Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Basking in the sun (still in Istanbul)

After the lunch, and some skype-chatting with my friend Sara in Brussels (it turns out that she is moving to Bremen in the weekend – at least it starts with Br as well ☺), I walked around the corner to the sunny side of the bridge. Here, it was actually pleasantly warm, so I sat down for a beer and to enjoy the view. I like Istanbul.

Now I am back at the airport, waiting for my flight to Mumbai.

Lunch in Istanbul

Great! Despite that my day started with the Israeli airport security turning upside down on my bags, twice, it is now a happy and smiling Marko writing. I just sat down at a water pipe café in Istanbul, with an enchanting view of the Bosporus just outside the window. My Turkish meatballs are on their way, and I have several hours to enjoy this beautiful city before I have to be back at the airport at five for my flight to Bombay (or should I say Mumbai?).

Right now, the echo of the prayer calls spreads over the water while the ferries hurries in all directions. A pale winter sun reflects in the grey water, and in the eyes of the young woman and her boyfriend, smoking a water pipe opposite me.

The restaurant/café, Aruna, is one of many hiding under the bridge that connects the two European sides of Istanbul with each other – one of my favorite spots in the city.
Ah, here comes the food!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Last day before India

As always, the day before traveling, it has been a busy day. Writing for my upcoming travel blog at MSN (I will link it when it goes on air), packing for the trip, contacting customers to sell stories for next year (sold two!) etc etc.

Tonight, I took out Femke for a nice dinner at a Tapas place in West Jerusalem that we never tried before. It was good! (Sol Tapas Bar, 15 Shlomzion).

Tomorrow: Lunch in Istanbul, then India!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Eid milad said!

Yesterday was a slow day, but still a nice day. In the end, we drove to the Israeli Arab village of Abu Gosh to have lunch at the Elvis Diner there. They make incredible milk shakes and good hamburgers, and the interior design is cool – an American 50’s diner full of Elvis memorabilia.

This morning, Anders left for Sweden. It was great to have him here, we both appreciated him coming to see us, and I hope he enjoyed himself too.

In the afternoon, Femke and me went Christmas shopping in the old city. The Arab boy scouts had a Christmas market with all the things you need to make your home Chistmassy. We also found the funny record with the Lebanese classical star Fairuz singing traditional Christmas songs. Think Tannenbaum and jingle bells in Arabic.
Eid milad Said! (Merry Chistmas in Arabic).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Trying to survive in the wake of Ruby's party

Slowly, we are returning to something that resembles life. Ruby´s party yesterday was wild, and great fun. My Swedish-influenced punch worked fine and soon we were dancing.
Today, we are busy recuperating. Maybe we will do a little excursion in the sunny weather, if we can muster enough energy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Schools in northern West Bank

Today, I had another field day, going up north with Mazen, our IFAD man,and Naser. With funding from IFAD (a UN program) Mazen have built schools, added classrooms and built houses for youth clubs and womens associations. He needed photos so he called me. A great day out!

In the evening, Femke, Anders and me had dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jericho and Jerusalem, then partying

We have had some really poor weather here lately, with lots of rain and cold winds. So I drove down to Jericho with anders to warm up a bit. Surprisingly, it was a bit chilly there too. But we had lunch at the top of the cable car, then visited the Hisham's palace ruins.

On the way back to Jerusalem, I stopped to take some photos of bedouins herding their goats over the barren mountains. Beautiful.

Then we popped by the view point on the Mount of Olives and took more photos.

In the evening, we found ourselves doing some serious yet improvised partying, with me mixing caipirinhas and margueritas, and popping the nice sparkling wine we brought home from South Africa. We finished the evening with live music at the Russian jazz bar.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tulkarem, a lost car and Mr Arafat

A long workday is nearing its end. We (Anders joined me) started 07.40 from Jerusalem. In Ramallah, we met up with Naser, ANERA’s agronomist and headed north to Tulkarem. Here, ANERA is supporting farmers with green houses, and help them to produce higher quality vegetables for export. I was there to take photos of the farmers and their new green houses.
In Jerusalem, the sun was shining from a blue sky, but in Tulkarem, heaven opened for the first serious rain this winter. We became muddy but all the farmers smiled happily – water is a scarce and valuable commodity in this part of the world.

