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Living in an Imaginary World Without Borders

June 05, 2020

A further illustration of "living on the edge" is imagining that identity papers are not required for international travel to difficult places. Granted, papers are always good if needed and you can obtain them. However, over the years, a general rule has evolved and that is - know the place well and understand the consequences of not having them. The first example of traveling without papers was a quiet boat crossing of the Mekong River into Laos on either side of "the troubles." That particular visit went upside down when Lao Force Army Royale military tracked down the only paleface within miles. The touchy situation was ultimately resolved with a "private fine" to escape what would have been a very unpleasant stay.  
The next example was a previously bifurcated Southeast Asia country that was re-joined in a less than an amicable manner and the border officer's question was: "Have you ever been to this country before?" Mentally, the bravado rationalization was that it used to be two countries buttressed by "how good could their records be?" Another case with a very close call occurred in Libya during the days of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  The next example was a previously bifurcated Southeast Asia country that was re-joined in a less than an amicable manner and the border officer's question was: "Have you ever been to this country before?" Mentally, the bravado rationalization was that it used to be two countries buttressed by "how good could their records be?” 
Another very close call occurred in Libya during the days of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. With previous experience in Oman, Yemen and Tunisia, Libya seemed like just another country in that part of the world. However, the U.S. felt differently about Libya than the other countries. Legal guidance was that if a U.S. citizen had dual nationality, they could not be precluded from legally visiting Libya. In all fairness, that may have been sentiment rather than U.S. law at the time. However, better to go without papers so as not to test the system. 
The close connection of Yasser Arafat to Gaddafi, as illustrated below, put a bit of spring in our step. Our office in Tunisia was across the street from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO.) Moreover, staying in the same Tunis hotel as the PLO made me feel connected. You should know when the armed PLO guys asked my nationality in French, I always answered I was from Alberta, Canada so they did not expect my French to be perfect and not suspect that I was an American which could have been hazardous to my health. Also, our lawyer was a well-connected Tunisian.  
With that background, we flew on a private aircraft into Tripoli and entered the country with no papers and no questions which illustrated a close connection. The first bump in the road occurred when a senior Libyan threatened to bring CNN into his huge office to film an American in Libya. It seemed like an ugly negotiating ploy, but my response was: "Be my guest." Thankfully, he backed down. However, it did reinforce the need to get a stronger sponsor in Libya. 
The biggest threat of that visit turned out to be our departure when the aircraft caught a gull in the left engine seconds before liftoff. Thankfully, the pilot kept the plane on the ground as we fish-tailed down the runway. When he caught his breath and cleaned his pants, he said we would need to get rooms and stay several more days until he could get a new engine from Geneva. My response was staying on the plane was the only alternative as we were never in Libya. His solution was to walk down the tarmac and have a word with a Swiss Air captain who happened to have empty seats. We made our way down the runway and climbed up the stairs to be seized by the Libyan Red Guard. Our Tunisian lawyer saved the day when he said in harsh Arabic he would call his brother, the President of Tunisia, who was close to Colonel Gaddafi as he asked the officer in charge for his name. It worked, but we decided we needed a more significant sponsor - the Colonel's son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, shown below.  
Now you should know that Saif was not a member of government though he was a part of his father's inner circle performing public relations and diplomatic roles on his father's behalf. In fact, he became quite close to Prime Minister Tony Blair thereby wearing a mantle of respect, particularly in the UK where our company was listed. We knew him through a friend and major shareholder living in Monaco. Our shareholder had a penchant for young European models who would come by train from Milano and stay with him at his wonderful condo overlooking the Monaco Yacht Club. Saif liked the same things, professed to love one of the models and talked of marriage which would not have been well-received by his father. In any event, it was the best visa possible at that time. 
Saif subsequently moved from being a civilian to join his father as number two in the chain of command when the fighting began in the Libyan Civil War. On June 27, 2011, an arrest warrant for Saif was issued by the International Criminal Court for charges of crimes against humanity for killing and persecuting Libyan civilians. Saif was subsequently captured in southern Libya by the Zintan militia. Four years later he was sentenced to death in a Tripoli court. However, on June 10, 2017, he was released from prison in Zintan and subsequently received full amnesty by the Libyan government. Talk about living on the edge! 
Prior to Saif's troubles, following many trips to Tripoli and many more Libyan meetings in Monaco and Geneva, we were close to being in the group to receive some of the prime oil real estate in the country. When the comment came back that we needed to have more gravitas as we were competing with the big boys, we brought in a Russian entity that had a KGB Colonel as an advisor whom we knew. 
