Thursday, July 21, 2005

back to the city victorious

At Sana'a airport - enroute to Cairo. My time in Yemen is done.

I somehow managed to sleep through my alarm tonight and Mohammad-the-airport-driver woke me up at 11pm. I still had packing to do, so I scrambled. I also meant to say good-bye to my classmates. I feel like a total asshole about it, but will be sure to have the Director forward an apologetic email to the appropriate people.

Today was very interesting. The government announced a pointless 100% increase in fuel prices. Which not only means that "normal people with cars" will have to pay more, but public transport will also double in price. Not surprisingly, the Yemenis took to the streets with their firepower and starting lighting things on fire and shooting at the police. Yes, definitely the right way to go about change.

We decided not to leave the Center, so we cooked a feast. Notice the hijab action. Fierce!

I was a bit worried my flight would be cancelled tonight because of all the wreckage, but it started raining. So all the fighters went inside and chewed qat instead of getting wet. Fighting is said to resume tomorrow.

Monday, July 18, 2005

a city devoid of life

After my day of failure yesterday, I decided to wake up super early this morning to catch a cab to Shibam (something that didn't seem like a very hard task). Not only did I hope to catch early morning souk activity, but I'd also be closer to Wadi Da'wan, so maybe someone would be willing to take me there???

The drive to Shibam was very impressive - lots of abadonded mud castles.

But Shibam itself was craziness. They call Shibam the "Manhattan of the desert." 8-9 storey tall buildings made completely out of mudbrick!

Their houses may be made out of mud, but they've still got A/C ya'll!

You enter the city through tall, white gates, which made it feel like stepping back into time. I walked around for a good hour snapping photos and looking for the souk, signs of activity, signs of life - anything!


Only a few antique shops were open and the men inside were already asleep. Lots of other shops were closed up. I wondered what hid behind their doors. I assured myself that after an hour of sipping tea, I'd make another round and perhaps the town would be more alive.

At least they merchandise well!

I went back to the white gates and wandered towards a tea stand. It turned out that this was the only tea stand in Shibam and that the tea stand lie in the middle of the souk. I was still very confused because 1 fruit stand, 1 veggie stand, and 1 pile of dried dates doesn't really constitute a "souk". This was supposed to be the big weekly bazaar. I didn't understand how anyone would be able to eat for more than a day if this was all that was on offer.

I decided not to stress too much about their rotted vegetables and plomped my ass down in the middle of some dudes on a coal-burned rug. They smoked the ancient hose-less sheeshas with unflavored tobacco. There was a real art to rolling tobacco in their hands and preparing the communal pipe before huffing their brains out.

Nobody really seemed to notice me. I was definitely the only tourist in town UNTIL I saw a man in the typical "I'm going to the Middle East" brand-new safari gear. Tool.

Then, about 10 minutes later, before I could even react to their presence, a Japanese camera crew arrived with the tool. A Japanese woman (who I guess is a celebrity in her homeland giving how tangibly annoying she was in only a way that television personalities can be) came in shouting Salaam Alaykum's and plopped HER ass down in the middle of ME and these dudes. She had a camera girl, a boom girl, a random Japanese guy, a translator, and of course the tool. I thought it was totally rude and embarassing, but the men loved it! I refused to move even though they were slowly moving in on my territory. Once the camera girl tripped over me, I got up in a huff hoping they'd realize that they'd ruined MY Shibam experience. But of course I didn't leave without documentation.

She's totally going to suck his pipe:

I strolled around town again. Established that their was nothing else open, nothing else to see, and certainly nothing to eat. I tried to get a taxi to Hajjarayn after the guy's outside the white gates said Da'wan was impossible without a 4WD jeep. Hajjarayn was as deep as I could get that day.

One guy offered to take me to Hajjarayn for 2000 riyals. I'm not sure if that was one-way or round-trip, but at the time, I laughed at the price, KNOWING I could get a better deal if I returned to Sayun and booked taxi from there.

Ha! I was so very wrong. They all wanted 5000-8000 R/T from Sayun.

