Archives for the month of: November, 2011

checkout girl:  What is on your hands?

me:  It’s henna.

checkout girl: Oh, have you ever tried Indian food?



on the other side of the globe, people are warming up their ovens, stuffing a large bird’s privates with bread mixtures, pulling on their elasticized pants, and getting together for family drama.

i love a day dedicated to eating and being thankful.  i am among the very, very, very lucky few that get to eat daily and have mountains of things for which to be grateful, also on a daily basis.

the past couple of days have been very tourist-y.  we took a bus tour of the city.  it hit the major highlights and although it has an on/off option, we only got off at a couple places.  it still took all day.  this city is fascinating.  my hosting friend has been talking a lot about how the past and present coexist so peacefully here.  after the bus tour, we went to smoke (take a guess?) at the hookah bar.  at the next table over was a woman sitting cross-legged on the cushions in full abaya puffing on the hookah sipping a coke and texting on her phone.

one of the places we got off the bus was the iranian souk.  it is located down at the port. on one side are the old wooden dhows and the other are the freight ships.  the souk is just 30 or so stalls jammed together with stuff flowing out of their doors-a cornucopia of goods.  since it is right on the port, the pottery, buckets, pots, pans, tapestries, plants, incense burners, etc., go straight from the ships onto the shelves.  my favorite little corner was stretched to its seams with canvas bags full of spices.

we also switched buses at the abu dhabi mall to grab a shuttle to yas island.  on the island is an amusement park with the world’s fastest roller coaster, a formula one race track with it’s own little harbor of yacht berths, and an ikea.  the amusement park is aptly titled ferrari world and it is dedicated to speed.  one of the attractions that i need to come back for is a racing car simulation.

yesterday, we headed out to the western region to pick out my hosting friend (okay, i’m just as annoyed typing that out as i’m sure you are reading it.  she will be known henceforth as K.) ‘s apartment.  ladies and gentlemen, when they say desert, they aren’t kidding.  immediately outside the city is an ocean of sand and a very straight road running through it.  the dunes are enormous.  along the crests, the sand twirls up in a wind choreographed ballet.  off in the distance we saw three camels walking.  then, we saw a superiority of them in green blankets being herded by a bedouin man.  then, there was another line of them, barebacked and free walking along the road.  in that group was a juvenile who broke into a run to keep up.  there aren’t many things that are equal parts amusing and heart-melting as watching a baby camel run.  then there were hundreds of them.  some were nearly white and others were almost black, but most were the same color as the sand, creamy with a tinge of orange.  then, there was nothing but sand.  as we drove, we saw an island of green way off in the distance.  it was an oasis.  then, an hour later, great swathes of date palms cut through.  then, nothing but sand.

the town that K will be in is another island of green in the vast stretches of cream tinged with orange.  there is a mall with all the personality of a cardboard box and a co-op that looked far more interesting.  as we drove around the town, we counted three women.  all the activity was men.  i’m sure that the women were home cooking and caring for the children…or working inside running the place?

on the way back, there was nothing to see but sand, until suddenly there was a small grove of trees.  nibbling at the rare greenery was a herd of Arabian oryx.  it was so special to me as they have just been currently been re-introduced to the wild after near extinction.  i didn’t see a male with its fierce, splendid horns, but it was really good to see them anyway.

now it is thursday morning, thanksgiving day.  i feel so fortunate that my life is being crafted into something of such bounty that every single day is beautiful and full with things for which to be thankful.  enjoy your meals and your lives.  make it awesome.

sitting at the table, puffing on the hookah, i looked around at my friends and i told them that i felt we were just on the surface of a giant rubik’s cube that someone had shifted.  everything around us looked different, but it was still just us, sharing a meal, laughing like hyenas, and feeling the breeze.

yesterday was that kind of day.  easy.  breezy.  beautiful.  (cover girl.)  i had on my black eyeliner and green scarf.  (here’s the thing about the desert: that scarf is essential.  once noon hits, it goes around my head so my head doesn’t spontaneously combust.  we went to the bank as one more link in the long chain of things that need to get done to settle my hosting friend in the country.  it was like any bank anywhere except clearly R I C H.  over in one corner was the company player flirting with two women in slinky abaya and one in western garb with an elaborate headscarf.

