Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where to Go in 2012

The New York Times proposes this list of 45 places to go in 2012.

On my short list for 2012 are

  • More of Georgia (Svaneti, Kazbegi, Vardzia, Davit Gareja, Batumi, Kutaisi)
  • Turkey (Istanbul)
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan (if I can afford the $200+ visa for Americans, which is what we charge Azerbaijanis to come to the U.S.)
  • Iran (if things quiet down to the default level of tension)
  • Albania
  • Mexico
  • Guatemala
  • New Mexico

Some time ago, I wrote about:

I can't get enough of this video on Syria. I love when people mix incongruent features in their art, like when Blind Boys of Alabama sing Amazing Grace to the melody of House of the Rising Sun. In the case of the video below, the creator mixed Syrian images with a Creedence Clearwater Revival song. It works.

And as a lagniappe, here are the Blind Boys of Alabama singing Amazing Grace. I heard them live at the first Roots 'n Blues Festival in Columbia, Missouri. 

What's on your domestic or international travel list?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Georgia: Myths and Facts #1

In the winter, do you really wear your coat, hat, and gloves in the classroom when you teach?

Yes, by God.

Inner courtyard of school, Rustavi, Georgia

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm an Expat

Struck me the other day that I'm an expat.

That term always sounded so romantic to me. "She's an expat working in Georgia. ... No, darling, the Republic of Georgia. I understand it's quite cold there this time of year."

There's something Grahame Greene-ish about it. Or Somerset Maugham. Or maybe I just want to name-drop authors.

A year ago today: I was on my way back to Gonder from Gorgora, Ethiopia.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Looking Beyond Georgia: New Plan A

My original Plan A was to be a 2012 Teach for America corps member. Alas, I did not make the final cut, so my Plan B moves up to be my new Plan A.

My new Plan A starts off with travel. When my contract Teach and Learn With Georgia ends in June, I can delay my return flight for up to a month. I'll take advantage of that and travel around Eurasia-ish for a few weeks, and then on the way home, I'll take an extended layover in Istanbul.

When I return to Missouri at the end of July, I have a couple of projects to complete, which will take about six weeks.

And then? I've got two Plan A tracks:
  • Go to Mexico or Central America and knock on doors for a teaching gig; or
  • Find an ESL teaching position in the U.S. Southwest. 

Or lucky me, I might do something entirely different. 

Whatever new place I land, I'm looking forward to my own place, rootless thought it may be. I have been supremely fortunate in the graciousness of my Rustavi host families (and, for that matter, my Missouri hostesses), but it will be good to have my own little cave again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rustavi: Warmth Strategies

It's cold, and with no central heat and no roaring woodstove, my body is almost always in a state of clench, a pre-shivers sort of condition. Dubai's sunny warmth is but a fond memory today.

Here are some things that help warm me up temporarily:

Today's lunch, for example, a potato-and-beef soup made by Nely - along with the shot of chacha:

In bed at night, the hot water bottle:

... and the layered night-time clothing, three layers on top and two layers on bottom. Also, two duvets. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'd actually be warmer with just one duvet (something to do with the fluffy air inside), but I'm too scared of the cold to test that theory. Maybe I should just ask Nely.

In the kitchen with the door kept closed, the gas burner keeps that room toasty.

When it gets very, very, very cold in my room, I put this on for a little while:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dubai: Leaving, Losing, Loose Ends, and Getting Home

Dubai, UAE. January 2012.

Time to leave Dubai. Loved the weather. It was exactly what I sought before getting back into the cold Georgian winter for the next few months.

I also liked my first foray into the middle east. Liked it in the sense that I made the foray. My experience pushed some cultural buttons of mine that I know will be interesting to explore more deeply in the future, such as how what a person wears, i.e. an abaya with full head covering, can provoke such complex feelings in me.

(By the way, one sunny morning I walked behind a man who was wearing the traditional white Arabic dress. It was transparent; I wasn't close enough to discern if he wore underwear.)

I saw nary a dog in the five days I was in Dubai. A number of cats, though.

Some photographic loose ends

A metro entrance. Each metro entrance has a disinctive design. This is the Dubai Mall metro station. 

Flats for rent in Deira neighborhood. In USD, the prices translate, left to right, at $490, $544, $599, and $680 per month

Metro station interior. Dubai, UAE. January 2012.

No fish allowed on metro. Also, no gum chewing. Dubai, UAE. January 2012.

