Written by Kristina before and during
April 2003 trip to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Dear friends and family,
We arrived in Cairo very early Tuesday
morning,(two days ago). I was a bit concerned before
we arrived about anti-America sentiment but this as I
might have suspected was totally unfounded. These
people, like all Arabs in this part of the world, are
so welcoming it is embarrassing by American standards.
Cameron and I were talking about why some
Americans feel threatened, especially single women,
when they travel here. I suppose a single American
women may feel threatened when a man offers to show
her the way to her hotel, walks a few blocks with her,
gets in the elevator with her and takes her to the
lobby on the 4th floor. But this is just standard
courtesy, as happened to us the other night. Arabs
are just a little too friendly by American
standards--It takes some getting used to.
It takes some getting used to, but relaxing into
this scene is really quite a beautiful experience.
There are those who hassle you to buy things, but you
soon learn to say a firm la shukran, "no thank you"
and they leave you alone. These people try to get you
to buy things but they are honest, there is no reason
to be afraid of them.
I bought a dress in a little shop in the Egyptian
Market the other night. This is a complex of narrow
alley ways with no cars, lots of dust, scrawny cats,
tons of people and Merchandise all made within a few
blocks of the place. We asked how to get to Mohammed
Ali Street where the Ouds (musical instruments that
Cameron plays} are made. The shop keeper tells us it
is very far but he will take us the short cut and off
we go. Along the way his "cousin" sees us and joins
us. As we walk the shop keeper tells me that here in
these dark alleys, "it is always safe at one or two or
three in the morning it is safe, always safe." Twenty
minutes later we emerge out of the maze of ally ways
and arrive at the music shop where we all sit down and
are served cokes and tea. The rest of the evening we
chat, Cameron tries different ouds and I sing. I can
tell by their eyes that they thought I sung very
well---I know my Arabic pronunciation isn't perfect
but the music shop keeper says I sing from my heart. I
The war of course is on everyone minds. But again
here as in Jordan they say "American people good, you
are welcome here. People everywhere good, governments
bad." Bush is very unpopular here. We have talked of
the war with everyone we have met, and that is quite a
few maybe fifty people (remember Arabs are very
friendly.) Mohammed the accountant who lives part time
in Frankfurt say he cries at night thinking of the
Iraqi children, he has tears in his eyes as he speaks
to us. The Arabs do not understand, no one here feels
that the US is liberating Iraq. We do however have an
Iraqi friend in the US who feels the war is justified.
I've yet to meet anyone here or in Jordan (Iraqis and
others) who feels that way.
This is all for now. Love to you all from the Middle
East. If you are not on Cameron's e-mail list and
wish to be, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to
be put on his list....Love and Light, Kristina
We arrived back in Amman last night, and are
staying at our favorite hotel, Al-Saraya. The owner gave us both a
big hug when he saw us. They remember our music and
are very welcoming. Late at night after we arrived
Cameron got out his oud and we had another party. All
the hotel staff was there dancing and singing along.
Cameron accompanied a couple of men who sang
beautiful mawals (vocal improvisations traditional in
this part of the world). One of the staff members
passed out tissues to dry the eyes. He was making a
joke about how tear-jerking the mawals were... We
laughed and cried at the same time. Someone ordered a
mass quantity of food and we all ate together at about
It is a confusing time, Iraq is in a state of
chaos. We are close here to Iraq. We hear
conflicting report of what is happening, what is the
truth? It seems that there are many truths. This
hotel is where many of the human shields who have gone
into Iraq are staying. Some people are on their way
to there tomorrow, some have just arrived back here. One
group who went into Iraq a couple of days ago told us
the devastation is immense. It is difficult to travel
into Iraq now: the cost now for the nine hour ride to
Baghdad is around $2,000 US dollars. There are no gas
stations open along the way so fuel must be carried.
And it is still a dangerous journey.
The one thousand Journalists who have been in
Amman during the bombing have all gone to Baghdad.
