Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Conquest of Bread

This weekend I saw that the homeless colonies are back all up and down the Wai`anae coast. They've also moved back into Ala Moana Park. There are small camps all along the bike paths between my house and downtown.

And the focus of our government is all on building Trump Towers in Waikī and condos for millionaires in Kaka`ako. The Senate just refused to reconfirm the Chair of our Department, in part due to revelations of unethical backdoor arrangements between Title Companies and the Bureau of Conveyances. And though I initially supported him, I have a simmering anger about the endless Land Crimes being committed in our state, and in the end I agreed with those who said that he had to go. We have an economy based upon land speculation, a government funded by realtors, and a system where indigenous people are forced off their land to make room for time shares and condos and resorts.

I know things need to change. I don't know how to realistically change them. Yet.

I'm leaning more and more to anarchism. I'm starting with Kroptokin, and I'll work my way forward.

from Chapter VI (Dwellings) of The Conquest of Bread (Peter Kropotkin, 1906)

THOSE who have closely watched the growth of certain ideas among the workers must have noticed that on one momentous question--the housing of the people, namely--a definite conclusion is being imperceptibly arrived at. It is a known fact that in the large towns of France, and in many of the smaller ones also, the workers are coming gradually to the conclusion that dwelling-houses are in no sense the property of those whom the State recognizes as their owners.

This idea has evolved naturally in the minds of the people, and nothing will ever convince them again that the "rights of property" ought to extend to houses.

The house was not built by its owner. It was erected, decorated, and furnished by innumerable workers--in the timber yard, the brick field, and the workshop, toiling for dear life at a minimum wage.

The money spent by the owner was not the product of his own toil. It was amassed, like all other riches, by paying the workers two-thirds or only a half of what was their due.

Moreover--and it is here that the enormity of the whole proceeding becomes most glaring--the house owes its actual value to the profit which the owner can make out of it. Now, this profit results from the fact that his house is built in a town possessing bridges, quays, and fine public buildings, and affording to its inhabitants a thousand comforts and conveniences unknown in villages; a town well paved, lighted with gas, in regular communication with other towns, and itself a centre of industry, commerce, science, and art; a town which the work of twenty or thirty generations has gone to render habitable, healthy, and beautiful.

A house in certain parts of Paris may be valued at thousands of pounds sterling, not because thousands of pounds' worth of labour have been expended on that particular house, but because it is in Paris; because for centuries workmen, artists, thinkers, and men of learning and letters have contributed to make Paris what it is to-day--a centre of industry, commerce, politics, art, and science; because Paris has a past; because, thanks to literature, the names of its streets are household words in foreign countries as well as at home; because it is the fruit of eighteen centuries of toil, the work of fifty generations of the whole French nation.

Who, then, can appropriate to himself the tiniest plot of ground, or the meanest building, without committing a flagrant injustice? Who, then, has the right to sell to any bidder the smallest portion of the common heritage?

On that point, as we have said, the workers are agreed. The idea of free dwellings showed its existence very plainly during the siege of Paris, when the cry was for an abatement pure and simple of the terms demanded by the landlords. It appeared again during the Commune of 1871, when the Paris workmen expected the Communal Council to decide boldly on the abolition of rent. And when the New Revolution comes, it will be the first question with which the poor will concern themselves.

Whether in time of revolution or in time of peace, the worker must be housed somehow or other; he must have some sort of roof over his head. But, however tumble-down and squalid your dwelling may be, there is always a landlord who can evict you. True, during the Revolution he cannot find bailiffs and police-serjeants to throw your rags and chattels into the street, but who knows what the new Government will do to-morrow? Who can say that it will not call in the aid of force again, and set the police pack upon you to hound you out of your hovels? We have seen the Commune proclaim the remission of rents due up to the first of April only!1 After that rent had to be paid, though Paris was in a state of chaos, and industry at a standstill; so that the revolutionist had absolutely nothing to depend upon but his allowance of fifteen pence a day!

