Friday, February 27, 2009

What, Me Worry?

I looked out over the crowd. My little ad hoc show has to entertain all these people? Oh, hell.

And I thought, no problem. We've got this one covered. We've got the best expert on our concept explaining it in Arabic. We've got his assistant running the games. We've got a band to sing a song. We've got Segways. What could possibly be left to go wrong?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Theme Park Update

I'm frantically trying to open a theme park tomorrow, 18 hours from now. Thus the blog silence.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of the progress.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

City of Dust

As I stood outside Hotel Ibis this morning, waiting for my company driver, I watched the building staff patiently sweep away the dust that had accumulated overnight. They were all wearing dust masks. I wished I had one too.

Kuwait City has had three days of sand storms.

"I don't know where this came from. They were saying that you brought it," said one of the office workers when I arrived at work, a glint of mischief reminding me that I better get over my morning haze and get back into character. Marie in Kuwait is silly, popular with the staff, and knows her stuff.

It's been almost three years since I was last here, as Captain M pointed out. He's still using my New York coffee mug, which I asked him to hold onto in September, 2007, when I thought I'd be right back to Cairo in a few months. He'd brought it along when he'd been transferred back to Kuwait, and I can only imagine the teasing he's had to put up with for that small gesture. Of course I won't try to reclaim it. Squatter's rights and all that.

Our Senior Advisor isn't in Kuwait right now, so I have taken over his office, which overlooks a huge Sunni cemetery.

"Did you know you have many famous neighbors?" Our IT guy, who has grown a long beard since I last saw him at my good-bye lunch in March, 2006, rattled off the names of some famous Kuwaitis who were buried within my view.

And that's all I could see. The floating sand is thick. It permeates everything and makes my clothes dusty.

"It's bad," said Mr. Fixit. "When I was at the theme park yesterday, do you know what I had for lunch? Sand. And do you know what I had for dessert?"



I knew what he meant when I ate dust for breakfast, awaiting pickup to come to work.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's Inside A Girl's Pack

This photo of everything I'm carrying spread out on my London hotel bed shows the contents of my bag, and how I pack it all up into little bags.

I find the little containers within the bag method to be helpful. It's like carrying around a sock drawer and a shirt drawer and a paperwork folder. The phone charges off the computer, so I don't need the extra weight of a phone charger.

As I unpacked it all, I did come to the unfortunate realization that I'm not really carrying the right clothes for Kuwait.


Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Never Been the Most Normal Life

I spent the day in London, mostly in my hotel room or browsing in phone stores. My GSM Siemens MT50 was used and old when I bought if for 12 pounds in 2005. Mr. Fixit, my colleague in Kuwait, has been on my case about buying a new phone for so long that he didn't even bother asking this time. He had a helper inform me that the mandoub picking me up at the airport would also bring me a phone for use during my week-long stay in Kuwait.

Why, you might wonder, am I off to Kuwait?

Actually, you probably aren't wondering at all. My employer is in Kuwait. I have lived in Kuwait in the past. Me going to Kuwait is utterly normal.

Except it isn't. I'm not going to Kuwait just to go to Kuwait. My company is opening a theme park, branded with their superheroes. I'm going to help out however I can, which will probably involve commissioning last-minute art, and then I'll be interviewed by the BBC. And presumably will end up on more Frontline footage. Though the last footage hasn't been seen yet, except by the documentary maker, Sven, and me.

My not-so-secret goal is to get sick on the Tilt-A-Whirl, all over a superhero. But then, that wouldn't be so nice to the poor guy wandering around the park in the costume, now would it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Messages from the Past

I'm en route to Kuwait, sitting in a Holiday Inn in London, near Regent's Park. You can tell by looking at it that this used to be a part of the Forte chain. It looks identical to the Forte Crest that once housed the UKCAC comics convention.

But it's a Holiday Inn now and I got it on Priceline for a song, after studying carefully.

I spent the evening with old pal Peter Moore and his 5-year-old daughter and nearly fell asleep on the District line on the way back to the hotel.

Then I got my second wind.

And I thought I'd do something I've been meaning to do for a few years. I'm getting all my old SMS text messages from Uganda off of my GSM phone. Things ended so unpleasantly with HM there that I never had the heart to look at them again until a few months ago. I thought I'd store them in a Word doc and shove them deep down into a hard drive and forget about them until I need to refer back to them for a writing project, but since my GSM phone doesn't work in the States, I found myself unable to get the messages off the phone and into my computer.

But since I am in London with a working mobile phone connection, I thought "Now's my chance." And I am SMS-to-emailing the messages onto my MacBook.

Some of them still make me queasy. But others (sent by me) were entertaining.

"A bat in my room! 4got 2 take foto. 2 busy not screaming :)"

"6 poachers forced 2 pull tourist van out of mud!just in masindi taxi."

And the classic, which made Herr Marlboro turn around in his truck and come straight home to see if I was okay.