I retreated to a juice stand and just camped out. I refused to check myself into a hotel room with things so up in the air - I had a feeling something may be coming my way. After all, if you sit somewhere long enough, someone is bound to swing by and chat with you and maybe give you a few pointers.

I ended up booking a car through some guy's friend for 3500 R/T for 3pm that afternoon.

The drive took 90 minutes. The place was spectacular. 17,000 population on mountain and lower-lying communities. People seemed to be more curious than they were friendly. Not the usual gormless stares that the Yemeni's are so famous for; these people were a bit more inquisitive with their eyes.

Young girls kept asking for pictures, but I knew that there could be trouble if I actually did take any. Some of these people believe that a picture steals your soul, so I didn't want to upset anyone. I could only take their chants of "surah! surah!" for so long, and reached for my camera. The oldest one had a look of terror on her face and began screaming NO NO NO. She screamed as she guarded the children. I backed off. I didn't want the child to have a coronary at age 8.

Once I got back to Sayun, I booked a ticket to Sana'a at 6:15 the next morning. But only after I told the guy selling me the ticket that I was American and that I had no religion. (After he asked for this information) I found 2 things weird about this encounter: He asked if I was Muslim. And when I said No, he then offered up, "Are you Buddhist?" Who says Buddhist before Christian? Then, the reaction he gave my answers made me feel like I shouldn't get on the bus in the morning. Could be Bomb Central.

As I walked back to my filthy room at the aptly named Palace Sayun, I talked myself down and attributed my fears to the oppressive heat and exhaust fumes from my taxi ride from Hajjarayn.

turnin' tricks

After Tarim, I returned to Sayun and booked a room at BMC. The dude at reception want 2500 riyals a night. I was all, "No way, Jose." He kept asking what nationality I was so that he could give me what he thought was a fair revision. Do I look like I just fell off the cabbage truck? I told him that it wasn't any of his business and that I was here on my own. And that all I had was my daypack - I was roughing it, ya'll. His response was, "Are you sure you didn't come with a tour group or private car or private guide or taxi or blah blah blah." I wasn't even entertaining that nonsense with an answer. I told him I'd give him 1500. We ended up deciding on 1800, my biggest splurge of the trip at $9USD.

I guess it was worth it, the place had a killer view and an even deadlier swimming pool. Algae, anyone? There was also A/C, but hardly effective, seeing as I was in the middle of the desert in July. At least there was Star Movies. I was really revving myself up for the LeeLee Sobieski movie about the girl that contracts knee cancer (yeah, that boney thing on your leg) and dies that was playing that evening.

But first! I went and took a swim in the swamp/pool. Showered and attempted my first hitch-hiking experience ever. I had to get back into Sayun (the hotel was about 20k outside of town) and hitching was the only way to get there. I didn't really know what to do. I tried holding my thumb up a couple times like the tool I am. That didn't work. So I tried a simple wave. I tried to look slutty for one car full of boys. I think my sunglasses were too dark for them to see the red hot sex in my eyes. I eventually walked so far along the road that I ran into some Yemeni dudes waiting for a car, too. I asked them if I could share if they found a car, so that's what I did. My first attempt at solo hitching was a huge failure.

Anyway. I had to go back to town to find someone to take me "deeper." I wanted to go to Wadi Da'wan further south on a road less travelled. The only tour agency that the LP pointed out ended up being closed, internet wasn't happening any time soon, and there were no other whities in town that I could see. So I had dinner and called it a night.

Friday, July 15, 2005

still embarassed to be american

I took at night bus to Wadi Hadramaut the other night and arrived yesterday morning at 4:45am. We hit a sandstorm along the way, which is why we were just a tad late. I sat next to a large African-looking guy who chewed qat, burped, and farted the entire time. I guess it's better than huffing Dorito-breath vomit like I did on the Aden bus.

Claudia told me to get a shitload of copies made of my police permission. When she and her sister went a couple weeks ago, they got stopped at every checkpoint and were asked for the permission. Eventually, they ran out of copies and just put on their burkahs and called it a day. I didn't exactly have the "luxury" of a burkah, so made many copies, just in case.

