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A bit belatedly, perhaps, I have become a great fan of instant messaging. From the safety of Amman I find it is the best possible tool for keeping an eye on Iraq.
This afternoon my friend and former colleague Abdel Salam popped online with the sort of grim greeting to which I have become accustomed:
"Situation is too bad regarding security. Baghdad turns totally dangerous day by day. Yesterday at night there were attacks on two churches in Al-Durra."
Outside of Israel and (perversely) Iran there may have been some positive reaction to President Bush's reelection, but I have not run across it yet. One of my daughter's friends has changed his instant messenger screen name to "Crap! I can't believe they reelected him!" Another Jordanian friend sent me a text message declaring this a "dark day for humanity", adding that she is considering moving to Mars.
Yesterday evening my time, as Americans went to the polls, news broke of the death of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahayan, the Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates. Jordan immediately declared a National Day of Mourning, closing all government offices and schools (returning a gesture Sheikh Zayed made when Jordan's King Hussein died in 1999).
Last week in London everyone, and I really do mean everyone, asked me if I'd voted. I don't just mean my friends, I'm including taxi drivers, the woman next to me at the theater, the old colleague I bumped into at the airport and the new acquaintances at a dinner party. It seemed that for Brits hearing an American accent it was the first question to surface, usually accompanied by a remark like 'and I hope you ticked the right box,' there being utterly no doubt about which one that would be.
Planning this visit to London I emailed a friend from my time in Iraq, a British civil servant, suggesting we see "Stuff Happens". David Hare's new play takes its title from Donald Rumsfeld's infamous reaction to the looting of Baghdad. It is routinely selling out the 1100-seat Olivier, the largest of the three halls that make up Britain's National Theater complex.
"I'm mid-boycott of things like Stuff Happens", my friend replied, adding a few words about how annoying cultural assessments of Iraq can be. I understand this.
Marc sat in the lobby of Amman's Grand Hyatt hotel drinking coffee and discussing Iraq's elections, planned for sometime in January. A Canadian with wire glasses and a quiet, businesslike manner he wore a gray polo shirt with a blue UN logo stitched over the heart, a souvenir of an earlier assignment.