Now the worker must be made to see clearly that in refusing to pay rent to a landlord or owner he is not simply profiting by the disorganization of authority. He must understand that the abolition of rent is a recognized principle, sanctioned, so to speak, by popular assent; that to be housed rent-free is a right proclaimed aloud by the people

Are we going to wait till this measure, which is in harmony with every honest man's sense of justice, is taken up by the few socialists scattered among the middle-class elements, of which the Provisionary Government will be composed? We should have to wait long--till the return of reaction, in fact!

This is why, refusing uniforms and badges--those outward signs of authority and servitude--and remaining people among the people, the earnest revolutionists will work side by side with the masses, that the abolition of rent, the expropriation of houses, may become an accomplished fact. They will prepare the ground and encourage ideas to grow in this direction; and when the fruit of their labours is ripe, the people will proceed to expropriate the houses without giving heed to the theories which will certainly be thrust in their way--theories about paying compensation to landlords, and finding first the necessary funds.

On the day that the expropriation of houses takes place, on that day, the exploited workers will have realized that the new times have come, that Labour will no longer have to bear the yoke of the rich and powerful, that Equality has been openly proclaimed, that this Revolution is a real fact, and not a theatrical make-believe, like so many others preceding it.


If the idea of expropriation be adopted by the people it will be carried into effect in spite of all the "insurmountable" obstacles with which we are menaced.

Of course, the good folk in new uniforms, seated in the offcial arm-chairs of the Hôtel de Ville, will be sure to busy themselves in heaping up obstacles. They will talk of giving compensation to the landlords, of preparing statistics, and drawing up long reports. Yes, they would be capable of drawing up reports long enough to outlast the hopes of the people, who, after waiting and starving in enforced idleness, and seeing nothing come of all these official researches, would lose heart and faith in the Revolution and abandon the field to the reactionaries. The new bureaucracy would end by making expropriation hateful in the eyes of all.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Politics Continued

The Senate Water, Land, Agriculture, and Hawaiian Affairs Committee voted 4-1 to recommend against Peter's reconfirmation. It goes to the full Senate tomorrow or the next day.

They also released edited versions of the transcripts from the witnesses they sub-poenaed. Scot's are so heavily edited you don't know what he said, beyond giving his name, rank, and serial number. Too bad - he's my buddy, he was the first to take me out on the big waves, and he's the one who instigated the ethics investigation. But there's enough in the other's testimony to make me think that this is going beyond dirty politics by the Democrats - that Peter's hands are dirty too, and that he'll be going down hard.

Weekend Wrap up - Races, Parties, and Tequila

Our crew, pre-race:

I survived. I can think of only a few times in my life where I've had to push myself that hard. The race at Pokai turned out to be eight miles, not ten. It was still longer than I've ever paddled in my life. I haven't even raced in any form since Michigan Crew - back around 1984.

Luckily there were a few other guys out there busting their cherry too - Eli was in the Open Boat, and Kapena was with me in the Master's.

If I were solo I would've quit after the first or second mile. You can't really do that when you're out in the ocean with a crew, so I kept on pushing. We finished in 1 hour 25 minutes. Not great, but it was enough to earn us a first place medal for our division (men over 40). We even signed a plaque that will go into the Yacht Club trophy case. I'm still tickled over that - I've never signed a frikkin' trophy before. In high school & college that was something for other guys to do. It's kind of funny to be doing it at 41.

So the race was hard as hell, and I've got a ways to go to get in peak shape, but I'm hooked. It's all I thought about all weekend.

Afterward we got back to town I tried to fix my phone, but the Sprint people at the store pissed me off & I left. Went to Borders and picked up a biography of Michael Collins and the Oxford Short Introduction to Anarchism. I'm ready for the revolution.

That night I caved and went to the un-Volcano Party with David. I felt strange going in, given that I had resigned from the Board of the agency behind it, and was kind of bitchy about it when I did. The night turned out to be better than I thought. There was a good crowd for maybe ninety minutes on the dancefloor, Mario and Michael Fong spun a good set, and the LA visitors were friendly. A lot of the regular Honolulu crowd was absent. Hula's was doing a for-profit alternate party, and a lot of guys didn't even know anything was happening.

