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If advertising pitches are anything to go by, winding up in a foreign hospital appears to be a recurrent nightmare among Americans traveling overseas. My own first encounter with non-American medical care only reinforced this. Visiting a fellow teenager at a London hospital in 1980 I arrived in something that resembled a 30's style cancer ward in a Hollywood movie. It seemed rather severe for a guy with a broken leg.
Now this is something extraordinary, on several levels.
As I write this I am sitting in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport looking out on a rainy morning far removed from the clear skies and still-warm days in Amman. In addition to a dozen or so KLM planes my window seat offers a view of four Northwest Airlines jets and one apiece from Singapore, Hong Kong, Hungary and Turkey.
Like most Americans of my generation I got the general impression growing up that 'terrorist' was an adjective most commonly used to modify 'Palestinian'. Visiting Jordan for the first time, in 1985, I flattered myself that I was doing something dangerous and exotic (I was wrong). Like a lot of Americans of my acquaintance I only really began to learn better once I moved over here.
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.
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