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Always wear sunscreen (and beware hostile stamps in your passport)

The first leg of my journey back to Iraq (via Newark, Tel Aviv, Amman, and Kuwait) got off to an interesting start as, one hour after beginning the process, I was still trying to get checked in at the El Al ticket counter. It seems that Israel's national airline takes exception to folks lugging around 120 lbs of baggage (and describing them as "sensitive equipment) -- but, even more, that they take exception to Kuwaiti and Iraqi stamps in an American's passport.

I was taken aside and questioned four individual times by El Al security, and had to fork over my passport, my driver's license, my long-expired military ID, and my Multinational Force-Iraq press ID, while answering questions like, "Do you speak Hebrew?", "When were you last in Baghdad?", and "What is the origin of your name 'Emanuel'?" (a sticky wicket if ever there was one, having to do with a German name being taken by the American Indian side of my family tree many, many moons ago -- and something which will become a much bigger issue in Jordan and Kuwait if I can't avoid having an Israeli visa stamped into my passport when we arrive there tomorrow).

I am greatly appreciative of any extra security measures that El Al (which has a tremendous record) and any other airlines want to take, provided that they actually make people safer. Given the red flags that my check-in naturally raised (passport stamps from Muslim countries, stated post-Israel destination of Iraq, and overt reluctance to have anything Israeli stamped into my passport), I appreciated El Al's concern and worked with them as much as I could.

The result is that I'm now in Newark airport with my boarding pass and with one 40 lb backpack, instead of being in Newark airport still trying to check in, and still with two 40 lb backpacks and an 80 lb pelican case of sensitive gear.

I'm happy at this point. Upward and onward.

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