Well, one evening the KBG Colonel and I were having a drink in the Bar Américain (shown below) in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco when he said: "We know about you." Wow, there was little doubt that he was talking about the intelligence bits that were disclosed by the FBI/Russian agent disclosure that came to light in the March 05, 2001 Time Magazine cover story. I responded, "Are we cool?" and he said everything is fine now that we are together. Well, the Libyan deal did not work out though I thought it was an amicable separation. Therefore, I hope we are still cool but there are no trips to Russia on the horizon. 
In modern history, the greatest sequestered potential oil prize was Iraq. Some of our shareholders had a close connection with Iraq in the oil service and oil trading areas. Therefore, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, we were introduced to an Iraqi who was connected to the "soon to be toast" Iraqi state oil companies. Interestingly, the rumored possession of weapons of mass destruction was denied by Saddam Hussein in a televised interview with Dan Rather. In fact, Saddam offered to have a televised debate with George W. Bush which was declined. No such weapons were ever found though vast amounts of money and countless lives were lost in this invasion which destabilized the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Texas oil pioneers were on the fifth flight from Aman, Jordan to Baghdad not long after Saddam's statute hit the ground.  
Upon entering the empty airport, we handed our passports to a U.S. security guard as we put our bags through an x-ray machine. He looked at the bags and he ignored the passports saying they were not necessary as there was no government. He did hand us wads of Iraqi currency with Saddam's image on the bills as a welcome souvenir. The entire visit was totally surreal as there were no visible U.S. boots on the ground while there were vast numbers of various militia, mercenaries, and helicopters in the sky and sounds of shooting all of the time. We met with the new Iraqi Energy Minister, stayed several days in Baghdad and wisely chose to head back to Jordan and never return. Moreover, a ten-pound Kevlar vest is awfully heavy and difficult to explain when it tumbles off the closet shelf when your wife is cleaning. 
More recently, we were acquiring a compressed air seismic reconnaissance survey over Lake Edward in the eastern side of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) The guy in the helicopter below was forbidden by his corporate handlers in London to set foot on the M-23 Rebel Army controlled eastern part of the country-only in the air and no boots on the ground. That evening I told our security guy that I had to go see our folks on the ground as I could not expect them to do something I would not do. He said he had strict orders against that, to which I responded that he and I were there together at that moment of time and no one else was reachable. He did say the Congolese would not allow us to land the helicopter there so we had to go overland through territory controlled by the M-23 but he would check with his associates on the ground as to whether that was feasible. Now here comes the irony, how can a government require you to properly enter their country with a passport and visa stamp when they do not control it?  
The next morning over breakfast he said he had spoken to his associate on the ground in DRC who, incidentally, had been captured by the M-23 army several years prior to then. His associate said it should be okay. The reason the guy was captured by the M-23 was that, as a mercenary, he stepped on a land mine in Iraq and could not run as fast with a prosthetic leg as his two-legged partner who worked for us in Uganda. There you have it - our security detachment was composed of South African mercenaries. My breakfast companion said it was unfortunate he could not join as his DRC visa had expired. Nonetheless, we flew to a small government hut on the border between Uganda and DRC to address the formalities. Strangely, there was an airstrip near our camp in DRC where rare earth metals were supposedly illegally flown out of DRC by groups that had a veneer of respectability. 
We were met at the border point by a major in the DRC army and six of his folks with 50 Caliber machine guns. We made our way to our camp some two hours overland, spent the day and returned that evening. The major had another squad protecting the entrance to our facility. We completed our work commitment to the government, packed up our tents and fled the miserable country which was the host to the charades and games played by would-be conservationists who were stuffing their own pockets with undeserved contributions while others carried out massive smuggling operations.  
Ironically, two days later I was severely mugged in Kampala, Uganda in an attempt to steal a gold chain from around my neck that was too strong to give way to mass force. The chain was irrelevant but the 16th century Ayutthaya period Thai Buddha on it had been a gift from Joey which I am wearing at this very moment. 
I should close that we once drilled an oil well in North Korea, though no one was foolish enough to enter without papers as the consequences would have been fatal. For the past couple of months, confined to a Covid-19 quarantine may have become the most severe isolation border causing a pause in "living on the edge." Nonetheless, it has provided time to write down some of the things my grandsons and I talk about when we shoot together which is just about every day once I prepare a meal for them. The boys have become good shots and more knowledgeable about certain parts of the world. Nothing wrong with being good with a gun. Better yet is when others know you are good with it.

Bring Strength, Good Luck and Fortune
Elephant hair bracelets hold great significance for the wearer(s). This is also true for the Sterling Silver replica. 
The four-knot bracelet signifies the elements of nature -- namely fire, sun, water and wind. The strands of hair which pass the knots symbolize the seasons of a year. The movements of the knots along the wire shows the forces of nature and represents constant evolution. It is, therefore, believed that it helps to bring strength, good luck and fortune to the wearer.
(adjust from 7" to 8")
(adjust from 6" to 7")

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