Living out of a hotel for 2 months has meant I have gone out and explored different places and foods. I have some pictures for some of the foods and places I have been. The most amazing thing about my trip food wise is that the Msa7ab sandwich (de-boned chicken)  of my childhood is still to be found from the same place and with the same amazing taste 22 years later!

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This is the place of the famous sandwich full of garlic and amazingly cooked chicken. PURRRRRR.

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And this cocktail is the perfect accompaniment to the said sandwhich. And by the way, this hasn’t changed either – mango, strawberry, and banana!

But this Cocktail from a shop in Salmiya is amazing as you can see :)

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A cool menu that kuwaitifies its offerings. Really cute.

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Tea is served on a metal saj to keep it warm with some hot coals

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Tea with spices, milk and sugar (shakar) cubes. Yum!

In the Middle of the Mubarkieh Souq is an alleyway filled with tables and hungry people enjoying fresh fish, fresh bread and other yummy things.

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Pomegranate Salad

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Freshly grilled fresh fish picked by my dinner mate!

In another part of town in a place that is slightly more upscale we get to see the menu in pictures on an ipad! This is a very common thing to see in Kuwait. Is this happening in other places, digital pictures instead of paper?

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Not the same burger but it’s sister did arrive. This one was called the ninja burger and came with a date sauce.

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This was a fusion of two of my favorite things pumpkin and cheesecake. I have noticed that in Kuwait sweets are not to be taken lightly. So many places making cakes and cupcakes and there is a lot of cheesecake to be had too.

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A breakfast feast, Homus, Ful, falafel, fateh, ash, fresh bread, and so much more. And some of the bread was made with dates mixed into the dough. It wasnt sweet as one would think… it was amazing.

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I did not manage to get a picture of all the amazing food before we devoured it! This was an Indian feast not to be missed.

Kuwait is a place that has a lot of western franchises, but if you look hard enough there are a lot of amazing local places and foods that are worth exploring.

Public Space is plentiful in Kuwait. All along the sea front are walkways that have been paved and beaches with public access. These places are open, easily accessible, relatively clean and safe. These places are mostly family places – just like Kuwait. People using camping gear in the winter to set up their barbecue spots. So on the weekend they are littered with kids on bikes near families with tents and camping chairs sucking on an argileh and fanning a grill.

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Public Beach – all you have to do is walk up to the sea.

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Who said only people enjoy a lazy weekend by the sea?

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Walk way by the sea- near Salmiya

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Near the Scentific Center and the Aquarium

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At Souq Sharq

Some public spaces include a visual attraction such a dhow or art work :)

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The Dhow at the Scientific Center

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Art work in 360 mall

I want to say more, reflect more and share more about this wonderfully restorative trip I’ve had here in Oakland. But with so much to do I think it will have to be this short message (which was of course a FB status lol):

How has this happend? 6 weeks have flown by. I am sad to be going, excited about what is coming, and I am so happy I had this time to start coming back into myself! Thank you to all those that I have met, crossed paths with, had long conversations with, played and partied with, and broke bread with. You made my stay ♥

more later- today is about being here and tomorrow is about getting there – Amman here I come.

 

:D

I spent 24 hours in Damascus a few days ago and in those 24 hours I had great food, went to a hamam, enjoyed some fantastic juice, had a wonderful calligraphy lesson and enjoyed a gallery opening. The most important of the trip was connect with friends of course. Here is the trip in pictures :).

Fresh Juice

The Juice place - Abu Shaker

The Juice place - Abu Shaker

On the street

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Calligraphy Class

Calligraphy Class

Calligraphy Class

Calligraphy Class

Calligraphy Exhibition

Calligraphy Exhibition

Calligraphy Exhibition

Calligraphy Exhibition

Calligraphy Exhibition

Calligraphy Exhibition

tawleh

A game of tawleh before I leave

So I’ve opted to be in Cairo for the holidays. A number of people, especially Caironians asked “Why, you live in Beirut and you choose to come here?” Well, why not? I love Cairo. I love the history, and the neighbourhoods and the vastness of the city. I love how you can keep coming back and have a wildly different experience of this city each time. I love how familiar it is and how negotiable. And most of all, I like having some favorite places and memories to revisit. It is a city I have a fond history with and I like to keep coming back to time and time again.

 

I especially love that every time I have been here it has been to do something different and to meet different people, and so my experiences have been so varied. This city is massive with a lot to offer. I know a number of people complain about it’s traffic, its harassment, its dirtiness, its air quality, among other things. For me, this is part of what I love about here. Its part of navigating through the time and space that is Cairo.

