Friday, August 17, 2007


Hey all-

There are new pictures up.

I know this is technically 'Istanbul to Cairo,' but I put up pictures of Brazil, as well.


ps - there may be new pictures up tomorrow, as well...

Friday, August 3, 2007


Right now I am in air traveler´s purgatory, trapped in a hotel in Madrid as our airline (Aerolineas Argentinas -- avoid!!!) is apparently trying to build some planes to get the hundreds of us trapped here to Buenos Aires.

So about these shirts. Starting in Istanbul, I started seeing fashionable t-shirts splashed with any old phrase in English, much like the Japanese fashion. In one of the markets I spotted a portly middle-aged man waddling about sporting a red shirt emblazoned with ¨Looking for a one night stand.¨ I´m convinced many of the Turks with these shirts had little idea what their clothing was announcing. I´m still kicking myself for not buying a shirt I saw for sale that announced, in bold slanted writing ¨Alan Greenspan announces rate raises,¨ with the rest of the newspaper article it was taken from in smaller print below. For sale in Damscus, Kate spotted a brand of men´s button-up shirts: ¨Lesberado.¨ I can hear the song right now. There were also some shirts covered in Windows English, like ¨Ctrl-Alt-Dlt¨and various error messages. I finally got a shirt that announces ¨Ultra Violent Skin Block,¨ which is the only shirt I have to my name these several days I´ve been marooned without my luggage.

This mob of angry passengers is about to lynch me, so I will cede my computer.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Afee Mushkaila (Problems)

Here's a tip, from us to you: don't fly Jordanian Aviation.

Dan and I had to get from Jordan to Cairo by the 26th to meet up with Christy. Getting from Aqaba in Jordan to Cairo involves taking a ferry across the Red Sea to Nuweiba, Egypt, then getting to the bus station, then getting on a bus to Cairo; it takes about 12 hours. Because of time spent elsewhere, we were a little tight, so we decided to go Jordan Aviation. The flight left the morning of the 26 and was only about an hour to Cairo. We would get an extra day to stay in Aqaba and snorkel in the red sea (sidenote: we did! it was amazing! we saw sea turtles! and tons of fish!)

So, 7am, we get up, get ready, go to the airport. We go through customs, check our bags, and sit. And sit. Boarding time: 9:40. 9:40 passes. 10am passes. 10:30 (flight time) passes. no one is moving. unfortunately, no one is speaking english, either, so we don't know what's going on - we're the only non-Arabs on the plane.

Maybe 10 minutes after the plane is supposed to leave, they board us. The plane has been sitting on the tarmac in the sun all morning, and we walk up the stairs and get into our seats. The aircon in the plane isn't working, so it's at least 105 degrees, probably closer to 110, and humid (hello, sweaty people). we sit, and sweat, and fan ourselves with postcards, and sweat. Another 15 minutes go by, maybe 20. The flight attendents hand out water, and Dan and I can see them taking turns ducking into the bathroom to mop themselves off. People on the plane start revolting, and just get up out of their seats and walk back onto the tarmac. Having no idea what's going on (has there been an announcement of some kind? we wouldn't understand it), Dan and i get up and walk off the plane as well.

Then some official looking men in blue uniforms come out and start yelling at us in arabic to (we assume) get back on the plane. Some passengers yell back. Slowly we get back on the plane. We sit for another 10 minutes, and then people all get back up and file off the plane again, this time aided by the very same men who had just yelled at us to get ON the plane.

We go back to the terminal and wait around. Dan goes off to find someone who speaks English. He asks one official looking man what's going on:

'Health' the man says.

"Health? Is there something wrong with the plane? Is the engine not working?"

"Nono, Health."

'Ok, well, how long will it take to fix?"

...long pause....

"One hour?"

After a little while, an engineer looking man came out made some sort of announcement. A number of Middle Eastern men went over, crowded around him and began yelling. The engineer yells back. Women look pissed.

I go off to find someone who speaks English, and manage to talk to the man who had originally checked us in. He tells me there is something wrong with the plane engine (health, indeed), but the major problem is that there is no representative from Jordanian Aviation in the airport, so no one can make any decision about anything. He thought they´d called headquarters, and maybe they were going to try to fix the engine, or maybe get another plane in. but he didn´t really know cause he was Royal Jordanian.

we sit, and eat chips, and sit. they make another announcement, people get up and yell. then people are gathering at customs. apparently, they´re telling us we can leave, but we´ve already been stamped out through customs so they have to go back and amend it or something. we get in line. they take our passports and instead give us little green pieces of paper. they refuse to give us back our passports.

dan and i want to leave, but we have no idea where to go or when we need to be back, because we have no idea when the plane is leaving, if at all (at this point, it´s probably 2 in the afternoon). some people seem to have left, but a number are still hanging around. we wander outside to see if there´s a bus or something. there´s nothing, not even taxis.

