Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 9, 2008: Border Patrol, United Kingdom

“So, what, you’re like a photojournalist or something?”

It was 3am and we were crossing British immigration at Dover, or was it Calais? We had gotten on and off the bus so many times I had lost track. It was all a blur of cold air, heavy luggage, and grunting responses to various government officials.

“Mmm-hmm,” I replied, too tired to open my mouth and form words.

The surprise registered clearly on his face. “And, how long do you plan to be in London?”

“Just a few hours, I’m in-transit,” I said, mentally visualizing the “IT” they would add to my entry stamp.

“Okay, and what time does your plane leave?”


“Today?” he asks and I nod. “Oh, so you really are in-transit. And, what are you going to be doing in Afghanistan? It doesn’t matter,” he adds quickly, “I’m just curious.”

“I’m going to be following around a bomb squad that finds and disposes of left over munitions and explosives.”

More surprise registers on his face, followed by the click and clink of the entry visa stamp. He clears his throat slightly, “Interesting story, good luck and be safe,” and hands me back my passport with a genuine smile.

October 8, 2008 - The Journey Begins

The Afghan Diaries: Paris, France

The day before leaving for a war zone I probably shouldn’t have been having waffles. I also shouldn’t have stayed up half the night. Nor should I have hired myself out as a photography instructor, a Photoshop tutor, and a personal chef. And, I should have gone straight home after all of these activities, rather than accepting a dinner invitation at my friend’s house, and definitely had no business even entertaining the idea of a possible nightcap. But extreme circumstances made me want to relish every minute of the present. Eat them up, much like the five pounds of waffles I had consumed in the last 12 hours.

As a result, I found myself running around Roland’s apartment in such a frenzy that I would often forget from one minute to the next what I was doing as details about my trip that hadn’t quite been worked out surfaced in my head. You know, small details, like I didn’t actually have my plane ticket from Dubai to Kabul yet! Ah, but at least I had my visa, secured that very morning.

“Is there a place in the city where I can get a book on Dari?” I asked the embassy representative after he had handed me back my brand new passport, with the first page brandishing a one-month visa. I smiled down at it. This is going to be fun to re-enter the US with.

I looked back up at the embassy representative; he was staring at me like I was crazy. “Dari language resources?” I added hopefully.

He asks his colleague, who shakes his head.

“Oh, okay,” nodding my head to the colleague and thanking them both.

It’s a brisk fall day in Paris and I put on my headphones and walk through the park by the embassy noting the falling leaves and wondering what autumn is like in Afghanistan. Holy shit, it’s really happening, I’m going to Kabul.

On the road again...

I spent several weeks after Jordan traveling and there were many highlights and adventures that ensued. BUT, I have to stop somewhere or else I’ll never get to Kabul…

Speaking of, just how does one get to Kabul? It’s easy and here’s a little map to illustrate.

Friday, October 24, 2008


After dodging Arabs in the desert, I was saved by the Virgin Mary herself, also known as filmmaker, actress, editor, yoga master, and world traveler extraordinaire: Jackie S. She had in fact just finished playing the role of the Virgin Mary for a historical documentary filmed in Jordan and unbeknownst to both of us our paths may have crossed during her work on the Italian film “The Holy Family”, the crew of which I kept running into during my stint with the Jordan Times in 2006. But, we instantly had another commonality, in good friend, former roommate, fellow wanderluster, badass editor, journalist, and linguist, Victoria M.

Sitting in the living room of Sofian’s (Jax’s super cool & super talented BF) parent’s house, my narration of recent adventures in the desert where punctuated by Jackie’s disbelief.

“OH MY GOD! I know him!” she said when I disclosed M.’s identity. “He’s hot shit in those parts.” She turns to Sof in explanation, “He’s like the Ivory Tower of Wadi Rum.” She begins to impersonate his high and mightiness with her funnier than hell Arab accent and mannerisms.

I proceed to tell them about the camel milk, the comments, the massage incident (oh yes, there was a massage incident with both M.’s)…

“OH MY GOD! I can’t believe I left my mother alone with that man!” Jackie exclaims.

When I tell them about M2 and the drinking games, Sof interjects, “So you had ‘After Sex’?”

“WHAT?” Jackie and I whip our heads around and ask in unison.