We did a bit too much cheap tequila, so I had to counteract that Sunday by buying a better bottle for my shelf. I experimented a bit more with sangrita (a better chaser for the good stuff than lime and salt), and finally found a mix I liked.

Sunday night I made a big pan of Colcannon for the week. And John, you'll be happy to know I used Kale this round. It's pretty damn good.

Just got my Ireland tickets this morning. I was trying to find a trip on American - even though I don't like them, I thought I had enough miles to actually redeem them for an upgrade on this trip or Egypt in the winter. I was wrong. There was so much fine print on the damn website - x members can upgrade a b, y, s, q, or t level ticket for c, h, or t class flights unless they fly Aer Lingus after March 1 and even though British Airways is a partner you can't earn miles on British out of LAX and so on.

In other words, American's Mileage program doesn't get you shit.

Back to the Sangrita. As usual, the amounts are guesses. This is excellent with a nice tequila, on the side or as part of a cocktail.


1/4 c each orange, tomato, and lime juice
4 T grenadine (homemade, not the Rose's petrochemical mix)
1-2 T Hawaiian chile water
dash onion juice
Hawaiian salt

Friday, April 20, 2007

10 Miles

I earned a seat in the Masters canoe for tomorrow's race at Pokai Bay. I'm psyched for that.

An hour ago I learned that the race is 10 miles. Now I'm a bit freaked, since that is longer than I have paddled, ever - and this is a race, not practice. There's only one other novice in our boat, so there's no room to slack. I was stressed already thinking that this was a 1 kilometer regatta. I wasn't expecting distance.

Had a good night. Saw Altar Boyz with some of the guys on the crew. It was ok, and kind of funny - but in the end it was a one joke play. Went to dinner at Little Village afterwards, where I learned the true agenda for tomorrow.

So. I need to sleep. This sport is making me push some serious boundaries.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Politics III

From the Advertiser this afternoon ...

A mock trial? A kangaroo court? Gestapo tactics?

Gov. Linda Lingle and other allies of Peter Young spoke at an afternoon news conference Wednesday in the state Capitol rotunda to attack the Senate's confirmation hearings on Young as director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

A sampling:

* I just want to say, if he's being accused of micromanaging, I'm wondering what the Senate is doing, said Vicky Holt Takamine, a Hawaiian activist.

* In a trial, basic rules of evidence apply. Hearsay. Leading witnesses. Speculation. These are all prohibited. And yet, these hearings have been filled with such questionable testimony, said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney with Earthjustice.

* We gotta stop this. I sat through the first set of hearings, and, believe me, I'm a fair person, I thought I was in Germany. We call this Gestapo tactics, said Colette Machado, a trustee with the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

* (Moriwake) stated the difference between a real trial and a mock trial, or a kangaroo court -- we would call it -- kind of trial. And he was very clear in the technical terms.

I'll tell you the political way we look at this: You throw a lot of mud and you hope something sticks. And that's what's going on in these hearings right now. And it's a complete disservice to the process, to the voters, to the people all across the state, Lingle said.

The escalation of words suggests that Young's allies believe he might be in trouble as the hearings reached a fifth and likely final day.

State Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna, Ka'ü), the chairman of the Senate Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, has said the hearings were fair.

The senator has explained that the committee has met in closed session on Young at the request of the attorney general or the state Ethics Commission. The Senate is trying to make as much of the information presented in closed session public.

The material involves criminal and ethics investigations into the department's Bureau of Conveyances.

The hearings just started up again ...

Politics II

The hearings are continuing this morning, and finally things are becoming clear. Yesterday things were looking like a witch hunt - the senators were jumping over Peter Young for every little things. Some I understood - Historic Preservation is a mess thanks to political meddling, and the Bureau of Conveyances is under investigation by the Attorney General. Neither were really Peter's fault, and things were getting ugly for no apparent reason.

Of course, we didn't know what went on last week when the Senate recieved closed door testimony from BOC employees they had sub-poenaed (or rather, we weren't supposed to know ... a little birdy told me a few things).