Approach to Palm Deira metro station. Dubai, UAE. January 2012.

Typical toilet in Dubai. Note the spray nozzle on left. Ubiquitous for cleaning oneself, and then toilet paper.

Dubai airport misadventure

Dubai, UAE. January 2012.

Went through two or three security checks upon arrival at the Dubai airport. Was walking down a corridor toward my gate when I did my periodic body check for all of the necessary artificial appendages: purse, backpack, camera ... camera.... camera? Damn. Looked in my backpack and my purse. Not there. I backtracked to the security station I'd just left. (This required me to walk up a ton of steps that had going-down escalators and no going-up escalators.)

Arrived back at the security station, explained I'd left behind my camera either at this station or the one before, and the staff there gave me a negatory and pointed me to a supervisor. Snippy supervisors exist in all countries, all cultures, and she was one of those creatures. She was immediately on the defensive, stating that no one had taken it. (Who said anything about taking it? Sheesh.) Did I have it in my purse, perhaps?

In a deadly polite voice, I responded, "Madame, I don't believe it was taken. I have looked in my purse. Would you care to look there yourself?" and I opened it up for her.

"Where do you believe you left it?"

I said I wasn't sure at which station I might have left it behind.

To which she responded, "So you are unsure where your camera is."

"Madame," I said. (If I were a cobra, this would have come out as a hisssssss.)  "It is either at this station or a previous one."

By this time, a call had been made to the previous station, and it had been reported back that there was no camera there. Which she reported to me. And she'd called out to the station nearby - did they see such a camera? Nope, they said, no camera here.

I said, "May we just walk over and look?"

Which we did, she reluctantly so. As we approached the station, I cast my eyes about, and by God, just as she was confirming that there was no camera to be found, there I saw it, on the floor next to the x-ray machine. It had fallen out somewhere in the process of being pushed through - NOT by me.

So I retrieved my camera from her hands and as I was about to utter the words, "thank you," she trumped me with "you're welcome."

There's a little coda to this story. During my layover in Azerbaijan, I realized my wristwatch, which I keep looped around my purse's handle, was missing. I'm willing to bet it got pulled off (accidentally) at that same security station in Dubai. I'm hoping so. Every morning at 6:45, it beeps for 20 seconds. In my imagination, it startled the bejesus out of that pompous little group before they tracked it down.


Airport in Baku, Azerbaijan
In-flight movie on Azerbaijan Airlines

The airport cat was still hanging about.

Same in-flight movie on the leg to Tbilisi.

Back to Rustavi

Took a taxi from the airport to Rustavi.

In short order, I climbed into a comfortable bed. My hostess, Nely, gave me two hot water bottles to keep me warm.

Related posts on my trip to Dubai here.

And a slide show here:

Dubai, UAE 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dubai: The Long Walk

Friday morning.

I asked the Al Uruba hotel manager where the closest metro was, as I planned to go into the Satwa neighborhood where I'd stick my foot into the Arabian Gulf at one of the public beaches and also have lunch at a place recommended here. He directed  me to the Al Ras station.

As usual, it was a sunny day in Dubai, right in the temperature zone I like - low 70s. I walked a couple of blocks to the Al Ras station and learned the metro was closed until 1:00 p.m. because it was Friday, which is the Muslim day of prayer (at a mosque, for men) that more or less corresponds to a Sabbath.

What to do? Looked like the buses were running, but that would have required me to climb a learning curve vis a vis routes and all that.

So I commenced walking in the general direction of my destination, with the dubious assistance of a for-shit tourist map that reminded me of the for-shit tourist map for Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Here are some things I saw on my walk:

Customs Building


The Geek Restaurant

I was there!

Lambourghini, parked at the RAMADA, for God's sake!

Men walking and cycling to prayer at the mosque

Pretty flats

Al Burj, that bony finger, in the distance, on the right

Had lunch at Sidra. The mixed grill kebab I ordered was only so-so. I loved the bowl of fresh vegetables, the bread, and the hummous, though.

Air-conditioned bus stop

After lunch, I walked to the public beach. No photos permitted.

Walked into the Arabian Gulf, aka Persian Gulf. The water was a little chilly.

One of the things I'd brought back with me from home was a blue pashmina. I had it with me and I laid it on the sand, sat on it, and read one of my sci-fi classics, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.

