(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Soccer

Recovery — انتعاش

A little boy skewered a pair of green and pink plastic bags to make a kite. Down past the navel of the island to Kerambitan, a girl with her hair folded in a scrunchie backed up deliberately to make the string taut while some geese watched. She wore a crisp checkered and dotted orange and white dress that jumped as she jumped to launch the kite — other times, she just one or other of the two boys standing forty feet away pull it from her hands with the cord. One wore jeans and a yellow polo with pictures of bears in hats. The other stood barefoot in green shorts and a colorful shirt bedecked with blue Hindu deities and the word “KRISHNA” printed on the bottom. After a few seconds — the boys would backpedal holding the string to keep it afloat — the kite would fall, and they would run grinning to recover it.

In October of 2002, religious extremism struck the island for the first time in modern memory, killing 202 and injuring hundreds more. Three years later, three suicide bombers detonated near Kuta, killing twenty. In 2006, Indonesia endured the highest avian flu death toll, but in 2008, the United States lifted its travel warning: two-thirds of a million more tourists found their way to Bali in oh-nine than the year before. Still, from the grumblings of business owners and drivers in Ubud and farther out of town, it seems like those enterprises relying on tourism have continued to suffer. The rebounding years have seen a thickening of the tourist habitat, but in the big money areas, the foreign-owned big capital affairs are the ones that survive. The serene cook and owner of Satri’s, a restaurant hidden down a narrow corridor off Monkey Forest Road, shuffled smilingly when customers came in for cooking classes advertised by word of mouth. But in the tourist’s Bali, there are far too many words, and too few mouths — and the quieter finds are often swallowed in the din. Satri’s Banana Chicken, usually cooked by her husband Susila, must be ordered a day in advance. “Too many restaurants,” said Satri. Too much competition.

Most westerners surfing, partying, or eatingdrinkingsmoking in Bali don’t appear the slightest bit uneasy. The palm trees and reefy beaches and temple roofs don’t jive well with the image of politically unstable deserts as seen on the news or behind Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man. A colleague from Beirut swapped summer stories on my return — “Isn’t it dangerous?” She asked. I didn’t know how to answer — I had never even thought to think that it might be unsafe (and so my Spidey senses wouldn’t have tingled even if there was something worth tingling over), but she did. I showed her some pictures.

Certainly Bali’s sunny disposition has not transformed and it remains much safer than many places built on the shifting sands of deep ethnic or political tension, but it’s hard to wonder whether less appealing scenery would have made the cautious less readily willing to forgive. But for piña coladas with local arak for less than three dollars? Even Beirut can’t top that.

Back in Kerambitan, two soccer teams played for the local championship in jerseys bought online — it was Chelsea, the English Premier League frontrunner, against Greece. I asked if I could play and several guys set off to look for shoes my size. The best fit had my toes curled back to the knuckle, but I couldn’t say no — not when the priest blessed us all with holy water and grains of rice pressed to the forehead — even though I handled the ball like Captain Hook juggling. For the first few minutes, I basked in their drastic overestimate of my abilities and took to the field with an obvious nickname to fight for the Greeks. “America,” a fierce-looking Chelsean eyeballed me at the opening handshake. “Wazzzaaaaap!”

More pictures from Bali here and here.

On the Grass — على العشب

FIFA Club World Cup
Abu Dhabi, UAE


Nationalism is left outside the gates of the FIFA Club World Cup, where the winners of all six continental confederation cups (plus the host nation champion) are gathered in a kind of mini-Olympics. Inside the stadium, Pakistani and UAE locals go crazy for Inter Milan, watching as they demolish their Korean opponents. Sometimes its nice just to be on the winning side — many fans still wave FC Barcelona flags at the jumbotron cameras (last year’s winners, not even in the tournament).

Also left far outside the gates is the self-evident truth that all bags are created equally likely to be checked. No, here, bag-checking is a sophisticated process that involves profiling on many levels, bolstered by the analysis of “is this really worth it” on the part of the checkers. You never know whose father bought that bag.

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Nonsense — سفاسف

Some things just don’t make sense. Why would they make the European electrical plug exactly nose-width if they didn’t want you to stick it up your nose? In the vast cosmos of language and logic, there is shared perspective, and there are disjointed frames of mind that keep us from colliding with our “impossible”. Here on the Arabian Peninsula, for example, one can even haggle with reality.

“I’m 45 minutes away,” the man stated. Fact. Distance. Time.

The international crowd strives for tolerance, the pinnacle of mutual understanding, yet to tolerate is merely to accept — not the validity but the existence of something different. Anything short of plotting and pursuing a savage vendetta is tolerance. I think we can aim higher. We tolerate first, and then we use this impossible flexibility to our advantage.

“Could you make it 30 minutes?”
He was there in 15.

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Bronzage — برونزاج

It is now the final day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration commemorating the end of thirty days of f(e)asting and its resulting indigestion. The conclusion of the month of Ramadan is a time for family gatherings, hardcore chilling (not a litteral Qur’anic translation), and reflection.

To recap these wet hot Arabian nights, I will say that the choices of things to do are somewhat limited, but always deeply connected to the spirit of the city. A few days ago, the Kuwaiti national soccer team challenged the UAE home team in Al Nahyan Stadium, a 12,000 seat park practically connected to Al-Wahda Mall (malls are a really big deal).

Even for the national team and free tickets, and perhaps because of the I’ll-just-sit ethic of the month, not many more than a thousand spectators turned out. Here, the club teams are still the bigger attraction, a not so subtle reminder that only four decades ago the arab emirates were not united and that local rivalries between neighboring towns or tribes or cities still remain a fundamental part of the culture.

The crowd.

The crowd.

This is not to say these rivalries extend beyond the football pitch — there I have no idea. The fact that Bears fans (allegedly) throw cheese at Packers fans doesn’t (necessarily) have any bearing (pun intended) on the relation between Illinoisans and Minnesotans. But it might.
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