From the Middle Easy, I raise my hand and salute you “Salaam”.
Due to the nature of my profession, I can’t exactly make you cool cats keen to where exactly I’m currently at. Let’s just say that I’m in the Middle East. In the desert. Vague enough for you? Don’t worry, I ain’t no Top Secret super spy or anything. It’s not like I’ll merck your insipid caboose for reading this.
The journey here was a long one. From the moment I stepped out of my joint to the moment I stepped foot into the crib out here, it took me a total of 24 hours. Once I landed at the airport, I had a driver take me out to the desert (which is where I’ve been doing my work for the past week). The drive itself took 4 hours in addition to all the in-air travel I had already persevered over the course of the entire day. Crazy stuff. It’s like I went to India all over again. Believe you me though…ain’t nothing as bad as flying to India. Now, that is THE definition of an unending plane ride.
So, I land in the Middle Easy and am immediately greeted by a guy who had my name written down on a piece of paper. I got the name-on-paper treatment. Mad respect, son. First time. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to one day walk into the arrivals area at an airport and be expected by a complete stranger who knows nothing but my name. It was cool enough, I suppose. Another inconsequential story to tell. The guy was helpful enough to help me get my International Visa and my luggage. After waiting over an hour for my bags, we had trouble finding my driver. We waited for another hour or so and finally we found the driver…about 2 feet away from us holding up a sign as well with my name on it. So, the two guys (the guy who met me at arrivals and the driver) started getting into it blaming one another. After a few minutes of heated deliberation, they both parted ways and I packed my bags into the trunk of the driver’s car. He proceeded to berate the other guy while we left the airport. He threw in a “stupid guy” and a few other broken-English psuedo-obscenities as we departed for the acrid and desolate desert (more on that later). Although I’ve traveled frequently over the past few years, I still cannot manage to get even a respectably legitimate amount of sleep on planes. With that being said, I passed the Motorla Flip out in the car for about a good hour or so. I was suddenly awoken by the loud thud of our tire exploding. Crazy, huh? So, there we were, in the middle of the desert with a flat tire. It was gorilla-ballsacks hot and not another human was within eyesight (save for the passing truck or two). Luckily…and I say that with the uttermost appreciation for luck, we had a spare tire in the back. So, we rode the last 80km on a spare. Not exactly the most intelligent of ideas, but when you’re out in the boondocks of the incendiary desert, you won’t exactly find a Goodyear on the block. Just saying…
My accommodations here can best be described as…humble. Very, very reminiscent of the relatives’ home I stayed at in India in the tremendous city of Baroda. Visiting India 4 years ago prepped me for worst-of-the-worst situations. Believe you me, if you can acclimate yourself to a typical home in India, then you’ll pretty much be prepared to take on any accommodations anywhere. Let’s just put it like this, considering where I stayed at in India (which was actually a very comfortable and clean home), I consider myself fortunate that we have A/C and a Western (standing) toilet here…with indoor plumbing. We gots indoor plumbing, how you like ‘dem frittatas?!?! Could it be that I set the bar of expectations too low? Possibly. I guess I just expected worse so I wouldn’t be disappointed. Mission accomplished. I will continually insist and implore any and everyone to refrain from using public restrooms in this quadrant of the globe. I don’t have too much of an issue with it, but I try to avoid it when possible. “Hole-in-the-ground” is the only phrase that’ll sufficiently outline the picture I’d rather avoid painting on the easel of your dissenting minds. Let’s put it like this, Alice wouldn’t dare slip and stumble into that hole.
The food can best be described as…well…simple…and borderline bland. I was welcomed to the house with a plate of rice, beans…and chicken. I guess there was a mistranslation of correspondence. They must’ve missed the ESPN Breaking News Ticker that was supposed to alert them that I was a vegetarian. Either way, it was all good. I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life, so I’ve learned to adapt to any and all gastronomical situations. After that night, they’ve done a better job of making vegetarian food. Still, the food is extremely simple and does not encompass much flavor nor spice. I’m not sure if this is your typical Middle Eastern food or not. We have an Egyptian housekeeper whose culinary skills are lacking…limited at best. He was hired on as a housekeeper, not as a chef. However, he was thrust into that role, so I’ll cut him some slack because he’s still learning. Dude makes a fierce enough omelet though. I think it’s safe to say that my tummy hasn’t been exposed to authentic Middle Eastern food…yet.
The city in which I live in is literally in the desert. There exists not the slightest fragrance of a single restaurant, hotel, nor place of consumer interest. Seriously, there is nothing out here but sand, dirt, and heat. I’ve never been anywhere this quiet…this desolate. Actually, desolate would be a shameful understatement of an unintelligible grasp of the English language. However, my spirits are up and my optimism hasn’t wavered. Expect the worst and…you won’t become circumstantially depressed. Not a full-proof hypothesis…but applicable enough.
The only sound I hear at night is that of the stray dogs barking outside and the mosquitoes chirping. Them bastards (the mosquitoes) want in, but it ain’t happenin’…not on my watch. I remember when a mosquito bit me on my eye lid one night in India. I don’t want to relive the experience of waking up looking like the battered loser of a prize fight.