“’After Sex’ – it’s a drink here. It’s what we call vodka and orange soda. You can get it at most liquor stores,” he explains matter-of-factly.

“What??? It’s actually written on the bottle ‘After Sex’?” Jackie asks, shocked that the conservative government would allow a product with ‘Sex’ in its name to be sold off the shelf.

“Yeah, it’s premixed orange soda and vodka, it’s really cheap, you can get a bottle for like 3 JD.”

Jackie and I look at each other and start laughing. A stop at the liquor store is in our future.

I sigh dramatically. “Oh, M2,” I say, full of forlorn sarcasm, “that’s what you were doing wrong--you can’t give me ‘After Sex’ before…”

At the 2nd liquor store we check, we find our orange treasure.

When I see it, I start laughing.

Jackie, picks up the bottle for a closer inspection and reads the label. “After Six???” she rolls her eyes and laughs. “Oh, brilliant…it’s like the words “version” and “virgin” they can’t pronounce the difference.” She begins another hilarious impression playing two roles:
“I’ll take the other ‘virgin’.”
“Uh, you mean, ‘version’.”
“Yes, ‘virgin’.”
“No, ‘version’.”
“Right, ‘virgin’, I want that ‘virgin’.”

I take a peek at the label as well and remember the assortment of sharpies in my bag, “Ah, we can make it ‘After Sex’ after all,” and load up my arms with several bottles and a sly grin.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bedouin Mind Tricks

The last thing that M. did for me besides insisting that I owed him at least 200 JD for the pleasure of his advances was to deposit me at the small hotel owned by his friend, um…let’s call him Mohammad (M2), close to the resort where the rest of the Distant Heat festival was taking place. I was skeptical, but when I arrived, it was indeed minutes from the main resort, the rooms had air conditioning, their own showers, there was an outdoor pool that was clean and peaceful, and it was within my budget.

After another all-nighter, I collapsed in my little air-conditioned hut and planned to laze the next day away poolside in silence and solitude.

The day started out pleasantly. M2 greeted me on the way to the pool and asked if I wanted coffee. I happily accepted the needed fuel and breakfast, which M. had told me, was included.

I was a little disappointed when M2 brought out a tray for two, but at least it wasn’t one beach towel for two—I tend to count my blessings with the little things now. I was hoping the coffee would cure my headache, but I was overly optimistic.

“Do you have any aspirin?” I asked M2.

“You have a headache?” he seemed incredibly interested in this possibility.

“Yeah, I was up pretty late last night,” I replied ignoring the alarm bell that just went off in my head and was competing with my headache.

He leaves and a few minutes later returns with some aspirin. I thank him and before I can even swallow the pill, he’s sitting behind my lounge chair and grabs my head and begins a massage technique that he tells me he learned from the Russians.

I wanted to shout, “Hey look! I’m cured – good job!” and then under my breath add a “quit fucking touching me" to the accolades. But, before I have a chance, he asks, “Can you feel this?”

He has a lock of my hair that he’s holding up from the top of my head. “Yes,” I say tentatively.



He pulls hard on the lock of hair and I immediately turn around and put my hands to the top of my head. “What are you doing?” I demanded.

“You have to pull the bad energy up from the scalp through your hair. It works, the Russians taught me.”

“Do I have a huge bald spot on the top of my head????”

“No, no….” he assures me.

I rub my head and look at him dubiously. “Don’t do that again.” Still a bit dazed from the hair pulling, I barely notice that he has moved from his head massaging perch and is now standing over me with a bottle of sun tan oil and an eager look on his face.

“Lay on your stomach,” he says, “and I will rub this on your back.”


“Oh, no, that’s okay. I’m good,” I say trying to be politely dismissive.

“But, I want to massage you.”

“No, that’s not necessary, really…”

“But, really, I want to do this for you,” he insists.

“Ah, well, maybe later, I’m going for a swim so best not to waste!” I say cheerfully, knowing that later will never come.

Finally he relents and jumps in the pool.

I don’t follow. A few minutes later he’s back at my lounge chair.

“I think you are lazy,” he states plainly. “You are not swimming.”

Mamma mia! I might actually drown myself in the pool if he doesn’t leave me alone.

