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Monday, March 31, 2008

What the Fuck Have I Done? Two Years On.

Jaden and Rowan then and now...

Two years ago today I sat down at my computer desk, in my comfortable uptown Washington, DC apartment, and wrote my first posting on this blog.

At the time I was scared shitless about a major life altering decision. I had just agreed to move to Tanzania - a place I only peripherally knew - with my small kids, to a new job with a new company.

Holy crap, it was a big decision.

Two years on I now know it was the best decision of my life. That step into the abyss has changed my life in only positive ways. That’s not to say that there haven’t been hardships. But for all the many many challenges of my life in Tanzania there are three or four positive counterpoints.

I live in a tropical paradise… with weekends spent on sandy white, turquoise water beaches, or in the pool five steps from my front door. I have a job that I like. I drive a big car that handles the waist-deep water of the rainy season with ease, haven’t cleaned my own toilet in two years, and am blessed with many wonderful friends and colleagues.

My kids run wild and free, chasing geikos and millipedes. They are tow-headed and tan all year long. They don’t remember what it feels like to be cold.

They think there is a fundi to fix every problem. Like last week when Jaden picked up a small geiko in my bedroom and its tail came off – which is an instictive protective response. Jaden came running to me in the living room, quite upset, to say that the geiko needed a fundi to put its tail back on.

I’m not a religious person, but I feel blessed - or whatever the agnostic version of being blessed happens to be.

Shoot me if my Pollyanna attitude is annoying you, You might not like it, but you’ll just have to deal with it. That’s just what I am

So in celebration of my two year blog anniversary I’ve done two things.

I’ve compiled a list of links to my favorite Mahlers on Safari posts out of the 90 I've written in the past two years. It was hard to select just a few, so feel free to pick and choose from the titles that interest you. I hope you enjoy them.

And, in the spirit of leaping in to the abyss anew I’ve cut off more than a foot of my hair! Well… Brian at the Sea Cliff salon cut off my hair. I think I like it. Everyone says I look 10 years younger. You’ll just have to wait to see it.

And before I end, I need to give my annual shout-out to Liz (a.k.a. Mom-101), who inspired me to start blogging and continues to wow me everyday with her writing, her parenting, her business acumen, and her own many leaps off the edge in pursuit of her bliss.

Asante sana for sticking with me, and happy reading.

The Original Post

What the Fuck Have I Done?
March 2006

Posts About the Expat Life

Happy 8th of July
July 2006
Sometimes “Progress” is Assbackwards
October 2006
Abode of Peace or Port Charles
October 2006
When the Rest of the World Rejoices
November 2006
The Education of Hally Mahler
December 2006
Something Stinks in Here
December 2006
Hot Stuff
Feb 2007
What the Fuck Have I Done – One Year Later
March 2007
The Nanny Diaries
May 2007
Swahili School Drop Out
May 2007
Rocket’s Red Glare
July 2007
Not So Faithful
July 2007
A Member of the Club
October 2007
A Member of the Club, Part II. The Insurgency
December 2007
A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two Bushes
February 2008

Posts About Being Jewish in Africa

When You Are the Only Jew for Miles Around
June 2006
Wherever there is Coca-Cola there Are Jews
August 2006
April 2007
Smuli’s Big Yom Kippur Adventure
September 2007

Posts About Parenting But Still Being Myself

Mama Wa Wili and the Battle for Independent Hally
August 2006
January 2007
Tick Tock – Time to Close Up Shop
December 2007

Posts About Travel

The Old Me (Except the Old Me Didn't Come with All this Guilt)
October 2007
Seven Hours in Lagos
November 2007

Other Topics

The Club Formally Known as Book
April 2007

Monday, March 10, 2008

There Are Gays in Iran!

The sun was already low in the sky, reflecting off the powder-white sand sifting between our toes, when David and I set out on our desert safari.

The scene was pristine. Just David, me, the cloudless sky and the rolling sands dunes…

And oh yeah… about 150 other people packed like sardines… eight to a Land Cruiser… flying like bats out of hell across the desert. We were up and down and all around the dunes at every possible angle. Cars often role over, they told us, which is why they travel in packs of 15 cars at a time. That way if you roll, there are lots of people to swarm out onto the sand to pull out your crumpled body and presumably roll your car back upright.

Laurence of Arabia, we were not.

This is what they call a desert safari. I wouldn’t exactly call it fun, or even exciting, but it was indeed unique. Well… unique and cheesy as hell.

