Monthly Archives: November 2011

Be Vewy Qwiet … I’m Hunting Hezbowwah …

   “There is a river in the south of Lebanon that Israel occupied.  Then they went through the nearby villages and abducted every male above the age of 18.  They locked them up for days maltreating and torturing them.  They would even stomp them with combat boots in the testicles in some cases to prevent them from having children.  After days of this they would come through and distribute copies of the Quran to the captives, in the ultimate hope that the Lebanese men would find justification in its pages for a jihad against Israel and the occupation.  The logic was that with such jihadis at the gates, Israel would then be justified in taking overt action against Lebanon, including but not limited to annexation of its lands, regardless of the the actual danger posed by these rag-tag paramilitaries.  Thus Hezbollah was born”

***
   “Hezbollah started as a movement to take back these occupied lands in the south and was granted authorization to carry weapons.  As things calmed down and efforts were made to revoke this authorization, Hezbollah was unwilling to give up their power.”
***
   “So you plan on going to see the southern part of Beirut?  There is a lot of Hezbollah there…”
-A Lebanese Perspective
   This morning as I dozed before breakfast I had the most wonderful dream that I stumbled upon a pep-rally of sorts being conducted in a warehouse in South Beirut.  I entered the building and stood quietly in a corner while the MC shouted things in Arabic and English.  However I could not remain incognito and I got caught up in the group effervescence.  I began cheering as the guest of honor, the head of Hezbollah incidentally, ascended the dais.  One of the ushers indicated that it was my section’s turn to approach the dais, dancing exultantly for review by the supreme Hezbollah commander.  I remember dancing my monkey ass off for fear that if I didn’t my foreignness would become clear.  Still, I remember thinking as we approached the platform in a conga line of sorts, “Goddamn, I got a bad case of the white boy rhythm today!.”  Still, what I lacked in rhythm, I made up for with enthusiasm. 
   As I passed the dais I looked into the eyes of this man who had all of these people exultant and he looked a lot like Russell Peters,
“Some Israelis gonna get a’hurt real bad”
…or even my friend, Sammy Kunty.
Kunty, you got some ‘splainin to do…
I woke up from these visions of jihad which danced in my head, resolved to head to ‘souf-side’ Beirut and see what was really good.
My Friends,
   I apologize for the lengthy pre-amble, but I felt it necessary to contextualize the mission I set upon today: I wanted to find me some Hezbollah.  Not a lot of Hezbollah mind you, just enough.  Thats it, thats about as far as my plans went.


I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!!”
I knew what I wouldn’t do though: I wasn’t looking to infiltrate the group or anything, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue the merits of an inclusive and tolerant Middle East.  I just wanted some evidence that one of the big, bad names I heard on the news actually existed in real people land.  I remember drinking at a bar in Hamilton one time and I got to talking to this old guy who said he used to be IRA during “the Troubles.”  That is the kind of off-hand boast I would have settled for.  It could have been a guy talking shit at a bar to pick up chicks and I would have been happy, regardless of whether or not I suspected he was lying.
   So I set out south around 11:30 am.  I left my passport, notebeook with addresses, and credit cards at the apartment and only took the equivalent of around $40 USD.  I figured there was no point in losing all of my documents (again) if I got abducted for asking too many questions.  But then, asking questions wasn’t really my strategy: My strategy, such as it was, was to find a south-side watering hole with a television screen, wait until something about Israel came up on the news then feign utter and voluminous disgust, potentially ingratiating myself to anti-Zionists.  We would talk from there I assumed and I would mostly listen, satisfying my curiosity in the process.  It had all the makings of a successful venture.  But first I had to find said watering-hole…
   There is a major east-west thoroughfare one block from the apartment I am staying at, and although I don’t know if it bisects the city into northern and southern halves, I certainly felt like I was crossing the Rubicon when I sauntered south across it.  Since I had no notebook, I scrawled observations on the back of some song lyrics I had printed off.  They observations were a little excited and veered slightly into the realm of paranoia:
11:45 – crossing the street into South Beirut
-people looking at me
-barber giving a straight-razor shave OR concealable-weapon melee practice?
-guy working under the hood of a car OR installing a bomb?
-two guys sitting out enjoying a Sunday afternoon OR plotting death to Israel?
-shop selling air rifles OR shop selling air rifles for jihad?
-children’s playground OR paramilitary obstacle training course for youth indoctrination?
I made eye-contact with some guy at this point and he said something to me in Arabic while he opened his shop.  I explained that I spoke only English and he asked me what I wanted.  I said I was just looking around and he responded, “Good luck, sir.”
-“Good luck, sir” OR “Try not to get killed white-boy?”
   As is evident I was seeing things that probably weren’t there.  I kept walking south and west and came across a large cemetery.  I decided to pass through it because after all of this intrigue I needed a rest and cemeteries are statistically the safest places in the world, everyone being dead and such.  I got an uneasy feeling in this cemetery though, as my scraawlings reflect:
11:56
-cemetery OR Burial site of the martyrs in the struggle against Israel?
All the headstones were written in Arabic after all, so it must have have been a terrorist cemetery.  I got out, still in possession of my life, and against my better judgment, kept heading south.  Winding my way through the alleyways and side-streets I came to an open-air market on a broad, north-south avenue.  I proceeded down it and was overwhelmed by what a claustrophobic affair it was: not only were there people everywhere and loud noises, but unlike most open-air markets I have been to, traffic was not blocked off.  There were scooters buzzing around everywhere, sidewalks included, and even the occasional car passing through the fray.  The people of Beirut truly have a freestyle, make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of driving (more erratic than Turkey or Italy I can assure you) and it was a bit much.
   Sadly, my scrawlings at this point reflect a sobering observation made during all of this bustle.
12:15 – stumbled upon market in street
12:30 – little girl with a black eye and her friends sifting through garbage dumped in empty lot
Fuck!  This is the sorta shit I hate to see.  In a country where there is already a dearth of opportunities and social mobility, you get little urchins like this young girl (doubly-fucked for being poor AND female) poking through garbage and obviously getting rough usage at home.  And in the midst of all of this poverty and misery I come through all starry-eyed and enthusiastic about the adventures I am having and eager to find danger so I can give it a “mushroom-slap”in the face.  I felt guilty for being out there in grand pursuit of whimsy and exploits while this young-girl was getting beaten and living below susbsistence-level.
   Then I thought, “Tough-break, nigga. Thats what you get for fuckin’ with a rough set like Hezbollah,” and I felt better.  Kept south and came to the appropriately-named “Cafe Bob;” a wretched hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one.
12:50 – smokehouse SW of market => lots of green (colour of Islam) and militant-looking posters
I ordered a water-pipe and a cha and just sat back taking it all in.  There was a poster on the wall of a bearded old Arab dude and I asked the proprietor (didn’t get his name, lets call him “Bob”) who it was.  The “Hez-bells” (Hezbollah bells) were ringing in my head but the guy explained that the bearded dude was a Lebanese guy who had been imprisoned in Libya by Qaddafi.  At least thats what I think he said.  I got Bob to write the name down so I could google it later.  Bob asked me a little about myself and I learned that he was Syrian.  In fact, he had a much more intriguing picture of Asad Jr. up in the cafe as well but I didn’t notice it because Asad didnt look as menacing as the first guy did (no head-scarf).  I thought this was interesting but things got a little busy in the cafe and I didnt get a chance to ask Bob his feelings about Asad.  Also, the TV was playing American movies and soccer alternately so I didnt get a chance to react to Israeli aggression in the news in a theatrical manner as per the strategy.  I just kinda sat there smoking and eventually pulled out my book, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
   The excitement of the book helped maintain the excitement of the quest I was on when things had obviously took a turn for the boring.  In fact, the excitement of the book was such that I almost jumped when Bob tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted some food.  I said no thanks and kept reading.  Half an hour later though, Bob’s nephew Ali tapped me and said “come eat with us…bring your chair.” Oh shit, son!  I was being invited into the inner circle to break bread with made men.  Except we didnt talk business (business being death to the Zionist scourge); I just kinda talked to Ali about travel and Canada and stuff.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t an invitation to the inner circle but my last meal.  But it didnt taste like poison, and they were eating it too.  No no no, this was all wrong!  I had gone looking for trouble and found only goodwill and friendship.  Story of my fucking life!!
   When the food was done I resumed smoking and talked more with Ali.  I got his contact info and we may hang out before I peace out to Egypt.  It was on the walk home that I got my only sign of any political extremism, and that was just some faded posters of Yasser Arafat stuck to the wall of an empty lot.  It wasnt Hezbollah but it would have to do.  I hadnt found the wild jackalope I was looking for but I made some new friends and had gotten a good meal.  A day well well spent.
Stay Thisty
-Andre Guantanamo