“I’m getting in, I just want a little more sun,” I say in response, but hating the fact that I’m even explaining myself to him.

He annoyingly stayed by my side for the rest of the day, but it gave me ample time to question him about the area and find out that some of the best snorkeling in the world is located across the street.

He insisted on coming snorkeling with me and as he knew where the best coral was, I relented. Little did I know he would come to think of this later as a date.

“Can I make for you a dinner on the beach?” he asks as he’s putting away the snorkeling gear.

“Uh, well, isn’t dinner served here at the hotel?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, but I can grill for you some fish, it will be very nice.”

“Ah, thank you, but I think I’ll just eat here--with everyone else.”

“As you like,” he says, and then a few minutes later, “What do you like to drink? Vodka?”

“Um, yeah, sure…I drink vodka sometimes.”

A huge grin appears on his face. “Okay…tonight we drink vodka.”

Whatever, dude.

I gladly retreat to my hut, alone at last, until my stomach leads me to the communal dining area towards the front of the hotel.

Thankfully, M2 does not dine with me, but just as I’m finishing my meal, he’s by my side.

“So,” he says with that same big grin, “what do you like with your vodka?”

“Um, soda, I guess?”

“Ah, you like orange soda, like orange Fanta?”

“Sure, sure, orange Fanta’s great.”

I sigh inwardly as he motions for me to follow him towards the pool area. I suppose if I can’t hang out by myself, at least I’ll have some vodka to dull the pain.

I plop myself down on a lounge chair by the pool. M2 stops in his tracks carrying the tray with vodka, ice, orange Fanta, and glasses. “No, the view from the terrace is very nice. Come, come...” he beckons.

“Oh, I’m sure it is, but let’s just have a drink down here,” I suggest. Where there are plenty of lights and people.

“No, you must see the view.”

I follow the direction he has cocked his head, it’s just up a short staircase and within site of all. “Okay,” I relent.

Up on the terrace there are two lounge chairs set up facing the sea. I don’t lounge; instead I sit upright, really wanting that drink now.

He pours me a drink and I realize that I have nothing to talk to him about, so decide to get some fact-checking for my article out of the way. I ask him more questions about the area: distances, names of towns, future plans for this part of Aqaba, history, etc. Soon, he’s pouring us another drink, plus a shot.

“Look, here,” he says as he’s pouring vodka into a small shot glass. He covers the top of the shot glass with the palm of his hand, picks it up with his other, gives it a good knock on the table, and then shoots it. “This is how the Russians do it,” he explains proudly.

What? Am I supposed to clap? Let’s see, the last time the words “shooting” and “Russians” were in the same sentence, I was aiming an AK47.

“Oh,” I say. “So the Russians taught you that? Do you get a lot of Russian tourists here?”

“People from all over, yes,” he says and shrugs. “Here, for you” he slams another shot on the table and then hands it to me. I proceed to sip it. He looks disappointed and pours himself another.

I finish my drink and shot and he quickly pours me another of each.

I chuckle to myself. Hey, I know this game! It’s: “Let’s get the small American girl drunk!” Oh, M2…if only you knew that I have a Norwegian-like ability to drink...

Having run out of questions and growing tired of drinking, I tell M2 that I’m heading to bed.

“But, wait,” he says, “I still must give you a massage.”

“Ah, no, thanks – I’m just going to bed, I'm really tired.”

“Okay, well we can do it either in your room or my room, as you like.”

“Uh, no, that’s okay, I don’t need a massage.”

“But, you told me ‘later’ – you said I could massage you later,” he protests.

Ah, fuck. Using my words against me – dammit!

“Well, I don’t want a massage,” I reply flatly.

“But, I want to do this nice thing for you. What? You don’t trust me?”

The alcohol is kicking in and he’s starting to get agitated by my refusal.

“You said ‘later’ so I waited. I want to do this nice thing for you. But, now, you don’t trust me? Look, we went snorkeling together and I could have done something then—“

“WHAT could you have possibly done while we were snorkeling?” I ask cutting him off, shocked by this ludicrous example of his trustworthiness.

“This is the way it works,” he tells me like I'm a six year old, “if a man and a woman are having drinks, surely they will have sex.”


“Yes, yes,” he reiterates. “For a guarantee—if we drink together, either I will end up in your bed or you in mine.”