after that, we went to the mall to change some money.  i loathe the mall in the united states.  overweight teenagers squeeze themselves into band-aid sized shorts and waddle around, rednecks slither through, thugs duck-walk to keep their pants on, young parents glare at each other over their screaming toddlers, and there is always some horrible muzack being piped into the air so that there is no escape.  here, i LOVE the mall.  it is quiet.  everybody glides.  couples lean in to each other in discreet whispers.  and things in the shops are beautiful.

we walked across the street (no small feat, by the way!  pedestrians, who when tallied up were the four of us, do not have the right of way.) and went to a cafe overlooking the bay.  stuffed grape leaves, fried kibbeh, minty/lemon drinks were all washed down with turkish coffee and flan.  of course, there was the hookah.  it just forces one to slow down.  we sat for hours waiting out the heat of the day.  as we smoked, sharing the same pipe, our thoughts melded and we were able to finish each other’s sentences.  the light changed on the buildings.

off to the corniche we walked.  the corniche lines the very edge of the entire Abu Dhabi coastline on the bay.  we walked (and walked) until we got to the bike rental place.  it’s not a shop, just lines of bikes on either side of the sidewalk.  the (very, very good looking!) man who was renting them out picked out a red tricycle with a big white basket in the back for me.  my friends hopped onto a two seater and the boy grabbed a four wheeler.  we raced each other, wove in and out through the foot traffic, caressed the fuzzy grasses with our feet as we rolled by, slapped five onto the low hanging branches, and giggled like four year olds.  we rode to the port.  dozens of wooden dhows were docked, some nearly covered by all the fish traps on board.  several wave runners sped through and a lone sheik stood at the rail of the boardwalk and watched, his khandora catching the wind.  he looked like the sail of a ship, solitary and proud.

we turned back as the fourth call to prayer floated out of the minarets and the sun was setting.  as it drew nearer to the horizon, it heated into a brilliant red ball.  the dunes across the bay glittered, the date palms’ outlines grew sharp.  i heard someone whistling a tuneless tune.  every once it a while the whistling would stop and a giggle would burst forth.  so deeply was i entangled in my own contentment, it took me a second to realize that the whistler was me.

after returning the bikes, we took the boy back to the hotel and we headed out for lebanese food.  if i would have known, i would have prepared myself by not eating earlier that day and two days before.  we ordered two drilled meat plates, grilled chicken, an appetizer of baba ghanoush (which was called matoubal there), and avocado shakes (trust me.).  but, even before our food arrived, the manager kept sending out other plates.  he sent out a plate of olives, crudités, arugula and mint, hummus, labneh (yoghurt cheese), and a basket of pita.  the meat plates were mountains of meat.  i got the mixed grill.  on my plate were: lamb chops, lamb kebabs, grilled chicken, chicken kebabs, beef kebabs, and grilled beef.  on top were whole grilled tomatoes and a chopped parsley salsa.  i ate and ate and ate but the pile did not seem to diminish.  and then, there was coffee.  it was, so far, the richest cup i’ve had here.  and since the manager felt that coffee could not be had alone, he sent out a dessert.  it was a delicate rice pudding smothered in honey with chopped pistachios and almonds.  it took us fifteen minutes before we could walk to the street to get a taxi.

after that meal, i didn’t think i’d ever be hungry again, but the leftovers are in the fridge right now.  so, i gotta go.

when you look at the day, i just hung out with my friends, went for a bike ride and had dinner.  but the perfection is all in the details, isn’t it?  make sure the friends are worthy, the ride beautiful and the dinner delicious.  that’s the difference between mundane and spectacular.

something started happening a couple months ago in africa and it happened again yesterday. i walk into a situation and feel completely overcome. it’s a sensation that begins in my chest, right beneath my sternum, then spreads to my throat and before i know it, all i want to do is weep.

the first time was at the elephant orphanage in nairobi. yesterday was the most recent. we went to the general women’s union. it’s basically a governmental organization for women. from my understanding, any need that women have (i.e. filling out official paperwork, needing work,etc.) this is the place for them to go.

