Foreigners find mystifying the amount of mayhem permitted in the United States despite ever more draconian laws against something loosely called terrorism. — Gore Vidal, in the year 2000
At least one famous dead poet believes the “cruelest month” is April. This year, it’s February. Talk about disappointments: this February has been the Super Bowl—or World Cup or Grand Slam—of disappointments here at the Badfish and Chips Café. Take just last night, for instance. I woke up with a disturbing feeling in my chest. Not heartburn, not angina, more like “dread” but emanating from the heart.
Then a glaring flash of light sizzled through the open window. I thought it might be headlights of a car, but I’m 21 floors up. So, perhaps one of those high-intensity lighting devices they put on top of buildings, so airplanes won’t crash into them—perhaps recently misaligned. But no. It took the thunder a good long while to roll across the vast sands here in Abu Dhabi. Rain, lightning, thunder in the desert; and water on my floor—disappointing, but more disappointing because I have a singular aversion to rain. Not exactly ombrophobia, the fear of rain, I simply dislike rain, intensely, for some reason. I would love to live in Washington State or Oregon—two ecstatically beautiful, lush, and open-minded states—but I’d abhor all that rain.
The second disappointment came a few days ago. I thought I might like to change my blog title—or maybe start a new blog geared specifically to older people who want to travel or read about a geezer who travels. A title for the blog came to mind almost immediately: Geezer Travel. I should have known—it was already taken by some grumpy geezer. Then, another name bubbled up in my head: Boomer Travel. Most informational sites meant to help you learn how to blog advise you to choose a name that suggests who you are, so potential readers know what your blog is about. Like Nomad Norman. Or Edith Eats. Or Haircare Hannah. You guessed it. Boomer Travel was already taken, too. But there are always two sides to everything: upside is the blog name is for sale, I can buy the thing—for US$2200. I’ll think give that a pass. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree: Badfish and Chips Café Travel, Beer Mugs, and AARP News is a bit dodgy as a blog name, but it does get a message across.
Another disappointment came a couple weeks ago when I discovered a very cool app built into my iPhone 6. It automatically chooses photos from your phone and turns them into a movie with music. It was—as those pesky, millennial, loathed-in-Bhutan backpackers say—quite, freakin awesome. I don’t know how I discovered the app and don’t know its name, but as I was holding my phone and being properly awed watching movies of my photos, the screen went black. And would not light up again. I took it to the Genius Bar at the local Apple shop. You know that device doctors use to look inside your ears—an otoscope—the genius had one and looked right inside my iPhone 6 with his gizmo. Long story short: my iPhone 6 was pronounced dead right there on the operating table with a flashlight in its ear.
I’m not totally broken hearted about losing the iPhone 6 because it’s a legitimate excuse to buy a new 7 Plus, which I wanted to do, mainly because the 7 has an optical zoom lens that takes photos without distorting them (they say), but I couldn’t quite talk myself into spending the cash since my 6 was only a year and a half old and—I thought—in perfect condition. I don’t mistreat it, I’ve never dropped it, I hardly use it for anything but taking photos and hailing Uber taxis, I rarely even carry it with me. And I truly have no clue what all those other people are continuously looking at on their phones.
Two days later my Apple Magic Mouse goes down. Just stops mousing. Same diagnosis—dead, nothing can be done. Can’t open it, can’t fix it. Can’t even look inside its ear with a flashlight. If I were going to Speak Out, I might suggest someone start complaining about all this over-priced Apple gear made in China (!) breaking down. I mean, the gear looks cool and spiffy, and the box—my god, the box looks like you bought it at Tiffany’s. And the bag, with a rope handle! Can’t the Apple geniuses figure a way to make the stuff less prone to the vagaries of premature tech death?
The big disappointment came, however, when the Apple genius informed me that the photos and other data on my 6 would remain on my 6 and could not be retrieved. Now before anyone starts ranting at me for not backing them up, let me just say this: I am not stupid. Lazy, cantankerous, moody, indecisive, disproportionately procrastinistic (is that even a word? I’ll google it…um…later), and I may be afflicted with mad cow disease or frontal lobe syndrome, but I’m not stupid. I usually back up my photos and writings on three separate (rather expensive) portable hard drives—one in my office, one in my daypack, one at home. I’m sometimes a little anal about certain things, like backing up photos. And yet, yeah, I allowed this to happen—it’s not easy being me.