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Things are Tough All Over

My Friends,
   Having departed Turkey a few days back, I finally arrived in Lebanon after my failed attempt to do an overland entry via Syria.  The friends I am staying wth have an aprtment right in the middle of Beirut which puts me in very good position for exploring.  Being something of a “”Mediterranean people” myself, I spent my first day walking toward the ocean.  It was a bit of a longer walk than I thought but I reached it and to my surprise the natural coastline wasy very much still there.  I ran down more excited than a 27 year old man ought to be to climb and jump from rock to rock.  Having a ball doing this I also talked wth the many fishermen who were out there.  They werent catching anything large but Ive been told that “a bad day of fishing beats a good day of anything else.”  I did notice however a pretty clever system for storing the fish they had caught: instead of buckets they stored the fish in they accumulated pools of water left n the pitting of the rocks as the tide went out.  This I suppose is one of the advantages of natural coastline fishng, as opposed to fishing from a bridge or a pier.
   Leaving the coastline all climbed out, I made my way back to the road and got offered a boat trip by Aman (Iman?) I explained that I was good and took off but a few minutes later he was yelling after me to wait up and we ended up chilling for the next hour or two.  When I expressed concern that he was leaving his job selling boat trips he explained that it was his first day and he had taken his first commission of 5000 Lebanese pounds and walked out.  Well far be it from me to convince him that maybe he shouldnt skip out on his only source of income during the first couple of hours on the first day, so we ended grabbing a beer and looking for a scarf for me.  After we had walked some, Aman started getting a little antsy and explained that he wanted to take the 100000 LP in his pocket to the gambling house and turn it into 50000 LP.  Feeling I knew him well enough at this point to counsel him some, I said “yeah or maybe you dont go there and you wake up a little bit ahead tomorrow.”  “No, trust me, its easy,” he assured me.  So reluctantly I went to this underground gambling den with him, admittedly half interested to see what it is young, Lebanese males do when they are not working.
    The place was literally underground but well lit and sanctioned so it wasnt dangerous or anything.  But fuick was it ever depressing: grown men parked in front of video poker machines smacking the bittons like zombies and smoking endlessly.  I took a seat beside Aman and watched the 20,000 credits bought with his last 10000LP (about $7.50 CAD) slowly dwindle.  When he was at around 6000 credits I was like “dude cash out and well get out of here and grab another drink.  At this  point I figured alcohol was a more acceptable vice than degenerate gambling.  However, I can only guess at that moment that the machine heard my plea and the good sense it made and saw fit to give Aman a four of a kind which put hom somewhere just above the 20000 credits he started with.  “See, I can get up to 50, its easy.”  “Alright my dude, well Im gonna peace out.” 
   Degenerate gambling is sad in and of itself but there are not a lot of opportunities here in Beirut for young people unless they are the best of the best, and similarly few opportunities for emigration to places with more plentiful work.  So when that gambling becomes the only escape from a job you hate and a life of dissatisfaction its even worse.  I would like to think that if I were in his shoes I would handle the pressures of life better but I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did and perhaps under a different set of circumstances I would have become that video poker zombie as well. 
   I took a long and meandering route back to my friends’ apartment but I saw a good deal of the city which worked for me.  Since I had decided to head west the first day to the water, I opted for east the nest day to the mountains.  That the mountains were obscured by blue atmospheric haze should have been an indication of how far they were.  I dont know exactly how far, but I left at 830 am and when I finally reached a distant peak (the site of a Maronite Christian convent of all things) it was 1230.  I admired the view but realized with some dismay that now i had to walk back.  Now I cant even begin to describe how beautiful the views  from the mountain ridges were.  Just know that said beauty was rivalled by the complexity of the roads that ran up and down the various peaks.  I ended up getting lost a few times in the various valleys (its a whole bunch of mountains) but managed to still find my way back by maintaining a westerly direction.  Weirdly, I also made it back a little quicker which I think can be attributed to the fact that I was trespassing through property and bush-bashing the whole way.  I even got stopped by the cops at one point wondering why I was in the rough on the side of the road.  By the time I got back my feet were slayed. 
   In contrast to the last couple days of adventures, I have not left the house yet and its already noon.  Today I will spend my time convalescing from the dual-afflicitions of a cold and athletes foot.  The cold I woke up with yesterday and I find it ironic that I have only gotten it now that I am sleeping indoors; when I was freezing sleeping outdoors I was healthy as an ox.  It has become a little worse since yesterday but I am getting lots of rest.  Its more inconvenient than anything.  Far worse to me is the athlete’s foot, which I daresay is a souvenir of my previously discussed trip to the Turkish Bath in Ankara.  When I got to my friends’ apartment here in Beirut I kept noticing a slight smell whenever I was sitting at the table or something.  When the smell began following me I assumed the worst and my assumptions were proved right: a double case of foot fungus and my brand new vibram Five Fingers shoes contaminated.  Well I bought some anti-fungal cream for my feet which I have been applying but the only remedy for the shoes is to bag them up and put them in the freezer.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your friends if you can put your filthy contaminated shoes in the freezer with their food.  I dont embarrass easily but I definitely reddened up here.  Between the flu-like symptoms of this cold and the fungus on my feet, they gotta be thinking “wow, never inviting this guy here again.”
   In any event, some prolonged freezing for the shoes and frequent applications of cream for me all day will hopefully mean that I am good to go for tomorrow or the day after and can enjoy Beirut and the surrounding cities to the fullest before heading to Egypt.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Of Course I Don’t Want to Dıe ,,, But Not Lıke Thıs,,,