on the grounds they also have rooms for the women to make traditional handicrafts. the handicrafts range from weaving on old looms to braiding gold threads with other colors to make the heavy ribbons that raise the traditional dress from bright robes to ornate artwork to hand formed clay “dates” that are polished to a gem-like shine. the very first room we entered after leaving our shoes at the door was the ribbon makers. the method hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

all the women were seated on floor cushions in their abaya, faces exposed in differing degrees from slivers of forehead to whispers of form beneath fabric to full half-moon brilliance. in front of their feet on a little pedestal is an oblong cushion, a little larger than an american football. pinned to the cushion is the ribbon being made. the dangling from the partially made ribbon are the gold, silver and other colored threads on spools. (to be clear, the ribbons are not gold and silver colored, they are gold and silver.) with humming, chattering, or sedate silence the spools are slung from one side of the cushion to the other as the threads are knotted and braided into patterns. the ribbons ranged in width from 1/4 inch to five inches wide. when we reached almost the end of the line women, one of them looked up at us, looked at the camera around my neck and told me to take a picture, a picture of her working. she had to be in her seventies judging from the glimpse of her hennaed hand and the reedy timbre of her voice. i couldn’t believe it. i took a couple and felt a reverence overtake me.

in the next room were the basket weavers. the same method for thousands of years has been used in an unbroken chain of women. women sitting on cushions, drying palm fronds, keeping the scraps in little wooden boxes, braiding with flying fingers, hammering the braid flat into a coil with a well-chosen rock: this is how culture is made. i watched one woman in the corner. she kept the plate sized coil of bread anchored to her kneed with her opposite foot, hennaed in the traditional pattern, as she braided, hammered with a triangular black stone, and i felt weak in the knees. room after room, it went.

i’ve always considered myself a rather staunch feminist. but, here i was, face to face with “women’s work” and i felt humbled and a little envious to not have been a part of it. i don’t know how to braid a basket. i don’t know how to weave a camel blanket. i don’t know how to make a ribbon. i don’t have the serenity to sit all day and create something useful with my hands. i wanted to weep for the pettiness of the things i often chase. and, i was reminded of why i have always disliked things made by machines. i felt cradled in a peace that modern culture just can’t offer.

also on the grounds a large room with individual stalls squats. the stalls are run by women selling everything from the same crafts made a building over to spongebob squarepants stickers. we made our way quite directly to the “food lady”. a woman of about sixty has a table that was almost groaning under the weight of jars full of true delicacies. being polite and long suffering, i of course had to taste as many as possible. fig jam, currant jelly, cheeses, olives cured two different ways, spice mixes, picked vegetables, date and coconut covered almonds…..luckily, there was a woman who spoke english and could explain that i was allergic to the pita bread and wasn’t just a rude foreigner. this woman makes her own soap (bought it), her own incense blends (bought one), stuffs and pickles eggplants that she grows (bought some), and makes her OWN OLIVE OIL! (didn’t buy any…screw you FAA regulations!).

after that whet our appetites, we got a taxi/limo to the other side of town and went to an outdoor cafe. we didn’t sit there….we lounged. the sofas were long and the courtyard was populated with palms standing as protection from the rays of the sun. i put up the hood of my dress to cover my head and wrapped myself in my african kikoy. the next couch over found several sheiks cross-legged straight spined, relaxed into conversation. as we watched, another man came in and they stood to greet each other. they stood, shook hands and touched noses and i felt overcome again as i witnessed the casual intimacy. after a cup of murky cardamom-infused turkish coffee, we ordered a hookah. the hookah stood elegantly about three feet tall. the man with the metal bowl of coals prepared it for us. the sweet tobacco smoke enveloped us in smoothness. the mellow buzz took over and our conversation floated on the smoke, weaving in and out of logic. the sun began to set. the colors shifted softly. the perfection was simple and effortless. life is beautiful.

i am off to my next adventure right now. i’m actually feeling dirty looks from the rest of my party because we’re all rarin’ to go. i will write more later.

today, elevate an ordinary moment to something amazing.

no, i don’t have whiplash literally.  only metaphorically.  although, those of you who know my track record with bodily injury wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to know that i have it for real.

before i’ve even had the chance to blog all about my adventures in africa, i’m waking up for the second day in abu dhabi in the united arab emirates.  i’m wearing a dress over jeans with my simple silver coin pendant and feeling unbelievably naked.  the dress code here is cover nearly every inch but the half inch of wrist, the fingers, and the toes need to be dripping in jewels, the shinier the better.  also, i felt the need to line my eyes with dark grey.  i’m working up to black tomorrow.  i usually don’t wear make up.  the women here are like women everywhere.  we all like to be seen.  since the face is the one exposed feature, they are flawless and over the top.  eyes are immaculately outlined and the skin is buffed and powdered to a satiny sheen.  the robes are called abaya, not burqa, actually. (i’ve seen about three women wearing actual burqa.  the burqa are actually metal masks that cover the eyes and mouth.  to me, they are very sci-fi and would look very comfortable being worn by seven of nine.  (geek alert.)  i would love to share pictures of all the different models with you, the sleeve details, the trims, the different black fabrics (silk, cotton, satin-shiny, heavy, nearly sheer) but if i take a picture of a muslim woman, well, this would be my last entry.  okay, so i wouldn’t be killed, necessarily, but i might lose an eye or a hand.  okay, so maybe not an eye or a hand, but i would definitely get in trouble.