Perhaps the most disturbing disappointment came back near the beginning of February. You know what they say about one bad apple spoiling the barrel? The Bible says one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. But out here in the real world, it appears that’s exactly what happens. Especially if you’re Arabic dwelling in the barrel of Islam. Here in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of February, I learned a worrying new word from a young Muslim university student: Islamophobia.
It may not be a new word to you, but I’d never heard it. Because I presently reside outside the States, travel in foreign lands, and rarely get back to the U.S. (and have no TV and don’t read newspapers), I’m a tad outside the news loop. And if I’m honest, I generally find it more satisfying to wallow in ignorance regarding most topics in the news—and don’t some news broadcasts just seem so biased one way or the other, as though they had a visceral agenda. Or as though their priority was more about attracting viewers or making money than spreading credible news. Whatever happened to Walter Cronkite, a man you could trust, a man you could believe in? I believe it best not to begin a diatribe regarding Islamophobia; I fear I might start saying something I should not finish.
One thing, though, I might mention about my crusty, geezer self: if you travel to, say, Marrakesh or Timbuktu, two atavistic Islamic towns, you may not find me the most friendly or outgoing person you run across in a café there. I’m rather an introvert and apparently, possess a smidgeon of shyness, which makes me appear aloof sometimes. I may not be the most religious, or the most spiritually aware, traveler you meet. You may discover I possess an overdose of macrophobia—the fear of long waits. And a touch of agoraphobia – a fear of crowded spaces, and acrophobia – the fear of heights. I don’t know if there’s a name for a fear of the sight of blood, but that one messes with my head, too. I don’t actually fear needles, but I don’t cherish them, nor embrace both their positive and negative sides.
I admit, I harbor my share of weaknesses—I’ve failed at numerous aspects of life. I’ve failed professionally at times. I’ve failed my lovers at times. I’ve failed my children at times. And my friends. Due to these failings, I’ve been labeled disparaging names. But Islamophobe was never one of them.
And if you’re American, no matter what strong or weak characteristics you possess, is it a name we call you? I’m thinking, we are too great a nation with too much responsibility to ourselves and the world to disgrace ourselves by wandering that far back in time; to back-step our progress toward enlightenment, righteousness and decency; and to blithely slither down into the dark ravine inhabited by the overbearing ogres of Ignorance, Bias, and Folly. This is the 21st century, for pete’s sake, not the 12th. Nor even the 20th.
I was right, as you see: I have begun a diatribe that I should not finish. So I will stop. I will spare you my shallow, ill-formed and potentially-politically-incorrect thoughts on topics such as the Christian Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery in the Rebel South, Native Americans, McCarthyism, Japanese detention camps, Trump’s Walls and—no, no. I will stop. But perhaps, we should ponder another new fear: potusophobia.
Through my years of travel, I have visited numerous Muslim countries. I’ve seen sights you’ll find nowhere else in the world. I’ve glimpsed remnants of history you’ll see nowhere else in the world. I’ve witnessed pieces of culture you’ll discover nowhere else. I’ve met wonderful people in Muslim countries, had delightful experiences and conversations with perfect strangers, been invited to dinner by perfect strangers, been offered many cups of tea and coffee by perfect strangers, and when in need, I’ve been helped immensely by perfect strangers in these countries.
9 THINGS YOU FIND IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque holds the largest single-loomed carpet in the world and perhaps the largest chandelier in a mosque, weighing 12 tons and garnished with Swarovski crystal and 24-carat gold plate. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit during non-prayer times. The mosque is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, with many of the traditional features (domes, arches, inlaid tile) and at the same time is upscale contemporary in design and simply luscious in detail. Nobody walks out of here thinking: “yeah, that was okay.” No, they walk out knowing precisely what the original intention of the word “awesome” feels like.
Rice paddies, coconut palms, and thatched roofs abound in the tiny village of Tegallalang located just north of Ubud on the island of Bali. Try to arrive early in the morning to catch the sun’s rays backlighting the rice fronds as they dance in the breeze, and to beat the tour buses and taxis. Be sure to visit a local café on the ravine above the rice fields for an actually-affordable kopi luwak or a traditional breakfast of burbur ayam or nasi goreng, but mostly to linger and gaze a good long while at the lush and eloquent artistry of the landscape.