One young U.K. lad luckily is catching a free ride
with a Journalist tomorrow. People who have been in
Iraq are passing out Iraqi Dinars, now worthless.
The young British man who was shot in Gaza
recently was here staying at this hotel a couple of
weeks ago. The hotel owner tells us "Tom was a good
guy. We played chess. Tom was trying his best to make
the world a better place."
Many of these people have very strong ideas. They felt
their presence in Baghdad would deter American bombs,
but I think they were lucky to make it through.
Several Arabs we have spoken with have expressed
concern that America would not stop with Iraq. That
soon they would attack Syria or Iran or somewhere.
They do not trust Bush and call him a
terrorist. And they see the U.S. government as wanting
to control the world.
Now of course the thing to do is to get as much
humanitarian aid as possible into the Iraqi cities.
The people need food and water and electricity. So no
matter if you were for or against the war now we must
work together to bring life back to normal for the
Iraqi people. After all this destruction, people must receive the help
they need. I hope that convoys of food and medicines are on their
way from America into Iraq now.
Our Iraq friends here are concerned for their family
and friends who are still in Baghdad. They do not know
yet if they are safe. There are no telephones. There
is no way yet to know. More soon...Love & Light,
The stories coming out of Iraq from the people who
were there are hard to listen to. All the people
who were human shields saw many, many civilian
casualties. We all know war is horrible, there is no
question about that. I had so hoped this one would be
Last night we were invited to a concert. The
daughter of a local politician sang songs of Fairuz (a
famous Lebanese singer) and some older traditional
songs. She sang very well. The people who attended
were clearly from the upper class. None of the women
attending this concert wore head scarves. That seems
to be more common with women in the lower classes who
tend to be more conservative.
I met a women who was a fashion designer in Jordan
and who now is a broker handling franchises for a
large American restaurant chain. She is a single mom
and had lived in California for ten years so her
English was very good. She talk about how Americans
were fooled by the media, she speaks on the phone
frequently with her friends in America and compares
what they are getting on the news to what she hears
from the Arabic TV and news media. Very different
stories she says.
For those of you interested in looking at world
events from the perspective of different countries.
Try www.commondreams.org. Scroll down to "Newspapers"
in the left hand column and click on "World Desk" This
will take you to a list of the worlds newspapers many
of which are written in English.
Seems as if it is time for us all to realize
Arab, Jew, American, European, Asian, we are all one
people. It is time to listen to our own hearts for
guidance. And to speak our truth as we know it
Salaam wa alaykum
April 20, 2003
Baghdad is burning. We drove into the city
Friday, April 18th. Many tall buildings were burning.
poured out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building
which was several stories high. Several other
government buildings were also in flames. As we drove
we saw looters carrying away their booty. All the
more affluent stores had been looted: banks, whatever.
The city is in chaos. The air is filled with smoke.
As we drive our taxi driver curses the looters calling
them "Ali Baba," the famous thief. We turn to go down
one street to our hotel but there is a huge traffic
jam due to a demonstration which, we find out later,
was many many Iraqis protesting the American Military
presence in Iraq.
Our taxi driver points to our hotel. It, and
several other hotels and buildings, lie behind a
military blockade. The street is crowded and it is
difficult for our driver to find a place to park. He
finally finds a spot and we carry our luggage a few
blocks; we are searched as we cross through the check
point and land in the hotel seething with journalists.
Next door is the Palestine hotel: the one where,
a week previously, Journalists were killed in a blast.
It is hard to see the damage from the outside. There is
only a small hole where the bomb entered. It exploded
We are told there is only one room left in our
hotel Al Fonar. We take it. It would be too crazy to
go looking for another room, although it is more than
we wish to spend: Fifty US dollars. The price was
raised as soon as the Journalists showed up. (The
owner later lowered the price to $35 after he found
out what we were doing in Baghdad.)