At the first checkpoint, I was the reason why the bus had to pull over for a full hour. Lots of back-and-forth looking at my passport, my permission, my face. I felt bad since I was the only foreigner on the bus - and an evil American at that. As to not make anymore enemies, the bus driver and I made a pact. If I pulled the curtain and ducked my head if anyone were to look in, he'd tell the police that there were no foreigners on board. It worked. We didn't have to endure anymore checks after that. But I still had to endure fart-man.

Arrived to the Wadi with the Yemeni portion of Lonely Planet's Middle East edition. Yemen got a whopping 20 pages out of the book, and the Wadi got about 1. So, I'm spending the next 5 days trying to entertain myself with 1 page worth of information.

The bus dropped me off in Sayun. I wandered around a bit until after sunrise, trying to take some pictures. But Sayun is much smaller and less impressive than I thought. I mean, the Wadi is pretty and all, but I have to say that the Western Desert and Sinai in Egypt beat this.

Downtown Sayun:

Mosque action:

Action in his pants:

After a breakfast of donut-like bread, eggs, my first "chai halib" and more bread, I caught a shared taxi to Tarim.

Tarim is a very quaint town. The sagacious Lonely Planet said that Tarim had 365 mosques - which I thought would be a sight in and of itself. I soon found out that a mosque doesn't necessarily mean that a minaret has to be attached - making it easily visible from afar. I only counted about 20. I guess any old room with a mihrab and a couple of prayer mats is technically a mosque. But I liked Tarim, nonetheless. It seemed laid back and "peace" as the Kurdish/Swede described it.

I was sitting outside Yemen's tallest minaret and up pulled a mini-bus full of galabiyya-clad men.

It was pretty obvious they were converts, with all that notoriously pastey, British skin stepping out of the vehicle. One started walking towards me and I was all, "Fabulous! Just what I'm in the mood for." But 'Mohammed from London' seemed alright and so did Kurdish/Swede man. There's a school in Tarim where all the converts go, I was hoping for a free lunch or at least a free tour of the establishment. I mean, don't they get extra Allah points for such things? No luck, I was on my own for lunch.

As I walked around, I realized just how alone I really was. Children, who are usually the most friendly in any town you go around the world, were running away at the sight of me. If someone was hanging around their front door, they'd immediately run inside and drag with them as many wandering kids as possible.

I wonder if Sana'a was ever like that. Is someone feeding them lies about foreigners? Maybe they really haven't seen that many people with fair skin or are we scary looking? Why were the kids in Shaharah (a much more remote place) so different?

When I tried to buy a banana from a kid, he stood frozen, unable to move. I don't know if it was my arabic or just me being a foreigner, but the kid just stood there like a bump on a log. His friend had to step in and lend a helping hand.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

he ain't no trannie

Finally ended up going to Aden last weekend. Aden is on the southern tip of Yemen - was once one of the most important ports in the world, was taken over by the British (they even built a mini Big Ben), and then basically disappeared after a couple revolutions. I was expecting it to be super hot, super exotic, super fierce, and somewhat pretty. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to any of those expectations. Someone didn't want to do a night bus, so we opted for a 7-hour day bus (7am to 2pm). With the Steven Siegal movie, followed by a voyeuristic documentary about animals killing animals in Africa, followed by people barfing up what smelled like Nacho Cheesier Doritos, it wasn't exactly the best start.

We ended up getting some very nice hotel rooms for a very nice price. We didn't stick around for long, though; we quickly changed into our bathing suits and headed to the Indian Ocean to take a dip.

The beach basically consisted of extremely huge waves that caused our suits to fly off every couple seconds. Fortunately, about 30 guys lined up along the beach to watch the crazy white people swimming. Definitely in their top 10 of spectator sports. I think the guys got a good show considering that waves + bikinis = nudity. Not to mention, my ass was all over the place -- I'm sure all sexual persuasions were fulfilled that cloudy afternoon.

After that nonsense, we decided to retreat to the hotel and get all sexy for the Sailor's Club. Todd sold the Sailor's Club to us as a den of iniquity - full of prostitutes, hypocritical Saudis, and trannies galore. Perfect, I thought -- I could use a little nasty.

