Who’s your Baghdadi now? Iraq

Day 1,688 since October 10th 2013: 147 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

Some countries are harder to leave than others

pano

 
Can you imagine the pressure of wanting to write a good blog about Iraq? Especially when you know that all isn’t well however the people deserve better? Well, here we go...
 
It all began when I reached Jordan. I had been working on getting the Saudi visa for months and it wasn’t looking much better from Amman. Saudi Arabia is a massive country and in a flightless project it blocks the access to a great number of countries. I had a look at the map and wondered if I could bypass Saudi Arabia by heading north through Iraq and reaching Kuwait on the other side? Would I even dare to try? When had I ever heard anything good about Iraq? I’m 39 years old and Iraq has had a hard time throughout my entire life. But it wasn’t always so... The Danish Honorary Consul in Jordan wanted to help me with my Saudi visa. As it turned out they have a really good relationship with the Iraqi Ambassador who happens to be a woman. So as the Saudi progress was slow the Danish Honorary Consulate suggested that they would assist with the Iraqi visa. 
 
iraqvisa
My Iraqi visa.
 
The Iraqi visa is known to be both complicated and time consuming to get. The northern part of Iraq is relatively safe to visit and that is where most world travelers go. Basra in the south, near Kuwait, is likewise deemed safe to visit. As for certain other areas it is more complicated. I turned up at the Iraqi embassy with a recommendation from the Honorary Consul and was invited inside. They requested my passport and told me to come back later. It just happened to be the same day as I had to visit the police station and have my Jordanian visa extended so I requested if I could return with my passport later? The response was simply: “just wait 10 minutes...we will give you the visa right now”. And $40 USD and a half hour later I was back on the street with an Iraqi visa in my passport. Now what? Well...I was still hoping to get my Saudi visa, reach Kuwait and enter Iraq from there. So I waited a bit longer in Jordan while I networked, researched and prepared. I happen to have a friend who is well informed on the regional security situation and as such I have received lots of accurate and good information. The Ramadan approached and the forecast of receiving the Saudi visa didn’t look any brighter - I began to look towards crossing Iraq. It certainly seemed a lot easier than returning to Aqaba in an attempt to sail all the way around the Arabian Peninsula. I found out that JETT bus operates between Amman and Baghdad leaving on Sunday mornings at 07:00 am. I went to the office on a Thursday and discovered that the bus leaves every Friday during the Ramadan! Not Sunday. So suddenly I had to make a decision if I wanted to travel to Iraq the following day or postpone my departure another eight days? I bought the ticket and made my preparations. There were a few more things I wanted to do in Jordan but now I was out of time. I wanted to make a video in which I would challenge myself to spot 10 hybrid or fully electrical cars in 60 seconds or less. I think I could have done it. There are so many of them in Jordan. I also wanted to make a video portraying how all the shops are on street level in downtown Amman while most restaurants and cafés are on the level above. It was something which confused me when I first arrived as I couldn’t find a single café to begin with. Only when I learned to look up I saw that they where everywhere.
 
tarek
My last night with Tarek who turns out to be a great chef!
 
That Friday I got up early. I had already packed the night before and on my last evening at the hostel I had a delicious home cooked meal with Tarek from the reception. The ticket read 06:15am but I figured that it was a precaution and that I could show up a little later. The taxi reached the JETT bus terminal at 06:30 and I casually walked towards the counter. The woman behind the counter looked at me and said: “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? THE BUS ALREADY LEFT!” As it turned out the bus didn’t leave at 07:00am as I was told on the phone. Due to the Ramadan it left at 06:15am as it said on the ticket!! Aaaarrggghh....another week in Jordan?!? Nope!! Because I persuaded the lady to call the bus and see how far they had gone? Then I jumped into a taxi and raced ahead like a bat out of hell. We caught up with the bus which was large enough to have 60 seats. It was parked on the side of the road waiting for me. As if I don’t draw enough attention to myself just not looking Arab. Inside the bus there were about seven passengers and all was forgiven as soon as I said Salaam Alaikum (peace be upon you). Besides, I think they were somewhat surprised to see a non Arab on the bus to Baghdad.
 
