Typhoon Yolanda: “The Storm of the Century” and more to come

by B.J. Stolbov

[Author's Note: Typhoon Yolanda, also known by its international name of Typhoon Haiyan, hit the Philippines on November 7, 2013.  In honor of the dead and missing, I will use its Filipino name, Yolanda.]

 

The Philippines are surprisingly long. They may look like just a bunch of specks (7107 islands) at the end of the Pacific Ocean, but from the Batanes Islands beyond the end of Luzon Island in the north to the Tawi-Tawi Islands at the end of Mindanao Island in the south, the Philippines are long (1,150 mi.). They are almost as long as west coast of the U.S. from Seattle to San Diego (1,293 mi.). Because of its length, its many islands, and its moving ocean currents, the weather can change considerably from island to island, even from the exposed windward side to the more protected leeward side of any island. 

Here, in Northern Luzon, we are protected from typhoons by the mountains. For a typhoon to hit us directly, it has to come in from the southeast, low off the water, through the beaches and lowlands of Aurora, then up the Cagayan Valley, and then into the hills and mountains. This is what we call a "low" typhoon.

Typhoon Labuyo, “the storm of the year” at that time, hit us on August 12 in Quirino. It came in “low,” knocked down all the corn, just before harvest; and all the bananas, which will grow back on their own in nine months. It flooded all the rice paddies, but rice is used to water. Lots of crops and houses were destroyed, but, thankfully, no deaths. 

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Wild animals, savage people

by Eric Lucas

 

The 8-year-old boy chasing the young sea turtle down the beach was having “fun.” His father stood by, glancing up occasionally while he texted a football bet to a buddy.

Green sea turtle by davidd via Flickr CCL.

Also enjoying themselves were the two dozen beachgoers who had surrounded a full-grown, 4-foot-long green sea turtle in the water at shore’s edge at this lovely, famous island resort. As the turtle drifted back and forth in the swells, trying to get out to sea, its “admirers” followed it to and fro, cell-phones clicking incessantly so they could capture the special moment for Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook. Some were barely a foot away. I wondered if they knew that a turtle has jaws strong enough to easily clap off a finger.

But sea turtles are gentle creatures; too gentle, actually, as they were long easily captured until international outcry brought them protected status. Now, U.S. law requires that people maintain a respectful distance from sea turtles, not encircle them or block their path to the open ocean, or otherwise bother or annoy them.

The penalty for violating this law runs up to $20,000. It’s called Level B harassment, which sounds serious indeed; but in our brave new world where all of the earth is on display for all of humanity, in person or digitally, the law means little. Nor, I’m afraid, do simple standards of decency, integrity and care.

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INSIDE EGYPT: Can We Choose Which Blood to Grieve?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a continuation of an ongoing series of insights and dispatches from Egyptian contributor Manal S. Kelig, a devoted mother, wife, tour operator, and peace promoter living in Cairo, Egypt. Our hearts go out to Manal and the people of Egypt during this difficult period.

by Manal S. Kelig

For the past 2 years Egyptians found themselves regularly facing heart-breaking choices!

When the revolution took place on 25 Jan 2011, I was not in a status to rejoice or condemn. Just one day earlier my late father had to undergo a serious operation as he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Celebrations in Tahrir Square after Omar Soliman's statement that concerns Mubarak's resignation. February 11, 2011 via Wikipedia CCL

For the next two weeks we were having our own stressful events where the hospital we were in was attacked by thugs. Doctors and nurses could not come to work. Medical supplies were not delivered to the hospital. As we ran out of options and danger continued, we were forced to check out of the hospital with my father in this critical condition and have him home nursed by my sister who has no medical background except her amateur medical readings. As his condition declined, taking my father to a chemo session was over 7 hours ordeal in Cairo traffic that was continuously blocked by demonstrations and sit-ins. In April 2011 my father passed away.

While our lives were made hard due to the unstable political conditions, and as I had some friends celebrate the revolution and others dam it, I realized no matter what I have gone through I will not point fingers at any of them and blame them on what we had to face.

Our family like many others was a casual victim of the events. When we were attacked in the hospital we were not defending a cause, or chose to go in a confrontation. It was just our fate.

