Tuesday, September 18, 2007

just some visuals

Sunday, July 22, 2007

nice ring, fag

Saturday, July 21, 2007

tickets, please

Outside Edfu/Horus Temple. Fufu, me, Melike, Mahmoud. Our felucca-sailing team.

Hieroglyphs inside the temple.

Mahmoud HAD to get his picture with this replicate of a boat. Some angry, British faggot got angry at us because we were monopolizing the photo opportunity.

So, I responded to that by getting MY picture taken with it, as well.

Mahamoud and Fufu on the new felucca!!!

You know how much I love being in the mud. They had put these weird shoulder-pad things on me, too. Not sure the significance. Is Fufu looking at my dick?


Naj' Faras. All houses painted this beautiful blue. Narrow corridors between the houses.

Dr. Seuss trees.

Fufu hand-feeds Mahmoud all meals.
Selling bread off of bicycles is better than selling bread off of the street.
Election posters. Like most places with high illiteracy-levels, each candidate is assigned a symbol that voters can look for at the voiting booth. Mr. Dabab's symbol is the camel. Shocker!

Went down South to visit the infamous Mahmoud (Cheeky Monkey) with my friend, Melike. We had a very relaxing 5 days.

We did a few days on the felucca, visited a few temples, stayed in Mahmoud’s village with his family, stayed in Ashraf’s village with his family, spent a day lounging the pool, and endured two hellacious overnight train journeys.

Things we learned on this trip:

- Female circumcision runs as rampant in the South as the NGO's report. Even though women report that they don't have an orgasm from sex ... and even though men say that they get no pleasure from a woman who just lays there like a slab of meat as a result of her circumcision ... everyone agrees that it's 'necessary'. I mean, how can a girl with a clit get married?

- Many believe that HIV/AIDS was spread by women having sex with animals - most probably dogs. Women love to have sex with dogs and the pornography (which is nearly impossible to procure in Egypt) showing this is evidence enough.

- People will go out of their way to tell you how they love Muslims, Jews, and Christians equally. We all worship the same god, blah blah blah. Ten minutes into the diatribe, you start wondering, "Wait, you're assuming I'm Christian?" and "What are you so fanatical about something so basic and obvious?"

- Women, make sure you look as pissed off as possible at your wedding celebration. Make it obvious that you hate the man that's been chosen for you, make it obvious that you hate the fact making bread and babies 24/7 is your future, make it obvious you don't know how to blend your make-up. Everyone will love you for it.

- Everything is either black or white, haram or halal, forbidden or allowed, good or bad. There's no need for self-analyzation (or any analyzation, in general) because it can only be one, or
the other. Don't be surprised if someone tells you what you're doing is bad even if you think it's good.

- People have no concept of culturally inappropriate questions, despite dealing with foreigners on a daily basis.

- Cleopatra Pool in Aswan is clean, with a good view, and only costs $2 to use all day. If you complain enough, you might even get a free day-use room!
- Pay $2 to the train assistant and he'll make sure you get a private cabin. Even if the train is sold-out.

- Always travel with a sheet and a pillow. You never know where you'll need to sleep, which sort of creepy-crawly will want to impregnate you in the middle of the night, and as a barrier to the sicknesses you'll receive from dirty air-con filters (or maybe filter-less?)

- We're all going to heaven. Even if we're bad people, we'll hang out in hell for a bit, get a tan, have a few cocktails, and eventually end up in heaven with the rest of the hairless virgins.

- Swimming in the Nile and contracting Bilharzia (liver-infecting parasite) is a great trade-off for not sweating like a pig 24/7.

- Don't drink alcohol mid-day in 100+ weather

- Liver sandwiches are the new kidney sandwich

Friday, July 20, 2007

"i’m so hot in a hot country"

Above quote from niqab-ed (veiled), fat woman in bikini on Adultfriendfinder.com in our lame attempt at finding dirty, gay parties in Cairo.

Have decided to skip school on a routine basis, lately. Things are winding down after 4.5 months of non-stop, relatively hardcore studying, and I just don’t any energy left to devote my life to such things. That, and the fact I’m leaving for my 3- month Asian adventure in a matter of days. So much last minute planning (visas, and other bureaucratic nonsense) to take care of.

Schedule is as follows if anyone is interested in meeting up with me along the way. At the very least, it could serve as a trail for the FBI if I were to become kidnapped or eaten alive by some cannibalistic hilltribe.

July 30 – August 25: Chaing Mai, Thailand (Muay Thai Kickboxing, Village work program)
August 8 – August 25: Japan!!!!!
August 25 – August 27: Bangkok, Thailand
August 28 – September 5: Cambodia
September 6 – September 16: Vietnam
September 17 – September 30: Laos
October 1 – October 27: Macau, Hong Kong, China

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

look what i found

From almost two years ago!!

Sucking banana dick in the Western Desert. Guess Fantastic without Plastic was busy. Look how content May is. Look how slutty I always am.

Was totally playing with myself in this picture. This was pre-underwear-throwing-shenanigans at the cops...of which, I'm told, the village still talks about. Gurl lives on in the Egyptian desert.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

starved for entertainment

Enjoyed a night of Algerian and Egyptian music at the Citadel over-looking ALLLLLLL of Cairo. Beautiful.

And at night.

Doesn't matter where I am. My friends are always spazzes. (Melike)

Their spasticness is hiding behind some half-smiles. (Fierce Bec, my crotch, and Elisa)

Friday, June 08, 2007

tittie bits

I just passed my three-month Cairo anniversary. I know I've had a three-month anniversary previously, but this one isn't tainted by tour leading hell. Here's a few things I've learned along the way.

On teaching English:
Decided I needed to stop hemorraghing funds and find some sort of 'job' that would pay SOME of my bills. I have four students, or three, not really sure. In general, they're pretty hard-working and not a total pain-in-the-ass to teach.

