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Some 20 years separate these two photos.

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My Official passport photo of 1989 when I was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt with responsibilities for the Sudan. Back then only one photographer in Ottawa could take such pictures for the Foreign Ministry and his studio was on Sparks Street behind the Langevin Block which is the Office of the Privy Council for Canada and the Prime Minister’s Office. You had to make an appointment and you had to wear a suit and tie because that photo would go into your Diplomatic passport with mention on page 5 of the document stating your rank and function at the Embassy. Egypt then was a great posting, it was also the time of the First Gulf War when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and Canadian war ships sailed down the Suez Canal, we went to the Canal to see them pass by.

I also travelled often to Khartoum and we had special permission to board the Lufthansa flight which made a pit stop in Cairo to travel to Khartoum 2 hours South following the Nile River in a straight line. We did not want to take Air Sudan it was too dangerous, planes poorly serviced and mostly unable to fly on any given day. Egypt Air was not safe enough because of tensions between Egypt and the Sudan. Lufthansa had a great flight and so did British Airways back then. I also often carried with me 10 to 12 bags of Diplomatic mail and documents all sealed up. It was all pretty romantic to be a diplomatic courier and also representing Canada in the Sudan. To me that country was about General Gordon and his heroic death in Khartoum. In Saint-Paul Cathedral in London there is a memorial to Gordon of Khartoum next to 19th Century painter Frederick Lord Leighton. I say a memorial because when the expeditionary force arrived in Khartoum to relieve Gordon and his men, everyone had been killed and his body was never found. When I went to the Sudan a new ”Islamic” government was in charge, same people as today. The funny thing was that we had to pay for every curfew pass and special permission pass to travel in the City with bottles if not cases of Johnny Walker Red Label, I discovered that Scotch is an international currency and the favourite drink of staunch Muslims. So we use to call it Johnny Mohamed Walker.

In early 1991 I found myself again in Khartoum and it was at this point that the First Gulf War ended with the defeat of Iraq and the setting on fire of all the oil wells in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army. As I arrived at the Hilton Hotel I heard a commotion behind me and turn to find myself face to face with Tareq Aziz (1936-2015) the deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, the cultured face of the Iraqi Regime. I had a very uneasy feeling when I saw him surrounded by his goons. He was well dressed and spoke impeccable French and English. The clerk at the Front Desk explained that Mr Aziz would have his room on the third floor and I was bumped to the seventh floor. The war had just ended the Sudan was an ally of Iraq and Canada was part of the coalition which defeated Iraq. We simply exchange polite greetings, there was nothing else to say and I had absolutely nothing to say to him.

What puzzled me was how he got to Khartoum from Baghdad, there was a no fly zone, it took me some time to figure out that he would have travelled by road from Baghdad to Amman in Jordan which took about 10 hours. Then flew on a private jet from Amman to Cairo and then on to Khartoum. A few years later when I was posted to Amman, I would become more familiar with the Iraqi Regime and the politics of the region, a very complex affair to say the least.

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Rome 2009 at home on Via dei Villini

My last post, what was interesting about this posting was my accreditation to Greece, Malta and Albania. I went to Tirana some 26 times, it must be a record of some kind, no one else at the Embassy went so many times. I had regular business to attend and I wish could have gone to Athens more often. Albania was a very strange country, waking up after 45 years of brutal dictatorship under a madman Enver Hoxha (1908-1985) who completely isolated this tiny country, it is only slightly bigger than Vermont, from the rest of the world and broke relations with every country including his Communist allies in the USSR and then China for not being communist enough. No one could travel outside and very few could ever enter Albania. Now in 2007, Communism had vanished with the death of  Hoxha and the nightmare was over which led to all manner of excess. A very poor country with no paved roads, a very poor electric grid and primitive social services. It was difficult to image that to the South was the border with Greece and just across the Adriatic was Italy.  During my time the country saw much progress, there was a large US presence, there was also much investments by Austria, Germany, Sweden.

 

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