Monday, May 30, 2011

forget romantic notions of the middle east, and my naive idealistic orientalism:

a bottle of dodgy cheap nail polish remover exploding in my face and running to wash off under an ice cold shower that barely works:

that's real everyday life here for me in Jordan. what the hell.

Oh Canada

i find it slightly amusing that i have met more Canadians on this trip than any other.

in this hostel alone, (the "Abbasi Palace" hostel in Amman - my favourite so far, the lady owner brings us sweets and desserts and pepsi and coffee and calls us "her babies"), there is me and the aussie, one young american girl, one mysterious (beautiful) syrian man - who i am going to corner today and talk to if possible, an english lady and her baby mohammed (and her Jordanian husband i think - im aussuming she met him travelling here before, had, er...a bit too much fun, and came back...with the baby?), and....4 Canadian guys, 3 of whom are from Calgary. ??!! basically half this hostel is...Canadian?

i came to travel the middle east to ESCAPE conversations about hockey, and somehow all im hearing about is the Canucks.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

With a crash of the glass-towered world. We escape. Making beds of hostile landscapes.

I leave Amman the day after tommorow. I am nervous, but also excited, and i have a safe feeling in my stomach. My Stomach never lies.

Will be catching a service taxi to Damascus with another girl from the hostel here, who doesnt have her Visa, and honestly i dont expect her to get through. If she gets turned back, then i will carry on in the taxi, and she will catch another one back to Amman. Then its about 2 hours, and ill be in the front with my cab driver to help me out.

Insha Allah, it will be fine.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

my patented timer shot

ive been travelling "alone" through the middle east for close to a month, but it wasnt until today, exploring the ruins of Jerash alone, that i really actually felt, well.... alone, for the first time in ages. i have met so many awesome people on this trip, and have had constant companionship, for falafels, sheesha, shopping...everything. which has been really really nice. i dont think i would have had nearly as much fun if i hadnt been open to other people.

but today, watching lizards slither along the hot ancient roman stones, and falcons circling the puffy post-rain sky, at a moment when there wasnt a single other tourist in sight, just me and the Jordanian was also really really nice to have that experience alone.

i need a balance of emptiness and clutter -usually erring more on the cluttered side, while traveling or at home.

i also thought of something, in my wandering alone today, watching these skittish little lizards running to and fro and trying to avoid people, falling rocks and those mean falcons: survival of the fittest isnt about being the strongest or biggest, its about being the most adaptable. finding a way to make a situation okay.

i honestly feel like my greatest strength is my adaptability, and that made me feel pretty good about my life, even if at age 29 i am currently jobless, homeless, single, and somehow or another have found myself in Amman, Jordan with a backpack full of dirty clothes and not much else going on. i have no rigid plans and no specific way of doing anything, and dont really know WHAT im doing here to be honest.. but that is okay. i can be best friends with someone after one conversation. i can enjoy a week in the desert or a day at the mall equally, and i guess im sort of proud of that. i dont think most girls i know, back home, could handle just how crazy it is to travel in this part of the world (really travel, not staying at resorts and things, but real gritty gross squat toilet style travel, eating 30 cent kebabs on a polluted street while men yell "oh my god sexy SEXY lady" from every single direction, and cars honk non-stop)...and i think the only reason i havent lost my mind is because of that adaptability.

anyways, what was i talking about here? sounding self righteous? i dont know. sorry if thats how it came across haha. tired and have ate way too many Jordanian pastries (amazing syrupy things with cheese and pistachios and butter and ohmygod yes). that is the real truth. i dont know what the hell im talking about here. but i had a good day.

goodnight from Jordan.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another kind of Mecca

This might not be what people want to hear about my time spent in the exotic mythical 'East' but today I spent 4 the mall.

Not just any mall mind you, 2 malls in fact: the Amman City mall, and the larger, slightly less expensive "Mecca mall", both located in Amman, Jordan.

What a fascinating day, really.