Ahmed likes to work in religious conversations as much as possible. He'll ask me questions like, "Mr. Eric, do you drink wine?" And of course, I say, "Yes....sometimes." And he'll be all shocked like, "Mr. Eric, really? You drink wine?!" What the fuck Ahmed, why ask the question if you thought you already knew the answer?

Adham is a total booze hound and studies with Ahmed.

Doraya has nicknamed herself DoDo. I'm not sure if it's pronounced DoDo like the bird or DoDo like kaka (baby word for poo). Today I met her to collect some cash and to cut the meeting as short as possible I said, "Okay DoooDooo, I have to go meet my friends, so I'll see you on Tuesday." And she replied with (I'm still shocked by this), "Oh, you have friends?"

I kind of just looked at her like, are you serious? I know that students never think their teacher's have a life, but come on!!! I thought the other day when she asked me if I had ever heard Arabic music was as stupid as she could get. No, DooDoo, I've never ridden in a taxi or a bus or watched music clips or had to endure high-pitched voices for my past two and a half years in the Middle East.

Then there's Ali. Ali is 40-something and gay. He's a masseuse in his spare time and likes to learn body part vocabulary. He had a minor break-down a month ago and started crying about his Saudi Arabian friend/lover that died 15 years ago. I haven't seen him since that last meeting, though he tells me when his work has calmed down, he'll resume classes. Which brings me to my next topic.

On Lying in Egypt:
I met this girl, who turns out to be Miss Arab World 2000 and something. She's a petite, spunky little thing. I've made two drinking dates with this sassy little number and she stood me up both times.

First time, there was an excuse that I actually believed.

Second time, she never showed up and didn't call back or text after two days worth of calls. A week later I finally got an MSN message from her saying that she was in a motorcycle accident and just suffered a few scratches, hence her non-communication. She assured me it was just scratches and nothing more serious.

I relayed this information to my Egyptian man and he immediately said that she was lying. He said this is bonafide Egyptian behavior.

To say, "No", isn't an option.
To not show up is okay.
To say, "It's my fault," will never happen.

I've since bounced this idea off of other Egyptian friends. It's true. To take fault for something and say "I'm sorry" is a character flaw, whereas in my culture it's a character trait we strive to have.

On finding new roommates in Egypt:
Like Craigslist in NYC, Craigslist in Egypt provides a fair share of whackjobs. Victoria from Washington, D.C. was a retard and a half. She had a nervous breakdown on my couch about how ugly Egyptian men are and how she'll never get laid. She wanted me to answer the question, "Why can't I be living in Lebanon where everyone is hot?!" Um. Move to Lebanon then, you dumb bitch.

On riding the subway in Cairo:
Metro etiquette:

1) If you're on the train platform, make sure to push your way onto the train before anyone is able to get off.
2) If you're on the train, make sure to push your way off the train before anyone is able to get on.
3) While the doors are still open at the stop prior to yours, run up to the door in preparation for your stop, making sure not to allow anyone on the train.
4) If you are getting off at the next stop, ask at least 12 people around you, "Are you getting off at the next stop?" If no, trade positions with them so that you are 4 inches closer to the door. If yes, don't say Yes....say "God willing".
5) Don't buy a ticket, just hop the gate
6) Ride in the women's car as much as possible because the lack of armpit stench is worth the fine if you get caught
7) Stare at any and all foreigners. Talk about them as loudly as possible because there's no way they could understand Arabic.

On speaking Egyptian dialect:
Forget everything you've ever learned.

In the North, replace all Q's with A's.
In the North, replace all J's with G's.
In the South, replace all Q's with G's.
In the South, keep the J.

Don't ever speak properly, because you won't be understand. It's all about being common.

Ask "How are you" at least 5 different ways before you start any conversation. Here's a translation:

How are you?
What's your news?
How are you?
Is everything good?
Is everything okay?
Is everything excellent?
Is everything beyond excellent?
How are you?
What are you doing? (Which really means, how are you?)

And then Thank God.

If you don't understand what someone is saying, just say, "God is Great" (like terrorists do before they kill people), "God Willing", or "Thanks be to God."

On drinking in Egypt:
Try to drink as much as possible.

Make sure to keep a log of all friends and friends of friends passing through so that you can keep your Duty Free liquor cabinet topped-up. Afterall, Egyptian-made alcohol is a death wish.

Belly-dancing clubs can offer very cheap drinking options and each table get's it's own girl-for-hire. She'll hold the fucking straw to your mouth while you suck your cocktail down if you pay her 25 cents.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

long time no see

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. It's been a while since I've updated with something mildly amusing. Heres' a photo montage of my last three months in Egypt....errr.....my new home.

Went down to Edfu to visit the infamous Mahmoud. This is a picture of his village on the banks of the Nile. Beautiful. His mom sat next to me at every meal, watched every bite, waited for a reaction, and would clap her hands in joy that I liked her food. She said, next time, I have to stay for one week so that I become strong. Obviously implying that my current stature doesn't scream 'strong'. Does it scream weak, sissy, fag? Mumkin.

When I wasn't hand-sewing the sail for Mahmoud's new felucca with the rest of the villagers, we hit the markets. And yes, I am capable of manual labor, folks. And yes, sewing is manual labor.

Just a little snap of Old Cairo. Decay and mosque. Pretty typical.

Just a little tour of Old Cairo with my dialect class. On the left is Argentinian who was kinda hot stuff. Then the Deutsche who had a jaw like this trannie I once knew in NYC that never wore underwear. My teacher in the hijab. Canadian Elisa, my good friend, even though she wears pig-tails. Then Colombian man. Coke dealer.

Went out to the Bahariya Oasis to visit "Fantastic without Plastic" aka Waheed. Stayed with his family for a few days which was not the holiday I had planned. Basically everyone was sooooo excited to have a foreigner/guest and it was show-and-tell for two days. This is me dressed up in Egyptian desert gear holding a doiley that the Mom knitted for me. Also inspecting my hand probably because I wanted to make the picture look even more gay.

