Monday, March 28, 2011

Tijuana Art, Skinheads, and The Holy Land (Jordan)

In the final installment of out-of-sequence posts this entry will evaluate our evacuation to San Diego and the journey back to Egypt via Denver and Jordan.

The myth is that several of our co-workers in Egypt thought our evacuation back to the states to be with our families was a vacation. Would I be a party pooper if I opted to disagree? Jetlag is a bitch. Living out of a suitcase and sleeping on a couch isn't far behind. The worst part was worrying about friends and students back in Alex and the uncertainty of our future as the country was and is still stuck in limbo.

San Diego during the day consisted of being glued to the computer setting up our on-line classrooms. Ana and I did do a little public speaking tour about our experience and thoughts on the Egyptian revolution at our former schools. It was nice to see so many familiar faces up in the PQ; many former students asked me if I remembered their names. The bonus happy hour with former colleagues was pretty swell. At Chula Vista High we spoke to the zero period class-think teenagers at 6:30 am. We were thankful to be given the opportunity to share our stories with as many people as we did.

Turning 42 in San Diego beat the hell out of turning 41 in Kuwait City. We also celebrated Chikle and Selina's "little man's" second birthday. It was a successful evening if we stayed awake past 9 pm.

OB is a beach bum's haven. Very local. I wanted to see the sunset for my birthday. FYI OB has the longest pier on the west coast...spent many years here catching waves after work.
Most gringos avoid Tijuana these days thanks to the drug violence. The once famous Revolution Avenue teaming with drunk and drugged out American kids taking pictures on donkeys with painted zebra stripes is a fading memory. Revolution is where the Tijuanenses go for culture and a night on the town, in essence they reclaimed it and made it their own once the tourists left.  
Live music pours out of bars and clubs off of 6th and the vibrant art scene loaded with galleries sits along an alley between Revolution and Constitution and 2nd and 3rd. 

PRAD Pasaje Rodriguez has a big opening every first Friday of the month. The district is loaded with galleries, bookshops, record stores, and boutiques. To learn more click here 
The four images above are from a mural in one of the spaces. The evening showcased a diverse range of Art from visual to performance.

Ana's cousin and I suppose mi prima tambiĆ©n had her first solo exhibition. We are big fans Mayuko's work and it was special treat to be there for her opening. Her stencils were a hit. Let's just hope she didn't sell the piece we wanted...oye prima, there's a wall waiting for it here in Alex. 
You can't get tacos al vapor in Alexandria...Ana and Little Esther chowing away.

The night was young.

I like installations, but sadly they are usually in a controlled environment such as a gallery. I think some would be more effective in unexpected public spaces like a mall in Doha or Dubai perhaps next to a Starbucks.
There was even a good smelling print shop. You know what I mean if you've ever sniffed a real press.

Images along a wall

A seig heiling Hitler telling you NO SMOKING in 5 different languages.

Another gallery shot.


Art along the walls. I promised myself to spend some time in TJ this summer, maybe rent a room for a couple of days and make some art. This was one city's culture we missed.

A short jaunt over to Denver was also on the agenda. We took my dad out to a microbrewery and he ordered a bottle of Bud Light, you can't miss with the tried and true. On our last night America's original oi/skinhead band Iron Cross from Washington DC made a stop at the 3 Kings Tavern...and please don't get the idea that the band espouses racist politics...they've evolved beyond that. I met up with my buddy Matt and saw several familiar faces like The Piccoli Brothers, Drunken Pam, and of course Jill "Razer"! Somehow Jill always finds herself taking on promoter and merch duties or in this case modeling soccer scarves.

The 3 Kings' Toilet has seen better flushes.

Sab Grey still belting out skinhead athems.

If you had these many tattoos in Egypt you'd have a long string of curious followers calling out at you. The next morning we woke up and were carted off to the airport; Chicago bound for a layover. We met up with most of the other evacuated teachers. Destination Amman, Jordan. The Palestinian man I sat next to was in search for his fourth wife. He has one in Palestine, Lebanon, China (where he currently lives) and courting one in the states. "No thank you" I told him "one is enough for me."
We had never been to Jordan and since we had an overnight layover we tacked on an additional day for some sightseeing. The folks at the Arab Tower Hotel in the non-glamorous city's center really pour on the hospitality. We set up a half-day tour that would take us to several Biblical sights and the Dead Sea. 

This might explain the ineffectiveness of the Jordanian Air Force

Afternoon traffic.

Mount Nebo provides a panoramic view of the Promised Land as there is a map pointing to the Biblical sites of Jericho, Jerusalem, The Dead Sea, and the River Jordan. God buried the prophet Moses here and yet the whereabouts of his tomb still remains a mystery. The large number of tour buses and vans illustrated the importance of this Christian pilgrimage site.

A view from Mount Nebo.

On the back of the memorial to Moses
Bethany is an area along the River Jordan that has been recently developed now that Jordan and Palestine have agreed to behave. In order to see the site you are only allowed entrance on a minibus as the area is still considered a militarized zone. Besides you don’t want to accidently step on an unexploded cluster bomb. Above is the spring and church of John the Baptist.

The new Orthodox Church alongside the River Jordan

Murals on the walls inside the church.


A look over the wall into occupied Palestine.

An Israeli soldier protecting a woman and her yogurt across from us at the River Jordan. The soldiers on both sides looked pretty serious. The land grabbing and God business has sure costs a lot of lives.
I hear you, it does look more like a creek...don't wander off the trails as there are still many unexploded ordinances lurking in the bushes.  
The Dead Sea was our final stop.