It takes me a moment to recover when I realize he’s dead serious. “Well, I can guarantee you that that is NOT the way it works.”

“Yes, it is. I see it in your movies, this is what happens.”

“Wait, you’re basing your ideas of how men and women behave toward each other on Hollywood movies?” I ask incredulously.

“For a certainty, this is the way it works,” he insists.

Speaking of Hollywood, his insistence is starting to remind me of Rainman. “Look, I can make ten phone calls right now to male friends of mine who will tell you otherwise.”

“I do all these nice things for you!” he continues ignoring anything I’ve said, “…dinner, drinks, breakfast, snorkeling...and now I just want to massage you,” he mutters annoyed by my refusal and working himself up into a tizzy. “Fine, fine—the snorkeling and the drinks I’ll pay for, but you can pay for your breakfast and dinner.”

I stare at him dumbfounded, shocked at how quickly he has become belligerent and rude. And what’s this about paying for breakfast and dinner? First of all, I was told they were included and, second of all, I had intended to pay for everything, especially if it meant I wouldn’t be harassed about being given a massage.

“Look, I only let my boyfriend massage me,” I say tersely, thinking that maybe this will put things in perspective for him and make it clear that he should drop it.

“Fine!” he sneers. “Go find your boyfriend then!”

Ah, shit. Now he’s done it. He crossed the line.

I could almost feel all the emotion draining from my face. Even the shock I initially had at his belief that drinking would inevitably lure me to his bed had left me. I went quiet and still and stared coldly off at the horizon taking deep even breaths. I must have been giving what Pat used to refer to as “devil eyes” as M2 began to back peddle quickly.

“Well, I want you to have a good time. You’re my guest…” he trailed off.

“Thank you,” I said coldly and left the terrace without another look in his direction. Forget this Bedouin, nomadic, hospitality, bullshit—I’m tribal, too, asshole. Mabuhay Waray-Waray.

Lactose Tolerance

My cave in the desert.
The weeks leading up to Distant Heat, I had wondered how I would manage to stay up the entire night without the help of much alcohol (being that I had to stay coherent enough to take photos and remember the event well enough to write about it), but after 3 days in the desert with M. I had all the incentive I needed. In fact, I was pretty damn sure I could have stayed up for 3 days straight if necessary.

In the past few days, I had learned way too much about the properties of camel milk (a Bedouin aphrodisiac, in case you find yourself in a situation where someone offers it to you) and M. had also disclosed to me intimate details about various down and dirty adventures in the desert that he had had with other women who had found themselves alone with him in the desert. It was if he was interviewing and providing me with examples that could showcase his virility and lovemaking skills.

Fortunately, my demure-asian-thing was working.

“I think you have more of your mom in you, than your dad,” M. says to me as we’re bumping along through the desert.

You have no idea.

Images of my mom flash through my head: her with a hoe raised above her head killing a snake during a childhood camping trip; her chasing the neighborhood bullies down the street with a frying pan after they threw a rock at my sister; picking up spiders with her bare hands that would make most people faint; the murderous look she would give right before all hell broke loose…

“Really, what do you mean?” I ask lightly.

“Well, you’re not the kind of woman that is always after a man, and I’m not the kind of man that’s greedy for a woman.”

“Well,” I said in reply, “I am shy,” still playing Asian, “and besides I don’t get it, YOU’RE MARRIED!” I say with extreme emphasis.

“Oh..well,” he says with a slight shrug as if brushing off some sand from his clothing, “I’m celibate from my wife. She does her thing and I do mine. We have children together, but that’s it.”

Translation: I haven’t been laid in a year and I’ve been drinking camel milk on a daily basis. Holy fuck, thank god the festival is tonight.

“Ah, it’s a good thing you didn’t have any of the camel milk,” he says.

I turn my head and stare out the window at the passing desert scenery. I want to mouth “HELP ME” to the rocks and sagebrush—I can’t even imagine what the look on my face must have been.

Yup, he milked it on the spot.

Voyage into Dumb…I mean Rum

It’s pitch black.
The stars crowd the sky.
The night is quiet; the breeze is light.
And I am incredibly anxious.

