A Thousand And One Arabian Tales — What’s The Saudis’ Khashoggi Story Today?

What do Scheherazade and the Saudi government have in common? Both are really good at telling tales to keep the listener on the edge of his seat thus prolonging the narrator’s life be it physical or political. Scheherazade, according to the title of her stories’ collection, One Thousand And One Nights, came up with 1,001 tales. The Saudis have not concocted that number of tales yet about the current Khashoggi drama, but the ones they have disseminated have been pretty entertaining.

In case you have been living under a rock, or perhaps a magic lamp, the media is abuzz about “Where’s Jamal?” Apparently no one cares about poor Waldo anymore. Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist who went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to obtained needed documentation for his upcoming (fourth) marriage. His fiancée awaited her beloved’s return in a car outside the consulate, but he never came back.

The first story which emerged from the Saudis was that Jamal was alive and well–somewhere. They didn’t know where he was because, conveniently, security cameras had filmed him leaving the building. OK, so Jamal gets the paperwork for his marriage and then leaves the building blowing off his betrothed waiting outside for him. I’m not buying that story. Bingo! The man caught on camera was impersonating Khashoggi.

Come on Saudis! Use some imagination. If I were going to explain Jamal’s disappearance in this manner, I might suggest that one of Jamal’s three ex-wives, upset that he was marrying yet again, accosted him outside the consulate and swept him off to “discuss” the situation. Yeah, that sounds good–or not.

The fiancée wasn’t buying any story about Jamal having emerged from the building. He hadn’t gone out, so the Turks decided to go in. Why? Somehow the Turkish government had allegedly gained possession of a recording indicating that Jamal had been tortured and murdered inside the consulate. The torture was rumored to have involved fingers and a head being severed. OUCH! In the Saudis’ defense, they could still truthfully say that Jamal left the building. They just didn’t tell the whole story. If the torture scenario was true, his lifeless body parts were removed from the building.

We interrupt these Saudi stories to bring you an explanation. What did Jamal do that warranted his death? Although Jamal was a Saudi, he was living in exile as a U.S. resident. In fact, he had been working in this country as a columnist for the Washington Post since September 2017. And what did he write about? To no one’s surprise, he was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government in general and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, age 33, in particular. Dead men tell no tales, so killing Khashoggi would shut him up for good.

Except that this strategy failed miserably. Khashoggi’s story became high profile with his disappearance, and with it the criticism he had leveled. In addition it gave a pretty good indication that the regime he was criticizing was ruthless.

The next tale which was spun was that Khashoggi died during a brawl inside the consulate. The Saudis explained that what really happened was that Jamal had been immediately seized inside the consulate by 15 (as in 10 + 5) Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets (not magic carpets) just hours before to “confront” him. It takes FIFTEEN operatives to confront ONE journalist? Wow! The pen must really be mightier than the sword after all.  But, when the fifteen ganged up on the one, the one died. OOPS! That wasn’t the intent (or so the Saudis said). Just a quick aside. I’m selling swampland in Florida if anyone is interested in a great deal.

But wait! That’s not really what happened. What really, really happened, the Saudis now say, is that Khashoggi died as the result of a chokehold. That crack team of special operatives doesn’t seem so special after all. Don’t they read the American papers and know that bad things happened when cops used chokeholds on people? Guess not.

So far these three explanations have been floated by the Saudis, but they all appear to be sinking in the sea of validity. Hey, but at least they are keeping us entertained and giving One Thousand And One Nights a run for its money. Instead of Sinbad The Sailor, we have Jamal The Journalist. Jamal’s wonderful lamp is not rubbed to produce a genie; he sheds light on the shortcomings of his country’s government and gets rubbed out. Ali Baba may have had forty thieves but the Crown Prince has fifteen rogue operatives to steal Khashoggi’s life..

Knowing more about Khashoggi, the main character in these stories, lends even more intrigue to the setting. Khashoggi is not just any Khashoggi; he is a member of THE Khashoggi family which includes Adnan Khashoggi, a high profile Saudi arms dealer who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Uh, oh. Is it such a good idea to take out the relative of an arms dealers? Moreover, Khashoggi is a cousin of Dodi Fayed, the man Diana, Princess of Wales was seeing when they were both killed in a car crash in Paris.

While we may not reach 1,001 tales from the Saudis about what happened to Khashoggi, the situation is a cliffhanger which holds our attention. Just like Scheherazade’s king, we want more–info, stories, details. A genie can’t be put back in the magic lamp, and Khashoggi can’t be brought back to life. But Khashoggi’s death has catapulted the journalist into being the main character for 1,001 news stories. Perhaps recounting what we do know to be the truth, i.e., he met his demise for speaking his mind, will remind us to cherish the freedom of speech which we Americans enjoy.

