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.