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Expat wanderer

ISIS in Mosul Unable to Sustain Economy

From AP via Kuwait Times:

 

High prices, shortages pressure IS – Black markets abound – Strict social laws bad for business

iraqBAGHDAD: Saadi Abdul-Rahman was recently forced to pull his three children out of school in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where Islamic State militants have ruled with an iron fist since June. The cost of living has soared there, and the family is barely able to make ends meet, even after putting the kids to work. “We are not able to pay for cooking gas, kerosene and food,” laments the 56-year-old retired government worker. “The situation in Mosul is miserable.”

The economy in the self-styled “caliphate” declared by the Islamic State group bridging Iraq and Syria is starting to show signs of strain. Prices of most staples have more than doubled as coalition airstrikes make it difficult for products to move in and out of militant strongholds, leading to shortages, price-gouging and the creation of black markets.

Resentment has grown among residents under the rule of the extremists, who initially won support with their ability to deliver services. In the early days of its rule, the Islamic State group subsidized food and gas prices through the wealth it accumulated from oil smuggling, extortion and ransom demands. They sold their smuggled oil at a discount – $25 to $60 a barrel for oil that normally cost $100 a barrel or more, according to analysts and government officials.

But in recent weeks, prices have soared in militant-held cities. Items like kerosene, used for heating and cooking, are in short supply, while others, such as alcohol and cigarettes, strictly banned by the group, are making a comeback at higher prices on the black market. Smoking is a punishable offense in militant-held Mosul. But at a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, cigarettes, as well as hard-to-come-by essentials like kerosene, can be found at hugely inflated prices on a black market run by the extremists. There, a pack of cigarettes sells for 30,000 dinars – the equivalent of $26 – more than double the pre-caliphate price, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

‘Unsustainable Economy’
The militants “are developing an unsustainable economy,” said Paul Sullivan, an expert on Middle East economies at the National Defense University in Washington. “Eventually the costs of keeping the subsidies and price controls going will overpower their smuggling funds, which are also used for offensive and defensive actions. They can collect taxes, extort money, and so forth,” he said. “But that will likely not be enough in the long run to keep such an unbalanced economic system going.”

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremists’ so-called capital, the breakdown of security along the border with Iraq in areas under Islamic State control has led to flourishing trade with Mosul. Trucks are also able to access the city from Turkey, allowing for a steady supply of fruit and vegetables, wheat and textiles. However, the cost of living has surged since US-led airstrikes began in September, and power and water cuts grew more frequent, residents said.

In addition, the strict social laws imposed by the group have been very bad for business, said Bari Abdelatif, an activist in the Islamic State-controlled town of al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo province. But, he said, foreign fighters were bringing with them lots of hard currency, making up somewhat for the shortfall. Last month, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, decreed the minting of gold, silver and copper coins for the militants’ own currency the Islamic dinar – to “change the tyrannical monetary system” modelled on Western economies. But trade in most militant-held cities continues to be in Iraqi dinars and US dollars.

The start of winter has led to serious shortages of gasoline and kerosene. The official price for a liter of gas in government-controlled areas of Iraq is 450 dinars (40 cents) – but in Mosul, it sells for four times that. Two hundred-liter barrels of kerosene are now sold in Mosul for 250,000 dinars ($220), versus the official price of 30,000 dinars. In the western Iraqi city of Fallujah, under militant control for almost a year, residents have started cutting trees for firewood because kerosene is in such short supply. The city is surrounded by government troops and near-daily shelling often make parts of town too dangerous to visit.

Food and fuel prices have risen sharply as a result – a 50-kilo sack of rice costs 75,000 dinars ($65), up from 10,000 ($9) three months ago. A cylinder of cooking gas goes for 140,000 dinars ($115). That has put many staples out of reach for Abdul-Rahman and his family in Mosul, even with the additional money brought in by his sons, who left school to drive a taxi and work in a restaurant.

Decline in Business
A number of factors are driving the shortages and price hikes, according to residents in Mosul and Fallujah, the group’s biggest Iraqi strongholds. The militants have imposed a tax on vehicles entering their territory, leading to a decline in business. Deliveries are also subject to militant theft, and coalition airstrikes and military operations make many roads impassable. As a result, the trip from the Turkish border to Mosul took four hours prior to the militant takeover. Now, a delivery truck can spend as much as a week traveling the same road, and will pay a tax of as much as $300 for entry into Mosul, residents said.

According to Luay Al-Khateeb, director of the Iraqi Energy Institute and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, the population of the areas under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria is 6.5 million to 8 million people. “They need 150,000 barrels (of crude) a day just to meet local consumption,” he said. “And that is the bare minimum to meet the demands for transportation, bakeries, power generation. That doesn’t mean they have access to such supply,” he added.