So now this morning it's all coming out - Corruption with a capital C, right here in River City. My little whistleblower friend said that Peter was going down, and it looks like he is. The accusations are that private companies had back-door access to a computer with state documents, and that the private companies had the power to alter those documents. Now it's a matter of who knew what and when, and whether admin turned the investigation over to the attorney general in time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dirty Politics

The reconfirmation hearings for the adminstrator of DLNR have gotten nasty. No one on our side really understands why - it's turning into a witchhunt, and I really don't think that our boss is the real target. Things are all in limbo here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back in the Swing of Things

It's taking me close to a week to readjust to life. I think I spent last week in limbo, triangulated by jet lag, nicotine withdrawl ('cause I smoked like a good Arab over there!), and paddling practice. I would wake up every night sometime between 1 and 4 am & think that I was still in the desert. I'd start at my studio in total confusion, thinking things like Why did I bring so many books? I'll never fit them on my camel.

I love being back paddling, even though it's been rough physically. I skipped Tuesday, but went out Thursday. We practiced stroking in the Ala Wai, then headed intot he open ocean for some sprints. There were storm clouds over Honolulu and blue skies out to see, and the sun was setting over Wai`anae and reflecting off the Waikīkī hotels, & it was all completely magical.

I tried to go jogging Friday. I made it twelve minutes. I suck.

We had an intense practice Saturday - we started at 7am, and finished around 1pm. We did some service work at Mokauea, so we weren't on the water the entire time. Still, it was a tough day, and I spent most of the rest of the weekend on the couch watching tv - I could barely move after. Mike W took the above picture, and posted the rest of the set here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Videos Going Up

I borrowed Dawn's camera to get the photos off my busted camera, and am starting to post them. I took three videos. In the first, we meet our camels for our trek in Wadi Rum ... and learn that, while they don't spit, they can be very, very vocal when they aren't happy.

In the second, Billy shows us how to ride a camel in style ...

And the third comes from my final night in Paris. The sun was going down, and I didn't want to go home yet. I stumbled upon a band playing under a Roman arch. They were kind of funky and groovy, so I stopped to dance along. There were banners that I didn't understand at the time ... something along the line of "Springtime will come when Sarkozy leaves" and "Sarkozy: 2007-2011. We won't survive." Attendees were passing out flowers to the crowd.

Well, I'm all for springtime, flowers, and jazz, so when it turned out that the band was part of a protest I joined the march. After a few blocks the cops stopped us (and my first thought was: Yeay! Barricades! Viva La France!). That's when I noticed the ACT-UP PARIS stickers on all the protest signs - and so when they called for us to do a die-in in the middle of the arrondissiment I happily obliged. Luckily there were no arrests - it was only day three of my vacation.

I learned later that Sarkozy is running for the Presidency and has been courting the far-right in an effort to undermine Le Pen. In other words: he's le trash.

Monday, April 09, 2007

İstanbul to Home

I should have been home half a day ago ... but par for the course it took much longer to get here than I intended. The flight home is always so hellacious that it makes everything before seem like a distant and hazy dream. It was only thirty hours ago that I left İstanbul, and though it seems as if I should be able to wake up tomorrow and walk İstiklal Caddesi again I won't be able to, not for a long time.

The City remains my favorite, and even though we only got to do a fraction of what was on my agenda we kept running for three days solid. Billy and I walked Topkapı Palace, which ... was a bit disappointing. I was more interested in the architecture and design of the palace, but - unlike the Louvre, where every room was a piece of art in and of itself - Topkapı has been subdivided into smaller rooms, the walls plastered over, and the floors covered with hideious institutional carpeting. There was no flow to the design, so you were constanctly jostled by crowds moving in and out of the dead-end rooms. And we missed the main peices of art ... after our sixth or seventh room filled with pottery I was burned out.

Hagia Sophia, however, was magnificent. My camera's busted, so I'll have to use Billy's photos when I get a chance.