Our room has no electricity. There is a
generator at the hotel, but that is used for lights
and satelite TV in the lobby. One light bulb lights
each hallway in the seven story building. In the
rooms you are on your own. We use our flashlights in
the bathroom as there are no windows for light. Later
in the evening we are glad we brought candles. I am
happy there is water.
We take our valuables with us and leave the
clothing and food in the room as we venture out on the
street. Cameron brings his oud (traditional Arabic
stringed instrument). Just outside the military check
point, some street vendors point to his instrument and
ask him to play. So he does. A crowd of Arab men
gather around and smiles break out. Everyone sings
along. These people are not shy about using their
voices; they sing freely. Twenty feet away is a US
tank with alert soldiers guns at hand.
The crowd is happy. One man insists on playing
the oud which he does, then hands it back to Cameron.
Everyone wants to be in the pictures I am taking. In
Egypt I passed the camera to others to take pictures.
I knew even if I lost sight of it that it would come
back, which it did. Here I guard it a bit closer. After
seeing all the looting I am not so sure.
Doing these street performances is not easy.
Dozens crowd closely around us. They ask all kinds of
questions. Where from? America. Welcome. One man
wishes to emigrate to the United States. "Will it be
good for me there?" he asks.
I reply, "maybe yes, maybe no." I think of the many
Arab friends we have in the
states and how life has changed for them since 9/11.
Some have been detained, some discriminated against
in other ways. Others have had few problems. He seems
a little disapointed from my response.
It is a bit exhausting to be the center of such
attention. These are very friendly people. We play
and sing for awhile and then feel it is time to move
on down the street to another location. A few of the
men follow us and want to talk. We ask them how they
are feeling. We tell them our hearts are with the
One man tells us: "The US has caused all of this
destruction. We do not want US occupation, the US,"
he says, "must fix the destruction and then leave! We
wish to govern ourselves."
I walk a bit further down the road and another man approaches me. He says that the
first man who spoke to us is a "bad man." He says,
"Bush and Blair good. USA good. Sadam was a very bad man
it is good the US has liberated us."
I have come here with the intention of looking
beyond the concepts of good and evil or right and
wrong. These are all people; they have all suffered in
some way. Many were imprisoned or have had family
members killed by the former Iraqi regime. They have
all suffered during the bombing. Many suffered from
the effects of the sanctions. One man told me his
child is very sick, but he cannot take him to the
hospital because the hospital has been destroyed.
In Amman we spoke with some of the Human Shields
who had just returned from Baghdad. All of them saw
civilians dead on the streets or being piled in the
backs of trucks and carted away. What is clear is
that these Iraqi people have suffered beyond what most
Americans can understand.
Many of the US soldiers, too, have suffered. I
look at these young men. They all look like they could be
my sons. They are so young! Tears come to my eyes when
I think of how their young lives have been rudely awakened. Many of
them are trying very hard to be good to the Iraqi
people and to do their jobs right. Some of them are
tainted and see the Iraqis as less than human. A few
of them, we are told, have killed civilians for target
I don't think this will come as a surprise to
those who have experienced war first hand. The
Vietnam vet, whom we met upon our arrival in Amman,
said he saw it in Vietnam, and now he has seen it in
Baghdad. War is war. Atrocities are committed on both
What do we do now? What can we do? Cameron and
I have our own little way. We play popular Arabic
songs with these people. They have never seen
Americans like us. They are overjoyed that we know
their music. I feel that at least we are showing
these people that there are some Americans who appreciate
them and their culture. We get very enthusiastic
responses. For a while we all forget the pain and
suffering and immerse ourselves in the power of song.
There is a power in this. The power of spirits joining
together in friendship, of moving beyond the idea of
separation. Singing together joins hearts and minds
and spirits. I feel blessed that I can share this
immediate connection with these people.
Another place on the street Cameron again is asked
to play his oud. The man who stopped him plays oud
himself and after hearing us, excitedly invites us to
his home. If we had more time we would have gone, but
we exchange phone numbers and give him our e-mail
address. Insha'allah (god willing), we will meet