"Baboon in yard."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That Ain't Right

A perky, thin woman stood next to me at the deli today as I ordered a toasted English muffin. The deli guy turned to her next.


"You have an everything bagel?"

Everything bagels have sesame seed, garlic, poppyseeds... a little bit of everything normally found on a bagel.


"I'll have an everything bagel with cream cheese and bacon."

The deli guy didn't even blink.


But I did. Ewwww.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Day at the Silver Mines

Here's a little footage of our January 2 trip down into the Potosi silver mines.

Please pardon the shakiness. I have a hundred dollar palm camera. That might have to change whenever I undertake a more serious expedition.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two Moons Over Marie

Valentine's Day. That wretched Hallmark non-holiday that seems designed to make single people reflect upon their uniquely underappreciated status in society.

Last year, I was happily ensconced in the safe cocoon of relationship-ville. It made the day come with a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, mostly because I was living deep within the delusion that all would be well with the funny man who I'd chosen for his trustworthiness and kindness, rather than my usual trick—choosing someone because they have the adventurousness of Indiana Jones or the rugged good looks of Viggo Mortenson.

But you don't have to look like a movie star to be cruel. Damage helps too. By June, I had been informed of my "blip" status. My future-February 14th dignity was suddenly in question.

I was determined not to wallow in self-pity for Valentine's Day. I'd stay busy. I had a lot to do, as I'm leaving for Kuwait on Wednesday night and have to teach both Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week. I'm actually leaving straight from class to the airport on Wednesday for the midnight flight to London. Frontline and the BBC will both interview me in Kuwait. And on the way back through Europe, I'll stop in Barcelona. I have some shopping to catch up on.

I won't have to show my legs in Kuwait, but I might have to in Spain, so on Valentine's Day, I went for leg waxing. Last time I did this, before Colombia, the waxing woman got carried away. This one understood my limits, thank goodness. I then went to the office for a bit before stopping for a manicure and pedicure at Soho Nails.

"Special, free brow wax with mani/pedi," whispered the nail woman gently. "You want brow wax?"

I felt my eyebrows. Not much in the way of stray hairs. But free is free.


A hour later, I was staring aghast in the mirror.

I now have crescent-shaped red welts on my eyelids. Maybe from the heat. Maybe from the wax. Maybe from the cream she put on my eyelids after the waxing. She got the stray hairs, but she left skid marks behind.

Horrified, I hoped they'd be gone by the morning.

Nope. Still there.

I hope these marks fade quickly. I don't really want to go on Frontline wearing eyeshadow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Damn Straight I Am

Peter Moore introduced me to this song a few years ago when he interviewed musician Jens Lekman. I was living in Kuwait at the time and soon heading over to Barcelona, a place I return to over and over again, a place where I have never once stayed in a hotel in spite of spending more than four months there since 2004. I keep renting apartments there.

When he sent me the song, I was contemplating meeting the eSwede in Barcelona. Herr Marlboro and I spent a lot of time there too. He once left me in Barcelona at the Ryanair bus stop and then dumped me by e-mail when he got home to Portsmouth, only to back down from that a few days later, with apologies. (Would have been for the best, it turned out a year later during a fateful evening in Uganda.)

Last time I decided I had spent enough time in Barcelona. But I was wrong. I'm stopping there on my way home from Kuwait.

And in spite of there being personal ghosts for me in Barcelona, I don't think of it as especially haunted. My time in Barcelona is my own, not mine-and-his or his-and-mine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Atlas Review

There's a nice 3-D atlas review on today. That's the site of the Dallas-Fort Worth newspaper of the same name. The reviewer enjoyed the book wholeheartedly—which is much nicer to read than the review on Amazon by the person complaining that the images were blurry without the 3-D glasses. (shakes head, rolls eyes, wonders how people survive with that level of brainiac intellect.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Safety in Numbers and a Big Truck

Remember me talking about my next big expedition, from London to Cape Town by West Africa?

I still plan to do it. But not yet. Now is the time to work, to stay employed and continue to focus on regaining the life I walked away from in 2001. My progress was sluggish for months but lately things have really been looking up. Fun, even. I daresay I've cracked it.

But when I do go off to West Africa, I have a few hotspots to sort out. I don't know that I could get a visa for Angola and I do not want to go alone through Nigeria. I'm not sure yet about the Democratic Republic of Congo. I've been thinking about seeking out a ship to go around Nigeria.

Then today, I browsed through Intrepid's "Overland Adventures" brochure. Intrepid—my favorite small group, local transport outfitter—has merged with or bought (or something) my favorite overland company. Dragoman and Intrepid are now one.

And on page 45, there is was.

A commercial overland expedition from Accra to Douala. Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon. Would I really need to do the whole thing? Maybe there is some remote chance of throwing myself at the mercy of someone on the Australian end and asking if I could just go along for the Nigeria bit if I promised to behave and only say nice things about them in the subsequent book.

I'm relieved. It's a great option for getting through a tough, dangerous country.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Convergence Con

It's been years since I enjoyed a comic book convention, but the New York comic book show was a hoot this year.