JUST WONDER-ing: Have you been paying attention to this story in the news? Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a country where expressing your opinion about the government might be a death sentence? Is freedom of expression important to you?








For The Beauty Of The Earth

The Danube River sparkled and flowed beneath the bridge on which I stood in Budapest, Hungary. The view was stunning. It took my breath away to lay eyes on the inspiration for Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” The pictures I snapped with my cell phone simply couldn’t do the scene justice. I marveled at the gorgeous creation with which God has gifted us.

My awe soon turned to conviction. Is Budapest, Hungary the only location where I can recognize and revel in the beauty of God’s earth? The entirety of our planet was created by God, so certainly there are glorious scenes everywhere. Except that I don’t always take the time to stop, look, and appreciate them.

The well-known Christian hymn “For The Beauty Of The Earth” sprung to mind. It was written by Englishman Folliott S. Pierpoint who was inspired by the beauty of the country around him to pen it. Pierpoint did not have to travel 5,000 miles away from his home like I did to get to Budapest to experience the beauty of God’s creation. No, all he had to do is look “over and around” him right where he was.

Apparently prepositions are the culprit for us ignoring God’s world which is right in our own backyard. Instead of looking “over and around” like Pierpoint did, we are too busy looking AT what we want, ON the goals we have set, and AHEAD to what we desire. Who has time to look OVER and AROUND us at what God has placed there? Raising my hand in shame.

I am blessed to live on Florida’s Emerald Coast–yes, the one just slammed by Hurricane Michael. The Emerald Coast is the Florida coastal area on the Gulf of Mexico stretching for about one hundred miles from Pensacola to Panama City. The name is taken from the colorful waters in the Gulf which are often a dazzling shade of my favorite color, green. Not only is the water color breathtaking, but the sand on the beaches is heavenly. The Emerald Coast has some of the purest white sand in the state. The crystals in this sand are almost pure quartz providing soft, fluffy sand. So white is this beach sand that a friend of mine’s two year old niece who had never seen sand before called it “hot snow.”

Tourists flock to the Emerald Coast. They travel from great distances at sometimes great expense to get a brief glimpse of what I have available to me on a daily basis. I live in the town of Valparaiso, whose name means “vale of paradise” in Spanish. So do I oooh and aaah like the tourists on a daily basis at the local beauty around me? Sadly, no.

Now that I have recognized my failure to observe and appreciate God’s handiwork around me, what am I going to do about it? Cue those prepositions. I will make a conscious effort to regularly look UP, DOWN, and all AROUND me to see His wondrous creation.

Singing the words to “For The Beauty Of The Earth” will provide a road map for me to achieve a better awareness of my surroundings. The first stanza of the hymn mentions the beauty of the earth. I can look DOWN to see flowers, sea oats, grass, etc. I can look OUT to see the local bodies of water which reflect clouds and light.

The beauty of the skies is also mentioned in the opening stanza of the hymn. I can look ABOVE to see puffy clouds (sometimes in cool shapes such as a bunny) and blue skies during the day. The second stanza of “For The Beauty Of The Earth” mentions the “sun and moon and stars of light.” I can look UP to view twinkling stars and a luminous moon at night.

Intentional looking is my game plan. But when will I do this? The hymn also provides a suggestion as to the regularity of my looking. The lyrics mention the beauty “of each hour.” OK, I am sleeping during a few hours of the day, so I am not taking the idea literally to see beauty each and every hour–although it is a beautiful thing to see the inside of my eyelids for several hours each night. The point is not that we have to look for something on an hourly basis. The idea is conveyed that we need to constantly be aware of our surroundings, recognize who made them, and be appreciative of that beautiful handiwork.

I may never stand on a bridge over the gorgeous Danube River again. But I can still experience breathtaking beauty provided courtesy of my Creator on a regular basis. The beauty of His creation is all around me; I just need to open my eyes and look around right where I am. Won’t you do the same?

Just WONDER-ing: Do you make a conscious effort to look for beauty in the setting where you are? Do you think you would see more beauty if you intentionally looked for it? What’s something beautiful in creation that you have noticed today?




Gastronomic Geography

Geography was never that exciting a subject to me. I mean, isn’t it all about studying maps and learning about the earth’s surface? Yawn. As a political science major in college, I thought taking political geography might be interesting. Double yawn. But there is one type of geography which I can get passionate about–gastronomic geography.