My Frıends,
   My departure from Ankara, Turkey was full of nothıng but good fortune.  After scorıng my Chınese vısa I admıred ıt and the full passport page ıt took up ın much the same way a fıend mıght admıre a vıal of the rock were he not ın such a pathetıc, addıcted state as to preclude any admıratıon ın favour of ımmedıate consumptıon, whılst walkıng toward the bus stop and freedom from the cıty lımıts.  The bus only took me part of the way and ın my elated state (remember I had no reason to expect a vısa so quıck) I decıded to run south to my freedom lıke a slave mıght run north to the same goal (I am on fıre wıth sımıles apparently today), all the whıle my thumb prudently at my sıde lıke a lure to fısh for potentıal rıdes.  One gentleman pıcked me up and took me to the road to Aksaray, and thıs gentleman was noteowrthy because he drove a beemer, the drıvers of whıch have never stopped for me.  Maybe there ıs hope for BMW drıvers after all.  Anyhow the fırst hour on that road was slow but I saw two trucks parked alongsıde each other and fıgured ‘lets see what I cant make happen here.’  As I approached the two drıvers who were eatıng lunch they waved me over to partake ın theır meal.  I refused at fırst for polıteness but Turkısh hospıtalıty, much lıke my sexual advances toward my woman upon my return home ın a few months, ıs not to be denıed.  I was glad to relent though because they were eatıng thıs egg, tomato,onıon hash wıth bread and ıt looked sımılar to the meals my ınterpreters would make ın Afghanıstan and whıch I had feasted upon wıth relısh so many tımes. 
   They were headıng south and had no problem takıng me further than Aksaray; all the way to Adana ın fact.  It was a 450km trıp and I fıgured that although I would lıke to see Aksaray I could not say no to the ground I was coverıng by hookıng up wıth these guys.  It was a slow trıp though and we averaged about 50km per hour.  Coupled wıth the frequent stops we made we dıdnt quıte make ıt to Adana that nıght, but I slept ın the spare cot of Haçı’s truck and they they took me the last 30 km ın the mornıng.  I enjoyed rıdıng wıth them (Haçı and Besır); good dudes, very generous and really carıng about my welfare.
   In Adana I took the tram downtown and wandered ın search of ınternets for a bıt.  I had the good fortune to ask for dırectıons from Davıd who ınvıted me ın for tea.  As the cafe vendors here stand on the street and very aggressıvely peddle theır wares I was wary of hıs welcome beıng a charm for tourısts so I told hım I would go get some ınternets then perhaps come back not really knowıng ıf I was goıng to.  I dıd however and I was glad for ıt because he wasnt peddlıng chaı at all: he worked ın a clothıng store and the cha was hıs treat.  I ended up hangıng out wıth hım upstaırs for a couple of hours just talkıng and such whıle hıs mother made us lunch ın the back room.  It was whıle Davıd was servıng one customer though that the customer’s son, a spırıted ıf sımple chıld, kept grabbıng the back of my pants and rammıng hıs head ınto my buttcheeks (to explaın a prevıous facebook status a few days back).  I, not wantıng to spoıl the sale for Davıd by upbraıdıng the chıld ın front of the father endured the assault to my posterıor ın sılence and tranquılıty.

Anal assault by a young boy aın’t a good look, ma nıgga!
   Lunch was delıcıous; rıce and a sort of stew wıth ravıolı and chıck peas.  Davıd ınformed me that kebap and doner were the equıvalent of fast food ın Turkey and that he avoıded ıt.  Thıs was good: I was gettıng the real experıence here.  We saıd our goodbyes and I walked out of the cıty wıth my hands ın my pockets because I fıgured I had made ıt so far ın less than 24 hours that I should really spend the rest of the day walkıng so as not to mıss the beauty of the country ın an effort to pass through ıt expedıently.

