Posts filed under ‘Arabish’

fourth of july fAkE lIfE

Fourth of July    fAkE lIfE    Fifth of July


Sometimes I think, wow I’m really in Yemen. This is real, for real, and I’m living a very tip-of-your-fingers-taste-of-your-tongue for real life. Yes, I can taste it. Yes, I can feel it. Yes, but no.


fAkE lIfE is so really fake and extremely fakely real.

Now, I’m not much of a patriot, but I do miss those quiet nights in the land of the relatively free, sipping tall boys while others do in kind, quietly but openly, a bit hidden but not veiled.


I spent Uncle Sammy’s birthday eating eggs at a fish mokhbaza, sans booze of course, and driving around Sheikh Othman with my friends so that the other American, Sam Sam from Alabama, could see a camel (yes, yes, there are pictures). Plus, I was bummed because my hard-wrought love letter was read its rites even before it was D.O.A.


So the day after the fourth rolled around, and I decided that I really needed a slew of red, white and blue brew.


But the closest PBR tall boy is bobbing up and down in the surf outside of Jersey, so a Georgian (the state) friend and I settled for Heines at the bar here in Aden. I don’t know what this bar is called, but it’s about two city blocks beyond the Seaman’s Club (a wildly decadent, neon red nightclubish relic of the British occupation) in the Tawahi district of Aden.


The bar is situated along the busy thoroughfare of Aden’s port. You can look out from the rickety tables arranged on a gravel ground, beside the water, towards giant tankers and barges that have come in to drop this off, or to pick up that. Across the bay is a series of large cranes, which drop and pick up shipping containers. Nearby, there is a structure that looks like an inverted L. This is where the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in 2001.


But we didn’t sit outside. We walked into the bar / restaurant area and sat down. Groups of mostly middle aged men and a few women gazed at us as we sat down.


Like the Seaman’s Club close by, this bar is a hang-out for Yemeni and Saudi men, who never stopped drinking after South Yemen ceased being a socialist republic and came under the control of the more conservative / traditional north.


Women come here too. They are mostly prostitutes, according to expats, who may or may not really know (sexpats?). A few women came in fully veiled. They sat down and threw their niqabs back over their hijabs. Two of them were wearing a remarkable amount of foundation, which gave their cheeks a chalky pallor. The other woman, who was a bit bigger, had a black eye. All were chewing qat.


A few stray cats scurried in between the tables. My friend thought they were rats at first.


We ordered the beers and cheered to this and that. The Prince came up quite suddenly, but he made sure to kiss both of our hands and welcome us and to pledge his help for any problem we might encounter. He was drunk, and animated. He made sure we understood him when he said, ‘I am a prince from southern Yemen.’ And he was insistent that ‘we are all…from Earth.’ ‘This,’ he continued, pointing at my heart, ‘this is the most important! Surprise. Surprise.’


One of the uniformed guards outside, who had been checking bags and even looking under some men’s shirts, noticed the Prince talking to us. He walked in, and the Prince seemed to know why. He yelled something at the guard, then turned towards us. He said something in English, with emphasis on the word ‘surprise’, and then something else in English, or Arabic. Then he cursed the guard for grabbing his shoulder, but he seemed a bit relieved to be leaving.


Then the Californian came up to our table. He was a middle aged man with a stylish limp. He wore khakis, a black pin stripped shirt with the first four buttons unbuttoned, a New Era hat with a big $ on the front, and a belt buckle in the shape of a .45. “Excuse me. I’m sorry. You have to be careful.’ He patted my friend’s hand. “Yemenis, they aren’t good. Of course I am from Aden” he continued, now patting my hand, “you must be careful. They will…I’m from California.” He took out his wallet, and showed us his California driver’s license. “You see? I will be sitting over there. You need anything, you come over.”


Thank you. He nodded, and sat down with his friends.


My friend and I drank to this and that, shared some stories about Addis Ababa and love and hearts and minds, oh, and we surreptitiously discussed Jerusalem and its claimers using letters such as P and I.


The Cousin, who had been looking at our table as he slowly made his way through his own bottle of Gin, stood up at the Californian’s table, shouting and gesturing at the Californian. The Californian looked around anxiously, but didn’t stand.


The Cousin moved to another table, then came to our table. ‘Excuse me,’ he started, ‘you are American?’ Yes. ‘I was in argument with him,’ he said, pointing towards the Californian, who was anxiously watching him. ‘I was talking to the embassy today, in Sana’a. I talked to them today,” he continued, as the guard outside started to gesture towards him, “they…they transferred me to the Yemeni official,” he said incredulously. “I called them…my cousin. He owns a shop in New York. Very successful. Lots of money. He owns a shop. He bought trucks, you know, like to transfer gasoline. I found out accidentally. I’m drunk.” My friend excused herself to go to the bathroom.


“He’s going to drive the truck to the United Nations. He will use it as a weapon. I have a guilty conscience. I found out accidentally.” He started to weave a bit. “I want, I called the embassy. I tried to tell them.” By now, the guard was opening the door and looking towards the Cousin. “There are too many people in the United States. Innocent people. I have a guilty conscience. I don’t want to watch this on the news.  I swear on my mother’s grave…will you, if you please, will you give me the number of the FBI or the CIA? Or I give you my number, and you tell them, the CIA or the FBI, or Homeland Security?”


My friend came back from the bathroom. The guard gently patted the Cousin on his shoulder. He looked a bit embarrassed, but a little relieved to be leaving.