Never heard of that subject? Neither had I. As a matter of fact, I just made the phrase up after my recent trip to Budapest, Hungary. There’s much to be said for learning about a country based on taste. Yup. That’s an approach that you can really sink your teeth into–literally and figuratively.

As a first time visitor to Hungary, I noticed that the country has some things which remind me of home. To no one’s surprise, the most apparent reminder  was a food establishment. I mean, is there anywhere in the world that McDonald’s isn’t located? Lest you think that a meal at the golden arches in a foreign land is the same as one back in the good old USA, let me set you straight.

Apparently the current and heavily advertised specialty sandwich at McDonald’s in Hungary is the Goosey Gustave. Sure it’s a hamburger, but it is not the type of hamburger Americans eat. The sandwich does not come with special sauce, but it does have some special ingredients–two juicy slices of grilled foie gras. For those who are fine dining challenged, you should be aware that foie gras is fat goose liver. Hungary is the largest exporter of goose liver in the world, so it should come as no surprise that they use foie gras in their food. But in a fast food hamburger??? SMH.

The first floor of the Central Market Hall in Budapest is a produce shopper’s paradise. A quick walk through this vast shopping venue leaves no doubt that paprika reigns supreme in Hungary. Strings of the peppers hang everywhere, decorating the market area like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Bags of paprika of various varieties (hot, sweet, smoked, etc.) are artfully packaged in red, green and white bags (the colors of the Hungarian flag) to attract a shopper’s eyes and hopefully his money.

Not only is Hungary a major supplier of commonly-used paprika, but that spice is also the signature spice of Hungarian cuisine. My taste buds were tickled by the use of paprika in goulash soup and chicken paprikash which I consumed while in the Hungarian capital. Paprika is also an ingredient in Liptauer, a Hungarian cheese spread which I made prior to leaving on my trip. So pervasive is this red spice in Hungarian cooking that I am apt to believe that the red in the Hungarian flag stands for paprika rather than for blood shed for the country.

When tourists in Hungary aren’t saying cheese taking a gazillion selfies, they are often sampling Hungarian cheese. Probably the most popular cheese in Hungary is Trappista, a traditional Hungarian semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is heavenly, and not just because it is made by Trappist monks.  Hungarians use turo, or cheese curd, to make cheesecake. Good thing the Turks were booted from the country after 150 years of occupation; they used to collect taxes partially in cheese. After trying both the Trappista  and cheese curd cheesecake, I would gladly hand over currency in lieu of Hungarian cheese. But we can’t be too hard on the Turks since they brought paprika to Hungary.

The Turks controlled central Hungary for about 150 years. Their influence can clearly be seen on the country’s eating habits. Budapest is teeming with Turkish eateries including the pervasive Doner Kebab Express. In fact, the first lunch I ate in Budapest was at a Turkish restaurant. Nothing says Hungary like a gyro. Or is that hungry? Pork is also common in Hungarian dishes thanks to the Turks. During their raids, the Turks carted off domestic animals such as cows and sheep but observed a hands off policy for pigs; pigs were left behind because the Turks’ religion forbid the eating of pork. Hungarian food clued me into the impact of the Turks in Hungary; that impact was a bit surprising to me since Turkey does not border Hungary.

Sadly, my trip to Hungary had to come to an end. But I was not sad that I had the opportunity to sample the beloved street pastry kurtoskalacs on my last day in Budapest. The sweet treat, known as a spit cake or a chimney cake, is cooked on a spit over an open fire. The sugar coating attracts bees, and the cooking cake’s aroma attracts customers. The spiral cylinder (which resembles a chimney, hence the name chimney cake) can be filled with ice cream or other treats to enhance the sweet experience. I chose chocolate ice cream as my filling. I figured if the Hungarian pastry wasn’t my cup of tea, I’d still enjoy the ice cream. Yum! Double jackpot!!

All this food sampling paid educational dividends, although it probably added to my waistline as well. I’ve learned that Hungary is a big exporter of paprika and goose liver, that the Hungarians love cheese (albeit different cheese than Americans use), that there is a Turkish influence on Hungarian cuisine despite Turkey not bordering Hungary, and that both Americans and Hungarians love sweet treats, especially if ice cream can be added.

I am a firm believer that gastronomic geography is the way to go. Why I can feed my brain and my belly at the same time. Forget the maps to study geography. Just pass me a menu!

Just WONDER-ing: Do you enjoy sampling the food of another country when you travel? Does the culinary experience teach you anything about the country you are visiting? Do you remember meals in a foreign country more than facts about that country?