Because one picture isn't enough. Here's another one of me holding a crocheted dish that was given to me as a gift. The Mom was a true artist. Wish she gave me the yarn/birds nest/dollhouse/stranglation 'mobile' she had hanging from the ceiling instead.

Since I never got a hicky in high school. I'm making up for lost time. Come on guys! Hickys are the new summer accessory and you know it.

My first 'real' published article. (Not counting that Yemenia nonsense). I'm now being paid for my monthly column. But I'm still accepting donations.

My bedroom. Not as fierce as the Lenora. Yes, I do use the Swiss ball as a chair. And yes, I do fall off of it periodically. (And I have a balcony AND air-conditioning, living large)

Friday, May 11, 2007

did someone say sass?

Part three of my three-part article for a Cairo magazine. They've officially given me a column, but I don't know what that means in Cairene speak. So, we'll have to stay tuned for further developments.

Here we go again!

Dubai: All that glitters

In the last issue of EGO, we hitchhiked from the Yemen/Oman border to one of the most boring Omani cities imaginable, watched as giant turtles pooped out mounds of eggs on the beach, and didn’t interact with any Arabs. Will Dubai be able to wake us from our Omani coma? Let’s hope.

After a week of pure and utter boredom in Oman, my fond farewell came in the form of an offer for oral stimulation from an aged man in the bus terminal restroom. I admit I would have appreciated a little pick-me-up to get me through my last hours in Muscat, but I was thinking of something more along the lines of a tumbler (or four) of Jack Daniels. Needless to say, whiskey wasn’t on the gentlemen’s menu and I waited for the bus to Dubai alone.

The journey from Muscat to Dubai was a pleasant, air-conditioned experience. No ear-piercing Quranic recitations, no homeless people selling tissues, and certainly nobody throwing bags of vomit out of the window (am I the only person to witness such behavior in the Middle East?).

The bus stops near the airport which, thanks to urban sprawl, stands pretty darn close to the Dubai skyline. From there, I caught a taxi to the one-and-only youth hostel in town – certainly the best value at $20/night for a 5-person, shared room.

The first stop on my Dubai itinerary was the Museum. Let’s face it, the Emirates was a nomad stomping ground until about 5 minutes ago, so the area’s heritage isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Visually, the museum was pretty fierce, as it’s one of the only surviving buildings from the 1800s. It has a slew of rooms depicting various periods in Dubai’s history, as well as extensive displays of weaponry and clothing. And, best of all, it was air-conditioned.

After seeing the one historically significant thing on offer, it was time to take care of something that had been bothering me for the past three months on the road – a craving for Mexican food. During my abundance of free time in Oman, I performed extensive research on the burritos and chimichangas on offer in Dubai, and decided that Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop was the way to go. I worked up an appetite trying to find the place with my clueless taxi driver, so it was no surprise I managed to devour an appetizer of ‘loaded’ nachos and a ridiculous number of fajitas. Sadly, margaritas weren’t on the menu, so I consoled myself over Italian gelato next door.
I had one giant spatula full of dark chocolate-orange and one of date-marzipan. Not even in Italy had I consumed such orgasmic gelato. And not even in Italy did I pay so much money for such a small portion. Welcome to the Gulf!

I think I was drunk off of the Mexican/gelato combo because I started chatting up a woman sitting at the next table. She turned out to be American-Iranian with a Louis Vuitton bag full of problems. She didn’t know why she was in Dubai, where her life was going, nor why her bank account was empty. She was a ticking bomb, so of course I decided to spend the entire day with her jet-setting around Dubai in other people’s cars. She didn't have her own vehicle, so she would actually ask random people to give us lifts to the nearest taxi stand. I totally support hitchhiking, but hopping from Mercedes to Jaguar to Porsche was a little out of my league.

We checked out some hotspots like mOre Cafe and the art galleries Third Line and B21 in the Al Quoz Industrial Area. Sitting in mOre was very reminiscent of my time in Oman – again, I found myself asking, “Where are the Arabs?!” Don’t get me wrong, Arab-spotting isn’t a sport for me. However, without discussing the obvious monetary aspects, am I the only person that finds it bizarre that so many foreigners have decided to settle in the desert? At the risk of sounding like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, are fashionistas the new Bedouin?

I was surprised by the progressiveness of the galleries – a male prostitute photo series and living with HIV in Ethiopia were components of the exhibitions showing at the time, with future plans for works by Golnaz Fathi, a Tehran-based artist. But we started to get ancy, so we caught a lift with a fancy Lebanese lady to the Medinat Jumeirah for our date with quite possibly the most ridiculous thing on offer in Dubai at the time – 100% Kylie.

For those who haven’t yet been exposed to this fabulousness, 100% Kylie is a two hour engagement with a Kylie Minogue impersonator. I’m not kidding. “Kylie” and her team of dancers replicated an entire concert, complete with costume changes, strobe lights, and confetti. The audience, a healthy combination of gay men and families with small children, were totally feeling the outrageousness and cheered her on with off-beat hand-clapping and outbursts of 'You go girl!'.

No night, especially this one, would be complete without a drink at the infamous Buddha Bar. It’s the perfect place to get up close and personal with Dubai’s pretty people while drinking yourself into an overpriced stupor.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to end. The next morning, I awoke to the housekeeper in my room sweeping the floor. As I watched this frail, South Asian man through my haze of one-too-many mojitos, I realized how easy it is to lose oneself in the most vacuous lifestyle imaginable. I had read the magazine articles and news reports, but I guess I became blinded by the glean of Swarovski-adorned abayas, never noticing the pervasiveness of Dubai’s underbelly. Until next time…

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

arabian peninsula style

Some shit I got published.