Last month, the militants shut down cell phone service in Mosul, claiming that residents were tipping off US-led airstrikes to their whereabouts. Cell signals have not been restored, causing the city to come to a virtual standstill. Workshops, factories and markets are closed and bitterness is growing among business owners. “Most money-transfer operations are done by mobile calls,” said Osama Abdul-Aziz, the owner of a money-transfer office in Mosul. “We have the option of using the Internet, but this method is very slow and sometimes the Internet does not work at all, which causes big delays to our work.” At Mohammed Abdullah’s shop in Mosul, the pile of cell phone scratch cards is growing higher by the day. “Our business and means for living are in ruins now,” he said. – AP

 

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December 14, 2014 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Shopping, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Pantone Colors for Spring 2015

See them in fashion, accessories and decorating by going to Pantone.

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December 4, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, color, Cultural, Marketing, Shopping | 2 Comments

Masala: Pantone Color of the Year 2015

Oh arrgh. To me, this is a great color for a purse, or any accent piece, but for clothing, it’s so brown, so deep, so heavy . . .

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December 4, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, color, Cultural, Marketing, Shopping | Leave a comment

Brother’s BBQ

It’s getting close to Christmas, and AdventureMan had asked that I take a ride with him to check out Earth Products, and then have lunch with him at Brother’s BBQ. Between you and me, AdventureMan is purely a sucker for BBQ, but he took me to Tudo’s for lunch yesterday, my Pensacola comfort food, and it isn’t a struggle for me to enjoy a good BBQ, so I was happy to make him happy today. 🙂

It’s what I love about AdventureMan. He totally gets me. He grumbles now and then about how hard I am to buy for. He tells our friends “she doesn’t want diamonds, just picks out a house now and then.”

But today’s trips to Earth Products was totally worth it. Earth Products has all kinds of landscaping supplies, including glorious pots! Not the pots you find in the big box stores, but pots that remind me of the Middle East. Great big pots. Urns. Pots that might have stored olive oil in another life, or hidden Ali Baba’s thieves. Pots with elephants on them. Wonderful pots, just exactly the pots for my front porch and the rosemary bushes I want. I almost danced with glee at the number of wonderful pots.

It is a wonderful day, not too hot, not too cold and when we get to Brother’s BBQ, we decide to sit outside.

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Sitting outside has an additional benefit – they are in the process of preparing the chicken and the brisket. They are smoking it right now. The aromas are heavenly.

The porch is a very friendly place to sit, we discover. It’s amazing how many people have discovered Brothers BBQ. They are close to the Navy Base, and have a lot of loyal military customers, but they also have a lot of local and corporate customers, and retired folk popping by. They have dining in, they have carry-out, and they also cater. There is a large area for eating outside, as well as on the porch.

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You can see what they offer on your placemat:

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AdventureMan ordered his usual – BBQ Pulled Pork, with beans and coleslaw:

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I ordered my usual, a dark quarter BBQ chicken, with beans and slaw:

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It was excellent. Give it a try when you are on the west side of town. You can’t miss them, they are where you find the huge column of mouth-watering smoke just off Gulf Beach Highway:

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3309 Gulf Beach Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32507
(850) 455-4744

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Gardens, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant, Shopping | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baton Rouge Strangeness

Baton Rouge was a city we really wanted to like, and there are so many things about Baton Rouge we DO like. While we were there, however, every single day, we experienced a little bit of bad JuJu, a little bit of strangeness. By the grace of God, it was ameliorated by the goodness and kindness of others, but it was just strange.

First, I have to tell you I am not a huge fan of shopping, but every now and then when I find the right thing, I know it and I buy it. When I found Trader Joe’s, I knew just what to buy, quality products we love. Then, I headed out to Macy’s, a store we do not have in Pensacola.

The Mall is huge, but it was early in the morning, I got a great parking spot, and although I had ended up far from Macy’s, I enjoyed the stroll. This is the first thing I saw, and it delighted my heart.

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What is not to love about this menagerie of zoo animals for little children to ride through the mall? Children HATE mall shopping, but this is a game changer 🙂

I actually didn’t find anything I loved at Macy’s, but I did find two very classic T-shirts I knew I could use, nicely made, so I went to buy them and the cashier asked if I wanted to use my Macy’s card. I said “sure” but it turns out because I hadn’t used it in a while, I had to re-instate it, and when you do that, you get 20% off all day and the next day, plus a WOW card that gives you more discounts, plus another 20% off when they bill you. Holy mole, sign me up! But even though I looked, I really didn’t see anything else I wanted.