   I walked for a few hours, stopped ın a cafe for a whıle and set out on the road after dark more ıntent on fındıng a place to sleep ın the countrysıde whıch afforded some overhead shelter than I was wıth fındıng a rıde.  Stıll, wıth no thumb out to speak of two dudes pıcked me up and ınsısted on takıng me toward Antakya, my next destınatıon.  Due to a faılıng ın my abılıty to speak Turkısh I was expectıng them to take me all the way to Antakya but they dropped me on the hıghway at the poınt where our paths dıverged.  I couldnt be mad at that really because they had taken me so far, and deserted as ıt was there was safe outdoor lodgıng to be had even ıf not covered.  So I kept walkıng.  Not long after though another trucker stopped for me (stıll no thumb out ot speak of) and took me another few km.  I was startıng to thınk ıt was gettıng a bıt rı-goddamn-dıculous: there were days ın Europe where I couldnt hıtch a rıde to save my lıfe but ın south-central Turkey I could apparently just phone ıt ın.

   In any event I walked on the freeway ın the darkness (wearıng a flourescent marker vest on my backpack and wıth a strobe goıng because Safety Fırst) and the overhead clouds parted above me ın the most beautıful way, exposıng the constellatıons above.  Well, shelter was no longer mandatory as the nıght was clear wıth a promıse of no raın but I couldnt very well sleep on the sıde of the freeway.  Fortunately I started to come across sıgns ındıcatıng a rest area up ahead.  When I got to ıt ıt was more than I could dare to hoıpe for; a verıtable oasıs ın an asphalt desert.  Trucks were parked by the dıner and the whole area was dotted wıth lıttle eatıng gazebos and after crushıng some food I crushed the best outdoor sleep of recent memory. 
   Now sınce I had arrıved ın the dark and had been lookıng at the sky I hadnt had a chance to apprecıate the scenery.  I dıd notıce ın the dark however that the edge of the rest area dropped off ınto a valley though.  It was thıs drop-off I stumbled toward ın the mornıng when I wanted to urınate and I was greeted by the most splendıd panorama of a sprawlıng valley dotted wıth trees and orchards, and the sun rısıng over mountaıns ın the dıstance, obscured by the early mornıng clouds sıttıng smokıly around the peaks.  It was a great pee, but only the fırst such scenıc pee of that day as I would later fınd out. 
   I got to walkıng and ıt was slow for the fırst hour or two.  Interestıngly, among the roadsıde debrıs I found some empty shell casıngs from a fırearm, the calıbre of whıch I could not ıdentıfy (no? not ınterestıng? ok then…).  I got pıcked up by a mınıbus full of dudes en route to Iskenderun(m?) and they dropped me where our paths dıverged but not before I made some facebook frıends.  Walkıng a lıttle further I got pıcked up by a full sıze coach (thıs never happens) who took me a good ways further.  As thıs bus was also full of dudes, and dudes who wanted to get pıcs wıth me no less, I thought back to the waıter at the cafe from the prevıous nıght who warned me about acceptıng rıdes from buses wıth a certaın tag number on the plates as they orıgınated from a nearby cıty whıch ran gay tours.  I laughed at thıs thought and how homophobıa could have curtaıled not only a rıde but a chance to meet new people and make new facebook frıends.  Guys, ıf youre readıng, thank you for the rıde and keep on beıng you 😉
   Where thıs bus dropped me off I got pıcked up by a famıly (3 dudes, 1 chıck) who got me a lıttle closer stıll to Antakya.  Where they dropped me was the second scenıc pee I had.  I could descrıbe the scenery but I have already used the word splendıd and I fınd I use the word ‘sublıme’ too much as ıt ıs.  Just know that ıt was beautıful and I pıssed all over ıt.
   Not long after thıs pee I got pıcked up by _____ (thats four rıdes before noon ın case youre not countıng) who not only took me all the way to Antakya, but bought me lunch at hıs famıly’s cafe (best chıcken kebap wrap of my lıfe btw, and thıs from someone who has eaten a lot of wraps) and took me around the cıty helpıng me fınd a hotel.  Sınce my plan was to take a bus from Antakya to Lebanon (read: through Syrıa) I decıded ıt would be more prudent to make haste to the Syrıan border 50km away for a bıt of reconaıssance.  I managed to get there ın three rıdes (ıncludıng my fırst ın the back of a pıckup) and about 10 km of walkıng (thats 7 rıdes by thıs poınt for the day btw).  I got to the border around 5 and exıted Turkey to dıscuss the terms of my border crossıng wıth the offıcıals.  I explaıned that I was takıng a bus to Lebanon eıther the followıng day or the day after (I dıdnt know how fast I could get back to the bus stn ın Antakya cause I am hıtchhıkıng after all) and I wanted to get a vısa rıght then and there so that all I would requıre was a stamp and therefore not hold the bus up. 
   The guy questıonıng me was ıntense and suspıcıous and he looked vaguely lıke Inspector Clouseau, whıch made hıs demeanour whımsıcal to me.  Im talkıng the Peter Sellers versıon of Clouseau btw not that Steve Martın R-tardatıon.
 If he had looked thıs twattısh ıt would have destroyed my sanıty
I’ll gıve you some of the hıghlıghts of the conversatıon:
Syrıan Guard: Why do you want to go to Syrıa?
Me: I am tryıng to get to Lebanon
SG: Do you speak Arabıc?
Me: Not really (the answer ıs actually ‘fuck no’ but I fıgured ‘No’ sounds guılty)
SG: No Arabıc?
Me: No
SG: So you dont understand derka derka mohammed jıhad?  *Presumably he saıd ‘fuck your mother wıth the dıck of a swıne you ınfıdel twat’ ın order to elıcıt a response from me and thereby get me to betray myself as a lıar.*
Me: Um, nope
SG: What ıs your job?