Yemen: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll live on

I was at my uncle's house feasting on a medley of meat from his most recent hunting trip, when my cousin approached me and asked accusatively, "So, where have you been?''

Feeling like an unwilling participant of an interrogation, I mumbled with a hint of self-doubt, "Um, Yemen?"

"Yemen , huh? Which state is that in?"

Curiously enough, this was not the first time I had been asked an asinine question about Yemen, or the Middle East for that matter. These scenes always play out at family functions where the line of questioning revolves around camels, September 11th, and hummus.

"Well, Cousin Tim - Yemen is, believe it or not, a country in the Arabian Peninsula and I traveled from there to. . . ."

My three-month journey from Yemen to Dubai began with an unforgettable early morning taxi-ride from Sana'a International Airport to my Old City accommodation. Men lined the streets performing the squat-toilet-crouch as they drank their morning beverages and sported their weapon of choice – usually a handsome dagger, sometimes an old-school Kalashnikov. Little boys in suits, presumably their offspring, quite possibly street children, chased each other through the maze of gingerbread houses that UNESCO has deemed World Heritage List-worthy. Women struggled with layers of fabric wrapped around their bodies as they balanced an assortment of culinary treats on their heads.

To the naked eye, Yemen appears to have changed very little since mass conversions to Islam in 630. Funny enough, the trained eye agrees. Sure, the Yemen Arab Republic (North) and People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South) unified in 1990, schools have been built for women, and central business districts have been erected, but the country is not exactly making great strides in anything tangible. Sitting around while chewing qat (mildly-addictive plant leaves that are chewed for hours and stored in the pocket of one's cheek), thinking about all the great things one could do if he were not chewing qat still reigns supreme. This is evident particularly in Sana'a and the areas further north.

My first official qat chew took place as I drove north from Sana'a to Shaharah. Travel outside the capital usually requires obtaining a simple piece of paper from the police after registering one's itinerary. However, travel outside the capital for Americans often requires armed security. My companions and I were fortunate enough to have six eager Yemeni recruits escort us in a jeep with a long-range machine gun mounted on its roof. You know, just in case.

We stopped along the way to eat a traditional Yemeni stew called faseh, but instead of ending the meal with something a little sweet, we wandered over to the row of men selling pre-weighed, bagged leaves. Hamdani, Shami, and Gatal were the varieties of qat on offer that day at an array of prices. We chose something mid-range and picked up a few extra bags to keep our security as doped up as possible. We began to sort through our unwashed, pesticide-laden bags as our jeep slowly climbed the terraced mountains that typify Northern Yemen . We passed slender houses, girls in fluorescent party dresses, and men with qat-stuffed cheeks as we continued to chew and not swallow.

I felt like Ibn Batuta as we arrived in Shaharah as people poked their heads out of windows to see what the cat dragged up the 2,500 meter mountain. Like Batuta, we came for one thing and left with another; an appreciation for what it means to be a Shahari. The famous Shaharah Bridge was interesting, but the disastrous effect qat is having on public health and the environment is more so. See, the unfortunate thing about qat is that it uses somewhere between 35-90% of the country's water supply (experts have yet to concur). And for Shaharah, the only industry is qat production which means water is in short supply. Wells are drying up in villages similar to this, feuds are erupting, and people can be killed because of water scarcity.

These problems are quickly forgotten as you move south to the port of Aden. Since the British left Aden in 1937, the city has become a hodge-podge of cultures and ethnicities contrasting the homogeneity of the rest of the country. Most startling is the prevalence of African prostitutes and the rich Saudis that love them. They tend to co-mingle at the Sailor's Club, a den of iniquity on the Gulf of Aden serving up spicy seafood spaghetti and even spicier entertainment. Women sport a range of clothing from full hijab/niqab to spandex cat suits and dance on a stage to live music. The men try to hold themselves back, but it does not take long before they use one hand to fling wads of cash at the women while the other hand clutches a string of prayer beads.

Most people only spend a few booze-filled nights in Aden before traveling the coastal road to Al Mukalla and then north to Wadi Hadramawt. Sayun, Tarim, and Shibam are all cities within Hadramawt offering excursions. Who could pass up a town boasting one mosque for every day of the year or an outcrop of mud buildings referred to as The Manhattan of the Desert? I can. I chose to bypass the inland desert and continue on the coastal road to the border of Oman . Even though I could not find any information about this border crossing, I convinced myself it would be easy-breezy. Wrong!

From Al Mukalla there is a bus to Al Ghaida, where there is a bus to Oman every day, but the day I arrived. Not being the type of person to sit around in oppressive heat swatting flies away from my face, I found a small group of men going to Hawf, a city in Yemen that was within walking distance to Oman . I must have been severely dehydrated because I actually thought this was a better option than finding an air-conditioned hotel room and waiting for the bus that would take me directly to the closest Omani city, Salalah.

Journey with me in the next issue of EGO as I hitchhike across the border and into areas of Oman that few foreigners have ever seen.

Oman: Just passing through

In the last issue of EGO we parted ways at the Yemen-Oman border after journeying together through the backwaters of Yemen, meeting the drug addicts, prostitutes, and shameless Saudis that litter the country. Now it is time to pick up where we left off – in a service car on its way to the border-town of Hawf.

After 3 hours of sitting in an Al-Ghaida service car, chatting with the driver about the obvious Somali refugee situation along the southern coast of the country, a select group of Yemeni men and I began our journey to Oman.

The road to Hawf hugged a coastline that had not yet seen the disastrous effects of plastic bags and other modern-day pollutants. After a few hours, it slowly veered away from the water and inland to a landscape that resembled some sort of Jurassic Park biosphere. I had my camera out, documenting the lushness of the region, when the Yemenis started preparing themselves to exit the vehicle en masse. I could not figure out where exactly they were planning to go because there was no obvious sign of life in the jungle, but apparently this was Hawf because within seconds, all the bags, including mine, were being unloaded onto the muddy terrain.

