(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Iran’s Long Island — جزيرة الطويلة لإيران

Qeshm Island lays 75 miles along Iran’s southern coast at the mouth of the Straight of Hormuz. Every day, more than 15 million barrels of oil are squeezed through the tightly regulated waters. For many tourists, especially Americans, the beauty of Shiraz and the history of Persepolis are all but off limits — “One percent chance,” the man at the embassy told me on getting approved by the Ministry of the Interior. He was laughing. But for all the mainland’s regulations, this Iranian island has a different policy: visitors welcome.

A thirty-four minute hop from Dubai in a Yakolev Yak-42 and you’ll be there, landing over the shocking desert moonscape: sharp-sided mesas snapped like Lego pieces onto completely flat ground, fire burning over the oil refineries. That is, of course, if you can get on the plane.

Our journey to Dubai’s Terminal 2 for Forsaken Airlines began early in the morning on an empty bus that would get a flat tire somewhere on the emptier stretches of desert highway from Abu Dhabi. The driver, who had been in an accident a week earlier, was attempting to wind the car jack without using a protracted index finger the size and shape of a large carrot. At the airport, the flight was unlisted. The airline had no counter. We waved our paper tickets collected (as they must be) from a travel agency and representatives at the Miscellaneous Desk directed us to a back office where we paid a fifteen dollar “airport fee” and tried to confirm that the island still existed. (“You fly in here,” said the agent, pointing to the one of Qeshm’s two airports that was abandoned years ago.) We waited by the gate, though it never appeared on the Departures screen. After hours without announcement, other passengers assembled as if secretly in tune, and we filed in behind them onto the bus to the plane, underneath the sign that read “Basra.”

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Grocery List: Abu Dhabi

One head lettuce: 5.3 dirham / $1.44
4 carrots: 3.45 dirham / 94¢
4 tiny limes: 0.6 dirham / 16¢
0.065 kg Indian chilis: 0.65 dirham / 18¢
1 loaf boring brown bread: 1.5 dirham / 41¢
3 Chinese golden apples: 3.35 dirham / 91¢
1 white onion: 1.7 dirham / 46¢
4 cashew ice cream bars: 7.8 dirham / $2.12
2 pistachio kulfi bars: 1.9 dirham / 52¢
3 small cucumbers: 0.65 dirham / 18¢
3 lemons: 2 dirham / 54¢
6 small tomatoes: 1.6 dirham / 44¢
3 giant figs: 6.45 dirham / $1.76
1 red repper: 3.75 dirham / $1.02
4 black plums: 3.30 dirham / 90¢
3 red onions: 0.65 dirham / 18¢

Total: 44.65 dirham / $12.16

$رأس من الخس (1) : 5.3 درهم / 1،44
جزر (4) : 3.45 درهم / ¢94
ليمون صغيرة (4) : 0.6 درهم / ¢16
تشيليز الهندي (0،065 كلغ) : 0.65 درهم / ¢18
رغيف خبز ممل أسمر (1) : 1.5 درهم / ¢41
تفاحات ذهبية صينية (3) : 3.35 درهم / ¢91
بصل أبيض (1) : 1.7 درهم / ¢46
$قضبان الآيس كريم الكاجو (4) : 7.8 درهم / 2،12
قضبان القلفي فستق (2) : 1.9 درهم / ¢52
خيار صغير (3) : 0.65 درهم / ¢18
ليمون خضراء (3) : 2 درهم / ¢54
طماطم صغيرة (6) : 1.6 درهم / ¢44
تين ضخمة (3) : 6.45 درهم / 1،76$
فلفل رومي أحمر (1) : 3.75 درهم / 1،02$
برقوق سوداء (4) : 3.30 درهم / ¢90
بصل أحمر (3) : 0.65 درهم / ¢18

$المجموع : 44.65 درهم / 12،16

The Temple on Lane 253: Bahrain’s Synagogue

As rumor had it, the one synagogue on the Arabian Peninsula was in Bahrain. It seemed like an easy find — a sore thumb somewhere in two mile-wide downtown Manama. Earlier in the day the address I had plucked from an online forum, “Sasa’ah street,” seemed to get vague grunts of recognition from taxi drivers: near the souq, maybe. I decided not to make the trip to the desert to see the “Tree of Life”, a large mesquite that seems to spring miraculously from arid ground; instead, buzzing and sleepy from a long, bacony brunch, I went in search of the country’s Jewish roots.