Dubai is a common “get out of dodge” destination stop for those of us living in Dar. It is a bizarro world combination of the West with an exotic Arabian cache, and only five short flying hours from home. Dubai offered the promise of air conditioned shopping malls, filthy rich sheiks, interesting modern architecture, and best of all – it was the most convenient half-way point to meet up with my friend, David, who lives in Mumbai, India.

Before I left for vacation, my mother nervously asked me if I thought that David and I would be comfortable being ourselves in Dubai. After all, I’m a fat Jew and David is a somewhat obviously gay man – not two groups often associated with fun times on the Arabian Peninsula.

“What do you think Dubai will be like?” I challenged her.

Las Vegas,” she replied.

“Well… do you think that David and I would stand out in Las Vegas?” I wondered.


It turns out my mother was right about one thing… Dubai most resembles Las Vegas in that everything is big, glizy, and way over-the-top. It is a city that just pops up out of the desert. And as if to drive home the point, Celine Dion was even playing in concert that week.

In so many ways Dubai is the city of the future. It is something massive built out of nothing. A place where (I’ve been told) it costs more to desalinate a liter of water than extract a liter of oil from the sands. The buildings were monumental and sometimes fascinating. We were told that 1/3rd of all the world’s construction cranes are in Dubai and based on what I saw I totally believe it. The malls were huge and filled with all sorts of goodies like Starbucks and MAC make-up and Nike stores.

Let me just tell you… it was heaven on earth for a frustrated shopper living in Tanzania.

Alas, my credit card bill can testify to the reason why they call the place “Do Buy”.

And, the rumors are true. There is a massive indoor (inside a shopping mall) ski slope. It was mind numbingly impressive – and so huge that I couldn’t even see the top of the “mountain”. Not being a skier myself (and therefore not being willing to pay the $100 to spend the day skiing) I didn’t go inside. But as you wander the mall there are many overlook points – where you can see the people inside snowboarding downhill, riding the skill lift back up, sliding down the ice shoots, and building snow men in the kiddy area.

I don’t even have the words to explain this engineering marvel. It left me speechless.

Of course the best part of the trip was catching up with David – who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. It turns out that 80% of the people that live in Dubai are not from the United Arab Emirates, and it seems that the vast majority of those non-Emiratis are Indian – so David actually had a chance to introduce me to many aspects of his life in India via the people we interacted with in the hotel, in shops and in restaurants. We had a lovely weekend – the kind you can only have when you and the person you are with have a year of life to catch up on and the luxury of time to do it. We walked and talked, shopped and talked, smoked hookah and talked, ate and talked, lay around the hotel and talked…. You get the picture. I felt young and very alive – the way you can with an old friend who you met the first day of college. Well, that was until a 21-year-old asked us how long we’ve known each other and the answer was one year longer than he is old.

That part wasn’t so fun.

On our last day together we did the desert safari, knowing that it would be touristy, but wanting to experience the desert together, nevertheless.

The Land Cruiser that picked us up at our hotel that afternoon was already packed with people when we got in. Our driver was a modern Arabian cowboy – he had long greasy hair and a three-day old beard – just David’s type. I couldn’t quite place the language that everyone else in the car spoke. I didn’t think it was Arabic but it seemed to be somewhat related. An hour later when we arrived in the desert at our “Bedouin Camp”, the home base for our cheesy adventure, there were suddenly 100 or maybe even 200 of them – all chatting in an unknown language as they rode ATVs up and down the nearby hills, got their names written in sand in bottles, or took a camel ride.

And then, a young man attached himself to David. The guy was cute, in his early twenties, and spoke just enough English to introduce himself and have a simple conversation. Turns out he was an anesthesiology student, absolutely edible, and totally Iranian. And he wasn’t alone… the rest of our temporary Bedouin friends were also Iranian. Go figure.

The squeal of David’s and my gaydar was practically audible. Was this guy gay?

Well… if you believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of course he wasn’t. There are no gays in Iran.

But David and I can testify that there are gay Iranians – but perhaps not technically in Iran. And two weeks ago, the Iranian gay guy drove up and down the dunes of the United Arab Emirates, drank a beer with some new American friends, showed two relative strangers photos of guys kissing in Terhan, watched some belly dancing, and ate a fabulous barbecue… all with a fat Jew and a gay American.

But he doesn’t have to worry about us letting his secret out. We got him covered.

I can't tell you what happens in Tehran. But what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

David and I in the desert

Leaving my footprint on the Arabian Peninsula

Riding across the desert at every angle

Belly dancing

Ski Dubai