Farmer Essam Masarwi tending his tomato plants
in one of the green houses provided by ANERA

The members of the local farmer's cooperative listen
attentively to an expert brought in by our program.
We drank yet another cup of coffee.

Late afternoon, we were back in Ramallah. We parked the car downtown and took a little stroll. Anders plays backgammon just like me, so we stopped at a simple yet nice café for a glass of tea with fresh mint and a few games. Nice!
Backgammon and tea in Ramallah

When we walked back to the car again, it was not there. Blimey! Was it stolen? We were in the middle of Ramallah, it was pouring down, and getting dark. What to do? I spotted a few Palestinian police officers in the vicinity and approached them, explaining that my car gone missing.
“What brand and color?”
“A white Isuzu)”
“Ah. We took it away, you are not allowed to park here”

It turns out that lawless Ramallah turned into something very much less lawless overnight, and the cops were towing away droves of cars from the streets. For years, you just parked where you found some space, but lately, it seems that they have been painting the curb stones red&white or black&white to signal where you can park or not. Big surprise for all of us!

Now, it should be said that I have always found the Palestinian police very reasonable. After explaining my situation and that I am working for an aid organization, that I have parked here for the last year, just like everybody else, that I saw no sign forbidding parking and that there was a lot of cars already parked there (and implicating that I am a somewhat stupid but nonetheless kind and good-hearted foreigner) they arranged a lift to the car disposal place, and wrote me a recommendation letter in Arabic. When we came there, I got a warm feeling inside, seeing our car again. I once again told my story for the three policemen in charge and gave them the letter. Ten minutes later we shook hands and drove away, no fine, just smiles ☺

I have been at Yassir Arafat’s grave inside the president compound (the Muqatta) several times, but then they were still building the mausoleum. Now it is ready and we went there to have a look. It is a surprisingly stylish and impressing setup in white stone and strict minimalistic style. If you are in town anyway, don’t miss it.

The mausoleum in the Muqatta.
Yassir Arafat is the one in the middle.

Back in Jerusalem, we picked up Femke at the office and then had smoked salmon and Swedish gravad lax-sauce for dinner, together with dill-boiled potatoes and some boiled egg.
After that, Femke and me worked with a report for two hours while Anders took a nap in the sofa.
Unfortunately, Femke is still working. We wee planning to go to our local Russian jazz bar for a Czech beer, but I don’t know if we still have the energy for it…

Monday, November 19, 2007

Walking the City

The dome of the Rock today.

The city walls

A Bar Mitzva at the Western Wall

Today, we walked the Old City back and forth, ally up and ally down. We even walked the ramparts. And I did some work in between, visiting the local print shop to order a brochure for ANERA.

In the afternoon we had a beer at the Austrian hospice. Then played backgammon at home and finished it off with a beer and a water pipe at Jerusalem Hotel.

Tomorrow we are going to Jenin and Tulkarem!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lunch in Rosh Pina

Shavit’s Guest House, the B&B we stay in, really has the most amazing breakfast. Fresh avocado, Arabic salad, two kind of cream cheese with zatar, home baked bread, eggs baked in the oven with mushroom and onion. It just goes on and on. Mmm.

After breakfast, Anders and me went up to the virw point where you see the northern part of Lake of Galilee, and if it is a clear day, you see all the way to mount Hermon in the north. We were a bit late (around eleven), so the cute hyraxes (or dassies) were not around. Instead, we went back to the girls, and then drove up to Tsafed for a fika. We had also booked a wine tasting at a small winery in nearby Biryia, but when we arrived there, no-one was home ☹. So we went to Rosh Pina and the lovely restaurant Chocolate, that Anna and Ruby new about.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Paragliding in the Galilees

Camels grazing in the Jordan Valley

Early this morning, my Swedish friend Anders Ohlsson, a.k.a. Bonen, rang my doorbell. He is staying for a week, which is going to be great fun.
We packed the car and drove over the mountains, down to the Jordan valley, and then north all the way to the Golan height. On the way, we saw a big group of camels grazing in the desert.
At the Golan Heights, we enjoyed the view over the Sea of Galilee, then called Ori to see where it was possible to go paragliding. It turned out that the best spot for today was Sharona, a small village south east of Tiberias.