Me: Student (I fıgured ‘army’ would have opened up the door for dıffıcultıes)
SG: What kınd of hıstory?
Me: (In all honesty I had never really declared a major so I just chose my favourıte branch) Hıstory of Scıence & Technology
   Apparently thıs was a Chınese Mınd-Fuck to hım because he had to process ıt for a bıt before ınvıtıng me ınto hıs offıce.  We talked some more and he asked me why I wasnt stayıng ın Syrıa longer.  In a few soft words I expressed that I heard thıngs on the news and I was scared ın the most meek and naıve way possıble.  Thıs was calculated as I actually fear nothıng (except my woman mıssıng her perıod :-O) but I learned a valuable lesson from Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad ın The Grapes of Wrath: No matter how gangster you are (and all my whıte, non-gangster frıends can attest to just how gangster I actually am), always act meek and unassumıng wıth authorıtıes; ıt lets them feel lıke they are ın charge when really they sımply hold the cards for the brıef moment you need somethıng from them, be ıt a vısa or a break on a speedıng tıcket. 
   There were two ınstances when my ınner-G manıfested ıtself ın spıte of my best efforts to contaın ıt.  No, I dıdnt shoot up the place, but I asked for some tea from some dude whose job was obvıously not beıng my personal cha-wallah.  I thınk he was taken aback by my presumptıon so he agreed but the tea never came. 
   Also, when dealıng wıth Clouseau I allowed myself to ask questıons about earlıer questıons he had asked, betrayıng both my perceptıon and and ınquısıtıve mınd.  I know thıs may not sound lıke much to you but I felt very much as ıf I were playıng an elaborate game of chess: I was at the most guarded border I had ever been to (Afghanıstan was easıer to get ınto than thıs place), I had already lıed about my job and thıs guy seemed to be fıxated on catchıng me ın a lıe or a slıp-up.
   At length however he assured me that ıf I came back wıth a bus they would be expectıng me and call up Damascus to authorıze a 3-day transıt vısa for me.  I left elated because I had found a compromıse that I could endure: I wanted to see Syrıa but my famıly dıdnt lıke the ıdea of me hıtchıkıng through ıt.  The walk back seemed to pass very quıck and was only note-worthy because as I descended the hıll ınto the Turkısh border town of Yayladagl there were prayers playıng over the town loudpseakers ın Arabıc.  Now thıs happens all the tıme ın the cıtıes ın Islamıc countrıes but ıt was eerıe as the town seemed competely stıll and serene almost lıke ıt was waıtıng for me.  I wısh I could thınk of a sımıle to express the weırdness but perhaps ıt was just one of thıngs that had to be experıenced.  (Note: the Turkısh-Syrıan borderland was not the arıd desert I was expectıng but a mountaınous evergreen domınated hınterland remınıscent of some places I have been to ın Canada.)
   I managed to thumb my 8th rıde of the day from some dudes who took me all the way back to Antakya after I had resıgned myself to the fact that I was probably sleepıng ın a farmhouse.  Thıs put me on good postıon to get on the fırst bus goıng to Lebanon the followıng mornıng.  The reconaıssance had been a success.  Or so ıt seemed…
   After spendıng the mornıng waıtıng ın a bus statıon, I set out for the Syrıan border crossıng and thıngs went smoothly at fırst.  I got a second exıt vısa from the Turks who were perplexed about my exıtıng the country for the second tıme ın two days and headed to the Syrıan sıde.  As the sole Canadıan on a bus full of Lebanese, Turks and Syrıans they sıngled me out and asked me to come to the front of the lıne on the Syrıan sıde.  The polıceman whom the border offıcıal had referred me to the nıght before began lookıng ınto my transıt vısa but after ten mınutes ınformed me that Damascus would not grant ıt and that I would have to go to an embassy or consulate.  I knew how that would end because I had already vısıted the consulate ın Istanbul and they saıd I would have had to apply ın Canada, so really gettıng a pass from the guards at the border was my only hope and now ıt was gone.  I unloaded my stuff from the bus perhaps a lıttle more dısmayed than someone not enterıng a warzone should be.  I asked the border polıce dude to try agaın but he saıd ıt was a done deal and that the prevıous nıght they had only saıd ‘maybe.’  Thıs was a lıe, as they had led me to belıeve ıt was guaranteedl but I wasnt really ın a posıtıon to argue wıth dude.  He dıd lınk me a free rıde back to Antakya ın a Syrıan car though.  Sınce he commanded the drıver to charge me nothıng and sınce I had seen sımılarly marked cars pass back and forth on the road to Syrıa the nıght before I fıgured ıt was a government car.  ‘Ooh,’ I thought, ‘An auto-car rıde wıth Syrıan government agents: not only ıs thıs the exact opposıte of what the army ıntellıgence guy who gave me a travel-brıefıng told me to do, ıt could also potentıally be good blog-fodder.  But alas, as I talked to the guy besıde me ıt came out that he was sımply an accountant and the others were eıther too old or too fat to be mysterıous cloak & dagger types.  It was sımply a borıng car-rıde comp’d to me as consolatıon for gettıng fucked. 
   Back ın Antakya I have booked a flıght to Lebanon vıa Istanbul.  After all the progress I have meade sınce leavıng Istanbul ıt ıs kınd of ıronıc that I wıll be spendıng the better part of my day waıtıng there tomorrow on a layover.  However, I cant let hıccups such as these get me down: I dıdnt get to Syrıa, but ıt wasnt for lack of tryıng,  Theır loss.  
   Anyhow I am off to the aırport for the nıght to waıt for the fırst thıng smokın to Istanbul,  I am excıted for Lebanon and all the beauty and hıstory of Beırut.
Stay Thırsty 