Back at the hotel, I told AdventureMan about this hot deal and talked him into going back to Macy’s with me. He looked, but he also didn’t find anything he liked, and then I found the children’s section, ummmm, errrrr . . . .. grandchildren’s section, and there were all kinds of things I liked a lot, and Christmas is coming, so lets get a little dollar-cost-averaging going. (AdvntureMan is rolling his eyes.)

When I went to pay, the patient salesgirl rang everything up, and then had to call some number because my total was high, and then asked me to show my driver’s license. I knew I had it, because I had it earlier when I re-instated my card. So I dug. It wasn’t there. I dug some more, I looked and looked, but no card. I was so embarrassed. The patient clerk held all the grandchildren clothes while I went downstairs where I had shown my card earlier, and sure enough, there it was. Thank God! What if we hadn’t gone back to the Mall? Months go by where I never show that card, and months from now I wouldn’t have known where to find it. I felt like my guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder. And it still felt like strangeness.

When I went back upstairs to the cashier, I showed the drivers license, and she called the security number again, and he asked me all kinds of questions, places I lived years ago, what cars are associated with my accounts, it was totally strange, and AdventureMan is looking bullish, steam coming out of his nostrils, stamping and huffing and puffing (he is hungry). Finally, he tells the cashier I am OK, and she rings me up, very apologetic. I told her it is just the times we live in, and honestly, I want security to be tough on people who might pretend to be me, so it was just a minor inconvenience. But just another little piece of Baton Rouge strangeness, little things that could eat away at happiness and well being if you let them . . . .

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Customer Service, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Scams, Shopping, Technical Issue, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge

I grew up in a family that loves Trader Joe’s. We spent so many years living in Germany, and I believe Trader Joe’s is owned and operated by Aldi’s, a large German chain. Trader Joe’s often has things no one else has, at reasonable prices. They encourage their customers to bring their own bags, and they print up a lot of very colorful and attractive Trader Joe’s bags to encourage them further.

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This Trader Joe’s is in a really cool shopping area, which some long-time Baton Rouge people laughed when they told me it used to be an ugly WalMart. It is fresh, and full of really cool shops, unique furniture, a vintage clothing shop, a Baton Rouge favorite restaurant.

But this Trader Joe’s blew me away. I am used to little Trader Joe’s, no where near the size of a full service grocery store. Most Trader Joes are sort of like the size of a convenience market. This Trader Joe’s is HUGE, and was bustling with customers. I just wish Trader Joe’s would come to Pensacola.

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October 23, 2014 Posted by | ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Shopping, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

What Do You Wear When It Gets Really Hot?

00SoukDress1The people in my group last week suffered greatly in the high temperatures and high humidity we are experiencing. I must be adapting a little; I remember being thankful for the breeze.

“What do you wear when it gets this hot?” they asked me, “like around the home?”

I laughed. I learned a thing or two in Tunis, in Amman, in Tabuk and Riyadh, in Kuwait and in Doha. At home, I dress like local women, in long loose dresses.

Or worse. I dress like their maids. In the souks you could find wonderful, 100% cotton dresss that were loose and flowing, and that is good in hot weather so the air can circulate. Some of the dresses were nicer, but the dresses I liked a lot for just being around the house doing what people do, like making sure the dishes are done and a meal prepped, doing a little quilting or reading . . . you could buy these great little dresses for about $3.00 in the souks. Not only were they practical – especially when you live in a house with a cat, and always put on “real” clothes just as you are about to run out the door so you don’t have any cat hair on you – but they came in great colors and prints, designs that made me happy to put them on.

 

Now, one of my all time favorite dresses, in purple and black, has bit the dust. I liked it because it had some geometrics, and the geometrics changed, and – it was purple. I have worn it for about six years now, and I have worn it out. I mended it several times when the underarm seams ripped:

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But now, it has gotten all soft, so soft the material just rips easily with holes that cannot be mended.

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I like this dress so much I am saving it and cutting it up so it will have another new life as a quilt 🙂

And I am thinking it is time to plan a trip back to Doha and Kuwait to replenish my hot weather dresses 🙂

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Jordan, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Saudi Arabia, Shopping, Tunisia | 2 Comments

A Surprise From Kuwait

I had a really super group of diplomats in town this week, really smart people dealing with serious topics – arms control, human rights, freedom of the press, immigration – and the appointments were fabulous. They were greeted at Baskervile-Donovan by a German speaker, coffee and cakes, and the presentation was a clear outline on corporate fund raisers, goals, and candidate selection.

We had a few extra minutes before our next appointment, and as we were just next door to Joe Patti’s, I took them there for a peek into life for “real” Pensacolians. Of course, they loved Joe Patti’s.

While I was there, my phone rang and it was a stranger, telling me she had a package for me from a friend in Kuwait. When could she bring it by?