Then the Californian came up. “You have to be careful,” he started, looking around, “just be careful. You need anything, you come to my table.”


We thanked him. My friend shot me a what-did-I-miss look. I shot her a you-really-really-don’t-want-to-know look, and we both raised our glasses quietly.


July 7, 2008 at 1:19 pm 3 comments


You’ll be pleased to know that I received my first haircut in Yemen the other day. It went without incident, although another customer said quite loudly, “He has the hair of a donkey,” which, I’m quite sure, was aimed at me. My mood became sour. I started thinking.

‘Yeah, well you’re stupid…and dumb.’ I couldn’t come up with anything in English and I had bupkis in Arabic. I felt like Costanza in that episode where he flies to Akron to zing a guy who zinged him. I had no material, and couldn’t think of anything in English or Arabic that would be sufficiently jabby, cleaver, or subtle.

 Everyone in the barber shop was chewing qat except for me (I had tried it once and hated it, but I think I might have gotten some low-grade stuff–qat’s shwag equivelent?). So I stewed… ‘Yeah, well the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you.’ But all I could think of was bupkis and seafood.

June 15, 2008 at 6:45 am 1 comment

What I’ve Learned

in the last monthish..


The stock market lost 400 points a few days ago, on high oil prices and news of a rise in unemployment. Huge font at the New York Times.

 I’m nuts about a girl in New York. I want to move there eventually. There are many other reasons too. But I would like to think coincidence is more than just coincidence, something stopped can start again, the third act can become a new play,  and somethings are just meant to be. 


 There is a scene in Hot Shots Part Deux! where the president of the United States, played by the late and great Lloyd Bridges, gets into a light sabers fight with Saddam Hussein, who talks in with a Vader-like voice.

Last night, a Debab, or minibus driver, asked me where I was from. Then he said he loved me and he loved America. Then he said, sarcastically I hope, ‘Saddam, mush tamaam. I kill Iraqis!’ A few of the riders seemed to get a kick out of it. I felt like crying.

Debabs run as late as 11:30 on Friday nights.

I am sorry for so many things that are done in the name of the country I was born in, the country I miss.

Chuck D taught me as much about American history as any teacher I’ve ever had. And I listened to him more than the others.

One of the five books I brought to Aden was ‘Imagined Communities’ by Benedict Anderson. I also brought ‘Orientalism’.

The British had control of Aden for one hundred and fifty years.

The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has the Madrassa equivalent of a sixth-grade education. His two predecessors were deposed, and at least one of them was executed.

His security detail rivals that of George W. Bush.

Seera Castle, or Qala’a Seera, is a [most likely] Turkish fort that the Portuguese used. It’s on top of a very high ridge. There is an 18th century latrine in the main fort. Instead of a bucket or something else to catch the waste, there is just a hole with a view of the town below.

People take shits at the Seera Castle, in the dark corners. It smells there. Guards also patrol the area because it overlooks Ali Abdullah Saleh’s private ridge. Yesterday they weren’t there.

There is an IKEA in Saudi Arabia.

June 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm 1 comment

making history

Imagine my surprise. I’m sitting on my bed, at the Hotel Daibani in Aden, watching al Jazeera, and I hear, through the rapid jumble of Arabic words, ‘St. Paul, Minnesota’.

St. Paul. Al Jazeera. Did another bridge collapse? A voice of a correspondent crackled across a cell phone. Barack Obamaand Hillary Clinton…elections…votes…South Dakota…count…the economy…Obama…a speech.

Hot scoop: Obama gives a speech!

Why was this speech special? Why was an al Jazeera correspondent reporting from Keillor country? And what the hell was she talking about?

From what I could gather, the reporter was embedded in Obama’s convoy, which had brazenly entered the politically schizophrenic state, and set up camp at the Excel Center. It was a symbolic fort (also the home of the NHL’sMinnesota Wild) where Obama’s battle-hardened antagonist would soon accept the other party’s nomination.

The embedded journalist (or embed as we in the industry like to call it) was reporting Obama’s seeming victory over Clinton’s surprisingly resilient and resourceful insurgency. Obama’s speech sounded as if it might be premature. There were a few dead-enders who couldn’t quite accept our liberation from decades of tyrannical elected officials.

I laid down , trying to put the Arabic words together in my head. Obama, Hillary…speeches, change, freedom. I drifted towards another battle, closer to my room, which had seemed to vanish from the headlines even though it had caused of unimaginable human suffering.

Mission Accomplished?

The next day was quiet. The classes went smoothly, and I didn’t get stuck explaining some obscure English rule that no American has ever followed.

After my second class, one of my favorite students lingered. He frequently stayed after class, and we spent a lot of time talking about verb tenses and shoulds and coulds and runon sentences. He had seen the same al-Jazeera story.

‘It doesnt matter,’ he said, with a wry grin. ‘They…ah…they don’t care who win. Macain. Clinton. No problem. Obama. Ok. One wins and the other laughs. Its ok. They think same…ahhh…Palestine, Iraq, war. They all support…’ and he put his palms up as if there was nothing that could be done.

I said that I had hope for Obama, that he would change things. What things? Things. Then I asked him to write the Arabic word for change on the board.


‘He say ‘change, change’, but no.’

He said goodbye and left. 

I want to believe in change like I want to believe in hope. I want to believe in Obama, and so I’ll vote for him. Hopefully, he’ll win, and make history, as they say. But if he can’t steer our convoy away from the disastrous course it is taking in this region, how much will his achievements matter?


June 4, 2008 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

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