No, not a Jordanian Minstrel Show but more like a Dead Sea's right of passage…getting in black mud goes back to the Bible. Apply, wait 15 minutes, go into the water and wash it off.

This isn't the Sea of Galilee but you can almost walk on the the very least float pretty well thanks to the density of salt. The water on your skin feels like doesn't really dry. In fact it feels pretty damn weird. A word to the wise, avoid finger and water to the eyes or you'll be in for a world of pain. The pair of people we traveled with from the hotel mentioned a recent drowning at the Dead Sea...face down floating will get you every time.

It would be like visiting the Guinness factory and not having a beer...I was there, the black mud was there, my defense was that it was destiny.
A block from our hotel in Amman was the Roman Amphitheater...we didn't go in.

Beautiful and scenic Amman is home to bootleg DVD shops, outdoor vendors selling ski masks (the kind that hides your identity), and Al Pasha (Turkish bath house). Sadly we missed Petra, next time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The misadventures of Doha, Qatar

In the midst of a revolution that was brewing in Egypt on January 25th (billed as "the day of rage") I was headed to Doha, Qatar for a professional development workshop with a couple of other teachers from school. It would be an understatement to say that we were preoccupied with the events unfolding back home. In the span of three days the situation in Egypt went from bad to worse as the Internet and mobile phone service was "turned off". I did manage to speak to Ana via landline-the only available source of communication into the country. 

The uncertainty and worry I felt watching burning buildings and the police attacking citizens on Al Jazeera was compounded by Doha's soulless landscape. I don't know if I exactly hated Doha, it just made me feel numb. The setting was like a watered and beaten down version of Dubai complete with expats, tall buildings, and malls. Not exactly a flagships for culture. File Qatar as a "paycheck" destination.  

Taxi are inexpensive but expect to endure a long travel time from point A to point B. Celine Dion and easy listening hits played at high volumes are a favorite among the Filipino and Indian drivers, this was confirmed on at least a half dozen trips. On only one occasion did a driver dare to play the Hot Topic variety of punk like AFI and Jimmy Eat World. 

On a positive note, my haircut from the Indian gentleman was quite the experience. I think he threw in a couple of wresting moves by the way he twisted and stretched my arms, back, and neck. The drumming on and the slapping of my head was the pinnacle of the session. Did I mention I only went in for a trim? By the third neck pull I as ready to tap myself out. Since torture was the theme of the day, a visit to the men's massage center a couple of blocks down from the hotel was mandatory. The smallish man from Nepal did an excellent job of pouring the bottle of massage oil on my back prior to literally walking all over me. He was dead on when he commented that my muscles felt like they hadn't been worked on in 10 months. How the @#%! did he know that?

A trip to Qatar also meant a possible encounter with the ever-elusive Grant. Grant is a friend from back in the day that we all dearly miss. A Grant sighting is worth a trip to the corner market for a lottery fact chances are better at seeing a California Condor on the moon. Spouses of mutual friends doubt his existence. True story-back in college 20 years ago we drove up to Glenwood Spring, CO for his band's gig and almost died twice in 12 hours. Although there is no evidence to back up the following claim, we did meet up on my last day for a lengthy lunch at a Turkish restaurant in an older part of Doha.  

The #1 attraction in Doha according to Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist is Souq Waqif (a traditional Arabic market). Compared with the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Medina in Marrakech it will seem like the bedroom closet. The highlight of the Souq was the diorama model of Doha's greatest architectural hits. Just think you can see the #1 attraction and the rest of Doha in one stop. Note the famous Al Fanar Mosque on the left.
The real Al Fanar Mosque...

Are you a tightrope walker in need of an off season job in a warm location?
Perhaps another famous building, seeing grass was picture worthy enough.
A common sign along the streets.
View of City Center along the corniche
Villaggio Mall is another top five attraction complete with gondolas and a canal... 
not to mention the indoor ferris wheel...

and roller coaster. It was hard to contain my excitement.

Aspire Tower (Doha's tallest structure) is nestled in between the Villaggio and Al Ahli Stadium home of the 2011 Asian Cup games.  

Aspire at night.

A soccer final in the desert without Krispy Kreme doughnuts is like a fish without a bicycle. Nachos were also on the evening's menu...cold congealed canned cheese, ketchup, and Saudi Arabian tortilla chips. I discovered the truth about the nachos the hard way.
Watching the news was depressing as hell so I bought a ticket to the 3rd place match between South Korea vs me a quitter as I left the stadium at the start of the 2nd half.  
Opposite of the Villaggo Mall and Aspire Tower was Fun Park...the highlights were the human foosball booth and the blinding mechanical flamethrowers that shot fire into the sky (see above). 

So I bought a ticket for the final- Japan vs. Australia (didn't know Australia was in Asia-goes to show you what I know). As fate would have it, the organizers oversold the event by 10,000 tickets in addition to letting the locals in for free fearing that the TV would show a bunch of empty seats. The eventual outcome was 1000's of empty seats, 20,000 pissed off ticket in hand fans, and riot police. I talked with a couple of angry Aussies who made the trip but were denied entry. No refunds either amigo. The evening was solidified by another hour-long cab ride listening to My Heart Will Go On shuffled every third song.  

There was question if we would be able to fly back into Egypt. The flight's time was change to accommodate the 4 pm curfew. The definition of eerie is flying on near empty commercial airliner and circling your destination of 6 plus million inhabitant several times and only seeing deserted streets.