bus
 
Apparently I may be the first “outsider” to take that route in a very long time. Everyone flies. Several people have told me that. Our route in Iraq would take us through an area which had been liberated less than six months ago. The bus route had only started to operate again within the past two months. Was I nervous? Not really. At least I was calm on the outside but I must admit that my stomach was acting up ever since I bought the ticket. That could however also have been as a result of eating an egg that morning which I didn’t quite trust? Anyway, the bus continued out of Amman and into the desert. I saw a large well organized tent camp on the right side of the road. Most definitely a refugee camp. Meanwhile on the left side of the road we passed a large billboard advertising for visiting Petra. The contrast of having a refugee camp on one side of the road and a billboard promoting tourism on the other side kind of sums up Jordan quite well. Further into the desert I observed a few fighter aircrafts racing across the blue sky. Once in a while we would pass green highway signs reading out the distance to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Then we reached the border. It took a while to check me out of Jordan. For my personal safety the immigration officer had to have it cleared with his superior officer. However after a few handshakes and the 10 JD ($14) exit fee, I was stamped out and permitted to climb back onboard the bus. Then we drove across some no mans land until we reached the Iraqi border. I also had to deal with immigration there. The other passengers had it easy and it seemed like they had done it many times before. Some even knew the immigration officers. It took substantially more time to process my entry as they were clearly perplexed about my presence. However everyone was outmost polite. After about 20 minutes a colonel came to see the non Arab traveling by bus to Baghdad. We chatted for a while as he wanted to know what my purpose was? Sometimes it’s good to say that you’re traveling to every country without flying, while sometimes it isn’t. You just kind of need to know when and when not. I decided to say nothing more than that I was a tourist. I confirmed that I wasn’t a journalist and when asked again why I wanted to visit Iraq I replied: “I want to see something else then the agenda from the news. I want to see Iraqis taking selfies, updating Instagram, watching Game of Thrones and playing football”. The colonel finally gave me the green lights to proceed. Then he asked if I wanted to stay for dinner but the bus driver, who had now arrived to see my progress with immigration, backed me in saying that I needed to get back on the bus.
 
car imp
Cars at the border being imported to Iraq.
 
road
 
As we rolled into Iraq I observed a dog sleeping in the shade and two workers assembling an arch across the road. Inside Iraq it was more desert. Every once in a while a small building would appear which could have been a small shop or similar. Those buildings were either brand new or severely damaged. Often I would see burnt out, rusty vehicles on the roadside which had been looted for anything worth keeping. There where plenty of checkpoints but for the most part we didn’t need to stop the bus. I had been told that I might see many different flags but I only ever saw Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi police and Iraqi flags. As the sun began to set I observed a few destroyed tanks and other armored vehicles on the roadside. Then we reached Ramadi near Habbaniyah Lake. Never have I ever seen such destruction on a town! Had it been a dog then you would have put it down. Had it been a car then you would have bought a new one. But this was the home of thousands and the only way forward must be to rebuild. However I cannot phantom how long that would possibly take?!? The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York took place in 2001. I visited New York in 2004 and they were STILL cleaning up the debris. The construction of the new tower hadn’t even begun!! With that in mind - how much time is Iraq looking at to recover? I’ve been told over and over again that Iraq was amazing in the 60s and 70s. The recent decades have been rough on the country. Will it rise again? As the sun set the lights came on. To my amazement the heavily damaged urban landscape was dotted with light all over. I could see that the roads had been cleared and that vehicles were parked in front of those buildings which were still inhabited. Human resilience is a superpower of its own.
 
destroyed
You may not see the destruction in this photo. But you'll recognize that powerlines are not suposed to hang like that.
 
The bus passed through Al-Falluja and eventually reached Abu Graib, where we had to stop for inspection. A strong bold man came almost straight for me and began to question me. “I am Captain Hussein” he said. He was polite and spoke English well. However he had a hard time believing my purpose was tourism? “There is nothing here! No culture. No civilization. Why are you here? This is a bad idea!!” he said. I argued my case as well as possible and then he interrupted me to suggest that I could stay in Iraq and that he could go to Denmark :) The bus finally continued and a few hours later we reached Baghdad. At the terminal I was greeted by Ali. Ali is a contact I got through Karin who’s been following the Saga for a while. Ali works for the Danish Refugee Council and we had been communicating on WhatsApp prior to my departure from Jordan. Max is another follower who hooked me up with Adham, also in Baghdad. But Adham and I never got to meet. In fact a lot of people had reached out to me and connected me with friends, colleagues, family etc. I love the network we have built through Once Upon A Saga. Well, there I was at the bus terminal. Ali had a big smile on his face and wanted to help me carry my bags. We found a taxi and headed straight for his motel where he had arranged for my accommodation. Ali ensured me that it was safe and that it was the reason why he had picked it for himself. He’s such a cool guy and quickly became a good friend. There are just some people in this world which possess a certain karma. Ali is simply one of them.
 