First off, both these malls were HUGE, dwarfing any malls that we have back in my hometown of Calgary (maybe excluding that monstrous one out in Balzac), and were a universe away from the scene here in downtown Amman, where the men grossly outnumber the women and today I had a plastic bottle thrown at me, maybe for showing my...ankles? I dont know what happened really, except that I ran off, swearing.

At the mall it was much different: Jordanian women wearing high heels and skinny jeans, shopping at the Chanel counter, long hair flowing free. Teenagers going to the movies and eating candy. Families shopping for toasters at the giant discount "Walmart"-like store. I honestly forgot at times that I was even in another country....and I suppose eating a whopper and walking past a Second Cup cafe helped with the travel amnesia (though having to go through a metal detector to enter the mall was a rather new experience). It was so interesting to see the contrasts....women like the aforementioned, looking as European as any in Paris, next to a man in the white robe and Bedouin scarf, next to a store selling expensive sequined hijabs next to a racy Victorias secret underwear shop.

It might seem absurd to travel half around the world only to go to a Forever 21 to buy cheap jeans and eat American food and wander the air conditioned halls of a mall....but it was a neat slice of honest life in Amman (for the middle/upper classes that is), and I guess a rather welcome break from the chaos of downtown Amman....not to mention that after over a week spent in the desert, living with the Bedouin and going days without proper showers, it was nice to have the luxuries of city life. Lets be honest here, illusions and romanticizations be damned!

More importantly, I got some much needed shorts and a new toothbrush.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Once in a lifetime

“What am I doing here?”Arthur Rimbaud, writing home from Ethiopia

I am sitting in the cool shadey sitting area in my hostel - the "Valentine" Inn, here in Wadi Musa, near Petra, Jordan. Wadi Musa is basically a little town, a hick town really -like any other hick town the world over, with empty street cafes, shops selling film and batteries and random things like socks and watches-, built up mainly as a place for people visiting the ruins of Petra to stay at. There is very little do to here but wander the streets, eat 1 Dinar Falafel, browse the odd clothing shops and drink tea and snack on various middle eastern sweets (turkish delight and waffle cookies today). Any weight i lost in the harsh desert landscape of Wadi Rum i have most surely gained back. Dammit.

Sometimes when travelling without a plan, with no real time constraints, you have these Rimbaud-esqe moments: "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE", and Wadi Musa is a town that provides such moments on almost a daily basis. Staring at a cows head hanging in the middle of the sidewalk, trying to hunt down a pair of new leggings, being followed by a group of far-too-pretty teenage boys -or being spit at by the little spawn-of-satan child living at the hostel with his mom who is the owner..and you ask yourself, "Why am i here? and how...HOW did i get here??!". Like that Talking Heads song really.

I saw Petra yesterday but it was too hot to return today, so here i am, sitting on a couch, in the carpeted, spangled, cluttered budget-Sultan's-harem-like lobby of my current home. Doing nothing, with nothing to do.

I suppose i wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

written on May 18th, on the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

I am writing this (in saved document form obviously – no wifi in the middle of the red sea), whilst on the Ferry from Nuweiba Egypt, to Aqaba, Jordan. I have plenty of time to kill.

It is oddly tranquil here on the boat at this time, but that might have something to do with my comfy seat in the “VIP area” that the 10 odd tourists on this entire slow, 2nd class boat, have been segregated into. I am not a fan of such separation, and chose to wander the upper deck earlier, while we waited seemingly forever for the boat to get moving. It was quite the adventure making my way to the upper deck, men taking my photo non-stop, much chatter and smiles and hundreds of local Egyptians and (mostly) Jordanians…but not the same outright harassment as I found in Egypt. (If this is any indication of the Jordanian people, I am impressed! ) I also had the opportunity to converse (well, as much as possible given that they spoke no English) with some Jordanian women, who kept smiling and touching me and asking for my name and saying what seemed to be kind things and showing me the way to the bathroom (where 4 women were basically having a bath party in the sink, washing their feet and faces, veils off).