The night sky in Wadi Rum is unparalleled for stargazing. Here there are so many stars that it’s difficult to make out even simple shapes like the Big Dipper or Orion. They are outshined by constellations that most people will never see in their lifetime. Under normal circumstances I would revel in this spectacular light show, but enjoyment eludes me.

I’m lying on my back on a mostly flat section of sand, hands resting absently on my stomach. To an outside observer, I may appear relaxed, but every muscle in my body is tense—instinct telling me that something is going happen, while my mind is trying to convince my body that it’s wrong.

M. is laying beside me and has fallen silent, but I know he’s still awake. I feel vulnerable and a bit duped.

Earlier in the evening M. had asked where I wanted to sleep. I had asked what my options were. He had given me a vague response, “Well, the village, or the campsite, or wherever…somewhere outside,” he had said with a wave of his hand in the direction of the vast desert.

“Well, I think the village would be best, especially since I have all my gear,” I replied with a wave of my hand to my bags in the back seat.

He shrugs slightly, thinking about that possibility. “Hmm…,” and mumbles something unintelligible.

Now, he asks the question again as we are driving away from Diseh Camp and I restate my wish to sleep in the village.

“Well, I didn’t make any arrangements in the village and it’s late,” is his reply.

Suddenly it all becomes clear, the bypassing of the village, the visit to Diseh camp, the extended dinner, the line dancing…all of this so that there would be no choice but for me to spend the night in the desert—alone with him.


When we reached the campsite he plucks two mattresses from the cave (I had insisted on sleeping out in the open), but only one blanket—meant to share.


Now lying side by side, looking up at the stars, I’m desperately hoping I see another falling one so I can make one fervent wish.

There’s a slight movement beside me and a moment later all hopes of wishing upon a star evaporate as M.’s hand finds mine in the dark. I go as still as a corpse, but my mind is racing. What does one do in this situation?

Running away from this scene means running miles through uneven terrain without a flashlight, not to mention leaving all of my gear. Even if running miles in the dark was an option, I have no idea how to even get to the village and at 2am, it’s doubtful that anyone would be around to help me. Leaving the campsite is not an option. But, now what? What are the repercussions of rejecting a tribal leader who is used to getting whatever he wants? Powerful men typically don’t take rejection well. Would he feel slighted? Humiliated? Would that turn to anger? And, who even knows I’m out here? I begin to wonder. This situation could get ugly very quickly.


The little voice inside my head says: Stay calm, play it cool, don’t be a bitchy American. Be the shy, demure Asian girl that people expect to encounter when they look at you.

“Hey! Look at that one,” I exclaim and with a quick motion I free my hand from his grasp to point out a non-existent shooting star.

“Hmm…?” he replies sleepily.

“Oh, did you miss that one?” I ask innocently.

I’m quite happy with my chess move until a few minutes later my hand is again seized. I try to make it as limp and lifeless as possible—like a dead fish, is the feeling I was trying to invoke.

“Your hand is cold,” he says.

Hmm, maybe this dead fish thing is working…

“Don’t worry, I’m easy. I’ll hold your hand and just fall asleep.”

I say nothing in reply, not sure what to believe or what will happen next. I start to plot my next move, but try to factor in his responses to those. Let’s see, if I pull my hand away and he really is in the process of falling asleep, will that wake him up and start the game all over again? Or, will he reach for something else? My shoulder? My waist? (shudder) Right now, it’s just my hand. It’s kind of like a weak handshake…I mean, better a hand than a breast, right? Because then I’d have to smack him and then things would really get ugly…. FUCK!

I stare up at the heavens looking for an answer and to my delight I hear slow even breathing to my left. Whaddayaknow, he really did fall asleep...

I slowly extract my hand from his, much like tiptoeing away from a sleeping baby’s crib.

* * *

At the first signs of dawn I spring from my bed in the sand before M. could even entertain the possibility of morning hand holding, morning spooning, or even worse—morning wood.

“Where are you going?” he inquired to my quickly retreating back, “it’s too early, you should sleep more.”

Fat chance, buddy.

“Ah, but the light! The rocks! …take photos…I must…before sun…too late..” came my disjointed reply over my shoulder as I headed to the more permanent part of camp and reclaimed my personal space.

I must have taken 30 shitty pictures, but I would have gladly taken a 100 more.

shitty picture#28