finally, a bus comes and everyone piles on. As dan says, it was the first time in a long time that we´d gotten on a form of transit with absolutely NO idea where we were going. Dan makes friends with a Saudi man, who speaks a little english (actually, this happened earlier. but we sat next to him on the bus). we are going to a hotel, possibly to eat.

we get to the hotel, and everyone gets out - there´s a restaurant on the 6th floor and everyone is in line to get in the elevator. i get ushered in with the women in children. they try to get dan to go with us, but he decides to wait. then, dan gets in after me with about 7 arab men. the elevator breaks, and dan is stuck in there for 30 minutes with 7 men who speak no english. he manages to explain that hé´s from the US, and they think he´s from texas and try to get him to pry open the doors. he is unsuccessful.

finally he gets out and he and i go up and eat some food. the engineer guy is there and he explains that headquarters is deciding whether to refund all our money or send another plane from cairo.

after eating we go back down to the lobby (taking the stairs, obviously). finally another bus comes. everyone goes outside then all the jordanians are like ´´amerikeeya´´ ´´amerikeeya´ so we get on the first bus.

back to the airport. finally, maybe at 8pm, another plane arrives. it sits on the tarmac for a while then they let us on. it has an entirely different flight attendent. i have no idea what happened to the first set of flight attendants. i sit down in my seat which had duct tape all over the arm rest (reassuring!) and go to buckle my seatbelt. the right part of the seatbelt pulls out of the seat entirely, and i´m holding it dangling in my hand. it´s attached to nothing.

finally, the flight leaves, and it takes less than an hour in the air to get to cairo. we arrive finally at the hostel at 11pm.

the irony? it took longer to do that than it would have to take the ferry, then the bus.

all this, i have to say, pales in comparison to what is currently happening with our flights to brazil. dan and i are now in day 3 of being stuck in madrid.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Our friend-making has continued apace in Amman, Jordan, beginning almost as soon as we stepped off the bus. We were failing to hail a cab and a man pulled over, introduced himself, showed us his business card for Governmental Industrial Relations, then drove us to our friend Saif's house, where we were staying. We met up with this amazingly friendly man, Samir, a few nights later, for an evening of lounging in a local-strewn downtown cafe topped off with midnight hummus, falafel, and fuul (fava beans & other stuff). Samir told a joke about an American soldier running from being sent to Iraq, hidin under a nun's dress, then discovering that the nun is actually another American soldier trying to go AWOL. Samir was full of jokes but also spoke seriously about the bombings in Amman not long ago and about tensions in the street between Lebanese and Syrians. Samir is a Jordanian and was instantly suspicious of our Iraqi friend, Saif, immediately wanting to know how we know him and telling us that "we don't trust all Iraqis." Samir later emailed us sweet pictures of himself and his children. For Saif's part, he said he didn't like Samir's vibe, said that he reminded him of state security and that he'd rather not come with us to meet him. A million or more Iraqis have poured into Jordan over the past four years, as it and Syria are the only countries accepting Iraqis without visas, as far as I know. We really saw the effects in Amman: locals complaining about the rising prices, Iraqis clustering in certain neighborhoods, Iraqis lounging about bored (they cannot get work permits), and the mainly Shia Jordanians exhibiting distrust of the many Shia Muslims among the Iraqis (the bombings were perpetrated by Shia Iraqis), and the influx of Iraqi money must be part of the drive behind the many cranes and construction sites around Amman. Iraqis are a new 10% minority in Jordan, a small country. But they are the richer, more educated Iraqis, on average. And they can be sent back to Iraq for even minor infractions, we heard from some of the Iraqis.

That's it for now. More later about the shirts (the newest one is Ultra Violent [sic] Sun Block), Saif's family in Amman, Petra, and the million miniature melting rushmores in the towering rocks of Wadi Rum.

Good night, or at least peace be upon you, wherever you are.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Saif on ABC News

Here's a link to a bit on ABC news that aired recently about the Hometown Baghdad videos (which you can find on YouTube). Our host in Amman, Saif, is featured on many of those videos and appears on this ABC piece:


Looking back on our time in Aleppo, Syria...

Amazingly, after making friends with incredibly kind strangers on our way to Aleppo, we weren't in Aleppo more than a few hours before we made more friends out of the ether of friends that seems to lie waiting for us everywhere we go on this trip. We stepped out of an internet cafe in the downtown area, and pulled our guidebook to help us sniff out some falafel, and suddenly a soft voice asked in English if we might need any help. Two young men in western-style clothing were standing next to us in the packed evening crowd, Hasam (pronounced "Ha-zim") and Fares (pronounced "Far-iss"). College juniors, they had recently finished their exams and were on their summer vacations. Fares, who did most of the talking, just as Hasam did a great deal of the laughing and rapping, quickly indicated the golden trophy falafel stand and we were soon monchmonching down as described below. The amazing thing is how instantly devoted they were to us and how kindly they spent hours and hours just walking around with us, showing us around their beautiful city. Their only worry was that we might have other plans, seemingly oblivious that being shown around by locals was the best thing we could have possibly imagined happening to us.