Ali
 
The next day we headed out to take a look at Baghdad. Baghdad has a “green zone” in which you’ll find most officials, diplomats, expats etc. As such many expats are restricted to remain within the zone. Ironically I couldn’t get inside the “green zone” as I didn’t have any business there or an invitation. So I spent my entire time outside of the zone. And it was fine. There might have been some danger in one form of the other but I definitely didn’t spot it? I’d argue that I have been to much more intimidating cities than Baghdad? In fact everyone I met was kind, polite and showed an enormous amount of respect for me. It was a general theme throughout my entire visit to Iraq: they simply wanted the best for me. Some cities boast statues of generals. Others have politicians. Baghdad had a a great deal of art from Arabic fairytales throughout the city: 1001 nights, Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 thieves...it was magical! A great deal of Baghdad’s statues were created by Mohammad Ghani Hikmat and I must say I really like his work. The famous Tigris river runs through Baghdad and Ali and I went for a boat ride. Apparently the Vikings made it as far as Baghdad long ago. Onboard the small wooden boat I made a video to demonstrate the scavenger feature on my new LifeSaver water bottle. As a part of the video I drink from the Tigris. The boatman was astonished and we all had a big laugh when Ali and I discovered that he thought I was some strange pilgrim who had traveled far, thinking that the water was holy :)
 
1001 night
 
aladdin
 
baghdad bridge
 
birds
 
What does the name “Iraq” make you think of? I bet it doesn’t make you think of poetry and literature - but it should!! Because although a few decades have ruined Iraq’s good name it once was an intellectual capital. In many cases school books in the neighboring countries used to come from Iraq. In fact Iraq is often credited as the birthplace of civilization some 12,000 years ago. I find that if you are scared by a foreign word then it sometimes helps to learn its meaning. Much like the name for the militant jihadist fundamentalist group in East Africa known as “Al Shabaab”. “Al Shabaab” used to sound so terrifying to me until I learned that it is Arabic and means: “the youth”. Not drawing any parallels to Iraq...I simply want to say that Iraq means ‘deeply rooted, well watered or fertile’. Doesn’t that make Iraq sound like a nice place? A country which name literally means fertile! And Iraq is a very fertile country depending on where you go. Iraq also lays claim to being home of the worlds first writing system. Lebanon also claims that and Syria is another “cradle of civilization”. Generally I think we can just thank most of the Levant for laying down the foundation for our current civilization. 
 
blind deaf
Al-Mutanabbi: "I am the one whose literature can be seen by even the blind and whose words are heard by the deaf" I like this guy! :) He is hailed as the "father of Arab philosophy". He was born in Basra and died in Baghdad around 1200 years ago.
 
 
book street
Al-Mutanabbi street has long been famous for its literature and book stores.
 
police
The one who thought of this is a genius!!! They are all over Iraq and the policemen are helpful and friendly.
 
It’s interesting when you think about it. We didn’t really start farming until about 12,000 years ago. Before then we hunted animals and gathered fruits, vegetables, berries etc. So one theory is that there wasn’t really anything to protect before we began farming because everything was kind on a day to day basis. Once we began farming we also stored our crops at which point it became lucrative for some people to raid the storages. Then you obviously needed a defense. Walls came up, soldiering became a profession and city states were formed. Now that not everyone needed to hunt and gather for survival, some could specialize in other trades. You also needed to know your accumulated wealth so counting and writing became important. A city state would take over another one, and another one and finally you’d have a kingdom. Soon empires would form. I hope you can follow the logic of how farming changed the world? Well, Iraq is home to several indigenous and astonishing empires such as the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian. In more recent times, during the Islamic Golden Age, Baghdad served as the center of learning and was also the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages. All that and more has been reduced to a 24 hour news cycle craving more and more terrifying and horrific images to feed its audience. Do you ever wonder why you hardly ever hear about Iraq in the news anymore? Perhaps that is the clearest sign that things are slowly getting better?
 
saddam mosque
This unbelievably large mosque in Baghdad was commissioned by Saddam Hussein. Now the project has been abandoned and no one will go near it.  
 
manneqin
 
museum
Iraq is an archaeologists dream with nearly unlimited artifacts to be discovered from the past 12,000 years. 
 