I knew very well many other Egyptians in different ways would be in that position in the coming period.

A New Egypt with No Leader

For the past 12 years I have regularly said in my lectures, “ No one knows what will happen when Mubarak dies, but I can predict there will be no wide acceptance of his son to take over and the different opposition parties will make sure it does not happen, but hopefully without violence. “

Then came the 2011 revolution, and like the other uprisings in Arab countries, it was driven by the dissatisfaction and anger of a new generation who formed over 60 % of Egypt’s population.

But the energy of 2011's revolutionaries was squashed by the power and organization of the already established forces in Egypt, particularly the earlier Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the 80 years old Moslem Brotherhood movement and some remnants of the Mubarak regime.

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TUNISIA: How I Dipped A Toe In The Revolution

by Judith Fein

 

The last time Americans were riveted to a foreign square, it was Tiananmen, and the year was 1989. Anti-government demonstrators –mostly students and intellectuals--wanting more democracy and less autocracy filled the square in Bejing.  Other protests erupted around the People’s Republic of China. In a show of force the T.V. audience will never forget, government tanks rolled into the square and gunned down thousands of demonstrators. Tiananmen Square went silent, and the subject of the massacre is still taboo in China.

This time, all eyes were on Egypt and Tahrir Square. Once again, young protestors defiantly showed their opposition to the government and demanded that Hosni Mubarak pack up his toys of dictatorship and leave Egypt. But Mubarak played by his own rules, and when his trifling concessions were rejected, when even his offer not to run again was scorned, he pulled a Tiananmen—sending in his heavy guns to shoot indiscriminately into the crowd.

photo by Peta-de-Aztlan via flickr common license

The protestors refused to buckle, and the Egyptian nation mourned its innocent dead who were assassinated for demanding freedom. The world watched and wept and then rejoiced with them.

The ignition key to revolution was turned on by tiny Tunisia, in North Africa. The protestors upended the 23-year reign of autocrat Ben Ali, drove him into exile and exacted the dissolution of his corrupt RCD party. In a rapid move toward democracy, Ben Ali’s minions were fired or resigned, and the young people exulted in what, for many, was the first freedom they had known in their lives.

The cost of this revolution was high: as many as two hundred young lives were snuffed out. And, in a country of 10 million, everyone was affected by this horrible loss of life. There is mass mourning for the deaths, and the victims are considered martyrs to the cause of freedom.

Tunisia is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been there seven times, lived there for 6 months when I was making two films with my husband, and have a deep and abiding affection for the gentle, kind, extremely generous Tunisians.

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TUCSON AFTER THE SHOOTING: To go or not to go?

by Eric Lucas


It was just an ordinary neighborhood Safeway until a heavily armed lunatic showed up with a pistol. What happened next was disastrous.

I’m speaking, of course, of our local Safeway in Ballard, Washington, where I live—but you thought I was talking about the store in the Tucson foothills where an unbalanced young American gunned down six people and tried to assassinate a U.S. congresswoman. What happened at the Ballard Safeway was “milder” but in its own way illuminating, and the irony struck me because both places are well known to me. I visit Tucson a half-dozen times a year and wrote a guide to the city for a major global internet site. I am very fond of both places. I buy great heaps of toilet paper at the Ballard Safeway; at the Tucson Safeway, I help out my dad by loading up sacks of salt for his water softener.

You know what happened at the latter store, so let me describe the scene at the Seattle one when a member of the “open-carry” movement decided to saunter about one day last year. These are Americans who believe the way to assert the right to carry firearms is to, well, do so, even when you are shopping for toilet paper. Who knows when a TP bandit may strike? So Messr. Six-Gun clumped around, pistol strapped to his thigh, severely alarming everyone in the store. Our neighborhood is not a gun-totin’ place. He departed without shooting anyone, preventively or otherwise, but the incident provoked a storm of controversy on the chat-boards at our neighborhood website. Hundreds of comments flew back and forth; about 80 percent wanted to vote Mr. S.G. off the island.

Ballard is a wonderful place and I urge all to come visit—great restaurants, nice people, fresh salt air off Puget Sound, and believe me, you are very, very unlikely to be shot.

I’d say much the same for Tucson.

