Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Sea Said Go Home

 When school ended and the weekend was upon me, I would walk.  I didn't know what else to do with my time.  There were no books or internet or art or people to speak with... so I walked and spoke to the land under my boots.
 A make shift futbol field of spare tire and dust.
 The abandoned brick fort atop the stone hill.
The oil fields oozing muck in the caked earth.
 The men holding hands as they walked to mosque.  Don't you dare get caught out in this heat during prayer time.  No water can be purchased.  No shade can be found.  And they won't let you inside.
 Nothing lives in this heat.
 So I would go to the Sea.
 Stop my walking and try to listen instead.  The Sea would always say... go home.

View Master Time Machine

 I have a view master time machine in my eye.
 A series of slides laying atop and behind one after the other in an endless travel stream.
 Clicking into place everywhere I go.
 Standing on Empire State I see the swirling Seine
From atop Eiffel
The snaking Thames
From spinning London Eye
The sprawling glitter beneath Taipei 101
The blowing sands skirting beyond Burj Khalifa
To the sea.
 Strolling I touch the tarnish brick of Ubud
Red bridges of Lijiang
Cherry blossom petals of Kyoto falling upon my head
Tulips fields of Keukenhof

Himalayan snows of Ladakh 
 Floating I cross the Bosphorous
Into the old world of Istanbul
Sink my fingers in
Dead drifts of Varanasi
Lift the lotus
From Perfume Pagoda Hoi An

Shiver  in the frozen sunlight of Inle Lake
 It’s in faces too
Someone new I see
The brows of old comrades
Lips of past loves

Eyes of my blood.
I have a view master time machine in my eye


Monday, July 29, 2013

What'cha Wearing Under That Abaya, Baby?

 A funny thing happened on the plane to Qatar.
 I was flying in from Bangkok, the Vegas of Asia.  A total Sodom and Gomorrah where anything goes... into one of the most religiously conservative places in the world: Saudi Arabia, with a little layover in the gulf country
 The women boarded the plane with tattoos and belly shirts... little hot pants and mini skirts... bedecked in gaudy jewelry and so much make-up a thirteen year old girl would squirm.
 But somewhere over the Indian Ocean, one by one the women would go into the airplane bathrooms and emerge NOT as these vestibules of confidence and overt (albeit kind of yucky) sexuality... but as wrapped up gunny sacks of Islamic Shame and servanthood.
 I'm talking about the Abaya... people!  Not a Burka (Burqa).  That's a garment that goes so far as to cover the eyes like some weird space suit.  No...the Saudi Arabian Abaya.  Which at least allows them to see where they are walking.
 Even still... with women wearing the Abaya, there are flashes of flare.  Check out my girl's three inch heels.
 Of course, none of this makes sense to a westerner because we actually LOVE women.  We adore them.  We understand that everything good in the world comes because women either created or inspired it.
 So what becomes even stranger is you arrive in Saudi Arabia and walk around... and because of the heat you're herded like cattle into the only air-conditioned buildings in the country... shopping malls... and you find yourself wandering around killing time.... and all you can see are these clothing shops for women.
 Now when I say clothing shops... I'm saying Lane Bryant and Anne Taylor loft be damned... because these are shops for old ladies wishing to be princesses.
 Ball gowns with gigantic hoop skirts.  Frills.  Lace.  Plunging neck lines.  Strapless.  Sleeveless.  Total weirdo couture.
 These women's stores were everywhere to the total bafflement of all the foreigners there.
 Is this what Muslim women wear beneath these ridiculous Abaya gowns? Do they dress up like it's prom night only to cover themselves in black gunny sacks to keep from being raped by sex starved men?
 Nobody knows.  I was not allowed into these stores... and even taking the picture of these stores could have gotten me into trouble... but it begs the question, what is happening here?
 Because you'd see the hems of elaborate garments beneath the black robes... sashaying and frolicking as the women wandered in and out of shops escorted by (of course) their husbands.
It was a question I never got answered.  The western men that did exist in Saudi for a long time, who lived in Riyadh, who attended embassy parties who met affluent Arabian women, would dazzle with stories of debauchery and wild party life.  But for simple old me, I had to just watch and wonder.  No real loss.  I've been to the prom before and can take the wait.

Friday, July 26, 2013

You like-a the Kepsa? I like-a the Kepsa!