Overall, though, it was just the experience of being in İstanbul that wins me over. I love the nightlife, I love the food, the language is fun, and the men are hot. I didn't make it to the big hammam (next time!), but did run through the checklist of my favorite street foods - lentil çorba, a lamb & brain soup (shush, it's good and you wouldn't know it's brains if they didn't tell you), iskender döner, and pide. I picked up some spices in the Egyptian spice market, and so am ready to try some more of them at home (and the price for dinner is: you need to watch my slide show).

It was nice seeing the guys at Eklektik again. It was an older crowd this round, probably because of Easter, so we didn't have the crowds to go bar-hopping with. Too bad - a more interesting looking crowd started to arrive the last Sunday. I did go out with Can to the neest club, a disco built out of an old theater with a massive chandelier hanging over the dance floor and a boxing ring in the center. The DJ was from Amsterdam, so we got hard modern European music. The men were suitable butch for the arena. The night went on long after Can left, and I finally stumbled home around 8:30 am.

I managed to catch the Passion Friday night, and though it was in Turkish it was still pretty easy to follow. The acoustics - the Beyoğlu church is Venetian, I believe - were incredible. I'm still not sure who all the old men on the altar were. Sunday we went to a Mevlevi sema. This was truly beautiful. We were given a printout explaining some of the rituals beforehad to make it easy to follow. The service - it was in the local Monastery, but geared for visitors - started with a short documentary outlining the intiation process for the sect. It's 1001 days, one day for each of the names of Allah, and more rigourous than anything I'm familiar with. Certainly nothing in modern Europe compares - I think you'd have to look to the Buddhists in Asia to find a process that so completely destroys the ego in order to replace it with, for the Mevlevi, divine love.

So it was a bit of a shock to see how young the dervishes were. A couple had thick black-framed glasses, and looked more like scholars than initiates into a mystical tradition. The ritual started with a piece on an Anatolian flute, which represented the voice of god prior to creation. And it was a lonely, haunting sound - you could close your eyes and imagine this solitary voice wandering and searching through a vast and empty wilderness. The next piece brought in drums, representing the act of creation. The third introduced human voices, two dervishes breathing rhythmically into the microphone. The flute, the voice of god, grew stronger and more confident - and you could see the two dervishes waver between consciousness and the beginnings of a trance state.

And for the final pieces they shrugged off their black cloaks (representing death, and that which seperates the soul from god), and spun. They'd start with their arms crossed in front, and then slowly lift them up, one hand open to recieve god's mercy, one hand closed in fear of god's wrath.
And now mysticism is about experiential knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge, and I'm not sure where to go from here. They spun, while other's sang. That's it, that's the sema. And yet it was powerful and beautiful beyond words.

And what else? Billy and I had a nice round of mezzes in Flower Alley, which was being renovated when I was here last. Now it's a pedestrian alley so full of fine restaurants and sidewalk cafes that you can berealy walk. Later I took him to a Turkish music bar and we listened to some more traditional music and drank raki. I could've spent hours there, but was pretty sleep deprived by then & still needed to pack.

And now, home. I haven't showered in 48 hours, yet twice (the cab driver and my neighbor) people have told me I smell nice. Go figure. Grasshopper, my girl kitty, is curled up in my lap. Judas is behind me on the bed, and Mouse is on the couch. The garden looks healthy, and I think the fish are still alive. I work tomorrow, and then head to practice. It'll be brutal, but I need to jump in.

And yet ... not everything is right. My computer is full of viruses, and it looks like someone ... on of the guys watching my place ... must have rebooted it and deleted all my old files. I looked at the internet history ... and ... it's full of sites like twinks for cash, black stud society, papi thugz, gay college sex parties ... it shouldn't be too hard to narrow this one down. My tequila is all gone, there's no more beer in the fridge, I can't find any mail from the last two weeks, someone refurnished my bed with butt-ugly sheet that only an Amish grandmother could love, my bags (and cell phone) are still somewhere in the air, I'm late with the rent and my landlady is pissed, and Yoshi, my big muscled boy kitty, is missing.

Home sweet home. Lucky I love Hawai`i.