The unfortunate thing about “mingling” with the locals like this is that because most other travellers seem to be content with the tourist apartheid techinique and apparently don’t move from their seat, I got locked out on the deck because certain local people (those who didn’t pay for a seat I assume), are not allowed into the cabins and well…they lock the doors I guess?. After much fuss and smiles and laughs and shameless flirting (and one kind matriarchal lady who proceeded to scold the men in very abrupt Arabic for bothering me, hehe), I managed to find one man who knew how to get me back into the VIP sitting area, where I had left my backpack. Shukran! And here I am now, writing this.

I have been thinking a lot about the position of women in the middle east, and it occurred to me that today was one of the first times where I felt like I actually genuinely interacted with women, as a group. I met individual women in Cairo of course, but as a whole, most local strangers talking to me have inevitably been men. Its sort of like the giant pink elephant in the room that is obvious but ackward to talk about, the inequalities and position of women in Islamic countries. I hate making generalizations, and I have avoided really writing about it because of this ( as it always seems to come across as the privileged spoiled almost neo-colonial westerner spouting off on things they know little about), but it is fascinating and worth discussion. I will try to not sound like an ass here.

As I see it, men and men basically just have separate public lives, though im sure behind closed doors it is a different scene and women express themselves normally and yell and get angry at their foolish boyfriends as much as back home. As a traveller I am fortunate to have a window into each world(the women washing their feet in the bathroom on this boat, laughing and smiling at me, and the numerous men who have struck up conversation, initially with the intent of just hitting on me I suppose, but then actually having a real conversation, smoking sheesha and being “one of the boys” to some extent ). I feel fortunate in this, even if the perception of me as an outsider can also be a detriment (the aforementioned low grade sexual harassment).

I don’t know how to put this next paragraph delicately. Hmm. As much as I don’t want to say it, I have to tell it like I see it I guess: I don’t particularly care for how frequently I have seen women in full Burkas (not “full” I guess , ones with slits for the eyes – I have only seen 2 completely veiled women, one on the Cairo subway and another in Nuweiba, walking blindly in the wind which seemed ready to rip it off),sitting next to their husbands in T-shirts and jeans. This inequality is what bothers me, not the act of dressing modestly in the "eyes of Allah" or whatever, which to some extent I respect (though certainly wouldn’t care to do myself, its too damn hot here, lets be honest). Add to this the fact that many of these same men who preserve the chastity of their wives and sisters by hiding their physical beauty from the eyes of others, are all too pleased to see me with bare arms and legs, and its hard for me, as a feminist, not to want to screammmm. I am told at least a dozen times a day, probably more if I walk any length down the street, how “beautiful” I am, and “oh my god” etc etc…and it bothers me because it rings so insincere in a culture where local women are not allowed the same liberties. I feel like if these men were more used to seeing natural, strong, women just wearing jeans and tshirts themselves, out and about in public, and could talk with them…their hormones might be a bit more in check. Its also somewhat irritating to have this harassment and see the rings on these mens fingers.

I want to make it clear, that I am not dismissing the strength and dignity of the women here, which I can sense is very strong , I just cant quite put my finger on what im trying to say I guess. I suppose I am just tired of the hypocrisy, and undignified behavior of some of the men. (though admittedly being constantly complimented on ones eyes is a bit of a stoke to the ego – men are obsessed with my eyes here, and I thought it was just some line until no other traveling women I mentioned this to had experienced this compliment. Woohoo! haha). I dont want to generalize "all" the men as being this way, and i know there are exceptions, but the overwhelming majority really fit the negative stereotype, when it comes to hitting on the "western" ladies.

I guess one could argue that there is a similar level of unspoken harassment in the western world, where if a women chooses to show skin or wear a short skirt and she IS sexually assaulted (much more common in the west than here), we often subtely blame her for dressing provocatively, or “putting herself” in a dangerous situation. It seems like your damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but I truly believe that dialogue between men and women is the only thing that’s ever going to improve things, and change the sexisim that exists in too many cultures including my own,. So globally, not just in the middle east but anywhere, I welcome any chance I get to genuinely talk to men, and women, whoever is open to it.