Lost in the coverage of the Tucson catastrophe is the fact the city is a marvelous place to visit. Its cuisine includes a unique local specialty, the Sonoran hot dog, which uses onions and chiles to meld ballpark frankfurters with North Mexico culinary styles. Its many first-class resorts include one of America’s finest spas, Canyon Ranch, and a distinctive selection of family-owned guest ranches. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is among the world’s leading natural history facilities. Tucson’s cultural climate makes it Arizona’s most progressive community. It’s the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a lovely and interesting Southwestern landscape that is surprisingly lush because, even though it’s an arid ecosystem, it has two distinct rainy seasons a year.

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Pledge of Peace

by Judith Fein

 

There’s this organ in the middle of my chest that obliges me every second of every day by beating. It can be wounded, disarmed and stunned, but it keeps on doing its job. And it only asks me for one thing in return: “stay open,” it whispers. “Just stay open.”

photo by wiccked via flickr common licenseMaybe at one point in time it was a real effort. I think I recall suspicions I harbored and some swirling fears. But, over the years, my heart does its job and I do mine. It beats, I stay open. Not all the time—because there are hurts that catch me off guard and cause me to recoil—but, as a rule, I stay exposed in life.

The risk, as you can imagine, is pain. The reward is pleasure, connection, and the ability to feel freely. I have weighed risk and reward and come down on the side of the latter.

My heart and I have traveled widely, and when someone asks me what my favorite country is I generally answer, “the last one I visited.” I am moved by the generosity, quirkiness and depth of the people I meet on the road. I love their cultures and customs and the unique way they navigate life.

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Powerpointless

by Judith Fein

 

I have just figured out how to save a lot of money: I will never again knowingly drive, fly, train, boat, bicycle or walk to a conference or talk where the speaker uses Powerpoint.

illustration by Austin Kleon via Flickr (commons license)I don’t know the origin of Powerpoint, and I could goggle it if I wished to, but I don’t care. This is how I think it began: some decades ago, teachers used transparency gels with factoids and bullet points. They were projected onto a screen and the teacher read the words aloud to students who promptly became comatose. One of my friends blames those gels for his dropping out of college. Years later, someone read a lot of studies, or maybe one key, antiquated study, that dealt with how people learn. The bottom line, according to said study, was that people learn, absorb and retain information through repetition. Furthermore, I imagine, the process is enhanced if the same information is imparted to the learner simultaneously through different delivery systems.

That was when Powerpoint emerged from the womb of ideas, gave its first mewl, and started to develop and grow. It may have been cute as a baby and seductive as a teen, but it is boring and enervating as an adult. Now I metaphorically puke when I hear the word “Powerpoint.”

 

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The Prius & American Flag Index: How to tell where you are

by Eric Lucas

 

The American flag is red, white and blue; but America itself has become a bicolor place. We have red states and blue states, and almost everyone knows what these terms mean after the hotly contested elections of the new millennium. If people go to the grocery store packing pistols and Bibles, for example, you’re in a red state like Nevada. If folks wear Tevas to go to the store packing canvas shopping bags with the one-world logo on the side, you’re in a blue state: Oregon, say.

But this red-state/blue-state inventory is unsophisticated, obliterating regional differences within states—even neighborhood differences within cities.

Few states are “redder” than Arizona, for instance, which is attempting to quell illegal immigration by requiring police officers to check citizenship papers. But within Arizona are many quite liberal places—Tucson and Flagstaff, whose City Councils voted overwhelmingly to challenge the law in court.

What’s a savvy traveler to do? It’s important to know the nature of the place you are visiting. If you’re on a car trip, for example, should you remove the Obama sticker on the bumper (someone once did this for me, with a screwdriver, in a very red place) and replace it with a 30.06 in the rifle rack? Or, conversely, should you put on Tevas instead of Nocona gator-hides?

 

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Arizona and the Ethics of Travel Writing

by Jules Older

 

Travel writers aren't famous ethicists. If we aren't cavorting on some pristine beach in the Caribbean, we’re scarfing down lamb chops at some snooty restaurant in San Francisco.

But every once in awhile, we get to flex our moral muscles. And I've just come from my workout at the Ethics Gym.

