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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


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Pumpkin Love

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