Friday, April 06, 2007

`Aqaba to İstanbul

I arrived in İstanbul midafternoon, and wasn't sure what to expect. I've talked enough about how this is my favorite city and how I think it's the most beautiful city in the world ... but I'd only been here once, and only for five days. I wasn't sure if the reality would match the hype of my memories. Besides, I'd been saying all that without having seen Paris, which most people tell me really is the most beautiful city in the world.

Well, now I've seen Paris, and I'm back in İstanbul for the second time ...

... and sorry, Paris - İstanbul wins. Half a day and I can feel all the love coming back.

But first, let me get out of 'Aqaba. Billy and I splurged on a big meal our first night there - and it was a bit of a letdown. Not bad, but not worth the splurge. The cafe was set in a nice garden, and we finally tried the argile pipe that everyone here smokes so much of. It was ok, like breathing apple, but I really don't get the passion for it.

The next day we took it easy, and wandered around the port. The city was nice and laid back. There were a lot of sidewalk cafes, and dozens of mostly empty discos and bars with not-quite English names. The Super Night Club Prima Dona won for my favorite name. We didn't see a lot of tourists, though they were there. Most were Jordanians who seemed to hang out in the cafes and urban parks drinking tea and smoking the argile.

The only disturbing thing we saw was the municipal beach, where families were swimming in garbage-filled water and people were laying out on beaches covered more with litter than sand. There's a lot of money coming into this town - it's a Special Economic Zone - and I hope that a bit more trickles down to improving things for the local people.

Half way through the day Billy had a grand-mal seizure in a dusty alley behind the souq. I saw him start to go down, and managed to half carry him to a sidewalk. We were only a block away from the main drag, where I could have bought him the soda that would provide him the sugar and snap him out of it (he's Type 1 diabetic), but there was no way I could make it and back. He looked bad, and I didn't trust leaving him. I managed to find enough pidgin-Arabic to get some help (huwe sukkari, beddna Coka-Cola! is now a permanent part of my vocabulary), and a passerby brought out some sugar water.

It bought us a few minutes, but it wasn't enough. Billy made it a few steps, and then his body froze and I couldn't get him to move. And then he went down, screaming and thrashing and rolling in the road. I tried my best to keep him unhurt & out of the way of traffic. A crowd gathered, and some people brought a few sodas out. Again, we had a short reprieve before it hit again. We had a crowd watching by now - Billy on his back in the middle of the alley, his body in full spasms and cussing like a dying sailor (and lucky for us he cussed out Jesus F'in Christ and not Muhammed), me trying to cradle him & keep him from cracking his head open or running head on into a wall.

When he finally came out of it we were both quite dirty and bloody. He was fine once we got sugar in him, but we still made a pretty impressive site wandering out of the alley and back into the main street.

The next day we rented a car and headed up the King's Highway to Madaba and Amman. We took a few detours (some planned, some not), and explored small Bedouin and Palestinian towns off the main tourist route, took a tour through a ruined Crusader Castle that Richard the Lion Hearted and defended and Saladin finally conquered; took in the views at the Dana Natural Reserve, where a stone village rests on a promontory overlooking a steep red canyon that leads down to the Biblical Cities of the Plain (Sodom, et al); and bathed in the Dead Sea (and though our injuries didn't burn like we'd been warned, I did get some up my nose and that felt like an injection liquid fire & it still burns 24 hours later); and finally got lost in the Arabic Christian town of Madaba before finding our hotel.

We ate at Haret Jdoudna, which has a reputation as Jordan's best restaurant, and which redeemed the country's cuisine in my eyes. It is a land of processed cheese, canned hummus, and chicken spam (it's halal!). For the most part - and there were exceptions, like Aodeh's dinners in the desert, or Ali Baba's mezze restaurant in `Aqaba - the food seemed as if the Middle East had cross-bred with the Midwest, circa 1972.

But if they can't cook, the people certainly were lovely - it was full-on Aloha, all the time, from the streets to the markets to the hotels (though not on the roads!). I've never seen anything like it.