Anders at the view point (and paragliding take off) called
Mevo Hama, on the Southern Golan Heights.

When we came there, the sun was shining, it was maybe 25 degrees warm, and the wind was right. I readied my paraglider and took off for a lovely little flight, quickly soaring more than 100 meters over the starting place. After little more than ten minutes, I went down again and landed next to Anders, so didn’t have to hang around be bored. Anders is a paraglider too, but it was a long time ago since he did a proper flight.
So I borrowed him my equipment and helped him launch. I think he enjoyed it.
You will find more photos from the flying on my web page.

Marko getting ready for launch at Sharona.

Anders flying at Sharona

In the afternoon, we met up with the girls – Femke, Anna, Magdalena and Ruby – and had lunch. Then Anders and me went up the Golans again, this time a bit moiré up north. In the evening, we had a lovely dinner and lots of wine at the B&B.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Finally, the next issue of Hypoxia is ready. For those of you who do not know this magazine, it is the magazine of Sweden’s paragliding association. I happen to be the editor of it, a job that I take very seriously. And that I highly enjoy!
This morning, I sent my third issue to the print shop. It should reach the readers the 7th of December.

It has been long hours for me, finishing the layout of Hypoxia, so the weekend is more welcome than usual. Femke has also been extremely busy, and still is. But this afternoon, she is driving up to our favorite B&B in the Galilee together with three of our friends (Anna, Magdalena and Ruby).
And tomorrow morning, one of my best friends in Sweden, Anders, is arriving for a weeks visit. We will promptly head north to join the girls. On the way, we are planning to do some sightseeing on the Golan Heights, and maybe do some paragliding, weather permitting.
Sunday, we have booked a wine tasting at a smaller vineyard up in the north.
So it does look like we are going to have a great time!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back in Jerusalem again

Ibrahim, three years, benefits from the extension of the
water network to his village in the middle of the Gaza strip.

Hats made out of used Tetra pak milk boxes. ANERA provides fortified milk to 20 000 pre-school children every school day. Then, they recycle the packaging in many ways.

Downtown Gaza City

Phew, back in Jerusalem after a long day. Today, it was calmer in Gaza, which made it possible to take the photos I needed (see above). Actually, I didn’t hear any shooting at all today, but I did leave early, just in case.

Coming back to shamsa shamsa, the Palestinian side of the Eretz border crossing, I found out that the new white container I noticed when entering is a coordination office for the border crossing, run by people loyal to the President Abu Mazen. I must say it makes the crossing feel a lot safer – when you walk over that long stretch of barren no-mans-land, you don’t want the Israeli’s to start shooting just because there is a misunderstanding (which I have seen happen before).

Now – a glass of wine with my loved one!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Desperate men and missing women

I had my dinner on Al Deira Hotel’s lovely seaside terrace, listening to the rhythmic waves and reading Lundagård (a Swedish student newspaper). On the table was my favorite dish here – shrimps in a hot tomato sauce, cooked in a clay pot in the oven. A dakka salad and some mouttabal topped it up. As desert I tried a new tobacco for the nargileh (water pipe).

No less than twice this evening did young men approach me. The first one asked me if he could have a copy of the sunset photo I just took emailed to him (he could). He also wanted my email address (nope, he got it later via the photo mail anyway). The second guy came and introduced himself and sat down by my table while I was finishing my dinner. He wanted to no if I worked for the UN (no) if it is easy to go to the US (no, not for him, I’m afraid) and if I knew Richard, Spiff and a few other internationals he knew (no clue) or his sister/friend, don’t remember which, Nisreen (no, I know one Nisreen but not this one).

They two guys could have been gay, especially the second one. But I don’t think that is the thing. They are just starved on contact with liberal, educated people. And they take any chance they get to try to get a job or a way to get out of here. It is pretty sad when you think about it.
Even more sad is that there was no young women there, unless they came in company with their husband. Gaza is very traditional, and women are not supposed to be out on their own, or come to think about it, do anything on their own.

