Alexis de Tocqueville’s Travels in America and Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Sven stands as a giant among travel-writing greats Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson and David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads. I can’t wait for the next installment.

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