Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Q: How do you know when you're back in L.A.?
A: You wake to the drone of a helicopter hovering in your neighborhood.
Finally, I'm back. This is the longest vacation I've taken in quite some time (I got back to the US yesterday and don't go back to work till Friday). The 10 freeway is down due to fatal accident - apparently some dude driving the wrong way. It happened in my neck of the woods, so I assume traffic on city streets is going to be really bad; have not left the house yet to test this theory.
It was one of those "herd 'em on the bus and go out to see the sights" kind of vacations, but considering we were in the Middle East this was by far the best option to choose. Specifically, my parents, my aunt and I toured Egypt and Jordan. I'm really glad we went and I would recommend both of these countries as destinations, should you be wondering whether to go. We saw Roman ruins, monasteries, mosques, Biblical sites and (of course) the Pyramids. Flat Stanley played a large part in our tour as well and I'm glad he did, as it forced me to do some actual research and learn something about the area we were touring. We will hear from Flat Stanley in a later post.
Our Egyptian tour guide was a sharp, amusing and tall fellow by the name of Achmed, very fluent in English. He gave us tons of information about Egyptian society, politics and history. His catchphrase was "Everything started in Egypt," and by the time he got through with us this didn't seem like much of an exaggeration. He's a self-described agnostic and was quite insistent that we not cover our heads at any of the mosques we toured - this stance actually got us evicted from one site. No one was wearing low-cut shirts or anything the least bit provocative, but the moment we entered the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo we were surrounded by a group of locals (no imams or anyone with authority, just kibitzers) and after five minutes of heated argument from Achmed, we left. Interestingly, when we toured a mosque in Jordan - supposedly a more developed/Westernized country - all the women in our party had to put on hooded robes that covered everything, including our heads. We did as we were told but were not particularly happy about it.
Achmed also had some interesting analysis for us about how Egypt views the US, particularly its presidents. They loved JFK (predictably), but interestingly Nixon is respected there as well. This is partly because of his progressive stance on foreign policy and partly because, in the Middle East, Watergate is viewed pretty much as business as usual (Achmed quote: "What's the big deal?"). Per Achmed, the Egyptians really liked Clinton and hated GWB. When asked to comment further, he explained: "Bush should never have used the word 'crusade' after 9/11. The Crusades are a very bad memory in this part of the world. Then, when he said 'You are either with us or against us', this sounds like bin Laden. The people here, they don't like bin Laden either, but a bin Laden in a cave is no problem. He can't hurt anybody. A bin Laden in the White House, this is a big problem."
Achmed also had some cogent comments the day of Obama's inauguration. "Nothing's going to change," he said, shaking his head. "Everybody here is so happy because they think Obama is going to change everything. But that is not the way your government is set up. It's not like here, where the head of state can do anything he wants. Nothing is going to change." Give that man a cigar, I thought. He's got American politics figured out better than most Americans.
We did all watch the inauguration at our hotel in Luxor (it was 7 pm local time). The hotel had set up chairs for us in the lounge area. I hadn't felt strongly one way or the other about watching, but decided to join the group. It isn't partisan, but I just don't have much attention span for this sort of thing. Perhaps it's a character flaw, but Big Moments generally leave me uninterested, particularly if they involve speeches. I did feel sorry for the Obama kids, though, having to sit out of doors in the freezing cold. Their noses were clearly running.
A side comment re: the inauguration. I spent a lot of time catching up on blogs today, and if I see one more comment along the lines of "I was so happy I've been in tears all day" I'm going to hurl. Seriously, people, get a life. My thoughts were more along the lines of Went well, nice speech, let's get on with it.
And now I've got to get on with it and go run some errands. More later.