Madinat Jumeira & Burj Al Arab: Madinat Jumeira is the largest, and perhaps most unique, resort in Dubai—it boasts canals you can sail and appears as a traditional town, with numerous restaurants, shops, even a souk. Beyond it, the Burj Al Arab rests on its own island just off the mainland in the Persian Gulf; it is the only 7-star hotel in the world. A helo pad masquerades as a crow’s nest on top; each suite has its own butler. If your first thought is to wonder how much a room or the helo ride from the airport costs, this place is most likely way overbudget.
Pyramids at Giza: built almost 4600 years ago, precisely how they were erected is still quite a mystery to expert Egyptologists. They guestimate that over two million stone blocks, weighing from 2½ to over 14 tons each were utilized in the construction. Rent a camel and circumnavigate them for a lesson in humility. Visit during winter when the weather is clear and temperatures more pleasant than summer in a desert. Carry water any time you go. And don’t rush—spend enough time here to fathom exactly what you are looking at.
Shiraz dowry chest: Before the invention of shelves or closets — where do you hang shelves in a tent?— most people in the world stored their worldly possessions in wooden boxes. This Persian dowry chest, with brass studs and appliqué plates would have been used by a bride to carry her dowry of clothing, fine fabrics, and jewels. She also probably utilized a steel or brass push-key spring lock to secure her valuables.
Kilim carpet: in Aqaba, a shop keeper named Haroun tells me the oldest known image of a loom appears on an Egyptian dish, from maybe 4000 BC. But it is believed the loom appeared earlier than the dawn of civilization, which makes a good argument for seamstress being the “oldest profession.” Nomads wandering Jordan, perhaps 100 years ago, wove this kilim carpet with weft-facing flatweave threads and no pile; they produced natural blue die from the indigo plant and used the rug as flooring in their tents.
Turkish Coffee: most people now believe an Ethiopian goatherd first discovered coffee, or rather, his goats discovered it. The goatherd simply observed them going slightly berserk after eating the ripe berries off the tree. Coffee in Turkey is different than what you might expect from your local Starbucks. Turkish coffee is prepared more like American cowboy coffee, brewed in a copper, open-top pot and sweetened with sugar while still in the pot. This elaborate coffee decanter, near the ancient town of Ephesus, elegantly displays the importance of a good cup of coffee to start your morning, or evening, anywhere in the world.
Henna hands: some experts believe the art of henna design is over 9000 years old and because of its cooling properties, was first applied in layers without design to cover and cool the body. It is now used traditionally in numerous countries during special occasions, such as weddings or birthdays, and also, as a form of decoration, the way you might apply eye liner. If you live in California, you may spot Madonna or Liv Tyler sporting the stuff.
Jacuzzi over water: guidebooks rave about the white sand beaches, unrivaled luxury, crystal-clear water, and vibrant sea life in the Maldives. Sure, of course, you’ll find all that. But sometimes, you just may desire to kick back and watch the day saunter along, while lounging in your jacuzzi on the deck of your over-water bungalow on an island quite literally in the middle of nowhere—an island you feel fairly confident produces no Islamophobia or any other phobia, except maybe the fear of departure from a place like this.
In my travels, I’ve made friends with people in Islamic countries, and lived beside them. I’ve watched women stand with outstretched arms in the rain and get drenched, like a child seeing rain for the first time, because it rains so rarely in a desert. I’ve seen old men weep when a favored camel died. I’ve seen two young men get out of their cars, walk toward each other and shake hands, then touch noses and smile before beginning their argument about whose fault the car accident was. At their core, at the center of their culture and religion and traditions, they are some of the most peaceful, loving, and warm-hearted people I’ve encountered. And sure, I understand our fears sometimes force us to become who we are. However, I pray that the one bad apple of terrorism—attended by its writhing worm of fear—will not change all this for me.
See more Lucille’s Photo Rehab
See more DP Photo Challenge: Against the Odds
See more: RIGHT NOW IN THE MALDIVES
More Bali: (EXTRA) ORDINARY: PREPARING THE PADDY