El Al to Nigerian pilgrims: No way on our flights

El Al, Israel‘s airline, has banned thousands of pilgrims from Nigeria from traveling to Israel. Security is the reason given. The Tourism Ministry, according to the Associated Press, says that this move will screw up the travel plans for 28,000 Nigerian Christians from Abuja in the next few months.

The Nigerian pilgrimage season starts in late October and continues through January, and a subsidiary of El Al was hoping to cover the route during this period. However, there have been concerns about airport security after a Nigerian man was accused of trying to blow up a plane bound for the United States using a bomb hidden under his clothes.

[photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]

Body scanners used as porn by airport security

It had to happen sooner or later.

The Nigerian newspaper This Day has reported that security officials at Lagos airport are getting their jollies by watching female passengers go through a full-body scanner.

Nigerian investigative reporters visited the airport during a slow period when security officials had time to spare. The journalists found some of them hanging around the scanner display. Since the scanner blurs the face in an attempt to give anonymity, the officers were hurrying over to the line to peek at the passengers before going back to the scanner to check out their favorites.

The scanner was installed after the failed attack by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was from Lagos, yet technicians have revealed a full-body scan wouldn’t have caught him. An Israeli security expert who helped plan security at Israel’s super-strict Ben Gurion Airport says body scanners don’t work. Israeli airports don’t use the device.

Many Nigerians feel it is against their religion to expose themselves to a stranger, while others fear the effects of radiation. The investigative journalists witnessed passengers objecting to go through the scanner until security turned off one of the metal detectors, giving them the choice of using the full-body scanner or waiting in a longer line.

Five art exhibitions you must see this year

Art lovers, take note, 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for exhibitions. Here are five of the best, but there are plenty more than these!

It’s hard to beat Japanese art for sheer naturalistic beauty, and the Tokyo National Museum has an extensive collection of the best. See the work of one of the great Japanese masters in Hasegawa Tohaku: 400th Memorial Retrospective. This painter, who died in 1610, specialized in nature and Buddhist subjects, and you can see an example of his work in this post. The delicacy and ethereal quality of Japanese landscapes always gives me goosebumps. The exhibition runs from February 23 to March 22.

Spain’s famous Museo Nacional del Prado is hosting The Art of Power: Arms, Armour and Paintings from the Spanish Court. This is a collection of weapons and armor from Spain’s Golden Age, along with paintings by important Spanish artists emphasizing Spain’s military might at a time when the country ruled most of the New World. Many of the suits or armor were the personal property of important kings such as Philip II. The show will be on from March 8 to May 16.

From March 4-June 6 the British Museum will have Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa. Ife was an important kingdom from the 12th to the 15th centuries in what is now Nigeria. Its artists specialized in creating human sculptures in brass, terracotta, and stone. I caught this when it was in Madrid last year and it was amazed at the level of artistic achievement in a civilization I’m ashamed to say I knew almost nothing about. The thing that most impressed me was how lifelike the sculptures were. I felt like I was staring into the faces of priests and kings who have been dead for five hundred years. My kid preferred the statue of the crocodile god.Paris
For something a bit more grim, go to the Musée d’Orsay between March 15 and June 27 for Crime and Punishment: 1791-1981. The dates refer to the year of the first call in France to abolish the death penalty and the year it was actually abolished. The exhibition is a series of paintings with crime as their theme, by famous artists such as Picasso, Goya, and Magritte. There are also paintings of capital punishment, showing that crime does not pay, at least some of the time. This show is disturbing enough that it comes with a warning label, a bit like the Eros exhibit of ancient erotic art in Athens, which you can still catch until April 5.

New York City
If you want to see something right now, The Museum of Modern Art is showcasing the work of director Tim Burton until April 26. It’s a collection of more than seven hundred drawings, storyboards, puppets, and other items from his films. There’s also a large collection of his personal artwork that even most of his fans have never seen. They’re showing his movies too!

Oprah’s 10 terrific reads for 2009 showcase diversity and travel

Regardless of what one thinks of Oprah, it’s hard to argue that the woman doesn’t have her thumbprint on some mighty great stuff. Her “10 Terrific Reads for 2009,” for example, is filled with suggestions that capture the flavor of travel, adventure and diversity. Many of them are about people from one country who have been brought to another by life’s circumstances or their drive to explore.

If you read these 10 books, I’d say you’ll have a thought-provoking and enlightening journey through certain parts of the world, particularly Africa. Before you head out on your next journey, pick up one of these and pass it on.

Here are the 10 books with the countries that provide the setting or settings. For a summary of each book, click each title.

  • The Bolter, Frances Osborne–Kenya (Great Britain connection)
  • Dreaming in Hindi, Katherine Russel Rich–India (U.S. connection)
  • Little Bee, Chris Cleve–Great Britain (Nigeria connection)
  • Blame, Michelle Huneven–U.S. (This one doesn’t have a cross-cultural component but is compared to Sand and Fog which is one of the best novels showing cross-cultural connections gone wrong that I’ve ever read.)
  • Losing Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley–U.S. (Another without a cross-cultural component, but loss of parents is cross-cultural and Buckley’s dad, William F. Buckley certainly had a lot of opinions about the world.)
  • Zeitoun, Dave Eggers–U.S. (Syrian connection) I met Dave Eggers. He’s as wonderful in person as his writing reflects. Truly splendid. I’m buying this one.
  • Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan–Kenya and Rwanda. Akpan is a Nigerian writer.
  • Some Things that Meant the World to Me, Joshua Mohr–U.S. Part of this novel takes place in Home Depot in San Francisco. Doesn’t the bring up an unusual mix of images?!
  • The Invisible Mountain, Carolina De Robertis–South America. The reading guide mentions Argentina.
  • Strength in What Remains:A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness, Tracy Kidder–Burundi and U.S.

Six Flags considering new theme park location – in Nigeria

When I read that Six Flags was actively working on a new park to add to their current 21 park lineup, I initially did not pay attention. Then I saw the location of this new concept – Nigeria.

The 250 acre Nigerian Six Flags is going to be built in Calabar, a city on the southeastern border, about 1000 miles from the nations capital.

A couple of things come to mind – the first is that Six Flags is currently in bankruptcy protection, but I’m guessing that expansion is one of the ways they plan to recover. The second is the location – Nigeria is a troubled country, and even the oil companies of the world are having a hard time keeping their investments safe. How Six Flags plans to keep its park and staff safe is bound to be source of major headaches.

I’m also curious how the Nigerians got the attention of Six Flags. Perhaps they emailed them out of the blue and told them the story of their previous president who had left them $250 million in a secret bank account, that could only be accessed if someone built them a roller coaster? (I kid, I kid!).

If the park does indeed become a reality, it’ll be the first theme park in Nigeria, and the first Six Flags park outside the US, Mexico and Canada. In the late nineties, Six Flags attempted to conquer the European market, but pulled out after a couple of years to focus on their home market.