I started pumping iron when Arizona’s governor signed what the papers are calling “the most restrictive immigration bill in the country” and which I’m calling, “the Up against the wall, Brownie!” law.

And heading for her signature is a second bill. This one will require American presidential candidates to prove — to the Arizona Secretary of State — that they were born in the USA. So, come next election, President Obama could be kept off the ballot in Arizona, since nothing will ever convince the hardcore that he’s not a Commie-Muslim from Kenya.

The papers call this the “birther” bill. I call it the “Klan in cowboy boots” bill.

Most of my friends agree that the law and the bill are nasty, bigoted and more in keeping with the spirit of 1910 than 2010. But since my friends don’t live in Arizona, they think there's not much they can do about it.

Oh, but I can. I'm a travel writer.

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Slaying myths through travel

by Eric Lucas

 

I was just doing my part for immigration control, dispelling myths.

“You mean people down in the States don’t all have medical coverage?” My Canadian companions asked with jaws dropped.

“Afraid so,” I explained. “You can get cancer and have to choose between death and bankruptcy.”

This last fact is, well, an actual fact; it happened in my family. And here I was, in a candlelit lodge at a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, perched astride a mountain in a World Heritage Site that’s one of the top travel attractions on earth, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that what really matters about travel is broadening narrow horizons rather than seeing gorgeous stuff. As Marcel Proust put it, the real act of discovery consists not in finding new places but gaining new eyes.

In this case, the new eyes belonged to my new friends. They were 40-ish Canadian professionals contemplating a move to the United States—Arizona, to be exact—so they could enjoy the free-wheeling, gun-slinging, success-nurturing ethos of my home country, and escape the stifling rigidity, monotonous courtesy and suffocating taxes of Canada.

So they thought. Then they asked me to straighten out their misunderstanding about US health care. Surely it isn’t true that people forego medical care because they can’t afford it? After I explained the realities of life in a barbarian country, they looked at each other like parents who’d just found porn on their teenager’s iPod. In Canada, you get sick, it’s covered. Period.

“Maybe we ought to reconsider moving,” Lisa said, smiling uneasily at me, as if I were a Hottentot attending a soiree at Queen Victoria’s court.

Thus I prevented another knock on the US door. No money-grubbing Maple Leafans thinking they can immigrate down here with socialist notions.

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How Slum Tourism Can Change Your Life

by Andrea Gross; photos by Irv Green

 

I'm standing in Stung Meanchy, Cambodia's largest garbage dump. The stench is overwhelming, the grit from burned ash covers every inch of my body, and I'm wondering if I made a mistake by forcing everyone in our group to come here.

After all, we'd seen plenty of poverty just driving around the streets of Phnom Penh. We'd even visited the killing fields, where we saw a stupa filled with skulls, a reminder of the more than 200,000 people who were murdered by the Khmer Rouge just thirty years ago. We knew the country was desperately poor, that the people were still too traumatized to rebuild their society.

Did we really need to tour a slum?

But I persisted. Why? Because friends of mine had started a project to rescue children from these slums. I’d seen their photos of Stung Meanchy, and I’d had a hard time believing the horror they depicted.

Now I realize that photographs can’t possibly convey the reality before me. They can’t reproduce the smell of rotting garbage and dead animals; they can’t convey feel of the gravelly particles that swirl around me, making their way, with every breath I take, into my nose, my mouth, my lungs.

Our bus driver hands me a mask. In theory, this will protect me from... from what? I'm afraid to ask. And as I look at the people around me — maskless in the putrid air — I'm embarrassed to put it on.

Men and women — most of whom look very old, although they're probably not — are sorting through the rubble in hopes of finding pieces of plastic or metal that they can sell. On a good day, they earn the equivalent of 50 cents. There aren't a lot of good days.

I take a few tentative steps and see a pile of discarded needles. I pray I won't step on one, pray that the barefoot children who are staring at me won't step on one either. But of course they will. If not today, tomorrow or the next day. This is, after all, the place where used hypodermics come to rest.

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Nightmare on Craig’s List

by Judith Fein

 

I love Craig’s List. I really do. It has transformed the way we advertise, buy, sell and think about transactions. It’s beautiful. It’s free. I have used it so many times that I refer to the founder as Craigie. But, like the little girl with the curl, when the list is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad…well, you know.