When you teach in Saudi Arabia, you're instructed by the Big Wigs not to talk about anything.  Not books.  Not movies.  Not art.  Politics.  Religion.  History.  Cultures.  Humor.  Sex.  Fun.  You know... the usual spice of life.  But you can talk about food.  In Saudi Arabia, there is one food they eat.  It's a chicken and rice dish called Kepsa.  It's eaten on a big tray on the floor with your hands, scooping the rice and chicken bones into your mouth and sucking your fingers.  It's the one question every Saudi student knows to ask a foreigner.  The conversation goes like this:
"Teacher!  You like-a the Kepsa?  I like-a the Kepsa.  It's very good.  Tell me you like it?  Yes, teacher say yes.  It's so good on your fingers.  Yes?  Yes? Yes?  I know you like it?  You like-a the Kepsa?"
There's really only one way to make them stop.
"Yes, I do.  Do YOU like the Kepsa?"
"Oh teacher...!"

Sand Storm Turns Day Into Night

Returning to work after a holiday is a bummer.  Returning to work in the middle of a blinding sand storm...
The aftermath is incredible.  You can close the doors and lock all the windows, still the tiny grains of sand seep across the floor, sprawl across your kitchen counter, and lay thin layers of silt along your mattress.  It's everywhere.
The sky will tell you when the sand is coming... there's this ominous feel of dread like thunderstorms back in Oregon.  Even the camels stroll toward shelter.
The air rolls up in a foggy bog that swallows up buildings and roads.
These pictures were taken from the inside of Rashid Mall in Jizan the day I returned from Farazan.  We'd already been through a number of sandstorms, but this eventually turned day into night.  It was quite incredible, and foreshadowed all that lay ahead.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Know Your Thobe

 If you’re going to travel to Saudi Arabia… you better understand the do’s and don’ts  of fashion.  Things like… never wear gold chains (especially with Christian Crosses or Star’s of David) or show your knees, elbows, or tattoos, and if you’re a woman, (well, don’t go to Saudi Arabia if you’re a woman, but if you have to… ) prepare to cover yourself head to toe in a black gunny sack.
 But if you’re a man… you’d better know your Thobe!
 What’s a ThobeA Thobe (Arabic Thawb) is the long white gown that boys and men wear that hangs down to their ankles.  Actually, in this heat, they’re pretty comfy!
 You also must know your headscarves.  Commonly called a Keffiyeh (Arabic Shmagh) there are two types:  The red and white Saudi Arabian Keffiyeh or the black and white Jordanian.   Knowing the difference is helps get deeper into interacting within the diverse Saudi culture.
 Another thing to know so you won’t freak out when you see men packing machetes around on their belts… is the JambiaThe Jambia (Arabic Janbiya) is the small dagger when above the age of fourteen wear in their belts as an accessory.  There is also a Saifani, which is the Yemeni version, the hilt of the sword is important, usually made from rhinoceros horn, and shows the status of men in society.
 Other head gear includes the Taqiyah, which is the muslim prayer cap, and the agal, which is the head rope that holds the Keffiyeh.
No matter what’s going on… even after this fatal car crash along the highway (this was a common occurrence as these Saudi guys drove like drunk dare devils) knowing your Saudi fashion can help you stay cool and better operate in the culture.  In fact, I knew a couple of foreigners who eventually just started wearing Thobes to class.  The Saudi students loved it and those teachers were instantly adored.  So Good luck.  You’ll need it.  And Go Native!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Farewell, Farazan

"We sail tonight for Singapore.  We're all as mad as hatters here.  I've fallen for a tawny Moor, took off toward the Land of Nod.  Drank with all the Chinamen, I've walked the sewers of Paris.  I've danced along a colored wind, dangled from a rope of sand.  You must say goodbye to me."  -Waits, Singapore.
The boats ashore.  The captain has been paid handsomely.  The sun is going down.  It's time to leave Farazan Island.
The fish are to market and the nets are rolled away.
The sun's powerful roar has rolled into a mighty yawn.
The boys are playing tag along the dock.  A minute after this photo was taken, the larger boy threw his brother into the drink.
The men lay up their scarves and robes and head back to the only land they call home.
They wander out into the desert.  I would not follow them for the world.
Even the children stare hungrily at the sands.
The week is finished and I am heading back to teaching.  When vacations end, especially vacations from a seemingly endless vacation, there is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, but not here.  I turn away from the sun and head back to the unknown of life in Saudi Arabia.