anyhoo, as i was saying.  the women’s face are like jewels set in a dark cloud.  one woman even had the most deliberately styled unibrow.  it was like a dove in flight and put my dear frida to shame.

while the women are like dark, beads shimmering on a string, the men are white arrows darting around.  their head coverings float behind them like quivers with the black “head bands” look more like crowns.  my hosting friend explained to me that the black head bands are actually twisted into a figure eight.  it is done this way because when they would sleep in the desert long ago, they would keep one loop around their wrist and one around their camel’s leg to keep them from wandering off.

it is clean here.  like, really, really clean.  from my hotel room overlooking the road, the sound of the traffic never stops.  all night the cars sped past.  if feels more like an amusement park village than anything real.

the first night here, we went walking on the corniche (it’s like a boardwalk but much fancier) and even the sky seemed unreal.  i told my friend, who is hosting us, that i felt we were in a snow globe.  it just feels like a very contained environment where my reality is not allowed in.  it’s definitely a reality here, just not mine.  i am acutely aware that i am in a culture very different from the ones to which i am accustomed.

so far, we’ve walked the corniche.  it was bubbling over with children riding bikes, families picnicking on the grass, in-line skating teenage boys and awed tourists.  we’ve gone to the marina mall and bought water from starbucks, standing in line with young pre-pubescent sheiks (pronounced shakes) in their white robes (kandora) and fabulously draped stylish women.  we’ve gone to the heritage village and museum.  there, they have different small compounds with the traditional housing and tents in which the emirs and the people here used to live.  they are exquisite in their simplicity.  they are remarkable in their intelligent design.  the museum had pictures of abu dhabi in the sixties: it was an oasis scattered with these tents and palm frond huts.  it was, to my biased eye, far more exquisite than this western style parlor illusion that i am seeing around me now.  the village also had some workshops dedicated to the traditional crafts.  i couldn’t leave without a delicate glass candlestick made by an egyptian man who told us that our faces were as beautiful as the moon.  he offered us coffee brewed with cardamom and saffron to wash down our chocolates he insisted we take.  he works there eleven months of the year than heads home to see his three children for one month.

we’ve had indian food in the mall food court that rivals any indian food i’ve ever had.  of course, since this is the closest to india i’ve ever been, it stands to reason.  we’ve sped around in taxis that are more like mini-limos with drivers who really seem to enjoy the wide, straight roads.  we’ve gone grocery shopping in the grocery store that is just like nakumatt in kenya but bling-ier.  we’ve sat in the complimentary steam room here at the hotel.

one of the most amazing things is how well thought out everything is.  the one thing i’ll mention here (only because i’m running out of time…we’re off to our next adventure!) is that the room key to the hotel is also the, well, the fuse box to the best of my electric knowledge. this means that when you unlock your room to come in, you pop the key into a slot and boom…lights.  when you leave, you take the key with you and the electricity is off.  i’m trying to figure out how to do that in my house in the states.  imagine the savings!

on that note, please have an adventure of your own today.  it doesn’t have to be traveling across the globe but you do need to get out of your house and do something awesome.  then, you need to tell me what you did in the comments below.  that is all.

(okay, on the traffic thing:  i’m sitting here typing and my son is having a bowl of cereal.  he just came over to me and said that he figured out the sound of the traffic.  the lamborghinis particularly makes this sound:  mmmmmmyerr poor, mmmmmmmyiam rich.)

Yes, I realize how long it’s been. I’ve been lost in depression than found in falling in love.

Both of those things make a girl disappear, you know. Thankfully, my depression lifted by my rigorous attention to what I ate and daily yoga for a couple of weeks before I left the states. Leaving the states for a while also was an enormous contributor to my depression going bye bye.

And then, there’s the falling in love thing.