The Yemeni soldiers and I were looking at each other with the same expression of disbelief as none of us knew what to do next. I guess someone had issued an agnabi-alert because the Big Boss came out and asked me a series of rapid-fire questions, made phone calls, and held my passport up to the light. Finally, with a shrug of the shoulder I was processed and began making my way towards the Sultanate.

The Omani guards were not impressed by me. They reckoned that only idiots would travel this border without an itinerary, tour guide, or private transportation, and asked me where I planned on sleeping because I would probably be here for a while. I thought I would lighten the mood a bit and tried my hand at humor, "If worse comes to worse," I said, "I'll just ride a wild camel the 150km to Salalah." It was a stupid joke, but I was expecting a more light-hearted reaction than an emotionless, "Sir, there are no camels here." P.S. Just for the record, there were camels.

After examining every shred of dirty laundry in my bag, they allowed me to set up camp beside the road (with the camels) and wait for someone to either a) give me a ride, or b) run over me and put me out of my/their misery.

Most of the cars were so full of cheap, Yemeni-bought, Asian-made junk or munaqabat that my entrance into any of the vehicles was prohibited. But after achieving mild sunburn, a fairly empty car inched its way through the gates. I ran up to the driver and sputtered out some crap in Arabic that made me look as hard-up as possible. It worked, because before I knew it I was on the road with Ahmed and Hilal – a father-son duo on their way to Muscat, via Salalah.

Salalah is situated in the Dhofar region, typified by outcrops of mountains and plunging valleys. It just so happened that I was being chauffeured through this region in September, when the summer rains had stopped and the vegetation was as green as ever. It is a shame the beauty abruptly ends upon entering sandy Salalah proper, because the city needs all the help it can get. Maybe it was the fact that I had arrived on a Friday, maybe it was the fact that Salalah is just a lame place, but I could not find anything that managed to be both cultural and interesting at the same time. Except for the fact that Oman, like many of the countries in the region, is inhabited by a ridiculous number of migrant workers. Even though the country is going through an "Omanization" at the moment, 15-20% of the 2.6 million residents in Oman are still migrant workers primarily from Pakistan , Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines . Day by day, Omani-nationals are replacing foreigners in all sectors of business, even though I saw no evidence of this; it seemed everywhere I went, I overheard conversations in Urdu, not Arabic. Maybe the Omanis never venture outside because there is too much money to be counted?

I high-tailed it out of Salalah for 800 kilometers and I hit up Nizwa for some fortress action. Nizwa once stood at the intersection of an important trading route and the fort, built in 1668, served as a focal point for much of the activity. Now, most tourists visit the fort, the Sultan Qaboos mosque, as well as Jebel al-Akhdar or Jebel Shams for some hiking. Although, such hiking trips are usually too expensive for the lone backpacker, or anyone on a budget. Actually, Oman is prohibitively expensive for anyone not on an expense account. The cheapest hotel I found in Oman was in Nizwa and it cost a sweet $25/night, not exactly a bargain for someone used to paying $1-5/night while on the road.

Even though neither Salalah nor Nizwa floated my boat, Oman eventually gave me something that I will never forget. No, it was not body lice or debilitating diarrhea (I saved those experiences for my trip to Pakistan ) – it was the chance to witness hordes of giant turtles laying hundreds of slimy, white eggs on the coast of Ras al-Jinz. My guide was extremely eco-conscious and was sure not to disturb any of the turtles during our midnight expedition, as any disruption in the 6-hour egg-laying process would force the turtles to abandon their exposed eggs, leaving them as food for the foxes that roam the area.

After staring at turtles' butts for a few hours, I made my way to Muscat to catch the public bus to Dubai. Muscat is the sprawling capital with little to offer in terms of tangible heritage, but delivers if you are in need of some sushi or designer clothing. It is a good place to visit if you have a friend there that can take you around; otherwise, Dubai is only 6 hours away and is said to offer much more.

The bus service to Dubai is a well-oiled machine with efficient passport control and toilet stops at all the right places, but nothing prepared me for what I would find in the desert metropolis. . .

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

in full form

Saturday, March 10, 2007

peacocks = not fierce enough

In normal situations I would have pulled out my camera and documented the nonsense. But when you have a broker whispering in your ear, "this is very luxury," you try to pretend like this isn't the most shitacious apartment you've ever seen.

I have spent the last week of my life (a week that I'll never get back) looking at flats in Cairo. I thought I'd be able to find something 'very luxury' at a rock-bottom price. But no. Basically, what happens in Cairo is that everything is done through a simsar, or broker. They have a list of names/numbers/places that they call upon your request. They show you the places and then charge you 10-100% of the first month's rent. Fine, whatever. I've slept in enough roach-infested places with no hot water in my life that sometimes I'm willing to pay a bit extra for convenience.

The problem is, unlike most brokers in NYC, these dudes don't have their shit together. I have sat in fat, old men's apartments for hours on end while they finger their chicken-scratched diaries and call people who they THINK MIGHT have a place to rent me. And when they do find a place that's 'available' they don't make the necessary arrangements with the landlord to get me in there.

For example:

Broker: Hi. Do you have a studio, 1 BR, or 2 BR available?
Landlord: Yes.
Broker: Okay, how big/ how much?
Landlord: Such and such.
Broker: Thanks, bye.

Broker to me: She has something available, do you want to see it?
Me: Yes, why didn't you make an appointment with her? You knew my budget.
Broker: This is out of my hands.
Me: What is out of your hands, you shithead?
Broker: The tenants are on holiday and its against the law to let you in without them being home.

What?! Against the law? I'm sorry, I thought we were in fucking Egypt!! Even if we were in America (a land that isn't exactly lawless) and the broker could smell the cash oozing out of my pores, he'd do everything in his power to get my scrawny, white ass in that flat and my cash in his greasy hands ASAP. Am I wrong in this assumption?