And in a strange moment of convergence, the NYC comics show was in the convention center on the same weekend as one of the major travel shows. It was like the weekend had been created just for me.

The travel show was pretty slow, just two halls full of people handing out brochures, a few stages, and the excellent travel videographer Sonja Stark hanging out with my pals at It seemed like fewer publications were represented than usual and the activities were definitely downsized from past years. I suppose this could be a reflection on the economy.

But if the show is any indication, my other industry is going strong.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

New Digs

We've downsized at work in the NY office. We've left 3,000 square feet—which rather inconveniently flooded the week before we moved out—into 130 square feet.

Things are kinda tight and the move was stressful. I scared my two colleagues a little the first morning in our new serviced office,because I was so annoyed that there were people in my office. How dare they? I'm trying to concentrate here.

But it's all kind of funny and I'm over my throwing things phase and well into trying to figure out how to fit two large printers into the room. And then how to network them both onto the router.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Denise is Bad-Ass

She may look like a mild-mannered seamstress in this photo from our (attempted) skirt-sewing class, but my friend and neighbor Denise presented this as her Facebook Status Update on Saturday night.

"Denise tourniqueted a teen who was stabbed at the Newport Mall this eve then proceeded to wash the blood off at the sink in Sephora."

It turned out that two teens had been stabbed and she'd been in charge of the one losing tons of blood from his upper arm. She'd sacrificed her scarf to the situation and once officials had taken over, she'd washed off the blood and continued on her way, quietly and anonymously, her only fanfare being her Facebook mention.

Denise (and family) was in the middle of a chaotic move from temporary housing back into her real home, which caught on fire in June when I was rafting the Grand Canyon. While wearing what she described as a "Mrs. Brady vintage nightgown," she'd had to carry her 5-year-old son out into the street in the middle of the night.

Denise is, as our mutual friend Nancy declared, "bad-ass." When the zombies come, I'm going straight to her house.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy Holiday

I went to work on MLK Day. Though we officially had the day off, I'd been out of town in Bolivia and needed to catch up on my job. Plus, we were moving to a new office on Jan. 31—a serviced office, moving 3,000 square feet into one tiny room of about 150 square feet. Three people, two printers, three computers, two scanners, and about 2,000 comic books. I needed to pack more. I'd filled up several boxes on Friday and left them on the floor of my office.

When I got off the PATH train, I noticed a missed call on my mobile. Michael Kraiger. He was going to work today too. I didn't pick up the voicemail. I didn't want to take off my mittens long enough to push the buttons on my phone. New York was in a cold snap. Anyway, I'd see Kraiger in a minute in our office.

The doorman stopped me when I walked into our building.

"There was a flood."


"A pipe froze. There was a flood across six floors. I wanted to warn you because it's a mess."

Ah, hell.

When I got off the elevator, the smell of... damp... hit me. Yuck. Mildew? I don't know. It was the smell of wet paper.

Kraiger let me in. The PIN pad and wall next to the door had a firefighter-sized hole in it. The leak had been on our floor and they'd busted through the sheetrock to get in and shut off the water.

That smell of wet paper? All of our files that had been in boxes on the floor. And the comic books!

Thousands of soaked comic books sat rotting on the floor in boxes.

"Good morning," I said cheerily. "Seems we have fewer things to move."

We started cleaning up.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Travel Tip

Here are two marvelous links that I swiped off Tim Leffel's blog. He in turn got them from some magazine. and SelectWisely both provide the same service—translation cards of your allergies into bunches of languages.

This strikes me as particularly useful for people who have severe reactions to foods. I am allergic to 19 things, but I am usually able to avoid them. One is seafood, which is hard to consume by accident and easy to identify on a plate, but if I eat it, it doesn't stay down long anyway.

Another is tofu, which gives me hives. The other things I'm allergic to have less dramatic results. Unless I eat a lot of dairy. Then I'm pretty much ready to be lifted by med-evac helicopter to the nearest gastroenterologist, who will then declare me ridiculously sick, until I'm not, at which point he'll be baffled. Best avoided, and not hard to say no to ice cream once you've been in that kind of pain.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Iran in the News

Mom wrote to tell me that travel personality Rick Steves had shot a TV special on Iran. And then Cyrus Farivar went a step farther and posted a link to the google video in question. And Max from GoNOMAD just went to Iran this past November.

I just uploaded my Iran gallery in November but I went back and took a look after watching the Rick Steves piece. What interested me was the discussion on the USA Today blog. It's like people deliberately misconstrued his point. He's separating the people he was visiting from the government that let him into the country. Which is the same thing I encountered when I traveled to Iran. I was treated as royalty, having free food and drinks forced upon me once I'd say I was American, even as official policy wasn't so keen on us Yanks.

The average Iranian on the street has, of course, nothing to do with the government's decisions or policies. Anymore than I could affect, say, the energy policy or healthcare reform in the USA.