Okay, my battery is running low here, so I will shut down my computer. 4 more hours I think till Aqaba? And I have already ate all my chips and bread and cheese and coca cola (such a healthy lunch/dinner). Maybe I will go wander around and get my picture taken some more? *sigh*



Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wadi to Wadi

the past 5 days have been the most chaotic, insane, ridiculous, awesome time i have ever had. dear god.

i cannot form proper sentences. showering today here in Wadi Musa was almost a spiritual experience. its amazing what not having the luxury of running water will do for your sense of gratitude.

i will write more later. i have....epic amounts to write about.

sleeping on a giant rock in the Wadi rum desert, foxes circling around us as we slept under blankets, rocks digging into my hips. being subtley and not so subtley hit on by the bedouin in a variety of entertaining ways. tiny cups of special tea. eating sheep and liver and various meats while in the home of the one wife of one of the bedouin men, watching persian pop videos. washing in a bucket and peeing off a cliff. driving up a sanddune and almost tipping the ancient rusted out 4 x 4 truck. meeting a just married bedouin man, driving off from the wedding and having him say with a smile "well, i still look for 2nd wife".

i need to sleep for a week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sunrise on the summit of Mt. Sinai

Today I say goodbye to Egypt, and take the ferry from Nuweiba, to Aqaba, Jordan.
First i need to take a bus to Nuweiba, then board this infamous ferry (infamous for not leaving on time, showing up randomly, and forcing people to use the oily, coal dusted, "Heart of Darkness"-esque "slow" 2nd class ferry) which crosses the gulf of Aqaba, arriving in Jordan. The whole process *should* take about 4 hours, but its better to view that estimate in Egyptian time (read: double it). Once in Aqaba i can taxi it out to the Wadi Rum desert camp where i am supposed to be staying with a bedouin family. I met Tyseer, leading of his camp, on couchsurfing.

Lets hope this all goes smoothly.

Climbing Mt Sinai last night, i kept meeting people who had been on the road for years, constant travelers. It sort of inspires and annoys at the same time to hear of peoples non-challant exploits in places like Uganda, or those who havent had a real home in 4 years. HOW do they do it? i guess its not impossible. You can pick up work here and there, for pretty easy. I guess if its what i want to do, it wouldnt be so hard, to sustain the gypsy life. I have spent less money than i thought while in Egypt, and if i hadnt been scammed so would be even less.

No matter, my August plane ticket back home seems a million years away, so im just going to enjoy the next couple months, and if i feel like coming home then....i will.

Masalaama Egypt!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Today i take the 9 hour bus from Cairo to Dahab, on the coast of the Sinai peninsula.

Traveling is so strange, you meet people, at hostels or whatever, you get to know them incredibly well in a short span of time, better than some people who have known you for 5 years, sharing food and booze and every thought going through your frantic sleep-deprived head...and then you say "goodbye!" just like that, and most likely...never see them again.

Its sort of sad but sort of wonderful too. You never get the chance to know anything but positive aspects of people (minus the occasional idiot from New Zealand - seriously, this guy was a jackass), and the same goes for you. You remain just a little slice of a colourful memory in the heads of the people you meet, and then slowly fade away into the distance.

Bye Cairo.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I am actually writing this "blog entry" on a piece of paper, while eating lunch in the 'GAD cafe', where i have ate at virtually every day whilst in Cairo, just because its doesnt seem to bother my stomach, and its decent and cheap - about a dollar for a decent sized Chicken Shwarma. I have ate alot of Shwarma, lets just say that.

I just came back from Tahrir square, where there were actually still some buses bound for Gaza. Word on the street here is that they are being turned away at the border, so i suppose its just as well that i missed out this morning when 3 of my hostelmates were leaving.

While wandering the street near my hostel, i randomly met a guy who walked with me to Midan Tahrir, a very friendly awesome 34 year old dude, named "Sam" who lost one of his brothers in that very square, due to a sniper on Jan 28th, during the revolution.