The other problem is that a lot of landlords were willing to give me a place for 2-3 months, but wanted me out or to pay more in the summer. Between the months of May and September, the city is flooded with people from the Gulf, men primarily. They descend upon the city for a no-holds-barred sex-fest with anything they can get their hands on. Everyone knows about this and actually encourages it - otherwise the rents wouldn't be so grossly inflated.

Anyway. After seeing one too many places that were either a) disgusting b) full of gold furniture and mirrors with peacocks etched into them (I did actually consider moving into one of these peacock palaces because it was cheap and so tacky it was fierce, but I need a place that doesn't make me feel like a Kuwaiti), I decided to exploit my network of friends here.

I ended up moving in to a place in Garden City. I actually never even considered moving to this area in the first place even though it makes so much sense now. It's near downtown, 20 minute walk to my gym, close to the metro which takes me to my school, it's fabulous. It's not gross and it's not luxe, it's somewhere in between in a Lenora-on-Hooper-sort-of-way. I even have my own balcony! Although, my roommate is lame-o. When I first met her I thought she was cool, but I was wrong. I realize I'm a terrible judge on character, but I don't know how I didn't see this one.

Fortunately, she's moving out in a month or two and I can get someone fierce up in that shit.

Monday, February 26, 2007

koos on koos

This is a picture from my travelling companion, Koos. I decided not to go to Afghanistan with him and now I'm totally kicking myself in the ass for not going. He went to a 'sporting event' where guys try to wrestle a dead calf carcass onto the horse they're riding and then put it into a ring or something. Anyway, this is a picture of the crowd, with Koos in the middle (with the red-ish coat, not the guy looking at the camera). Very National Geographic. Loves it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

yemenia fame

After my totally whoreanus journey on Yemenia (yes, that's an airline) from Cairo to Sana'a 6 weeks ago, I've decided to write an article for their in-flight magazine. No, I won't be discussing the implications of not using metal detectors, not having female security to search burkah-ed bodies, using mobiles while in the air, and harassing the airline attendants. And no, I won't explain my shock when the Yemenis exhibited Pavlovian traits. Instead of drooling when they heard the "fasten/unfasten your seatbelt" beep, they actually fastened and unfastened their seatbelts! I'm slightly confused as to why, of all the other verbal/aural/physical indicators, they've chosen to take notice of this one. Fucking freak shows.

Anyway. Here's my article in both English and Arabic (just for the wow-factor). I will admit that my teacher tore apart a good portion of this, but still, I think it's pretty fierce. Clearly, it's not as witty and un-lame as I would have liked, but it was written with the intention of translating - and as I've learned, my humor just doesn't translate.

In the meantime, I've been hired by a Cairene magazine to write a two-issue travel article on a) all of my time in Yemen b) my retarded overland journey from Yemen to Oman and Dubai. So stay tuned for that fabulousness. This won't be translated and the magazine is kind of fierce, so hopefully I'll be able to spit something out that's mildly amusing.

Ya Sadiq!

Wandering the small lanes of Sana'a Al-Qadima, amidst the voices of children asking to have their pictures taken, I sometimes hear an old man's mumbled inquiry, "Why do you people come to my country?"

I come from a nation with the largest Yemeni population outside of Yemen, so I cannot help but think, "Why are 15,000 Yemeni's living in MY country?" Although, I already know the answer to this question as Yemeni motivations are more clear than our motivations as tourists. Nevertheless, his question remains a valid one. Of all the places in the world, why would I choose to live in Yemen for six months?

I came to Yemen as a result of doing what so many of us only dream of -- I quit my job, sold all of my furniture, and left home. It was time to start enjoying life by experiencing new cultures and learning a foreign language, or two. I enrolled in a language institute in Sana'a Al-Qadima, began volunteering at a non-government organization (NGO) for women's education and the welfare of street children, and participated in organized language exchanges with university students.

I will admit that I have experienced a few emotional breakdowns during my time at the language institute - who knew learning Arabic would be so difficult?! Luckily, my teachers have been kind enough to take me under their wings and expose me to true, Yemeni culture and tradition. Home-cooked meals and mafraj qat-chews have been weekly occurrences. And with approximately 70% of the population under the age of 25, participating in wedding celebrations can be a daily activity if you like being around men dancing with knives.

On the weekends, I take a break from tearing my hair out over Arabic grammar and volunteer at a Yemeni-founded NGO. Many NGO's in Yemen are funded by European governments and multinational corporations, but there are a few that have been home-grown. And not surprisingly, those involved in women's issues often employ an all-female staff, which was the case at my NGO (until I arrived!). Regardless of nationality or religion, few men have the opportunity to interact with the women of Yemen. Though I have found it difficult to work with women whose faces are concealed, I took advantage of the situation and learned a valuable lesson contrary to popular belief: these women are human-beings and not just black shadows wandering the streets.

This lesson has been reinforced during my afternoon language exchanges with a group of university students. As the majority of English students in Sana'a are women, most of my conversations are with females. I quickly learned that educated youth around the world are one-in-the-same; we have radical ideas, are interested in taboo subjects, and dream of conquering the world. In between heated debates on the situation in Palestine and Iraq, we have discussed Nancy Ajram and American rap music. Yes, 50 Cent does live on in Arabia Felix. And sadly, so does the soundtrack to "Titanic".

I think about my life once upon a time in New York City -- the soy lattes, celebrity sightings, and sit-down toilets. It was fun while it lasted, but it was all so long ago and admittedly unfulfilling. I wish more people would come and visit the Middle East so that he/she can educate him/herself instead of relying on biased Western media for the facts. And this is precisely the reason why I came to Yemen and precisely the reason why you should, too.


يا صديق!