You know how sometimes it’s hard to think? My mind was full with my delegation, but I set a time – and I was at Joe Pattis, so I quickly bought some cookies to serve and headed out for our next appointment.

When I said goodbye to the delegation for the last time and headed home, I put the coffee on and prepared for my Kuwait guests. They arrived and we had a wonderful visit, a friend in common and lots to talk about. And oh my, the packet my friend sent, full of fabrics from the Kuwait souks, a care package for my quilting addiction:

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Even better – and it feels so wonderful to have a friend who understands me so well – look at the bag she sent them in! It is SO adorable! It is something I would have bought in a heartbeat, so unique, so special! My heart is dancing with ideas for a new quilt!

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Thank you, Hayfa 🙂 for a real treat, both the fabrics and the friend you sent to carry the package 🙂

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Shopping | 2 Comments

The Macaroni Grill in Pensacola, FL

For the most part, AdventureMan and I stay away from national chains. One time in the last couple of years we tried Olive Garden, and, like many of the chains, they had gone to using “pre-formed” meats – how do you think they got all those dishes to look so uniform?

But Macaroni Grill is – or was, it’s all unclear now – a part of the Outback Chain, and Outback will always have a place in my heart because of their open-handed support when I worked for an educational foundation, raising money for scholarships. They were a joy to work with, and so generous to our scholarship recipients.

So we decided to give the Macaroni Grill a try. Here is what the entry at the Cordova Mall looks like.

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I had the Caesar Salad, which was very good, fresh, great dressing:

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I also had the Chicken Marsala, which had three chicken cutlets, real chicken, not pre-formed, not identical, with angel hair pasta. The Marsala sauce had barely a hint of Marsala, but it was pretty good. I’d prefer a little more Marsala taste. It was plentiful, and I had enough left over for dinner, too.

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AdventureMan had the lasagna, which he said was really good! His portion was so huge, he also had enough for dinner and I don’t think he was able to finish it, there was so much.

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Service was prompt and efficient. We asked the server if all the food was prepared here, or prepared elsewhere and sent semi-prepared, and she said, with great pride, that all the food was prepared daily, on-site. You could see into the open kitchen, and chefs and assistants were back there busily preparing meals – all a good sign.

We probably won’t go back, just because there are two or three other Italian places in town we like better, but it is a perfectly decent restaurant with above average food, very clean, good service and convenient if you are at the Cordova Mall.

July 31, 2014 Posted by | Cooking, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Shopping | 1 Comment

Crisis of the Week: F-9

Move 30 times? Check. Manage finances? Check. Buy or sell a house? Check. Buy a car? Check. It’s not that hard. You figure it out, you do it.

Every now and then you have a crisis that’s outside your comfort zone. This week we ran into one of those.

We’ve had a microwave, a wonderful huge microwave, with a platter that runs back and forth, instead of a circular revolving plate. About a year ago, it started stopping in mid-cook and the display would show “F9”, not a big deal, with a little jiggling, a little work around, we could get it working again and it worked most of the time.

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We bit the bullet. OK, just time to get a new microwave, go somewhere where we can buy it and have it installed, because installing is outside of what we can do well.

We get to the store and discover that 36″ microwaves are very special. So special that the only one carried runs in the over $1000 range. We go to another store, same story. Evidently 36″ was to go over a 36″ range, which we have, but is no longer so trendy. Oh aarrgh. We decide to go home and do some online research, only to learn that the 36″ version for over $1000 has very poor ratings and the same problem that we currently have, made by the same manufacturer. Double aarrgh, and double aarrgh again because while AdventureMan and I are good problem solvers, we are out of our pay grade when it comes to kitchen design and installation, but we know enough to know that it has to look right.

(Does it seem to you like American appliances don’t last as long as they used to? Some old appliances I have had run forever, but I feel like I am constantly replacing or having repaired the newer appliances)

When we bought our house, we bought it from a man who has a lot of fun redesigning and remodeling and updating houses. The kitchen is small, but beautifully high end. Fortunately, he is local and I have his number so I called him and asked for his design input. He gave me several good ideas, and even better, we had a great, wonderful chat and I was able to tell him how much we enjoy the little touches he put in the house to make it special. By the time I finished, I had a plan, and it dovetails with some other work we have scheduled, to have a tankless water system put in.

Years ago, a friend gave me a book mark I still have, a quote from Bishop Sheen that says “All worry is atheism, because it is a want of trust in God” and while I believe that is true, and have greatly banished worry from my daily life, every now I find myself that squirrel running on that wheel of anxiety, knowing I am worrying for nothing, but unable, in my own strength, to get off the wheel. Thanks be to God, in his mercy, for leading me off that fruitless path!

April 25, 2014 Posted by | Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Florida, Home Improvements, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Shopping | Leave a comment