I'm not sure I would change much of this trip. Amman was interesting, and good for understanding the culture and country, but not really a vacation spot. I'd have probably done a few days in Madaba in retrospect. For anything else, I'd have had to added a few days. I could've done another day in Wadi Rum (though Billy would've been happy with one), and have heard great things about Dana and would probably spend a few nights hiking there.

And now İstanbul! I got lost in Amman heading to the airport, and arrived pretty stressed out. Now I'm off for a wander, then a massage, and then it's early to bed. Billy arrives tomorrow, and the man is facing a full weekend - Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Cinili Hammam (designed by Sinan for Suleiyman the Magnificent), a Mevlevi Sufi service (think the whirling dervishes), the Grand Bazaar, maybe the "alternative" hammam in Eyup (the Muslim conservative quarter hosts a gay hamaam!), a night dancing to Turkish House at the Love Bar, and I guess I'll have to return again to take in a cruise on the Bosophorus or a tour of the Seven Towers or anything else left undone. And since this city never ends, there will always be things left undone, and endless reasons to return.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wadi Rum: Angels and Djinns

Everyone sleeps in here except for the bus drivers and the imams, who all wake up brutally early.

So it was pre-dawn in Wadi Musa, the village outside Petra, and the call to prayer went out from the mosque next to our hostel. Billy and I woke up, grabbed our bags, and stumbled to the lobby. The manager was still asleep, and while I hated to wake him - it was cold in the dark - we had to settle our bill before heading out. The only other traveller heading out with us was an Algerian soccer coach out of Marseilles. His English was close to non-existent, but we managed to have a good conversation the night before through a mix of French, Arabic, and pidgin English. Or rather, we got on for about thirty minutes before my brain exploded from the effort & I had to excuse myself & head to bed.

The bus was a run-down Mercedes diesel, the kind that seem to never die & somehow manage to cross deserts and mountains throughout the world. The rest of the passengers were local Bedouin, who would get on at a dusty crossroads, and exit again at impossibly small mud brick villages lost in the middle of a seemingly endless desert. We had left the rugged terrain of Petra behind - it's on the northern end of the Rift Valley out of Africa - and entered a world of white dusty sand, blue skies, and distant horizons.

After about an hour the bus turned off the main Desert Highway and we entered the Wadi Rum Wilderness Reserve. It was a world apart. Rum Village was a small settlement on a red sandy plain, bracketed by towering red-rock outcroppings. The closest place I've seen to it is the Navajo lands in Arizona, although without the valleys and canyons.

Aodeh, who organized our trip, met us at the visitors' center and drove us to the village to meet our guide and our camels.

Our guide was Eli, a 15 year old boy who had been raised in the desert. Our camels were creatures from another world. Tatooine, maybe. Eli and Aodeh stuggled to put the bridles on, and the camels roared and screamed and grunted and made these ... sounds ... that started deep in their gullet, rumbled up their necks, and ended with their tongues swelling up like ballons, shooting out of their mouths, and almost choking the poor things. If Chewbacca gave birth to Alien then maybe the labor would sound as horrible.

I tried to help (as if I knew what I was doing, but why not?). Aodeh warned me to be careful. You must be stronger than the camel. Pause. Because if you aren't he can kill you.

The camels, mind you, did have some cause to complain. The first step in bridling them is to grab them by the nose and shove your fist up it's nostril to secure your grip.

I left that part to the Bedouin.

And yet, for all their screams, the camels had soft, delicate, almost feminine eyes. My girl kitty has eyes like this. They were beautiful in repose, and graceful when striding across the sands. I liked mine from the get-go, although the love was, at times, unrequited.

We finally had the critters all geared up, and walked them to the end of the road, where we mounted them and rode into the wilderness.

I've read that people find this the most beautiful desert in the world. T.E. Lawrence camped here six times and felt something godlike in the spaces between the rocks and dunes. And prophets and messengers (rasul) have been recieving their visions here since the beginning of recorded history (and inflicting their visions on the rest of us).