كل يوم أتجول في أزقة صنعاء القديمة, أستكشف جمال المدينة و أستمع إلى أصوات الأولاد و هم يلعبون. أحياناً, أسمع عجوز يستعلم مستغرباً "لماذا تزورون بلدي؟"

أنا من شعب يوجد فيه أكبر عدد من المهاجرين اليمنيين, لذلك أفكر حالياً, "لو سمحت! لماذا يسكن 15,000 يمني في بلدي؟" طبعاً, سؤالي مجهول لأنّ أهداف اليمنيين واضحة في حين أهداف الأجانب غير واضحة و هكذا ما زال سؤال العجوز ساري المفعول. و كذلك ما زلتُ أنا أسأل نفسي من كل الأماكن في العالم, لماذا أسكن في بلد عجيب لنصف سنة؟

جئتُ إلى اليمن نتيجةً لرغبة نفسي في الخروج من أمريكا و لذلك تركتُ عملي, بعتُ أثاثي, و هاجرتُ من أمريكا. قررتُ أنّه كان من الضروري أن أبدأ أستمتع بحياتي من وراء التعرف على ثقافة جديدة و تعلم لغة أجنبية. لذلك التحقتُ بمعهد اللغة العربية في صنعاء القديمة, و بدأتُ أتطوع في منظمة غير حكومية لتعليم النساء و رعاية أولاد الشوارع, و شاركتُ في التبادل الثقافي و اللغوي مع طلاب الجامعات اليمنية.

وصلتُ إلى اليمن و أنا لا أعرف شيئاً عن اللغة العربية و لذلك لاقيتُ مشكلات قليلة طوال وقتي في المعهد. ولكن لحسن الحظ, كان أساتذتي لطيفين و عرفوني بالعادات و التقاليد اليمنية الحقيقية. مثلاً, كانت هناك زيارات إلى بيوتهم اعتيادية. أيضاً, بسبب العمر من 70% من عدد سكان اليمن أصغر من 25 سنة من الممكن أن تصبح حفلات الزواج حدث يومي فإذا أحببتَ أن ترقص مع رجال مسلحون تكون الفرصة كبيرة.

أنا أذهب في الأجازة الأسبوعية إلى العمل و تطوعتُ في منظمة غير حكومية يمنية. في اليمن كثير من المنظمات غير الحكومية ممولة من حكومات أوروبية و بشركات عالمية, ولكن توجد قليل من هذه المنظمات بتمويل يمني فقط. بالأضافة إلى ذلك, توجد المنظمات غير الحكومة التي تتضامن مع قضايا المرأة و توجد فيها موظفات فقط, مثل منظمة عملتُ فيها. باختلاف الجنس أو الدين, توجد حدود بين النساء اليمنيات و أي رجل آخر بسبب الثقافة اليمنية. أدركتُ أنني كنتُ وحيداً فانتهزتُ الفرصة لأتكلم معهن كثيراً. و مع أنّي وجدتُ الحال صعباً بسبب النقاب, تعلمتُ درس عكس العقيدة المنتشرة إن هؤلاء النساء لسن ظلال سوداء يتجولن على الشوارع فقط بل أنسان له أهدافه و آماله.

كان الدرس معززاً خلال التحاور اللغوي مع مجموعة من طلاب الجامعة. الأغلبية من الطلاب الذين يدرسون اللغة الإنكليزية في صنعاء هن نساء, و هكذا كانت معظم مناقشاتي مع الأنثى. تعلمتُ بسرعةً أنّ هؤلاء الطلاب مثل الشباب في كل أنحاء العالم. عندنا أفكار جذرية, نهتم بمواضيع متعددة, و نحلم بحكم العالم. من بين المناقشات النشيطة مناقشة الأحوال في فلسطين و العراق, حيث ناقشنا نانسي عجرم و موسيقى أمريكية. (فيفتي سنت) موجود في العربية السعيدة و للأسف ما زال موسيقى فيلم (تايتانك) موجود أيضاً.

جئتُ إلى اليمن لخبرة سابقة و تكررت نفس الخبرة. الآن, أفكرعن حياتي في مدينة نيو يورك و تبدو أنها ما كانت موجودة. تصبح الوجبات الفاخرة, الملابس الغنية, و المراحيض بشكل غربي غير مهمةً في هذه الأيام. تعلمتُ كثيراً من اليمنيين و أرجو أكثر غربيين سيزورون الشرق الأوسط لأنه يختلف من البرامج الأخبار الغربية.

Friday, February 23, 2007

mi casa

This is my house in Sana'a. I share it with a British 'journalist'. It's 5 floors and fierce.

The doors into all of the rooms are ridiculously tiny, which begs the question - what came first, the stunted, malnourished, drug-addicted Yemeni or the mini door frames?

This is my room. But I don't spend much time in it.

Because it's sunnier and quieter in the mafraj (top level of the house used for social gatherings).

This is the view from our roof.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

misr mommy

Mom and I DID Egypt about a month and a half ago. She loved everything. She is totally hilarious because she's often a bit menopausal which really added to the atmosphere. As if I need to be around 73 million crazy Egyptians AND a menopausal Mid-westerner.

Favorite part:

When we were in an elevator without closing doors.

When it went up/down, you could see the floors and concrete between the floors. You could reach out and touch whatever you wanted. Between the floors were painted numbers for ... duh ... the floor level. I said something along the lines of, ''Can you hit #4," thinking she'd hit the button when we entered said elevator. But I guessed she didn't hear me and I pushed the button myself. Oh no no no, lo and behold! While ascending, she saw the painted #4 on the concrete, and hit it with both her hands like she was slapping a Chippendale's ass, while yelling "Four!". She immediately realized that this was perhaps the most retarded thing she's ever done. Of course, I never let her live it down.

Us, on camels, in front of the sun.

Mom on a camel. She screamed the entire time. I bought her that bag from REI. She planned on carrying a serious bag with her at all times. So when she saw this she didn't believe me that it was all she needed. She soon realized that not only was it fierce, it was functional.

