I took a quick escape to Salalah, Oman on the southwestern coast of Oman. Oman has been a trading capital between east Africa, Arabia and India for centuries. The Omanis pride themselves on being open, accepting and tolerant. When Oman came into oil money, the current Sultan told the Omanis he would give them either a taxi or a fishing boat. In essence, a way to make money, rather than money itself. This has led to a more worldly and friendly culture than most of the gulf. I really like the Omanis.

Salalah is known for its monsoon season and the resulting green in July – September. I was there a bit after so a lot of the water dried up. But I was by the ocean, the real, real ocean with waves and everything.

Oman

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=mistysch1&target=ALBUM&id=6097439583798700321&authkey=Gv1sRgCIft-dSa87XAmgE&feat=email

I finally made it to Jordan and Petra. I remember seeing images of Petra back in the 80s in the pages of the National Geographic that I pasted into a collage on my parent’s basement wall. And then hearing of it again from a New Zealand traveler while in Indonesia in 1995. So, here I am almost 20 years later and I finally visited. It, and the country of Jordan, were well worth every penny. The Jordanian people were outgoing while not being aggressive sellers (more likely to sell something to me that way) and willing to have a chat. Some of my favorite people I’ve met – incisive, thoughtful, full of poetry and history.

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I went to Bamberg, Germany (and a couple of day trips to Nurnberg and Forchheim) for my friend Martin’s birthday. Bamberg is part of the region Franconia, and is known for its medieval architecture and its high concentration of microbreweries in town. We had a brilliant time drinking rauchbier (smoke beer), eating pork, fresh chanterelle mushrooms and local cherries, and celebrating. After the party, he and his family went off to the Franconia Alps and I headed down into the Tyrol Alps region of Austria. One of the best vacations I’ve had in a long time. Great people, great beer (Germany), great food (Austria), hiking in the Alps.

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=mistysch1&target=ALBUM&id=6097474711181724065&authkey=Gv1sRgCJ-cyZ-Wi9z1Aw&feat=email

I’m keeping a blog on my time in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. I’ve separated it from this, though it’s grouped with my trip to South Africa in 2010 for the World Cup (a bit of nostalgia). I’ll update it as much as I can. But follow along here:

http://realitypanhandler.wordpress.com/

 

QatarCars

I now have an apartment to myself after 14 months of short-term contracts [ahem, cough, cough, bullshit]) with the company. Nothing I would ever rent in the U.S. – indifferent layout, horrible layout for electrical plugs, drains in the floor in kitchen and bathroom that smell like nose-holding dank sewage – all for US $3,500 a month. Yes, you read that correctly. Supply is incredibly curtailed here and lands with the most in favor elite (third world country anyone?). Still, I no longer have a roommate and I can open the balcony door outside to sweet, sweet air.

View from the lanai and inside:

View fom my new balcony. . .with a few holes. . .

View from my new balcony. . .with a few holes. . .

Occasionally, overnight, something changes in expatriate (expat) (well, white collar, mostly Western) life. For example, the big hotels used to hold parties on the beach with music and alcohol (alcohol is only allowed to be sold in hotels for all but a few exceptions and these are mostly three to five star). Reggae nights at the Ritz were a big hit as was having a few drinks around the pool at many places. Then one morning, alcohol near pools or on the beach was banned. A pronouncement had come down from on high (this is essentially a monarchy). And every expat I know went, “So, what did some Qatari do?” The fun police had reared their ugly heads.

They showed up a while back when a liquor store was allowed to open at the mostly expat Pearl development and then closed one day later.

(Rumors for these developments generally include a member of the Qatari royal family or a Qatari female.)

Movies can be heavily censored for swearing (the Wolf of Wall Street had 40 minutes censored), nudity to varying degrees, perceived homosexual references (even using the word ‘gay’ [it was omitted from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun), and affection between men and women. On the TV show MasterChef Australia, the word pork was censored (‘and today, we’ll be having a teriyaki braised _______ belly).

Some music acts and comedians are banned.

Sometimes it feels as if these things are direct hits at expats, but more likely they are meant to contain the Qataris. It used to be that Qatari men (no women) sometimes would hit the bars in Western clothes, but never in local dress. But now, more and more Qatari men in thobes are frequenting certain bars and openly drinking alcohol. Stories say that now both Qatari men and women often get on planes out of the country and shed their traditional dress and actually speak to each other.

The plight of the newly rich and newly exposed to the world. . .

Still, the fun police are no fun.

The kafala system affects more than unskilled workers in Qatar. All expatriates are tied to it in some way – we come in under a sponsorship system and must obtain a no objection certificate (NOC) from our employer to work for another company in Qatar. And that NOC can make or break a person in Qatar, possibly even have big financial repercussions. A security guard friend recently was refused an NOC and the employer then pulled his return ticket home. He had to get out of the country quick and had to pay for it himself.

Even footballers fall victim (Qatar has a domestically league and pulls in some old names [Papiss Cisse, Raul] and up-and-comings to play). Most employers play fair, but a vindictive streak can wreak havoc on people’s lives. Case in point with this footballer:

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/6/55/88509/Sports/World/Footballers-Qatar-woes-put-spotlight-on-kafala-sys.aspx

 

A little old, but better late than never. During the Eid holiday in October 2013, I spent 10 wonderful days in Ethiopia. I’ve wanted to go there for decades and can’t wait to go back. There are several distinct regions in Ethiopia and I only managed a few days in Addis Ababa, the capital, a day in the hill town with the amazing history of churches carved out of rock and a few days in the Muslim east. More days in the north in the mountains and game parks and in the south amongst the tribes for me.

 

 

 

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