So what did I feel and see? It certainly was beautiful. I adjusted to life on camel-back pretty quickly. It took a few hours, but by the second afternoon I was comfortable and felt that I could ride for days. The first morning we focused on the main "sights." We stopped at a temporary camp to look at jewelry, climbed some outcroppings and rock bridges, delved deep into a narrow siq in the rocks, and climbed one dune. Eli was great in the desert, but definitely was a bit new to dealing with Westerners on his own. I think he had been told this is what tourists like, and expected us to go along with what he had been told. So, we would stop by a large red dune that had blown up against the cliffs. We would dismount (and though our camels were peaceful and loving while walking they go quite pissy when we made then kneel), and Eli would tell us, ok. Climb the dune. We'd ask what was at the top. He'd tell us, you climb the dune, you take picture, then you run down the dune, ok?

So, Ok, we'd oblige, and climb whatever he told us to climb. He was a cute kid, and we didn't want to disappoint.

We saw other tourists throughout the day, small groups doing desert tours in jeep 4x4's. There were never a lot, but just enough to make it feel that we weren't quite in a wilderness (though we definitley were). We stopped for lunch, tea, and a siesta at his second mother's camp (His father had two wives. One stayed in the village with the children so that they could go to school. One stayed in the desert with the sheep and goats. And I know it's wrong, but I actually thought that it was a rather clever system). This, now, was not a tourist site. His mother's camp was a series of long goat-hair tents, with the main one divided into three compartments by woven rugs. The left compartment was empty while we were there, the middle on was where the fire was and where we ate and napped, and the far one was a dung-strewn pen for the sheep and goats at night. The animals were all out grazing, leaving only a one-day old goat behind, bleating for milk.

We had our tea, and shared our lunch with some of the younger kids who looked hungry. We napped, as best we could with the flies and heat, and then saddled up and rode off again.

The wind picked up later in the afternoon, and we had to cover up to protect our faces from the blowing sand and the cold. Billy had bought a Bedu scarf - smart puppy - but I had to make do with a soccer jersey (Team Palestine) and my jacket. We finally rode into the lee of an outcropping, and settled into camp as the sun went down.

And, finally, here in the desert, we had some genuinely good food!

It was also now, finally, with the sun going down, the covered women leading their flocks across the wadi back to the camps, and the tourists all back in town, that I had a feel for the spaces and the silences of the desert. The next morning we had a slow breakfast, and rode off again - this time going deeper into the desert, far from the tourists, and into what felt like a true wilderness. Eli's father, Iid (sp?), guided us in the morning, and Eli joined us in the afternoon when his school was finished.

That night Eli went back to the village. Aodeh rode out to the camp, and we spent half the night talking around the fire about angels and djinns, Gabriel and the prophets and the quran. He was a true believer, close to being fundamentalist (shooting stars weren't dust, but djinn dying). The quran was the perfect revelation of god's word, and so no more prophets would be needed. And the Bedu version was the one true version, and they followed it faithfully - all other interpretations were madhab (I need to check on the spelling), or variations and heresies.

And oddly, from him, in the place, I could understand it. In the rest of the world all the Old Testament teachings seem anachronistic - the best use I've found for Leviticus is to piss off fundementalists (Ha ha! You ate pork and you're wife showed her hair! You're going to hell!!!) But here, in this place, and at it's source, and in a culture that hasn't changed much since the books were written and the prophets still wandering in from the wilderness, it's all a bit more comprehensible.

We're in `Aqaba now, a port town on the Red Sea. More on this later - but it's a great town. Most tourists seem to skip it, or spend all their time diving (and the reef, 5 meters off shore, is fantastic! The best I've seen, perhaps. And ... Dolan, Chris, if you're reading this prepare to drool ... the new environmental minister for `Aqaba was banned all development from within 100 meters of the high tide line). There must be something about salt water that slows people down ... this is most definitely still Arabia, but it's a mellow, laid-back Arabia. In Amman the markets and souks were a bit overwhelming, and all we could do was wander in and look on. Here I've had no problem bargaining, chatting with store owners, and taking part in the life rather than just watching and taking pictures.