Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Gate of Sorrows

Bab-el-Mandeb - the "Gate of Grief"

That is what the piece of water that goes from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea is called. It's hard to navigate. According to legend, there was an earthquake when Arabia and Africa separated and this water was named because of the many unnamed who perished during that mythical upheaval. 75 miles west of here, Lake Assal (-509 ft )is the third lowest point on earth, a salty lake separated from the Red Sea, perhaps during that same upheaval. The lowest point in Africa. I was in the Dead sea once (1338 ft below Sea level) , and some guy asked me if I knew why it was so low, and I started to babble about the African and Arabian continental plates but he stopped me and said "No. It is because an angel turned the land upside down, for man was wicked." I didn't have the heart to tell him that turning the land upside down didn't fix that. But I did ask him to take his hand off of my balls.

Here in the city, it sounds like a train is going by about 10 hours out of the day. There's no train, taxis honk all the time, people yell and now, late in the year, the wind is starting to blow. I am grateful for that wind. I can hear the disco pumping out the jams, but so far Ann won't go.

The sun goes down and the crows gather:

I didn't thnk it rained much here, but the wind was howling yesterday and something was pelting the windows. I looked outside and it was really coming down.

3rd world cities. You think you got problems. Can't get enough money out of the ATM to pay rent. All these women with babies holding their hands out. And kids calling you chief, looking for some francs. And everyone else wants to help you. I go get water at a stand 20 feet from the entrance to my building everyday and always some guy wants to show me how to get there. "My friend! What do you need?"

Or walking to the Casino ( that's the name of the grocery store a block away) I hear guys going "YES!" I stopped turning around after a while. They say "YES!" as if they have the answer to the question you haven't asked. The answer is usually "Nice massage, coca, drinking, yes?" Or sometimes they have a briefcase with sunglasses (I point to the ones I'm wearing ) watches (same) giant lighters (I've learned to feign disinterest) , black switchblades (still feigning), and Tiger Balm. I get confused at the Tiger Balm, its not like the other things, but I realize I need to be strong or there will be some consequences, like I might owe the guy a drink or something.

After a few weeks I hear "YES!" and I think "no..." But I don't think its bad, it is an affirmation after all. To pay rent and the deposit I had to go to a cash machine and take out the max 4 days in a row. I couldn't take out the max in one go, because the ATM had its own limit, I had to put my card in 3 times to get out the max the bank decreed. The security guard for the ATM seemed to think I didn't know how to work it, because I kept putting in my card and pulling it out. He made some gibberishy moves with his hands and possibly quoted part of the Q'uran and then said "francs" one time. I got my cash and thanked him and walked away. Ever since then, when I get cash there, he watches me and say "YES!" when I get the francs. The look on his face, his demeanor, its like an observer fascinated by a chimp who puts the square block in the square hole.

And that's kind of when it dawned on me that from the locals' perspective, we do need help. They have this concept of Europe, or America, and see all these fat happy people coming from those places. The have cable TV and high speed internet here, but a lot of people are totally poor. Malnutrition is around 30%. But why would we leave these Entourage-like milieu's and venture to this stinky sweaty town? They might think we aren't making good choices in our lives. They might think we need their assistance.

It's like when cats bring you dead birds or mice. It is clear to the cats that we are too clumsy and noisy to hunt up some decent prey.


DannyO said...

Dear Lord, is it really that noisy there? I'm overcome listening to it! I hope you have somehow built up your immunity by now. If you've been to the club, it must be so.
Speaking of noice, we jammed last week in your absence. It actually sounded OK in the shed... Like heaven compared to the crows; unbelievable.

Dad O said...

Reed: finally got to your blog and I'm laughing a lot. Also learning more about that part of the world -- in truth I'm starting from a very low base of knowledge. How is ur French coming? Parle voux Francaise? (my spelling might be off, but you get the idea I suspect). How about a picture of the apt house you live in -- so far we've seen a picture from ur apt instead of a picture of ur apt. Julie tells us u come in loud and clear on ur weekly Conf calls -- so sounds like communication with work is working. Diane and I were in NYC for a few days -- bus. And pleasure-- checked out the Wall Street protests. Lots of people in business share the frustration -- and members of Congress too. Challenge: turning the protest into meaningful action -- I loved one sign urging a return of Glass-Staegle, the act that was passed in the 30s to keep banks out of speculation, but was repealed in the late 90s because Greenspan convinced everyone that bankers would never do anything so crazy as to bring about their own downfall -- thanks "Maestro"! But those concerns are undoubtedly far from ur mind. Keep the blog going -- we love it. Love, Dad