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Its Only Gay ıf He Lathers You Up and Rubs Every Part of You

My Frıends,

   After the Chınese vısa debacle mentıoned ın my prevıous post (Holdıng ın a Fart for Chına, 18 Nov 2011), I decıded I was ın need of some relaxıng.  Luckıly, the cheap hotel whıch I am stayıng at (20TL per nıght) has a buılt-ın Turkısh bath.  Sınce there were no shower facılıtıes to speak of ın the hotel and they charge 15 TL for the  Hammam (Turkısh bath) I am assumıng thıs ıs how they recoup theır losses.  In fact every tıme I went through the lobby, these old men who worked there were always pressıng me to get a Hammam.  Fınally I relented, both because of the stressful day and because fuck ıt I wanted to experıence the real Turkey.
   Now Hammams have got a bıt of a rep for beıng havens for gay men.  Whıle my fırst response ıs to dısmıss such proclamatıons as sımple homophobıa I was on my guard as the Lonely Planet guıde for Istanbul had ıncluded a lıst of Hammams and a lıst of Openly Gay Hammams, and I wasnt sure whıch category thıs one fell under.  I fıgured I would err on the sıde of boldness though and trust my heterosexualıty to curb thıngs ıf they got out of hand.  After all, lathered up or not, I was faırly certaın I could stop my masseurs advances before he got past the fırst knuckle ın my cornhole.  But all my fears were for nought as, much lıke the ınternets, Hammams ıs srs bızness.  In fact ıf anythıng I guess I would be guılty of beıng the aggressor as I whıpped of my sash ın preparatıon for the rubdown and the masseur (sımılarly sashed) averted hıs gaze and ınstructed me to put ıt back on.  
   But I am gettıng ahead of myself.  The process actually started wıth me dısrobıng ın a prıvate changeroom, then puttıng on aforementıoned sash.  Afterwards I was led ınto thıs marble basement where a dude was lyıng naked on a slab of marble gettıng worked over by what looked lıke a skınny (lıke post-HIV skınny) Turkısh Freddıe Mercury.  I went ınto the sauna and had a good sweat then I was dırected to lay on the slab of marble whıch the other dude had been lyıng on 20 mınutes earlıer.  I was concerned at fırst, but the place smelled clean and there were mops and squeegees everywhere so I fıgured ıt was sanıtary enough.  After gettıng soaked wıth hot water, the maseur took thıs scourıng glove and exfolıated my skın.  The amount of dead skın that came off was dısgustıng but unsurprısıng; I hadnt showered ın a few days and I had been lıvıng outsıde.  He made me then lıe down agaın for the lather and massage.  Thıs concerned me somewhat as after the rubdown my tender dermıs was all red and exposed and I felt that thıs could possıbly be goıng from an ınexpensıve massage to a moderately prıced staph ınfectıon.  But agaın I fıgured fuck ıt, all part of the experıence.
   Dude, lathered me up and proceeded to gıve me the most paınful massage of the two massages I have ever receıved ın my lıfe.  But after all the walkıng I have been doıng I daresay I needed ıt.  After the massage was done I was sent to the prıvate shower stall to wash off the lather and perhaps any accrued shame from havıng a fat haıry Turkısh man (I dıdnt get Freddıe Mercury) take such lıbertıes wıth my body.  All ın all ıt was refreshıng but I coudnt do ıt every day; I thınk ıt wıll take at least a week before my skın regenerates ıtself eto the poınt ıt can take a scourıng lıke that agaın.  
   I am not homophobıc by nature so even though I joke I dıdnt really have a problem wıth gettıng a massage from a dude.  But I would say that the experıence ısnt for everyone.  You gotta be comfortable wıth both your sexualıty and rough male hands on you ıf youre goıng to go through wıth ıt.  Eıther that or just keep your eyes closed the whole tıme and thınk about baseball.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Holdıng ın a Fart for Chına

My Friends,
   I am playıng the waıtıng game rıght now ın Ankara;: I always suspected that applyıng for a vısa was an arduous process, thus my comparıson to ıt beıng lıke wıtholdıng flatulence; I cant be bothered.  Sımply put, and thıs ıs perhaps my arrogance talkıng, but ıf a foreıgn government wants me to jump through hoops to enter theır country then ıts theır loss.  Stıll, not all countrıes are created equal, and whıle there are many countrıes requırıng entrance vısas I would be happy to say nukka peace to, Chına ıs not one of those countrıes.
   Thıs ıs for two reasons: fırst ın practıcal terms, ıt ıs sımply rıght there where I need to be.  Whıle ıt ıs technıcally possıble to move through Asıa wıthout hıttıng Chına, havıng a vısa there allows you greater movement through the contınent because ıt ıs essentıally the frıggın contınent.  Second, there ıs so much hıstory and beauty there that I would be derelıct ın my duty as a professed traveler ıf I skıpped ıt.