 

I also recognize that I am a voyeur, a visitor, an intruder and I come with my privileges as a tourist, even if I am not doing touristy things. And it is my friends and the people that I see and meet, build relationships with, and talk to that allow me into their lives and their worlds. They do so with authenticity and genuineness  that helps me balance my privilege  and live, even for a few days, a Caironian life away from museums and Khan El Khalili.  And that is the difference that makes me want to spend my New Year’s here.

 

I’ve been traveling continuously since April 2009. My stay in any one place averages between two and three weeks. And in between all that travel I have moved countries. Why am I telling you all this? Because the number of times I get asked what do you do? How can I get your job? Or hear the statement “I want your life” has been in direct contradiction of how I feel about all this travel.

When all this jet setting started I was excited about it. I was going to new places, seeing new things, doing new things. But slowly  the wonder and excitement of anything new has been replaced with the more practical considerations of where to get a new SIM card, how do I get online, where is a good cheap and healthy place to eat, how long is the lay over…etc. Every place became just another hotel room or bed to crash on and with a focus on the task at hand, wondering when I will see my pillow again. It also meant that I could not focus on moving into Beirut, a place I found impregnable and hostile mostly because I wasn’t here to try to make it home (among other reasons I won’t go into now). I was always missing things because I was in the wrong city at the wrong time.

So here is a word of caution to all those that want a life of constant travel. You lose the wonder of new places. You end up going home to clean and do laundry and repack for your next trip with maybe a social event or two. Your social life is mostly online since you are always in the wrong place at the wrong time. People are always mad at you for not making the time to see them or for missing their events. You wake up sometimes not knowing where you are or where you are going next! Your wallet is full of the wrong currency and you always have the wrong map or no map.

On the flip side, you get to know the tips and tricks of various airports and how to get to the immigration line ahead of all the crazy lines. You know which airports offer free Wi Fi (because paying for it is against my religion, but paying for the coffee isnt). You have favorite haunts all over the world and can give insider tips to friends about random and not so random places. You learn to say hello and thank you in different languages and brush up on body language since its universal- just make sure you have the right dialect. You get to see people you miss and make new friends who’s path you would never have crossed otherwise.

But to be honest, and even with all those perks, I just want some time at home. I want to finish that paint job, get plugged into the art scene, actually make friends and not acquaintances, finish projects rather than just suggest ideas for others to maybe take on and well, settle into this new city I now call home. So I’m putting my passport away for a few months and I currently have no travel plans, so come visit and lets explore Beirut together and make that list grow from 10 to 20 and more.

I’m coming home! Next weekend I will be heading to Amman. I miss it much. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life here in Beirut and the differences between it and Amman and its like comparing apples to oranges. I came with high hopes and expectations and I quickly stumbled and tripped over myself in my fumblings around this new home of mine. I have learned a lot about myself and even though I knew I am a creature of habit I had not realized how much of my life was habitualized and ritualized; from my weekend “spontaneity” to my structured work days and weekly commitments. I miss it all.

Next weekend, I leave to go to Amman to relish in all that it is; to look out at the beautiful sunset, play scrabble with my scrabble partner, walk through its old windy street, play with the kids of Al Qalaa and meet the ones of Weibdeh, coffee with old friends, stich and bitch, and Tuesdays at Ivy’s and Wednesdays with Toastmasters. I go back to recharge my batteries that have been running on empty for a while now. I go back to get my Ammani fix.

But before I go I want to reflect a bit on my experience in Beirut. In the last few months, I not so quickly or easily learned that I needed to unlearn a lot of things and pick up new ways of relating and new ways of being. It is growing pains all over again, with social awkwardness, misfitting and feeling like the last one picked for the team, only I don’t know where the team is to start with. I feel unproductive, unaccomplished and with too much time on my hands and no interest in filling it, because I was not relating to where I am. Stating the obvious, Amman has been and still is a big part of my life. In the last few months I have over romanticized it, reminisced about it and continued to make it the yard stick that I measure Beirut against. And because I have done that I have set myself up to fail, fail miserably and be miserable while failing. If my life has taught me anything, it is that from my lowest points, my miserable and not so miserable failures, that I learn the most.

So enough about Amman; Amman will take care of itself. Beirut. Beirut is a big reason I am excited about going to Amman. I am excited to leave so that I can come back. I know it is strange, something has shifted and I no longer want to hide away indoors and block the world out. I am excited about this city, its people, and what it has to offer. I know this now because on my way back from the US, I had the same feelings I do when I return to Amman after any trip: the feelings of wanting to return and having arrived home. The next step is to define what that means.