A friend dropped me at the arched gate of the Manama Souq, a mostly pedestrian criss-cross of simple stands and boutiques. I forgot my phone (GPS and all, though unlikely to be helpful) — this quest would depend entirely upon the knowledge and forthrightness of passersby and standers around.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea where I was walking. After a few blocks, the bustling lights of the central shopping district gave way to construction and inauspicious quiet. I figured I’d ask around. I didn’t know how people would feel about any past or present Jewish structures, but I was leaving the country in a few hours and I had a better shot playing honest than sneaky. I greeted two older men chatting in the street beneath the pointed dome of a beautifully ornate blue and green Shia mosque. “Do you know where the Jewish synagogue is?”

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NEWS: An Immensely Important Discovery

Last weekend I went as far into Iran as an American passport would allow me. The week before, I left burning tires in Bahrain to traipse around northern Iraq looking for kebab and Neandertal bones. But from all this searching, I have found nothing quite as miraculous as what I witnessed last night. The most important discovery of this November — nay, of this entire year — is this:


It’s like a billy club designed by a vegan caveman.

Amazing. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Poster-Makers — صناع الملصقات

The martyr's grip.

Taher flipped a perfectly browned panacake onto my plate. “Perfetto!” He propped up his iPad on its stand so I could see and flipped through the morning’s Facebook photos. His friends had posted second-story shots of a narrow street crowded with protestors and Bahraini flags, typical for a Friday morning but charged today with the power of a new and tragic martyr: Seventy year-old Ali Hasen al-Dehi was brutally attacked by police on Wednesday night; hours later, he was found dead in his home. The Ministry of Health announced that he “died of natural causes.”

It would have been just the latest entry in the history of police killings that number around 40 since the uprising began on the 14th of February (in late March, the Interior Minister confirmed 24 deaths; in April, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported 31.) But Ali was in name and symbol more than an innocent participant — he was the father of Hussein al-Dehi, vice chairman of Bahrain’s largest political party, a Shi’ite organization. The protestors on Taher’s iPad had found a way around the road blocks to join together and scream against injustice.

Taher explained this to me rather matter-of-factly. In eight months, the pre-emptive crackdowns and the demonstrations and the resulting crackdowns had become a weekend standard — one that left some locals numb, expats mildly frustrated, and the rest of us tingling with faint hope, sadness, and guilty excitement.

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New Sense

“I can’t talk Arabic when I’m drunk,” said Yasser, a Bahraini born and bred. Alcohol and the official language of a religion that forbids it, I thought — something about this dissonance was too much. Plus, he told me with a light flick of his cigarette, we think everything western is better.

It felt honest, that Bahrain was a country that had handed over the reigns to someone else. On the weekends, SUV-loads of shop-and-drink-deprived Saudis drive the 16 mile-long bridge from Dammam to use the tiny island nation as their playground — the kind of playground teachers let the older kids supervise while they have their cigarette break somewhere far away.

I had spent the night on the sofa of a friendly local host who answered my CouchSurfing request. When I woke up, he was making banana pancakes.

Perfetto!” Taher was pleased. His other guest, a young Swiss woman looking for work in town, seemed used to the treatment. Taher, 36, had started a contracting business to become his own boss and to leave more time for travel — a month earlier, he was touring Southeast Asia; before that, Europe. “No one even knows anyone that has done what I’ve done,” he said, unaffected. For a country that pulls so much in, it seems to send very little out.

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Sand Castles — القلاع الرملية

Up jumped Dubai.
The Dubai strip.
Dubai, UAE

قمة البرج: صوّر من البرج خليفة — At the “Top”: Pictures from the Burj Khalifa

Up to the 124th floor (36 stories below the spire), on the 10 meter-per-second elevator.
The Burj Khalifa
Dubai, UAE

Greater Eid, Indeed.

!عيد مبارك
Eid Mubarak!

Happy Birthday Mom!

The mosque in the evening.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Abu Dhabi, UAE

عيد الاضحى — “Festival of Sacrifice”

!عيد مبارك
Eid Mubarak!

Happy Eid al-Adha, the “festival of sacrifice” or “Greater Eid”.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Abu Dhabi, UAE

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