Calm right now in Gaza City

I just drove through the city center of Gaza City, and right now it is calm here. Lot's of Hamas police on the streets, but I have not heard any shooting for an hour or two. According to local sources, there were seven persons killed earlier today, in conjunction with the mass rallies arranged by Fatah to commemorate Arafat.

Let’s hope it stays quiet. But when talking with local colleagues, they fear that there will be renewed violence tomorrow, when the victims of today are being buried. And the circle goes on and on…

Meanwhile, the sun is slowly setting over the Mediterranean, and the weaves keep pounding the beach outside my hotel room.


Troubles in Gaza City

I am writing this, sitting in ANERA’s office in Gaza City. I crossed over into Gaza this morning without any problem. Driving through the Gaza Strip with taxi driver Yusef, I saw more people than usual on the streets, many of them waving yellow Fatah flags. Today is the memorial day for Yassir Arafat’s death, and therefore Fatah, the party that Arafat was the chairman for, and that the present president Abbas is now chairing, called for the biggest demonstrations in Gaza since Hamas took over.

I ended up in the middle of one of them, still rather small since it was in the morning (see photo).
This is the first time I have seen people, even school children, carrying Fatah flags openly here in Gaza after Hamas took over. I did see Hamas police/soldiers everywhere, but they were passive. At least then.

For the last hour or so, I have been hearing sporadic shootings here in Gaza City. I do not know if this is wedding-style shootings in the air (which is nowadays forbidden here) or if people are shooting at each other. Whatever way, we decided not to go out in the field to take photos, as earlier planned.

Hopefully, things are quieter tomorrow, so that I can do what I came to do.
That is, visiting pre-schools where ANERA provides vitamin-enriched milk and biscuits to all the children, and take photos there. I am also hoping to visit places where ANERA renovated or extended the water and sewage systems, to take photos of people living there and benefiting from this.

Meanwhile, I am discussing our PR work with my Gazan colleague Rania. Which is also interesting and needed.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back in the blogosphere

Finally, I am back in the blogosphere.
After having far to many things to do (I now have four jobs), I found time to move my blog to here. The other blog worked fine, except when I wanted to update it while traveling. That took ages at slow internet cafés. And considering I am traveling all the time, that was not a good solution. So let's try this one instead.
All the old posts in my old blog are still there.

The last few months have been intensive, but great. In September, I went sailing in southern Turkey for a travel story. That was fun!
You will find a bunch of photos at my web page: (click on Turkey in the top menu).

I also went to Sweden to see friends, family and customers, and I ventured to Gaza for the Aid organization I work for, ANERA. BTW, you can find lots of my photos from the aid work here.

In October, Femke and me went to South Africa for a well deserved holiday. Well, holiday for Femke and work for me - I was there for a travel story. We had a fantastic time, thoroughly enjoying the friendly people, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife and the magnificent food and wine.
In South Africa, we celebrated three wonderful years as a couple. I can't believe how many nice things we have done together in that short time.

I am uploading a whole bunch of photos on my web page (choose South Africa).

After close to three weeks, Femke had to go back to Jerusalem to work, but I stayed another week to do a paragliding story. I had some amazing flying, seeing breaching whales from the air and a big troop of baboons running in the mountains. The best flight, without any doubts, was my 66 kilometer long cross country flight at Porterville. I was up for more then four and half hours. Thats what I call a good day at the office!

Directly when I came home, Lucas, an old friend from back home in Malmö, Sweden, came to visit us together with his girlfriend Lotta. They stayed for a week, and I hope they had such a nice time as we had.

Now, it is work work work. There is lots to do at the aid organization - the last week I have been helping Femke designing a flyer/folder for a big program. At the same time, I am producing the Swedish paragliding magazine Hypoxia, where I am the editor. It is great fun, but also takes a lot of time.

Yesterday Femke took my out for dinner to celebrate that I was nominated for the best travel story in Sweden 2007. It was a story about Marrakech and Essaouira in Morocco, published in Allt om Resor, that got nominated (photos here). It is a great motivator to get this kind of feed back.
Magdalena, Susann, Anna and Ruby joined us at Mona's restaurant for a delicious dinner. Then we continued to the cosy bar Barood, and topped it off at a Spanish bar.
Well, that was it for now, but I do hope that I can come back to the blog a lot more frequently now.