All is however not well. It never really is and I have yet to come across a country which doesn’t have any problems. Ali joined me as I visited the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) which came into existence back in 1932. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that those who work under hard conditions become exceptionally good at what they do. As such both staffers and volunteers within the IRCS have much to be proud of as they have been toe to toe with recent violent conflicts and continue to serve the most vulnerable people in society. Fortunately the amount of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Iraq have dropped dramatically as many have been able to return home. However as per the images I described from Ramadi, not everyone has something to return to. It’s when I shake hands with such humanitarians as I did in Baghdad, that I feel very proud of representing the movement.
 
cafe
 
brightlight
 
Life is truly moving on in Iraq for many. It may be like walking in water but culture, music and art is quickly returning. Ali invited me to join him at a cool café/restaurant where various collections were on display to show Iraq’s past but also to inspire others. As such a signed copy of George R.R. Martins “a song of ice and fire” was on display. Game of Thrones is just as much a hit in Iraq as anywhere else. Ali had his own version of the sitcoms popular catchphrase as he said: “Summer is Coming”. Indeed it is. Temperatures in Baghdad had reached 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) and Ali noted that it was nice still to be able to have a relatively cold shower before all water turns warm. Ali said something else which I really think captures Iraq: “we are here - we are living”. Yes! This truly remarkable country is on its knees. However it may rise again! We live in a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to remember last weeks news. One presidents tweet is overshadowed by the next and I doubt most people know how prosperous Iraq was just 40-50 years ago. A fertile land just needs the right seeds...
 
train1
 
train2
Ihab in blue and Zeyad in green.
 
After a few nights in Baghdad I boarded the train to Basra. I hardly had the chance to pay for anything due to the hospitality of Ali. He even insisted on paying for my motel room.  Onboard the train I found my cabin and met Ihab and Zeyad. The three of us would share a four bed cabin for the overnight journey to Basra. Ihab works as a planner in relation to the oil wells. Zeyad is a newly educated pharmacist who was being stationed in Basra for a while. We got along well. Neither Zeyad nor I were fasting but out of respect you try not to drink or eat in front of anyone who is. Ihab was fasting. Once the sun had set Ihab invited me to share his Iftar meal with me. His wife had been cooking. It was a modern train which was no more than three years old. Apparently the line had continued to operate throughout some of the most recent wars: Iran-Iraqi War (1980-88), Gulf War (1990-91), Iraq War (2003-11), Iraqi Civil War (2014-). That’s sort of my point here. Life continues no matter the conditions. And I’ve heard it over and over again throughout conflicted countries: “we are tired”. And I fully understand why. In spite of what most think there are fewer wars on the planet today than ever before. Armed conflicts are however plentiful. An armed conflict is far from as destructive as a war. I’m not belittling an armed conflict. You however need to realize that in a war an entire countries resources can and will be utilized. In an armed conflict there are many limitations to resources and the amount of casualties are much lower. It also means that you can live a full life in a country with armed conflict without being heavily affected. However your government will definitely be affected and in the long run that affects you too. Tired is an understatement.
 
train3
 
The train reached Basra at 04:40am and Ali had arranged for his friend Alaa to pick me up and take care of me. During the Ramadan many people stay up all night anyway and get that last meal before the sun rises. Alaa is another great guy. He introduced me to Mr Hayder and we went straight to his house in Safwan (not far from Basra). I’ve never seen an oil well before but Basra is surrounded by them! An enormous gas flare burns off the excess gas at each site and makes for an impressive sight as if a part of the sky was on fire. It’s followed by a long black cloud and I can’t imagine it’s great for the environment. There must be thousands of them surrounding Basra.
 
oilrig
You can't get much closer to the oil fields than this without an invitation.
 
At Mr Hayder’s home we entered the guest lounge. It’s a common feature for many Arabic homes and consists of a room with carpets and pillows along its side. Mr Hayder’s lounge also had a flatscreen tv and a huge air conditioner. That room became my home for the next few days. We had breakfast and then Alaa, Mr Hayder and I all went to sleep until early afternoon. We were waiting for the heat to drop as temperatures in and around Basra were at 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit).
 
hayderhome
At Mr. Hayder's home I never needed to ask for anything. First class hospitality 24/7.
 
food
 
family
My Iraqi family: in the middle: Alaa. to the far right: Mr Hayder. In the back: Doaa :)
 
oldmosque
The Old Mosque of Basra is among the oldest mosques in the history of Islam and was founded around 635 CE. The white mosque behind it was built under Saddam Hussein.
 
bridge
The bridge across Shatt al Arab.
 
mall
Basra Time Square.
 
nowshowing
And of course the Iraqi get the same block busters as the rest of the world.
 