My Craigie episode started a few months ago when my husband and I decided we desperately needed a vacation. Truth be told, I am not sure we’ve ever taken a vacation. As travel journalists and photographers, we’re always writing, shooting, taking notes and stumbling over stories, even when we don’t mean to.

But this time it was different. We were burned out from having our eyeballs glued to our computers l5 hours a day, meeting deadlines, emailing, researching. We looked at each other, and, in that silent way we sometimes communicate when we are not yakking or yukking, we knew we had to stop. For a full month.

I went to Craigie, of course, and typed in the name of a beach community in California.

There it was: the little bungalow that was waiting for us, half a block from the ocean.

It was, according to the owner, small, clean, with a spacious backyard where we could hang, escape the winter, and drink margaritas. For me, it was a done deal.

It took several weeks to get a contract. Turns out the dude who advertised with Craigie wasn’t the owner, but the renter, and this was a sublease. Fine. Also, he was doing some mysterious work or traveling in Asia and was hard to contact. Okay. His friend was handling the rental. Fine. When you have the prospect of being half a block from the ocean, you’re willing to put up with a lot. At least I am.

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Fear not, travel more

by Eric Lucas

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

I was thinking about FDR’s famous axiom during my adventures on a particularly gruesome golf hole in Arizona over the New Year holiday. Afraid of slicing my drive right I hooked it left into the desert. Afraid of overshooting the hole, I hit a weak chip into a sand trap. Afraid of not reaching the green, I blasted out of the sand completely over the hole. Afraid of a knee-shaking downhill putt, I came up 3 feet short of the hole. Next putt—right by it, like a locomotive, afraid of coming up short again.

© Orlando Florin Rosu | Dreamstime.com

Despite those travails, it was a beautiful day in the Arizona sun.

I flew there from my home in Seattle. Not afraid.

That makes me different from the most important air travelers in our world today, the government officials who set transportation security policy. They are all scared to death—not of terrorism, so much, but of being blamed for it. FDR was right about fear when he prefaced his response to the Great Depression. We need to remember his thought before we wind up flying around the world buck naked, handcuffed and, as LA Times commentator David Steinberg puts it, wearing padded headgear so we can’t use our skulls to bash open a window to bring a plane down.

Wow—could a terrorist really do that?

 

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VACATIONS ARE A NECESSITY, NOT A LUXURY

by Judith Fein

Some people I know, when they are really stressed out, take an afternoon, evening or full day off. The next day, they are back to work. Others kick it for a weekend, and then dive back into the daily routine on Monday morning. I’m flipping through my mental rolodex of friends, associates and family and, to my horror, I realize that I don’t know anyone who really takes vacations.

“What?” you say. “I take vacations. I went white water rafting on the Snake River in Idaho for five days. And last year I spent six in Kauai, hiking and snorkeling.”

I am sorry, amigos, but five or six days are a break, an experience, a change of scene and pace, but not a real vacation.

A real vacation is at least two weeks. And even better is a month. This is a startling idea in the U.S.A., where most people are afraid to take off more than a long weekend because they may lose their jobs. This means we are certifiably nuts in the U.S.A.  Are we born to work, stress, eat, shop, have sex and then croak? Will we actually take our cell phones and laptops with us to the grave, so we can check the headlines on After Life News or shoot off one last post-mortem tweet?

Talk to people from Europe (they will call it “holidays” and not “vacation” in Britain, but I swear it means the same thing).  Ask folks from South America. They get time off from work. Off from work. Not a few days here and there where their nervous systems hardly have a chance for a good yawn, and certainly not a real rest.

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Noises Off!

by Eric Lucas

“Quiet, please.”

Who needs ice at 3 in the morning?

No one. But that didn’t stop the ice machine out in the hall from heroically performing its appointed rounds, manufacturing fresh delectable ice in a steady, cacophonous landslide for all those hotel guests who simply have to have martinis at vampire time. It was 3:12am. The relentless clatter of cubes into basin sounded like the dwarves of Moria hammering orc swords. Clack. Thwark. Thunk.

That’s what it seemed like to me, jet-lagged and testy after flying into San Francisco from Vienna. It’s a long way. You cross nine time zones, and when you arrive your “day” has stretched nine extra hours.