Hasam is an Aleppene studying pharmacy in Amman and his father an architect ... I can't remember what his mother does. He's been friends with Fares since high school as they share an interest in rock music, which isn't all that popular in Aleppo. They described a rare rock show that drew little over 40 devotees of the form. They both especially like System of a Down, but Hasam also loves Biggy, Tupac, and other rap, and has an amazing capacity to issue forth with several lines from these rappers in an English that is otherwise less fluent. He plays the electric bass and played over his cellphone some raps he's recorded in both English and Arabic. He especially likes calling things "old school," and we had some good laughs saying this repeatedly as we pointed to the old american cars and extremely old buildings that fill Aleppo. Hasam is one of those people who radiates warmth and friendship, and I felt an immediate kinship with him despite our greater difficulty in communicating.

Fares is an Aleppene studying English literature in Aleppo and his father a veterinary pharmacist ... again, I can't remember what his mother does. His outlook is remarkably secular and in manys I felt I was speaking with a friend from back in the US. He plays the piano and was trying to get a band together with Hasam and some friends. They're looking for a drummer and a vocalist. He told us that, at 21, he's too young to be involved with girl. It's complicated to be involved because dating is frowned upon and he feels he's not ready to marry. Before we left, he invited us to meet his family at their apartment. His brother, 16, who loves classical music, played some pieces on the piano and they both griped to us about the rote-learning that bores them to death in school, and Fares mentioned a professor who had been caught selling exam answers to his students. He talked wistfully of perhaps coming to Canada, the US, or the UK for a masters degree.

I had a conversation with Fares about politics in America, after he had already asked us if we were Democrats or Republicans -- he stated firmly that he thought the Democrats would make the world safer and seemed primed to grill us if we had said we were Republicans. By the way, everyone who greeted us on the street, and found out where we were from, was unfailingly positive about America, but several said that they did not like George Bush and said things like "Enough George Bush" or, in the case of one fellow, made machine gun sounds, said "Bush," then shook his head. One young man, outside a mosque, explained to me in good English that he would not let us into the mosque unless Kate had a head covering, and stated that this was simply the rule, and that he welcomed us in his country warmly despite the aggression of the Bush administration, which he disapproved of but knew was separate from us individual Americans. Fares asked many questions about politics in the US, and ended up concluding that he thought the world would be a much better place if Kate and I ran the country. He really made me feel a renewed conviction to get involved, out a sense of responsibility to his voiceless (as in without a vote) sincerity for change.

Fares and Hasam took us to cafes, accompanied us in walks through the trendy parts of town where the youth hang out at night, brought us to a music store, introduced us to their friends (who presented us with an Egyptian singer's CD they thought we would like), and guided us in taxis around the different parts of the city. Without their help it would have taken us four days to do part of what we did on the first day. Fares even accompanied us on a tourist excursion to the Cathedral of St. Simeon (qa'laat samaan) just outside Aleppo and helped us immensely by ascertaining transport routes and bartering for rates with a local's skill. He seemed so happy to have people he could talk to about his secular views (he described how he on many occasions has to put on a religious front). He explained how he adheres to the first pillar of Islam (there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet) and believes that living a moral life is all that matters, which is possible outside of religion. He recounted a conversation with a cab driver; the cabbie had lived in Switzerland for many years and was bashing the secular life there, with naked people in the streets, but then the cabbie added that he thought people there were quite moral and ethical, perhaps even more so than in Aleppo ... Fares took this anecdote as emblematic of his belief in the possibility of separating morality from religion. To say the least, I was not expecting to have this conversation with a local on my travels in the middle east.

Fares also mentioned a bit about what is like to live under the Syrian state. He told us never to say the word "Israel" in Syria, never to send him emails from Israel, and said that the security people knew everywhere we had gone, everyone we had seen, and everything we had done, most likely. We observed that Syria is very safe and he confirmed that crime is rare and, owing to the large number of informants the state retains, that criminals were almost unfailingy caught extremely quickly. He would not talk to us about the elections in Syria a few months ago. He did tell us that there are a lot of police and that it not uncommon for them to seek bribes. He described one occasion when he was pulled over while driving and detained on trumped charges until his father came to bail him out.

Fares is probably checking his grade on his Victorian Literature exam and I know he's done well as his English is arrestingly good. I will miss him and hope to see him on his visit in the US one day. It was for him that I titled the last blog post "save room for falafel," the joke CD title we offered his insipent band and which he found hilarious. I'll be saving room for Allepene falafel.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We're in what country again?

Today was our first full day in Amman, and we went to the mall (two malls, actually). Well, first we hung around and watched some tv. Then we went to the mall. While at the mall, we visited such stores as: Claire's, ALDO, Nine West, and Safeway.

For lunch I ate Sbarro and Dan ate Popeye's. We decided not to go to TGIFriday's or Applebee's.

We almost went to see Transformers, but we were too late.

Really, if it weren't for the men in full Saudi dress (long white robes, red and white checked head scarves) and women in hijab, this was probably the most 'typically' american day I've had in years.