In the afternoon we went sightseeing in Basra and were joined by Doaa. The four of us saw the remnants of the first mosque built outside of the Arabic peninsula, we saw Sports City, Basra Time Square Mall, the Shatt Al Arab river and the new bridge which hangs above it. Basra is Iraq’s financial capital and rightfully so with plenty of oil, lots of farmland and a river, which connects to the Persian Gulf. I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Alaa, Mr Hayder and Doaa. In the evening they brought me to a sort of mosque where they wanted me to meet with the Imam and ask him questions. I didn’t really know that until we arrived. Because of the language barrier, as I lack proficient Arabic, we sometimes misunderstood each other. As such, a google translated message read: meet clergyman for interview. It was a Shia Muslim event and some guy who spoke English well came to great me and talked a lot about how Islam is being harmed by extremists such as Daesh (ISIL). Then he brought me inside the building which wasn’t quite a mosque. It was more like a center for learning. Inside the lights had been turned down and red lights were filling up the room. Perhaps a hundred men were seated on the floor...weeping? The man brought me across the room and all the way in front of all of them! “Take pictures. It’s okay. You can take pictures!” I replied that it was okay and I wasn’t going to take any pictures. He then said: “I can take pictures of you and send to you!” 
 
imam
Trying to speak with the Imam.
 
After the weeping, the lights were turned back on. I later learned that they were weeping for Imam Husayn ibn Ali who was martyred on October 10th 680. He was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Then I was introduced to the Imam and told to ask him a question. I didn’t have a question so thinking on my feet I asked to hear about Basra’s significance in the role of Islam? It turned out the Imam wasn’t very strong in English and we just ended up eating sweets and drinking tea.
 
maersk
Captain Munthir to the left and Mostafa on the right. That's the entire Maersk team in Iraq :)
 
wine
Captain Munthir has a great sense of humor. He built up suspense by talking about a special Spanish red wine. Then he served me juice from a fancy bottle. It was produced in Spain though :)
 
The following day I was picked up by Captain Munthir of Maersk in Iraq. We spent the day together and spoke about the ins and outs of more things than I can remember. He’s a great guy and around lunchtime he ordered me a full meal which I enjoyed in his office. It never seizes to amaze me how Iraqis arrange for meals for me while they fast. Can you imagine being hungry yet cooking a meal for someone? Or being weak and tired while providing a meal for someone? Indeed the Ramadan teaches discipline. Towards the evening Captain Munthir dropped me off at Mr Hayder’s home. 
 
RC1
 
RC2
Doaa in action.
 
RC3
Alaa in action.
 
Later that night I was invited to join a first aid demonstration at a nearby mosque. Alaa, Mr Hayden and Doaa are all IRCS staff and together the four of us headed off into the night. We picked up a few other guys on the way. It’s funny when you know people in a certain way and then get to see them in a different role. Doaa kind of seemed goofy to me but he was brilliant and authoritarian when he demonstrated first aid. Alaa had everyone’s attention while he did his bit. Mr Hayden was observing from behind. We can only imagine what these men have seen and experienced over the years.
 
doaa
Doaa and his cute little daughter :)
 
We ended that night at a café with nargila (water pipe) and tea. It was my last night in Iraq. After we left the café and returned to Mr Hayder’s home it was time to say goodbye and it all got a little emotional. I packed my bags and watched ‘Gladiator’ with Mr Hayder’s sons. Then I spent my final night on the floor.
 
tyreplant
Creative usage of old tires. I haven't seen this since Nicaragua in 2014.
 
The next day Mr Hayder drove me to the border and we said farewell. I walked across the dusty border and into Kuwait. I think I might have been cursed by an angry taxi driver on my arrival to Kuwait? But that’s another story. Iraq stole another piece of my heart and if it continues like this then it will one day be shattered all over the world. Some countries are certainly harder to leave than others...
 
ferreswheel
 

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - why am I so tired!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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Mildly depressed, Ramadan and moving on

Day 1,681 since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

Let’s get out of here!

oval plaza 2

I’m pretty sure that this will be a short blog.

So, I think I’m flirting with depression again. I know it must be hard for you to grasp as you most likely only see the top of the iceberg in regards to this project. Isn’t that just a pretty fair description of social media in general? With social media you are in control of what others they see. So obviously you shouldn’t believe it all. Just as these are my words: from me to you. Let’s set the record straight: I’m not depressed and I have never been depressed. What is depression anyway? I once heard a talk by Andrew Solomon in which he referred to that the depressed know how pathetic their situation is. They know it’s ridiculous not being able to muster the motivation to get dressed, have a shower or eat. And knowing that while still feeling horrible probably doesn’t help the situation. I figure that being depressed is feeling bad while not being motivated to do anything at all.

