02-19-2017  7:58 pm      •     

Amidst the monstrously large suitcases there was an air of excitement and great expectation among the international travelers. The hotel lobby was large and grand. Eager to get to my room, I anxiously watched while one of the elevators quickly filled, and then quickly stepped into the next one that arrived.

There we were, alone, on the elevator together. He was an older, distinguished and handsome gentleman, dressed in a beautifully tailored suit and white shirt that required no tie to formalize his business attire. Suddenly sharing the confined space, I greeted him and asked where he was from. Smiling, he said "Iraq. Where are you from?" he asked. I said, "The United States." We stared at each other. And then we simultaneously relaxed and smiled as we read each other's thoughts. The elevator door opened on the fourth floor. He turned left, I went right.

Thus began my 10-day visit to the beautiful country of Jordan. We were in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, the ancient capital city where less than two years later, explosives would rip three hotel lobbies and the hearts of millions of people who had lived in or visited this oasis of peace.

It was February of 2004 and the United States was engaged in the war in Iraq. I traveled to Jordan with a group of pastors and journalists from cities throughout the United States. At that time I was an on-air host of my daily show on Soul Beat Television, based in Oakland, Calif.

Although I knew no one in the group, we all became friends as we witnessed the shock and awe of Jordan. It is a magnificent and dramatic country brimming with historic sites and treasures that were generously shared with travelers who came from all points of the world.

Our master tour organizer was Arthur Murphy who, in his professional life, is a consultant to politicians in the Baltimore region. Murphy's personal mission is to introduce people to the beauty and historic wonders of Jordan through his series of tours he has led there for more than 10 years. He has become an ancient historian with great knowledge of the people, geography, religions, language, architecture, traditions, art and historic monuments that abound in this tiny country. Murphy's passion for Jordan is powerful. His grief in the aftermath of the recent bombings in Amman runs deep.

We all felt comfortably safe as we traveled through Jordan, a tiny country of 4.7 million people.

One day I wandered away from our group when we were in Jerash, surrounded by ancient and stately pillars, white rocks and willowy trees. I had seen two men kneeling in prayer at the sound of the midday amplified signal, heard also at sunrise and sunset every day throughout the country. I walked the short distance to the field where they were standing in their flowing garments and softly turbaned head dresses. Maybe I felt safe because their smiles and gestures reminded me of my uncles in New Orleans. One of them was able to speak a few words in English. I remember how gentle these men were. They told me a little bit about the area and offered me a leaf from one of the nearby trees as a gesture of peace and goodwill.

Jordan is bordered by Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These countries share borders with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and Turkey. Jordan's history took root in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. It is a country whose rulers were Greeks and Romans and where enslaved people brilliantly built the time and gravity-defying monuments that still stand in testament to their toil and skills. Muslims, Christians and Jews have been constant co-habitants in this little country. King Abdullah, his wife and his mother are protectors of their country. They are revered by their people, whose trust they have nourished and cherished.

Last week when the escalating war exploded in three hotel lobbies in Amman, it was a jolt because Jordan was a delicate beacon of peaceful co-existence in that region. As people throughout the world instantly recognized that a new phase of "the war" had begun, they simultaneously rejected the first major war of the 21st century, which had seemingly been waged to divide and conquer.

Thus united, the international peace movement has begun.

Mona Lombard is a publicist. She is also a real estate and mortgage loan agent with Trans-Continental Mortgage Corp. in Oakland, Calif. E-mail comments to: mlombard@tcmfinance.com.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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