There were quite a few people enjoying the beach. There was a lifeguard, too. I think he was also there to make sure no one took photos on the beach. I saw some people take photos not-so-surreptitiously with their phones.

The sun threatened to set in the near future, so I left the beach and stopped at a grocery store to get dinner and also something for my long layover in Azerbaijan the next day when I returned to Georgia.

I took a taxi back to the hotel.

Later that night, if I leaned out my window, I could see the fireworks from the Creek, celebrating Dubai's 2012 Shopping Festival.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dubai: A Wake-Up Call

Who?! What?! Hello?! 

Boing! Up I rise out of my bed off my sleeping table, to shouting in my ear.

Holy Mother of God! What has happened?!

Oh. It's the call of the muezzin from the nearby mosque. There must be a loudspeaker right outside my window or something. The Room 406 special courtesy wake-up call.

At 6:00 in the morning. With a helpful "snooze button" selection every 10 minutes or so thereafter for about half an hour. OK, OK, I'm up already.

It isn't one man's voice. It's at least two, maybe three men's voices. And they clearly do NOT subscribe to a polyphonic tradition. No, it's a discordant, jarring, wearing on your very last nerve sort of call to God.

Here is a sample I captured at night.

In Gonder, I also was awakened by a holy call early in the morning, but I think there was just the one voice. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dubai: Eating a Camel and Sleeping on a Table

Exterior view of my flat building, Dubai, 21 Sikka Road

I'd booked my airbnb flat for just three nights, so had to move on. Via booking.com, I found the Al Uruba, a hotel hidden within the Gold Souk. Rate was 160 dirham per night (plus taxes), which came to ~ $43 USD. Breakfast included.

Yura, the flat manager, called the hotel to get walking directions. The hotel doesn't open up onto a street, so one must walk through the Souk to get there in an off-alley.

A gregarious Somali man is the manager. He is the guy who calls women "my sister" and men "my brother" and assures you that everything will be perfect for you. He will eat his meal, talk on the phone, and check in customers and talk to friends all at once. Well, try. We chatted briefly about Harar (which is close to Somalia) and how maybe they're a little crazy there (in the best possible sense). His wife and child live in Boston. I had a look at the first room he offered me, and when I sat on the bed, I laughed out loud. This is because I almost hurt myself, it was so hard. I mean, Jesus, it was hard! But the room was, in the main, just fine. .. until I fired up the laptop to check out the internet connection. (Free wifi was one of the hotel amenities.)  Not good, so I went back downstairs and he gave me a different room. Beds (now two twins) just as hard as in the first room. A mini fridge in the room, a desk, the beds, a coat rack, and a small carpet for praying.

Al Uruba Hotel room
Al Uruba bathroom

View from my room at Al Uruba hotel

View from my Al Uruba hotel room

View from my Al Uruba hotel room

I walked up to the sixth-floor restaurant for lunch, where I learned there is a room for men to eat and a room for women to eat. I had the women's room to myself.

I also learned there were no menus, but the restaurant manager (I presume) recited the specials of the day for me and when he said, "camel," the deal was done. Camel! I was supposed to have camel in Harar, but I got sick and couldn't make that appointment.

The waiter brought out broth and salad as first courses. Then came camel and a plate of pasta and a delicious, dark, piquant sauce.

Camel for lunch

With a side of pasta and sauce

and tea afterward

The camel tasted good. Less chewy than most goat I've eaten. But I didn't get any sense of its "camelness," if you know what I mean. Lunch cost 16 dirham (~ $4.36 USD).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Dubai Mall

The Dubai Mall.

Like going to The Galleria in the burbs, only bigger. 

Al Burj during day
Al Burj at night
OK, it does have the world's tallest building close by.

And the Dancing Fountain, which is quite entertaining the first three times you see it.

Here is the sunset performance with an Arabian song:  

And here is a night-time performance, sung to Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You. The camera is shaky in the beginning because I'm walking toward a better view: 

And the aquarium.

High-priced, mediocre food and service at the Lebanese restaurant. Wait, I'm being slightly too harsh. I had a really tasty "shanklish," described on the menu as "pungent goat cheese," which sold me immediately.

"Gourmet" popcorn.

A Chili's.

I did like the supermarket, as I saw fruit there I'd never seen before.


A kind of date or fig?


Was it worth the claustrophobic, body-scrunching ride amidst my fellow bourgoisie on the free Dubai Mall shuttle bus between the closest metro station and the mall? Unsure.