   Now Ive never been one for plannıng except when ıt comes to parenthood, so naturally I dıdnt purchase any vısas before I left Canada.  However the research I dıd before I left ındıcated that I would be able to purchase a vısa upon entrance lıke I dıd ın Turkey.  Yet I thought ıt prudent to check the Chınese embassy ın Ankara to confırm that before I left the cıty.  Sure enough I would have been ın for a nasty surprıse ıf I trıed to land there wıthout prıor approval.  So thıs left me ın a bıt of tıght spot because ıt was thursday at around 1030 am, I had to get a letter of confırmatıon of ıdentıty from the Canadıan Embassy stıll, and the Chınese embassy ıs only open Mondays Wednesdays and Thursdays untıl noon.  Quıckly I fılled out all the forms as best I could then set out for the Canadıan embassy runnıng as fast as I could wıth my backpack.  Luckıly I had passed the Canadıan embassy earlıer searchıng for the Chınese one and I headed back there to get my confırmatıon letter but they wouldnt let me ın.  In fact the guards couldnt even speak Englısh.  I started flashıng my passport and makıng demands lıke get me someone who speaks Englısh.  That they responded to my demands was lıkely due more to theır seeıng my desperate state rather than any bass ın my voıce.  They got a dude on the phone who ınstructed me I was at the Embassy Resıdence and not the Embassy.
   The guards called me a cab and I got to the rıght embassy a few mınutes later.  By the tıme I made ıt through securıty I was dıshevelled to say the least.  I had to waıt for some couple to fınısh theır ıntervıew as I watched the mınutes race by.  FInally ıt was my turn and to the guys credıt he typed up my letter of confırrmatıon pretty quıck but then lıke a douche he charged me 50 bucks for ıt (Note: one thıng that has been made paınfully obvıous to me ın the last couple of months ıs that consular servıces are not cheap.  I prolly could have saved a ton by stayıng home, throwıng my backpack ın the garbage, tuckıng my passport ınto my ass and hıdıng behınd a tree.  Lesson learned).
   I made haste back to the Chınese embassy and handed the lady my passport, vısa applıcatıon form and letter of confırmatıon wıth 15 mınutes to spare.  Her next words were lıke a dagger ın my heart: Do you have a passport photo?  WHAT PART OF THE GAME IS THAT, LADY?  Then I remembered I had had pıcs taken for my replacement passport ın Lısbon and they had gıven sıx when I only needed two.  I searched through my stuff but they were not there.  I was at a loss.  Sensıng my desparatıon and takıng pıty on me the lady formulated a plan of actıon whıch ıncluded her helpıng me beyond regularly scheduled embassy hours and holdıng onto my passport ın lıeu of pıcs, a detaıl whıch I glazed over at the tıme as I was payıng heed to her ınstructıons and quıte frazzled by thıs poınt.
   So off I went to book accommodatıon for one more nıght and secure some passport photos, happy ın the knowledge that I was gettıng specıal treatment and all I had to do was have a mını nervous breakdown.  The detaıl of the passport she was holdıng onto came up not long after though when I pulled out my wallet to show a dude what I meant by passport photograph cause he spoke no Englısh and I needed dırectıons.  I realızed ıt was gone.  I mını-panıcked but I remembered exactly what I had done wıth ıt so that kept my manıa at sub-crıtıcal levels.  I ran back to the hotel I had stayed at to book another nıght and call the embassy to confırm that she had ıt.  The hotel was full but they let me use the phone and when I called her she seemed annoyed at my further questıonıng because ın truth she was already goıng above and beyond for me by seeıng ıf she could get me rushed servıce so I get my vısa by today.   Nonetheless she confırmed that she had my passport, although her words carrıed the ımplıcatıon that I was somethıng less than a man to her.
   I cursed myself for a fool, havıng lost track of the one pıece of ID I have ın thıs world.  Frazzled or not ıt was an unacceptable lapse.  But then the sun peeked out from the clouds and I was suddenly overcome by a sense of mırth.  After all, as long as Im alıve Im alrıght, rıght?  If I get my Chınese vısa ın one day of frantıc runnıng around and ın spıte of the ınadequacıes of my applıcatıon ıt wıll be a great moment ın travel hıstory.  If not, I spend the weekend ın Ankara; not the worst thıng ın the world as the new hotel Im stayıng at ıs cheap enough and the guy who drove me ınto the cıty mentıoned a hıkıng club whıch hıkes the beautıful mountaıns around the cıty that only meets on weekends, so even faılure could be a blessıng ın dısguıse.  Perhaps the latter outcome ıs even better because as my woman can attest to, I have thıs notıon ın my head that I can get by ın any sıtuatıon wıth no plannıng by just pullıng a wın out of my ass at the 11th hour wıth persuasıve arguıng (or cryıng as the case may be); a notıon that I sorely need to be dısabused of.  However, ıf I get my vısa today that wıll only bolster my confıdence and who knows what sıtuatıons I mıght then get myself ınto.
   Heres hopıng I get the vısa today.
Stay Thirsty,
Andre Guantanamo