My co-worker had been working here two weeks prior to my arrival and had prepared me for the worst. He informed me of the city, site, and our accommodations at the house. He gave me a few tips on things to bring (toilet paper, mosquito repellent, snacks, etc.). It is, by far, the most solitary place I’ve ever worked at or even been in. All but 2 of the satellite channels are in Arabic. I only understand a passing word or two in Arabic, so I’ve had a difficult transition to adjusting to the Arabic language. Some words are similar to Hindi and others resemble Somali words I’ve learned over the years, but for the most part, I understand diddly poo. Being around a bunch of Arabs does kind of remind me a lot of the days I used to meander around the picnic benches at Spring Chase with the Qaxootis. Somali and Arabic have similarities…most of all being the guttural sounds in both languages. Even though I probably understand less Arabic than I do Somali, it feels familiar. On the other hand, it’s odd because as far as customs go, I feel like a native here (they share similar customs to South Asians), but as far as the language, I feel about as foreign as the phrase “soda pop” to Southerners.
Folks’ knowledge of English here rivals that of LeBron James’ sense of subtlety. Folks here can speak a word or three of English here, but that’s about it. So, for the first time in a long time, I’m in a country where I can’t even remotely communicate with the locals (other than knowing a few words here and there). I consider myself a novice linguist, so it’s frustrating to be dumbfounded by the local language here. However, if you greet folks with “Salaam”, a wave of your hand, and a warm smile, they will treat you well and reciprocate the generosity.
The cool thing about the house I live in is that there are other internationals here as well (mostly Arabic speaking). Our housekeeper is Egyptian, my primary contact is Lebanese, the construction workers/electricians are Palestinian and Egyptian, and there are also other Americans that live here. It definitely has a family feeling to it. Every night, we eat dinner together. Everyone shares and passes around the food. The elders of the house insist on serving us. If we even attempt to accommodate them first, they give us a deranged look and command us to sit down. Like I said, the customs are very similar to South Asians.
I was scheduled to make like BronBron and leave this past Thursday for the coastal city, but due to some site issues, my stay here has been extended to the middle of next week. The next city I am scheduled to visit is a beach town and more resembles a normal city (not some middle of the boondocks, Podunk town smack dab in the desert). Supposedly, it’s a hotspot for tourists. Wait…wait…now that I think about it, I’m exactly like LeBron. He left a decrepit city for a beach town that’s a hotspot for tourists. I hope to do the same…eventually. My stay here has already been extended once without an imminent end date, so…maybe this will be all I’ll see of the Easy? Maybe. Maybe not.
Out here, in the evenings, I have a lot of free time, so I’ve been utilizing it to catch up on some reading and movies. I’ll try to keep this blog updated as much as possible while I’m out here and keep you cats up to speed on the monotony of my trip abroad.
I just got done talking politics with my Palestinian housemate. Eventually, the conversation wiggled its way over to Iraq. His view was that Iraq can only be ruled by a dictatorship. He doesn’t agree with the general idea of a dictatorship, but he said that considering the societal and religious climate there, only a dictator would succeed in moving that country forward as a joint entity. I can see both sides of the argument. There are pros and cons to democracy and a dictatorship. His main point was that it will be impossible to teach a nation like Iraq to believe in the idea of democracy. I slightly lean toward agreeing with him. Iraq has too many separate and strong-minded factions. Everyone wants everyone else to share THEIR pie. No one is willing to take a seat at another’s dinner table. The Kurdish, Shiite, Sunnis., etc. Will a democracy work? Will allowing everyone free will of choice to make the right decision work? I don’t know. Especially when everyone’s opinion of “right” is skewed by their own unflappable beliefs and values. Sometimes, someone has to come in and force people to do what’s best for the country and not for themselves or their group of people. Like I said, I’m on the fence about this issue. At the end of the day, I’m more ambivalent about the situation in Iraq and the Middle East than anything. I’ve always maintained that a country must help itself; it must pull itself up out of the shattered remains of their circumstances and find a way to find prosperity. Like I said, I teeter and totter on the line of indecision quite often in regards to this. Honestly, sometimes, I feel that the US just shouldn’t meddle. Why are we sending our soldiers to die for another country? Would you leave your family, your kids, your significant other to help some random stranger out and risk the danger of not returning to them? You’d like to say yes, but at the end of the day, the human nature is to protect his own…not others. Then again, this is why I choose not to follow nor engross myself in politics too much. Is there ever a clear cut solution to anything political? Is there ever really a right answer? That’s why I’m more of a sports guy. More often than not, the truth is discovered on the playing field. Which team is better, which teams wants it more, etc, etc.
I bet you wish you could have back the last 3 minutes or so of your life that it took to read the previous paragraph, huh? It don’t make me but a hill of beans; ain’t no refunds being handed out here for time irresponsibly spent. Shouldn’t I be trying to keep readers, not insult them and push them away? That’s crazy talk!
Either way, it was an interesting late-night conversation I had with my housemate.
Since work has slowed down a bit (and the fact that I’ve yet to have a day off since last Sunday), I’m only going to work a half day tomorrow. Yippee ki ya, veggielovers.
It’s nearly 2:30 am here and it ain’t even 7:30 pm in The A. It’s weird waiting for folks to get on Gmail Chat when you come in to work only to find out it’s 1am back on the East Coast. I guess I’m still adjusting to the time difference.
Them z’s are talking dirty in my ear. Time to knock them boots.