face

I can still find the energy to smile on occasion. I still get dressed and eat. I skipped a few showers but not to the degree where I would smell bad. I had a few days where I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything else than sleep and watch YouTube videos. I do not know how many videoes I have seen but it is an embarrassing amount in a short amount of time. And for the most part those videos weren’t educational. I couldn’t do anything more regarding the Saudi visa than what I had already done. I was just locked into a waiting position. For each day which passed I got to think: “well, there went another one”. I haven’t made many Jordanian friends. I’ve made a few but they have been busy with family and work. I made a few friends at the hostel where I’ve been staying but as you can imagine, they often leave after a day or two. 

faces

I really like Jordan. Jordan is certainly a friendly and outmost interesting country to visit. However lately I’ve been thinking that it’s a fairly slow country as well. I believe that it’s a country which looses many opportunities and doesn’t fulfill its potential. You may remember that I was invited to appear on the “Caravan Show” some time ago. My appearance was cancelled during the last minute as the producer informed me that there was still much interest and that she would get back to me. She never did. I also met with a powerful businesswoman who wanted me to come and speak at a forum. That has also never happened. The list goes on in regards to broken promises and lost opportunities. And yet you’ll find several progressive initiatives across Jordan such as low taxes on hybrid and electric vehicles. There are plans to refill the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea. The countryside is full of wind turbines generating electricity. Jordan enjoys peace from one side of the country to the other. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just full... I cannot see any real progress regarding the Saudi visa which is directly linked to me staying in Jordan. There is some progress regarding the visa, however I can continue to manage it online from anywhere in the world. So really...what’s keeping me in Jordan?

stairs 2

I met Eva from Seattle (USA) at my hostel. She’s a really nice person and she made the initial contact. I was halfway asleep one morning while eating my breakfast and drinking my tea. There were plenty of free tables where she could have sat down. But Eva aimed straight for my table, sat down and started to talk. She’s actually really enjoyable company. After breakfast Eva headed out to explore Amman on her own. We spoke again during the evening. The next day she wanted to go to Jerash which is a Greco-Roman site about an hour north of Amman. I had been thinking about going for a long time but I couldn’t motivate myself and also had to much work in Amman. So Eva and I teamed up and had a nice day together. I regret not having the chance to say farewell to her. She was heading to the airport that night and had called a taxi to take her. I was on skype with my fiancée and when I came down to the reception I was told that Eva had left five minutes before. So Eva, if you’re reading this I just want to say thank you and safe onwards traveling :)

oval above

theater

lifesaver

Eva helped make this video. See the video by clicking HERE or by clicking directly on the photo.

The Ramadan has finally kicked off. They were unsure if it would begin last Wednesday or Thursday. “It depends on the moon” is what people would say. Being pro science I would certainly think it would be possible to calculate the moons position for the next million years if that’s what we wanted to do? So I looked it up online and it’s perhaps more related to tradition than rooted in science. The moon may scientifically be at the right position but it doesn’t count if it’s not observable. There could be clouds blocking the visual confirmation or other things hindering it. The Ramadan began yesterday and it will run for a month. It’s a month of fasting between sunrise and sunset. No eating, drinking, smoking, brushing teeth, chewing gum or otherwise taking anything into the body during daylight hours. There are exceptions of course. If you’re a child, a pregnant woman or if you’re sick then the fasting does not apply to you. I rather like the idea of the Ramadan and I’d like to try to follow it some day. There is a social aspect of being in “the same boat” together. I’m hungry, he’s hungry, she’s hungry, they’re hungry... Everyone is closely observing at the time, counting down until it’s time to quench the thirst and fill the tummy. Some also argue that it has health benefits while others argue against it. One of the main arguments against the health benefits is that some people tend to overcompensate during the nighttime.

stairs

See the video by clicking HERE or by clicking directly on the photo.

Amman has been getting ready for it for a while. Side streets have been covered by large pieces of fabric or tarpaulin for shade while tables and chairs have appeared beneath. Decorations in the form of electric lights have been put up in the streets. And more than anything else it’s also the time when all my Muslim friends send me “Ramadan Karim” or “Ramadan Mubarak” messages on WhatsApp and Facebook :)

keep calm

Right, that’s all folks. I’ve bought myself a ticket and I left this morning. Can you work out where I’m taking you next?

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - farewell Jordan!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

Once Upon A Saga

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Joss Stone, stone dead, dead sure / Jordan

Day 1,674 since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.

Work, work, work, work - repeat

pano

I actually just looked up the definition of work and found this: 'activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result...' It can be defined in other ways as well.