Before you get worried about what inappropriate partner I’ve now set my eyes on, know this: I’ve fallen in love twice. Once, with a place and secondly, with myself.

Please swallow that little bit of throw up in your mouth (or spit it out, whatever, I don’t know how you roll.) and give me a chance to explain.

I’ve been in Kenya for the past couple of months. I leave tomorrow night. Way to be an awesome blogger while the good stuff is happening, right? Forgive me, I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done in a long time. I’ve been living. Wide out with open pores and full lungs, arms flung. You can check out my list to see some of the highlights. I will be expounding on them one by one and slapping up a picture or five as soon as I have my computer again.

Let’s talk place first and then I’ll get to the awkward, hippy, new-age sounding stuff next.

From the first morning that I woke up with jet-lag caked eyes, this place has been weaving a very subtle spell on me. It’s not like Haiti which just assaults me with seduction, but of course, Kenya was colonized by the British and they aren’t really known for their seductive overtures.

It is now two months into the spell and I do not want to leave. I’m trying to figure out how to get back before I’ve even left. I have to wait for the boy to finish high school, I’ve decided. There are good pilot jobs here, though, so maybe he can just support me then. Turn about is fair play and all. The pennies will be pinches, the jobs will be searched, but I will find a way to live here one day.

As the days roll on, I’ll try to bring you one or two things on the list so that you can fall in love alongside me.

Now, the stuff that makes my sophisticated skin crawl: the other thing I fell in love with. Me. I know, like with a rubber spoon!

However, this thing called love that I’m experiencing is something so new to me. I’ve done the whole “love myself” thing where it’s a studied uphill battle and I’ve done the whole narcissistic navel-gazing thing that was more about self-obsession. But, here, something new grew when I wasn’t looking. I think that I will call it maturity. I appreciate myself. I know myself. I’ve looked at myself, scary bits and all, and have come away with this rare sensation that is so sure that is ceases to be sensation and just becomes fact: I’m really glad to be me. I enjoy that I’m the one that I am spending all my time with.

It’s becoming more and more difficult as I write to really express what I’m even talking about. My vocabulary is inadequate. I’ve read so many self-improvement books that I’ve barely escaped the brainwashing that comes along with that.

There are a couple things that I need to make clear. I peeled back all the layers this past year and came face to face with my core belief. I am unloveable. Just there, plain and scary, and so very tragic was what was reclining there. I dissected it intellectually and realized that that was complete and utter bullshit.

I also knew the reasons why I believed those things. I have had some harsh moments where it seemed that the whole world was telling me that.

Again, I looked at it for what it was and knew that it wasn’t the whole world (and so what if it was?) but some core people in my life who were so damaged they infected me with their own screwed up beliefs.

So, I let it go. I chose to believe something else. It was both that simple and also a rather complicated ordeal.

There were three key things that made this possible for me:

1. I left the United States for a while. Yep, really. It isn’t until I get out of there for a while to a place where the U.S. loses its grip that I can really see how destructive the pervasive culture is. It is a culture based on consumerism. In order to get people to buy things, they have to be brainwashed to believe that they are not enough. That I was not enough in every aspect of my life! The constant bombardment of advertisements, Keeping up with….whoever, and buy, buy, buy if you want to be considered a good person. I had forgotten how corrosive it is. When I’m there, I do my best to shut it out, but it is everywhere. It isn’t until I leave that I realize how constant is the noise and how destructive is the message. And, forget about the youth obsession! Wow, is it nice to be considered sexy with my grey hairs and curvy belly.

2. I spent time with people who have known me forever and others who just met me five minutes ago. The people that have known me forever have seen me change over the past (nearly twenty!) years but also known the me that will always be the same. And they love me. Like, really, love me. They want nothing from me. They just enjoy my presence. And then, the people that have just met me. They like me. I ususally meet people through mutual friends or family. It isn’t often that I meet people on my own merit. It has been so good for me. One of my problems was that there was an enormous gap between the way I saw myself and the way others did. It has been healing beyond belief to see myself through others’ eyes.

3. I worked really hard to get here. I have spent years (YEARS!) trying to figure it all out. I’ve looked at things in all sorts of therapy. It took forever, it seems, yet it also took just an instant.

I am scared, to be honest, to go back to the states. I feel a little fragile still. But, screw all that for now. Just keep reading and I’ll get you all caught up on my adventures!