All I wanted was a quiet room. Peaceful sleep.

Quiet is the ultimate travel luxury, the almost unattainable Holy Grail of journeying through the 21st century. In airports you will listen to CNN or Kenny G whether you want to or not; if you do find a corner that has escaped Orwellian electronic coverage, that’s where Nadia Sulaiman is changing the diapers on all eight of her brood. On the plane, unless you’re in first class, Dennis the Menace is practicing soccer on your seatback; if you are in first class, you’re right behind two robber barons gobbling Bloody Marys at 8am and planning a leveraged take-down of Amalgamated First Second National Global Savings & Loan. If you buy noise-canceling headphones, you discover that they cancel only ambient noise, thus magnifying conversation.

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What's So Spiritual About Sedona?

by Jan Myers

Don't Believe the Spiritual Hype of Sedona. 

When I first decided to go to Sedona, Arizona with my mother, Judy and my 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, I was curious to see if our three generations would have the spiritual encounters I had heard often occur in the vortex-rich Red Rock Country.  I am certainly open to receiving more positive energy, but I do tend to be a bit skeptical until I experience something for myself. Maggie wasn't buying any of the 'spirituality', but was excited that we planned to visit the Grand Canyon.

We spent nearly two weeks in Sedona soaking up all the energy we could, along with the extreme July heat.  I was a bit disillusioned the very first day when I drove into uptown Sedona in our Hertz rental car. I was apparently not taking the roundabouts quickly enough for the driver behind me and after he blew his horn at me, I glanced into my rearview mirror just in time to see him give me the finger before he made his turn.  "Wow! What a spiritual place this is!" I remarked to Mom and Maggie. 

To be honest, that was the most negative thing that happened to us during our stay.  I did master the roundabouts by the time we left Sedona, and for that I am thankful. We heard all about the many psychics and the UFO activity in Sedona. I'm pretty sure that one fellow we kept running into was 'left behind' to study us earthlings.

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They paved paradise and put up an all-inclusive resort

by Allen Cox

When a mangrove falls and there's no one there to hear, does it make a splash? You'd think the answer would be a resounding “yes.” But when nearly an entire coastline of mangroves fell along the Mexican Caribbean from north of Cancun to Tulum, business interests turned a deaf ear and environmentalists wept.

Of course, the trees didn't fall all at once with a single tsunami-inducing splash. Instead, it was one little splash after another over the course of four decades. One tree after another. Splash. One grove after another. These mangroves, as well as the dune plants and the jungle beyond, were standing in the way of progress. Now, they are not standing at all.

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H i s t o r e c t o m y

by Paul Ross

Remember when you were a kid and some relative dragged you, with the best of intentions, to an historical “re-creation” because it was fun AND educational!? You don’t remember what you learned -- so much for education. And it was only slightly more fun for you than for the poor souls who suffered through the real thing ... because they were so miserable, they didn’t mind dying at age 19 from enlarged pores while semi-skilled barbers attached leeches to their appendages.

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

These glossed-over, sanitized, falsely nostalgic, contemporarily cosmetic pseudo-experiences invariably celebrate a time of exploitation. And the POV romantically, religiously and ideologically chosen is from the lowest rung of the social ladder. The idea may be noble, but you are not.

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American ambassadors in Arab lands

 by Judith Fein

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

View in Photo Gallery

 

“What country you from?” two young men shouted at me from the stalls where they sold clothing.

“United States,” I answered.

“America! We love America!” they replied, grinning broadly.

The stalls were in the souk in Aleppo, and Aleppo, which has been inhabited by our species since the llth century B.C., is in northern Syria. Yes, an Arab country. Where cautious Americans are not supposed to go.

In Damascus, the capital, I was picking food from a sumptuous buffet and piling it on my china plate when the restaurant owner approached me.

“Where do you come from?” he asked.

“The United States,” I said. “And it’s my birthday today. This is my celebration.”

“Your birthday? Come with me, please.”

I followed him over to a large, standing, locked glass showcase which displayed jewelry and antiquities. He unlocked the case and withdrew a stone.

“Here, for you,” he said. “It’s a rock from the moon. May you have a wonderful day.”

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