“Hi there, are you still here?” That was what the hotel manager jokingly said to me yesterday here in Amman. And yes I am. Iraq will have it’s elections on May 12th, so I wouldn’t visit until after the elections are over. The elections in Iraq will then soon be followed by the Ramadan which is a beautiful thing although it won’t speed up the Saga. And before I forget: congratulations Lebanon on your recent historical elections! Saudi Arabia (KSA) remains a closed door to me. I have no idea what is going on on the other side of that door? Maybe someone is approaching the door and it will open any minute? I simply don’t know and it bugs me not being in control. However I do know that I am receiving a lot of help from the Kawar Group and from Maersk Line. Mr Kawar of the Kawar Group is a formidable businessman who has been appointed to act as Honorary Consul of Denmark on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Mr Kawar’s office has been very accommodating towards me and are trying to liaison with the Danish embassy in Riyadh, KSA. Through that we hope that the Danish embassy might contact the MOFA of KSA and request that they make an exception on my behalf regarding applying for a visa in Jordan. I made this short video for you which explains my current situation in the Middle East:

videostatus

See the video by clicking HERE or directly on the photo.

Maersk is likewise helpful as they have been so often before. In fact I have a solid network of people I can draw on which seemingly can pick the lock on any door that blocks my way. Tell me exactly which obstacle we haven’t overcome so far? ;) It has been a long road to get the Saga this far and I feel the weight upon me. However the simplest way I can explain it for you is like this: nobody reaches 145 countries by accident. And certainly not without flying. As such I feel a mental tiredness which manifests as a physical fatigue as well. It’s generally just hard to stay motivated. The Saudi Red Crescent reached out to hear if there was anything they could do to assist? There possibly is a way they can help, however I always try to leave the Red Cross Red Crescent as a last resort for unlocking doors. The movement has enough on its plate as you might have noticed in the news, and I do not wish for the Saga to draw on the movements resources. A friend from the Danish Travelers Club (DBK) reached out to me not long ago. His name is Henrik and he’s an avid biker through Africa whenever he gets the chance. Henrik and I met in Saõ Tomé towards the end of 2015 and have stayed in touch ever since. When I reached Khartoum (in Sudan) towards the end of 2016, he wrote me a message saying that I absolutely shouldn’t miss out on Joss Stone’s performance, which happened to be in town while I was there. With my head full of problems back then, I couldn’t have cared less about a British performer and I didn’t go. Luckily I got a second chance here in Amman. Henrik wrote me again and told me to go. I was weighing the idea back and forth for a while and finally decided it would be good to clear my mind.

vote

I had a vote on Twitter and those people appered to know what they wanted for me :)

As a bonus the concert would be held at the 1,800 year old Roman Odeon next to the equally old Roman Amphitheater. Amman is stocked with history and over the years I have grown more and more fond of it. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. That’s a famous quote from the well known Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard. Today I certainly wish I was more fond of history when it was a subject in school. Alas, Kirkegaard was right. I had already been to 54 countries before we had the idea for the Saga (the Saga however began at zero). Traveling extensively with your eyes open will teach you much no matter who you are. As an example I have firmly planted my feet amidst many Roman ruins around the world and at some point I began to connect the dots.

joss stone

See the video by clicking HERE or by clicking directly on the photo.

Joss Stone did a great job. She is a charming performer and interacts a lot with the audience. We couldn’t have been much more than 400 people in the Odeon which made it a lot more personal than filling up a stadium. She’s young and beautiful. She made several references to smoking weed and delivered a night to remember as she danced around barefooted. I couldn’t help to analyze on her performance. She obviously has a lot more experience than I do however with my limited experience of having delivered 59 Saga presentations at schools, events and companies, I recognized some of her “tricks”. I too perform and react to my audience. Sometimes I feel a bit like a broken record when I respond in exactly the same way to a situation in Amman as I did in Algiers, Lisbon or Genoa. Joss had a few ideas which she played on the audience. At one point she wanted us to stand up and dance with her while she assured us that she “couldn’t dance to save her own life”. Nonsense! She’s a remarkable dancer and she knows it. She loves music and her body follows the rhythm. She also wanted us to hum along to the chorus of a song. Joss encouraged the shy ones by saying “the best thing about humming is that nobody can see you doing it”. I wonder how many times she has uttered exactly those lines?

romantheater

This is the Roman Theather in Amman which was constructed durring the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE). The Odeon is just next to it. 