We talked politics and he said it was thrilling to be able to freely do so now, unlike before the uprising when he and so many others were simply too scared to let their true opinions be known. "Sam" just chatted me up in the street, and i took the chance that he wasnt just hitting on me, or trying to sell me something, and decided to walk with him around for a bit. I am so grateful that i did, because it was amazing to hear his perspective on everything, and to walk around Tahrir square with him, whilst all this Palestinian support was happening. I bought a T-shirt that says "viva free Egypt" in Arabic, though i wish i had bought a Keffiyeh (Palestinian scarf) now that i think about it.

Anyways, this kind of random encounter, and friendliness is why i so love it here in Cairo, and more generally is really an example of the warmth and generousity of the Egyptian people. A similar showcase of the kindness of strangers happened yesterday on the train from Luxor to Cairo.

I had somehow managed to get on the 830 am train, even though it was officially only for locals, and the man taking my ticket seemed worried because there are no "tourist police" on these local trains to "protect" the travellers. I wasnt particulary worried, but maybe seemed a bit..lost as to what platform to get on, which train, and where my seat was (tickets here are printed only in Arabic). Sensing my confusion perhaps, another lone female on the platform read my ticket to me in english, and being that it appeared we were both on the same train car #8, started talking to me. She wore pink converse sneakers and a matching pink hijab, glasses similar to mine, maybe a few years younger but otherwise very similar to me really. We boarded together but, as it turned out that she had mistaken my seat # 8 for the train number, i had to move up 4 cars, and i waved goodbye, no big deal.

As i sat in my new seat, in train car # 4, about 15 minutes later, she appeared again having walked through all the train cars to apologize for her "mistake" and say how sorry she was! I gave her a hug and was astonished that she would go to such trouble, walking on a moving train all that way, just to say sorry for such a minor issue!

This is the kind of thing i will remember most about having travelled here, and its a reminder to me that while some people (a lot of people really) are unforunately looking to "scam the rich tourist", or hit on the easy western lady...its important not to become jaded or dismissive of people as a whole.

As a local Egyptian told my fellow travelling friend here, with advice on how to cross a street in Cairo:

"Close your eyes and open your heart".

It sounds silly but its true.

with love and a mushy heart,
from Cairo,
- Julia

Ramses Station, Cairo

Last night I made the 12 hour journey by overnight train, from Cairo to Luxor. As is everything else in Cairo, the process of buying the tickets themselves was fraught with confusion, dangerous traffic, and overall chaos.

Ordinarily there is a tourist sleeper train the goes between the two destinations, but whether due to my own lack of astute and understandable Arabic with the lady at Ramses station, or the fact that the revolution has killed tourism here (completely absurd – more on that in another entry I suppose), somehow I ended up with a seat on what seemed to be very likely a second class non-tourist train (paying the full 165 egyptian pound price of the tourist train though, mind you, of course..and not realizing any of this until after the fact)

I guess one might use the word "authentic experience" to describe this journey, which began with a very disgruntled lady being told to move from my assigned seat, by the man who pushed me and my travel mate , Leann (from south Africa – she is backpacking alone from Cairo to Cape town, through Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda – I am already planning my next trip to Ethiopia it sounds amazing! ) out of HIS and his friends seats which we were forced to use when, well, as mentioned, this lady had taken mine.

Now in our new proper legit seats, We settled in for the journey, under the stark flourensent light, assuming, as is the case with most night trains, that the lights would go off around midnight so that we might get some sleep. No such luck here, and the lights stayed on all night, casting a horrific pallor over its tired yet somehow still very noisy inhabitants. I think my retinas are still burning from this light….as is my throat from the sheer amounts of cigarette smoke that plumed throughout the train carriage, mixing lovely with the wafting odours from the toilet , the babys colic crying and the man selling glasses of tea every half hour.

I wont get into describing the toilet though. Too predicatable. Or maybe I will? Lets just say, it didn't have a flush, so much as a lever to dump yer , well, dump onto the track, and when that wasn’t working so well, it just filled up. Lovely. *shudder* I think I would have preferred a squat to be honest.

(I had the embrassment of using said toilet and having this problem, and then just giving up on flushing and opening the door to a line of very handsome Egyptian army officers who smirked at me as I turned crimson in the face).