We got there, and it was empty. I tried to take a picture as documentation of its lack of fierceness, but was quickly stopped by some Djibouti hookers in the corner. As if I wanted a picture of their nappy-ass weaves.

Slowly, people began to wander in. . . .

- Some more hookers that seemed to not get any business the entire evening.
- Saudis with prayer beads in one hand and wads of cash in the other to give to the burkah-less women humping the dancefloor.
- 2 Asians and 1 Russian - male tourists looking for what I thought to be some a pussy-good time. But what actually turned out to be some backdoor fun with some of the other men.
- A woman with a ball of qat in her mouth that could rival any man's.
- A woman in a fishnet leotard and her friend in a 100% spandex flourescent orange one-piece dress/mini-skirt thing. Too hot to handle.
- The man who Todd said was a tranny. Okay folks, just a little nugget of wisdom for you - a man in make-up does not make him a pillow-biting, dildo-loving, estrogen pill-chomping trannie. Plus, his make-up application was far from flawless. He did get the Russian dancing, and I'm pretty sure they locked the bathroom door behind them.

We drank like a 1000 beers and watched the bellydancers. Finally! Yemeni ladies without the burkah. Even I was turned on. The Saudis would go up on stage (or pay someone to go up on stage) to "shower" the ladies with 50 rial notes. They'd either throw it up into the fan to fall on their heads or they would peel them off one-by-one and drop them on their heads. Definitely a bit different than back home - no potential for copping-a-feel while slipping in that sweaty $1 note.

Then, there was this guy. His only job was to go and pick up the money that fell on the floor. Hmmm.
One girl, no more than 18 years old, in a spandex ensemble was singing. The reverb was on so high that anyone sounded great. I enjoyed the music - it really made you feel like you were in the twilight zone. Then she started humping the floor. That got the Saudis fidgeting for more cash.

I asked my teacher a couple days later about these ladies. He said they were very, very bad girls. Haram! Forbidden by the Koran, most definitely. He assured me that if they returned to their villages they'd be killed. Not because of their actions, because the burkah would conceal their identity. It's the fact that they left their homes unaccompanied.

We left feeling pretty nice. Strolled by the other club next door, but it was already closed. As everyone was arguing with the obviously drunk taxi driver about how much we'd pay him to risk our lives on the way home, I found some dudes selling TONS of liquor through a metal fence. Boo-yah!

I guess I blacked out for a moment or something because we ended up buying Teachers-brand whiskey. Something I would've never allowed considering my last Ethiopian experience.

On the way home I practiced some of my famous drunk faces.

Matt attempted some, too.

We tried to continue the party at home, but just ended up taking pictures that now look like the opening shots of an amateur porno. Matt assesses how well the roofie dissolved in the Teachers...

And Claudia assesses her bodysuit situation...

Friday, July 01, 2005

attempting a beer

Happy almost 4th of July. It's the first holiday (besides my birthday) that I'm missing away from Amrika. Doesn't really bother me at the moment, even though the routine/predictable/comfortable life of NYC would be nice to slip back into for a couple weeks. I'm starting to realize just how hard it is learning a foreign language - so many intricacies, so much brain power necessary. Plus, there's really nothing to distract me from my studies here, except for the 4 English-language television stations we have. That is, when we have power.

Power tends to go out between 1 and 5 times a day. It was cute at first, now it's annoying. Basically, you light a candle and hang out in the communal area, making small talk. Or, you go to sleep. Or, you go out drinking!

Drinking isn't very easy in Sana'a. There are a few expat bars in walled, government compounds. We went to the British Club last night because both the Russian and Lebanese clubs were closed because of a Middle East conference taking place in that compound. It was a weird place - like being in a person's kitchen overlooking a tennis court.

They had beer and alcohol for sale. They charged everything in US dollars, but when you went to pay, they'd convert it into rials. So, for example. You order a beer for 3USD, then you pay 600 rials. Makes perfect sense.

They played a lot of The Smiths and some people danced around in that sad, old-British-person sort of way. I was hoping someone would jump into the tiny swimming pool to spice things up a bit, but nobody was too keen on that idea.

Claudia, Matt, Tolstein, and myself looking fat, yet happy.