Friends, foes, colleagues, lovers and fighters, it is an exciting time in my life as big changes have been happening and continue to happen. Throughout this year I have transitioned from being a full time employee to a community organizer and volunteer whilst I freelance on the side. But alongside that other changes are in the works.

It saddens me that I will be leaving Amman when a lot of the work I am doing is gaining momentum. But the next step is just as exciting. I will be traveling, and soon. These travels will take me to Bahrain and then Lebanon. I don’t know for how long I will be gone, but it will be at least 4- 5 months. I do know I would love to see and interact with you before then. I want to tie any lose ends, see all the wonderful people around me and give everyone a big hug before I go.

Call me, email me for a coffee, a hug, a walk, a chat… and make sure it’s before November 7 otherwise it will be months.

So I’ve been traveling for about four months now, right after the swine flu scare started in fact, and throughout my travels I have been to four continents, nine countries, nine airports, eight land borders/ terminals. Yes it’s been fun! But as I was traveling I was paying attention to how each airline, airport, government dealt with this scare. After going through these places and seeing how people are reacting its interesting to see how people have quickly forgotten how long the flu has been on earth and plaguing people and how it is contracted in exactly the same way since it reared its ugly head and how the precautions are exactly the same as that of the regular flu. Only difference is the poor pigs have got a bad rep now!

So without naming names or governments here are some the effective ways this virus has been tracked around the world.

The flight attendant announces on the plane that there are heat sensing cameras and medical staff awaiting us to screen us for Swine Flu. “This is for your safety and benefit” she says. So when we get off the plane and are bused to the terminal there is a bottleneck since only two or three of us can pass at a time. There are three persons in white lab coats, hair in those green shower-caps and of course masks on their faces all watching us and watching the monitor ready to pounce if someone goes by with a red aura instead of green. What happens after, I have no idea!

On another airplane we are handed health cards. These cards asked for our personal information, whether we were experiencing any symptoms and if we had been to any of these high risk countries (and it said to consult the list provided)- no list was provided! Upon arrival there was a very bored man waiting for us to collect our cards, and there was an unmanned heat sensing camera trained on us. Once again I passed without being flagged despite having been in high risk countries (I didn’t see the list but somehow I knew I had been in one high risk country at least).

In some countries they scan you as are waiting in line for immigration in others right after. In some countries they give you a card with your temperature on it, which without you can’t pass immigration, but because of the masses of people the system quickly became defunct.  One government requires you to fill out a form on the plane and has the flight attendants collect it for you.

In all land border crossings no one asked or scanned or bothered with the exception of one. They had a Ministry Of Health official come on to the bus (we were a captive audience with nowhere to go until our passports were returned to us). This official gave a five minute public awareness announcement about what the flu is, how it is contracted, how to protect yourself, and what you should do should symptoms arise. It was good solid advice given in under 10 minutes (great for ADD persons) and then a small handout was distributed with the same information and some contact information. The graphics of course included the mandatory pig with a big X over it. One country only cared about its nationals asking them to fill out a small paper – since I am not of that nationality they really didn’t care if I was healthy or not.

Finally there were the countries that upon arrival had a big massive sign about Swine Flu and assumed we were responsible for our own health. Other just didn’t give a damn!
What was amusing to me were the masses of people with masks covering their faces in airports and airplanes, scared of contracting the flu from other passengers. I even know a few people who have stopped any “unnecessary” physical contact with other people including hugs! What I want to say is that this is just another strain of flu, a disease people have been dying from before it was known to humanity. The best things we can do is pay attention to our mom’s age old advice: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and throw away your used tissues. Eat healthy, live healthy and now since pigs have flown we can all wait for hell to freeze over its only a matter of time with all this global warming!

A random thought occurred to me as I sat next to a window on the plane from Copenhagen to Istanbul. Does anyone clean planes? I’m not talking about the plane’s interior but rather the exterior of the plane’s, its windows, its wings, its nose, the body… the outside. I’ve never seen anyone take a bucket and a sponge to a plane, have you? I’ve never seen a planewash either. Do such things exist?

On the flip side of that I have never seen a dirty plane. No dusty, streaky, splotched planes at the airports I’ve been too. All of them have shined and glistened in the sunlight.

Could there be a secret plane cleaning industry we don’t know about, or is it just that high speeds at high altitudes in all weather conditions are self cleaning or super clean?

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