Prayer time.

What else did we do besides stare at Egyptian ass?

- Encountered men with broken bottles behind their backs at the pyramids

- Didn't buy anything because it's all imported from China

- Felucca's and dancing around fires with the infamous Mahmoud. Mom brought her own plastic cutlery for felucca meals.

- Dinner at Muharram's house in 'the Nubian village' - his house was pimped out AND the food was delish. Mom decided to use his cutlerly.

- Saw a million and one sights, of which I attempted to be the guide for all of them. Only to realize how much I've forgotten in the past two years.

- Road bikes in Luxor to the Valley of the Kings while Mubarak and Condi Rice were in town. Every single road was lined (every 30 feet) with un-armed military personnel. They stood outside for 12 hours without a break. I'm glad we could at least give them some entertainment.

- Hung out at Donkey Khalid's house on the West Bank of Luxor. He hates his life. Was so born in the wrong country.

- Mom got her hand kissed and was proposed to by Christian George. She asked if he had any friends instead.

- Seafood, movies, sights, booze in Alexandria.

All in all, a success. When I get some pictures from Mom, I'll post them.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

witches and midgets

After a so-so dinner at an overpriced hotel restaurant last night, I accompanied my housemate and friend to a different hotel that my housemate's friend runs. The reason for going is because hotel manager's brother works for the mobile phone company and can block the phone calls from my friend's Yemeni harasser.

After that was all sorted out, we started discussing the mystical side of Yemen. Or shall, I say, THEY started discussing it - I don't know jack about this.

Apparently there is a book of magic called Shams al-Ma'arif. Nobody knows who wrote it (but popular opinion is the Jews) and there are still a few hand-written copies floating around. This dude got his hands on one of these and took it to his house. Needless to say, some Harry Potter-esque stuff started happening and he returned the book to the owner. I guess the Saudis come to Yemen to look for such things because 'they're all dogs looking to hunt women' and the Shams can help with that - as it's a recipe book of sorts.

Also, there's a slew of tunnels under the old city all linking up with this hotel. Apparently the hotel was an old castle (though you wouldn't know now) back when the Turks occupied Yemen. In this hotel, they actually built a 'false floor' about 1.5 meters in height where they hid all of their valuables. After years of being scared of what they might find inside, the owner recently opened it and found wooden boxes full of old Turkish army armor. Fierceness.

It's the only building in all of Sana'a that has a Turkish hammam on it. And the tunnels? Where do they go? The Yemenis are too scared to find out. But one thing is for sure. The people with tunnels under their house are convinced that once the government finds out, they will take their houses away from them and fill in the tunnels.

They've found ancient hand-written Korans in the walls of a mosque in the capital. Apparently, the stories in the Korans are different from what's in the 'real' Koran. I'm sure of a lot illiterate, brainwashed people know about this, but have dismissed it as being untrue/unauthentic/unIslamic. Wonder who has the manuscripts now and/or if they've been destroyed.

There's also some theories going on that despite the fact that there's 500 Jews in Yemen (which the Yemenis take great pride in because they 'respect one another' - despite the fact all of the Jews have been moved into a hotel and have around-the-clock security because a group of Shi'a called the Hoothi have threatened to kill all of them), some Muslims are actually Jews. That is to say, they practice Judaism in their homes, but nobody knows. A group of them supposedly went to the American embassy, told them this, and got passports as religious refugees or whatever refugee box you can check off for such things. They said they were forced into Islam.

I've been discussing these things with my teachers and they want to know:

a) how the fuck I know this
b) why I want to know this
c) if I actually believe Muslims were forced into a religion of peace. because they weren't!
d) if I think juggling is magic (because my teacher is convinced its the devil's work. that, and dancing)

Friday, February 09, 2007

leave it to mom

When not watching the absolutely whoreanus Rachel Ray show, I've been following the Larry vs. Anna Nicole baby saga on Inside Edition/The Insider. But then I received this email from my Mom.

anna nicole smith died today. last nite on t.v. she looked pretty stoned and could barely speak. most likely suicide i think.

Fuck Palestine, fuck Indonesia. Mom sends me the real news.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

peter luger's finally

After talking about it for years (literally), Marian and I finally took a car service 5 blocks from The Lenora to Peter Luger's for a very over-the-top lunch.

First, I should say that both of us were pretty much a mess, even though we got mani/pedis before going. At least Marian had a floppy hat and Pocahantas boots to smooth over our un-fierceness. All I had was a rain-proof jacket. And let's face it, that ain't fierce.

We ended up getting the "Steak for Two". This dish was bashed on CitySearch because the meat is bathed in butter. Who doesn't like butter?! We loved it.

We also had a side of creamed spinach because they were out of a majority of the other side dishes. Really, how hard is it to bake a potato?

And a bottle of red.

And we finished it off with a "Holy Cow!" ice-cream sundae.

It was worth every single penny. And every single calorie.

So hot.

Loves meat.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

da whore

Lahore was pretty fierce. I ended up spending about 5 days there because a) it was fun b) I became very ill there. This city is defintely the cultural hub of Pakistan. There's so much to do, eat, buy. Lots of little markets and small streets to get lost in.

This is the big mosque in da whore. I don't remember it's name, but it was fierce. I got in a fight with the shoes-check people. I knew that even though it was a place of worship, that they'd try to extort money out of me to get my shoes back. I held back and watched what the locals paid for the shoes - something like 5 rupees. So I asked for my shoes, then gave him the 5 rupees and dude flipped shit. He wanted 20. Naturally, I took the 5 back from him and walked away. Beggars can't be choosers, right? Of course, he didn't like this and came back over and said 'Okay 5, Okay 5'. Nope, no money. I started saying Allah and Masjid over and over again, then someone threatened to hit me with a stick. What? This is God's house, bitches.

Inside the mosque. The view from the outside is deceiving because the inside is actually tiny.