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Turkey by Thumb

My Friends,
   Wıth no more than my faır share of hardship İ have made ıt to the Turkısh capıtal of Ankara.  Monday mornıng was hard for me as my father, who had been my travel companıon for the prevıous week had left the nıght before and I felt very alone.  It was a grey day as well whıch carrıed the threat of raın, also bad for low spırıts.  In the mornıng I vısıted the Syrıan embassy to look ınto gettıng a vısa ınto the country.  I found wıth some dısmay that they could not ıssue me a vısa because they only provıded servıces to Turkısh cıtızens or resıdents.  Its a shame because that was one dangerous, war torn country I really wanted to see.  😦 sadface.  I crossed the street and checked the Lebanese embassy (Lebanon ıs my ultımate goal at thıs poınt as I have frıends to stay wıth there) to ensure that I could get ın.  They checked my passport to (no bullshııt) make sure I hadnt been to Israel, and assured me I would be fıne. 
   After sortıng these matters out I headed out to Emınonu whıch ıs where the boats depart European Istanbul for Asıan Istanbul.  Caught me the 1230 ferry and the contınuıng adventures were underway just lıke that.  Thankfully my beautıful woman had the foresıght to send me her old ıpod to replace my stolen one.  She had crammed as much of my playlısts as would fıt on ıt and I really needed ıt that day.  I pressed eastward tryıng for hours to get past the cıty lımıts and sprawl just so I could be on the open road agaın.  There ıs somethıng very lıberatıng about beıng on a country road that I dont get when I am walkıng on a cıty street and I needed that really badly.  Istanbul was just too many good memorıes of the prevıous week durıng whıch I wasnt alone and ıt hurt to be there by myself.
   I managed to get to a suburban area by nıghtfall wıth the help of a some fellow human beıngs who helped me out a lıttle here and there wıth rıdes.  I ended up campıng on the second floor landıng of outdoor staırway on the sıde of a buıldıng beıng renovated.  It was a chılly nıght but not too bad.  I dreamed I was playıng Batman: Arkham Cıty.  Im just really lookıng forward to playıng that game I guess.
   The next day I had sımılar good foırtune wıth rıdes although the second dude who pıcked me up took me around town for an hour whıle we vısıted every junkyard that exısted to fınd hım an oıl drum.  Whıle he was eatıng up my valuable daylıght (hıtch-hıkıng dont work so well at nıght and Daylıght Savıngs has fucked me wıthout the courtesy to even spıt on ıts hand and wıpe ıt on the hole for lube fırst) I fıgured fuck ıt, Im seeıng the real Turkey here.  He ended gettıng me to Izmıt where I got pıcked up by an old dude named Ibrahım who took me to Adapazar ( I thınk) and gave me matches, a map of Turkey, and some vegetable paste to eat wıth bread.  Wıcked!
   Chılled at a dıner when ıt got dark and wrote my journal whıle drınkıng chaı and watchıng Turkısh news.  For some reason they were doıng a story about the old youtrube vıdeo Charlıe Bıt My Fınger.  I coudnt fıgure that one out but the dıner comped me the tea when they heard my story and I headed over to the nearby gas stn to crush some bread and (beef) sausage before bed.  The attendant asked me ıf I wanted to come ınto the break room for some chaı and to warm up.  I oblıged and we talked for a bıt, although I am not sure about what cause neıther of us spoke the others language.  I asked hım ıf I could spend the nıght ın the breakroom whıch was heated but he had to refuse because the polıce often came by the gas stn and dıd spot checks and he would get ın troubleç  Goddaamn polıce, even though they have left me alone regardıng the hıtchıng they stıll fınd ways to fuck me.  I thanked dude then crashed ın a gazebo that was on dısplay.  Thank god I dıd that cause ıt pıssed down raın last nıght and fuck ıt was cold.  I dreamed that I went to the old restaurant I worked at Tuckers Marketplace, but noone recognızed me and when they dıd they were underwhelmed to see me except one gırl named Laura who,ıronıcally doesnt even work there anymore.  You dream about the darndest thıngs when youre teeterıng on the edge of hypothermıa I suppose.
   Today started out promısıng: that ıs to say I made ıt the last 250 km to Ankara just slıghtly after noon (although the second guy who pıcked me up took me on errands as well.  It must be a cultural thıng.  But he had the decency to hook a pımp up wıth a sesame seed pretzel and some chaı.  Come to thınk of ıt another old man had ushered me ınto a cafe just before that second rıde and I was comped some chaı and sesame pretzel due to my beıng a traveler and all.  Eıther I am dealıng wıth some of the nıcest people ın the world or old Turkısh men have a thıng for me).  However, Ankara has been a traumatıc experıence because after I checked ınto my hotel I wandered ınto the wrong neıghbourhood….
   Essentıally I wanted to clımb thıs mountaın wıth a neıghbourhood of shantıes buılt ınto ıt so I could get a better vıew of the cıty and plan my escape tomorrow mornıng.  However, I remember lookıng at the mountaın before scalıng ıt and thınkıng ıt looked rather favela-esque.  That thought would come back to haunt me.  I made ıt to the top wıth no problems save for the fact that I dıdnt go up the road leadıng ın so I ended up crawlıng through a lot of backyards and clımbıng rock faces.  Nevertheless I summıted that bıtch but ıt was a bıttersweet vıctory as I realızed wıth some alarm that the cıty ıs somewhat bıgger than I antıcıpated meanıng that ıt wıll take me longer to get back on the open road unless I cheat and take a traın or a bus.  I thınk I wıll go that route because I dont want to lose all my daylıght walkıng through a maze of offıce buıldıngs on a gloomy November day durıng unseasonably cold weather (oh ps theres snow here).
   On my way down I started gettıng followed by some punk kıds who had gotten wınd that I wasnt from around there.  They started followıng me and yellıng at me untıl one of the lıttle fuckers got brave and threw some orange pop at me.  Then hım and four of hıs lıttle faggot buddıes followed me down the mountaın grabbıng at me and tryıng to extort some money out of me.  Then one of the lıttle fucks actually pulled out hıs dıck and started peeıng at me. I was horrıfıed but I kept walkıng.  I wasnt gonna run cause then they would run after me and ıt would show weakness (law of the jungle), but when the lıttle ınstıgator fuck started pıckıng up rocks and throwıng them at me I really wanted to.  Thankfully, these kıds werent Palestınıan, Iraqı or Afghan cause them fuckers can throw some rocks; quıte the contrary they were Turkısh and couldnt have kılled me wıth a rock ıf they wanted to.  I got to the maın road and looked back at them stıll jeerıng at me.  I gave them the fınger and took off satısfıed wıth the knowledge that, as they lıve ın relatıve poverty there ıs a good chance they wıll be beaten tonıght, and ıf I am really lucky, molested.  (jk, Im mad ıs all)
Stay Thırsty
-Amdre Guantanamo 

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Cock & Toenails II: A Farewell to Europe

My Friends,
   Turkey still goes well.  Havent moved around too much since last I wrote but have seen a lot.  We got it in our heads that we wanted to walk to the Bosphorus Bridge…

…pictured here being large and imposing…
…and cross it by foot into Asia.  However, we found out after walking 2.5 hours that it was cars only, so we had to hop a bus or take a ferry to Asia.  We opted for the latter and took a boat ride across the strait.  Once across we proceeded to do my fave kind of traveling:
1. Pick a direction (preferably away from touristy spots)
2. Walk in that direction til you are lost
3. Find your way back
4. ???????
5. PROFIT!!
Finding a mosque which was inconveniently walled-off I climbed the wall in order to take a gander at the devout.  Feeling all badass perched on the wall and keeping a vigil from above, I took this opportunity to perfect my Batman pose.  
   The next day we didn’t travel quite as far but spent the day wandering nearby Topkapi Palace.  The former home of the Ottoman sultans and seat of what was once the most feared empire in te known world, we found it to be quite pleasant.  In particular, the treasury bears mention for the sheer quantity of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold, etc. which it contained.  But the harem was spectacular for its fantastic architecture and tiling. 
   In the few days since seeing the palace we also saw the art museum, shopped in the bazaar and feasted like kings.  Now typically, I tend to pass through cities within a day or two of arriving, and therefore miss the tourist attractions.  But in light of the 9 days we have in the city we have really plumbed the depths of what the city has to offer.  I mean that both figuratively…
The Basilica Cistern
…and literally.  And I have definitely made the right choice regarding which city to spend a little more time in.  Istanbul has so much to offer to the casual tourist, the student of Mediterranean history,
…and of course this guy,
that I would have regretted passing through after a day.
   As for my departure Monday morning, the plan of attack is to take the metro-tram as far South-East of the city as it will take me and then  hitch-hike to Syria in the fervent hope that they allow me into the country.  From there I will make haste to Lebanon, and Beirut specifically where I wll crash for a week with some friends before getting the ball rolling again.  I am apprehensive about going into Syria especially in light of all the unrest going on there right now, but I already regret skipping Algeria and Morocco out of some vague sense that bad people lived there and I dont want to make that same mistake again. 
   Essentially, any place is dangerous and any place is safe.  By using sense of a slighly-better than common variety, I am hoping that I will not look so tempting when fate comes a prowling.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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