Anyways, where was i? oh yah.talking about the train ride?

yes yes, so now…. Im in luxor, home of some hundreds and hundreds of new kingdom temples, built on the ancient site of Thebes. Its about 40 degrees out, my legs are spotted like a have some sort of pox (mosquitios) and I am extremely tanned/burnt just a little. I visited the stunning Karnak temple today though (also stole a 4000 year old rock from the walls of one of the hieroglyphic parts that was crumbling, hush hush), which sort of made it all worthwhile. I also ate Koshari for the first time, which in all honesty reminds me of something id make when I have only leftovers in the fridge and somehow think it’s a good idea to mix rice, noodles, chickpeas and tomato sauce. But it was pretty tasty I guess. Im not complaining. My stomach seems to agree…so far.

Anyways, As much as I didn’t enjoy the train ride, as much as I am in desperate need of some fruits and vegetables that wont make me ill, as much as I really would love a clean pair of leggings to wear (not washed with shampoo in the shower), as hot and sticky as I am and sick and tired of being whisked off by cab drivers into the “friends papyrus shop”, as much as I look like a filthy dirty hippie with a mosquito bite on my nose, as hard as a rock as this bed im sitting on is….i am happy to be here. Harassment, train-rides-from-hell and all. The hostel I am at is called “bob marley hostel”, and it is run by a very friendly, very stoned, young ,attractive Egyptian man who loves his reggae (and naturally, his weed which I think you might need to smoke to be able to sleep on this concrete slab of a mattress). He made me and my hostel mates the largest breakfast I have ever seen this morning, as we stumbled in from the train station hungry and dirty, and didn’t even charge us. It’s the little things . <3

Anyways, This isn’t a vacation…this is an “experience”….and holy shit…is it ever.

Colussus of Memnon, Luxor, Egypt

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cairo Time

Okay, I guess I better write an update here, before people start to wonder if I'm still alive, given the current situation in Egypt. Of course, when you are having the most fun and have the most things to write about, and are the MOST alive, you are too busy enjoying yourself to even want to write. That seems to be the case here now that I am in Cairo

It is 9:30 am now, and I am sitting on my hostel floor, sipping some coffee, after enjoying the simple free breakfast of bread and cheese and jam, listening to Egyptian pop music on the radio, with my hostel mates. I think there are about 4 people total at the hostel, which is really nice as we have all instantly befriended one another. There is a lovely Aussie girl named Maria, an Irish lad who just checked out today to head to Jerusalem, and a really cool older lady who has lived virtually everywhere, and is now in exile here for some political involvment in Gaza that I dont know much about and didn't want to press her for information on! Suffice to say, I wont share her name. ;)

Cairo is intense and chaotic and amazing. It's simultaneously exactly like how you imagine it, and then nothing like it whatsoever. It exceeds expectations I guess you could say. Last night I had the amazing time of hanging out with a bunch of people from Cairo- really cool young people, who all spoke perfect English, (how easy for me!), and we smoked sheesha and drank Nescafe (as a cappucino is called here), and chatted and laughed our asses off until curfew time at 2:00 am. It was the perfect night, at this little hidden place in some dark alley, dozens of tables and chairs cluttered in the corner, a sort of 'open air' cafe, where tons and tons of Cairenes were lazily chatting, enjoying their Friday night. I would say it was about 95% men, but no one seemed to care I was there. It was great to talk Music and Religion and Art and everything else important with my new hip friends and it was really interesting...who would have thought I would have almost the exact same taste in music as a young dude from Cairo? (Crystal Castles, Depeche Mode, etc)? Too much fun.

Today I'm meeting another couchsurfer friend for lunch, then heading back down to Islamic Cairo with Maria (where I already visited yesterday as part of a rushed "tour" that the hostel provided - im not a fan of such tours but ill save that rant for another time maybe), to shop till I drop for scarves and jewelery and spices at the Khan Khalilli Bazaar.

I love this city despite the pollution and traffic and smog; I love the chaos and busy dirty streets, I love the cheap Cleopatra brand cigarettes and sidewalk shwarma, I love the energy and...madness of it all.