She is currently doing something very unique with her “Total World Tour”. She aims to perform in every country in the world and she is well on her way to reaching that goal. I wonder what it must be like to visit every country when money is no object? Joss likely has a team, which arranged for visas and tickets. I reached out in order to meet her and boost her profile, boost the Saga and perhaps also boost the Red Cross if she was willing? You could argue that she doesn’t need my help to boost her own profile. Her social media accounts are astronomical compared to mine. Unfortunately I never heard back from her or her team and she was already performing in Doha (Qatar) the next day. A friend of mine once gave me a dvd with Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor as they ventured once around the globe within their project: “the long way round”. That’s a great documentary but likewise they had a team to arrange most things on their behalf. I wish the Saga was easier but I suppose you’d argue that it’s more of an achievement this way.

rain

The rain comes and goes these days...

Like most other people I have my pet peeves and among them are people having a conversation in a doorway, thus blocking my passage. For some odd reason that annoys me so much more than what appears reasonable. I guess it’s the logistics coordinator within me that seeks efficiency. Another pet peeve of mine is slow internet. If I know that a task usually takes less than 30 seconds but I’m spending 30 minutes uploading or downloading something then you don’t want to be anywhere near me. A third and last pet peeve of mine, and the one I’ve been working towards elaborating on, is lost opportunities! Most of the world looses an unfathomable amount of opportunities each day. The Saga being my little baby is my key example. The only tourism ministry which took the opportunity upon itself to use the Saga in order to promote its activities was the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Agency (MTPA). I blog about each country in a positive way and share positive updates on all social media. That should be a no brainer for most tourism ministries to get involved with. Shouldn’t it? Every so often a hotel or a company reaches out to me and offers something against promotion. However most do not seek this opportunity which puzzles me? There are now 38,000 accounts attached to the Sagas social media and they are spread across more than 150 nations. I recently worked out that the three largest audiences of the Sagas blog are USA, Denmark and the UK in that order. Imagine that? More US Americans will read this blog than Danes from my home nation? I can actually make sense of it as Denmark only has 5.8 million Vikings while the USA boasts 330 million revolutionary settlers. So the sheer math makes sense. Also I do all social media in English which could easily also be a factor ;)

nokia

Another month has come and gone.

More than 900 people have now signed up to receive an email notification when the blog is ready. That is no small number. Lately Instagram and twitter have been gaining more followers while Facebook has lost around 20 in the past few weeks. Not much compared to an account of 23k but it’s still the wrong direction. Regarding Facebook it has me wondering? Am I doing something wrong or is it a general mistrust in Facebook due to the companies latest scandal regarding private information? Who knows? Generally I don’t think I’m supposed to give people what they want but rather what I think they need. So you may not agree with me and in modern society we have managed to build up a culture, where we can chose to unfollow the second we don’t agree with someone. I’ve also been busy uploading videos to YouTube lately which has received some good response. I must be doing something right? :)

youtube

These are the most viewed videos on the Saga's YouTube channel.

My sincere apologies for being behind on delivering what you were promised regarding the crowdfunding campaign we ran last year. Some of the things you ordered have been delivered. I have sent postcards to everyone, the Saga tree looks GREAT and the sponsors are all visible on the website along with links to their accounts. So far so good. I’m still working on delivering regarding “a good nights sleep” and “a great meal”. I’ll have something ready for you soon. I haven’t delivered on “your personal Saga photo” which 13 people claimed. I’m trying to work out how I’ll do it? Also the 68 of you who preordered a book will need to stay patient as I won’t start writing until I get home. However I gather that you all knew that? The competition for the LifeSaver water bottle has ended and the winner was HP SUPERTRAMP!! Congratulations! The name hiding behind that is Hayden from Texas in the USA. I didn’t really know how to draw between all the great stories people sent so I turned to google. Apparently you can ask google to chose randomly between numbers so that’s how Hayden won :) The bottle along with the spare parts have reached Denmark and will soon be forwarded to Texas, compliments of DB Schenker in Denmark. Schenker is along with Ross Offshore, Berghaus Norway, Skabertrang, the Danish Red Cross and Red Sand Solutions a partner of Once Upon A Saga. Forward thinking companies and organizations which all deliver various support to the project! ;)

ksa next

I miss my fiancée, my friends and my home country. We’ve got 58 more countries left and I wouldn’t have gotten us this far on my own. I may not have the luxury of Joss or Charlie and Ewan’s projects...but I do have you. Nobody reaches every country completely on their own - and certainly not without flying. Let’s do this!

stairs

Amman: "the city of stairs".

 

Thank you one and all!! Keep calm and Saga on ;)

 

 

Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

 

Thor emblem

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