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"Call me Dopv and feed me gat"

Written on: Sunday March 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: Thailand to Turkey

3/9-3/13 - note - internet is very slow so no pics for now.. maybe when I get to Egypt?  ....

Having decided I am joining Albert II, my next course of action is to plan a trip to the country?s capital of Sa?na (spellings vary depending on your guide book, street sign or map, pronounced "Sah-nah" with somewhat hard "h" sound at the end.)  in the day before Albert II departs for Eritrea.  I purchase a bus ticket for $7.50 (converted),  departure time is midnight.  I then find out that I need a special permission slip from the police to authorize me to travel at night? or perhaps travel period, I am unclear as to the exact parameters.  Regardless, I now must venture forth to obtain said hall pass to the country.  Forgoing the offers of taxi drivers, I set out on foot; my course will run me by a nearby music store I have been meaning to patronize for a set of replacement string for my violin.  I foolishly did not prepare for the possibility of my D string snapping, and it unfortunately did.  I ask for directions to the police station at a sporting goods store and they point down the road.  Another block and I spy a local bus, who charge 1/15th the fare of a taxi, so I am in the process of interrogating the driver as to his destination/route when I am disrupted by persistent honking from what appears to be a taxi driver.  Turns out to be my friend Omar from the sporting goods store, who having heard my predicament has taken it upon himself to escort me around Aden, cruising all the local points of interest and talking to various policemen along the way to the end that I find out I cannot obtain a pass to travel at night.  (I later found out this might not be entirely true, but the way Omar asked he forgot to tell them I was taking a bus rather than a private vehicle which might have made all the difference)

I am bummed at the thought of being balked by this bureaucracy, so I make the decision to travel anyway, despite the possibility of being found out at a military checkpoint.  I dress in long pants and a long sleeve shirt so my light skin will not give me away, and add a shamagh, the local headdress, known to westerners as a turban or Bedouin hat.  I can tie it in the local fashion and cover my face, either pretending to sleep or repose in actual slumber and let my famous luck do the rest. 

The trip is uneventful, as far as I know.  I sleep 96% of the trip, from 12am to 6:30am when we arrive in Sa?na.  Upon disembarkation, I chat up a few locals, do a little shopping and find a local taxi driver by name of Salle (Sali?) who agrees to take me sightseeing for a few hours for $15.  We head out of town, talking about this and that, Muslim customs and beliefs.  I learn that the men only talk to other men and women to other women.  The exceptions are your parents and siblings.  Most everyone is married, and your sister(s) and mom pick your wife for you, answering any questions you might have about this girl or that.  The "birka" or female headdress is to keep men from approaching women and to grant anonymity to females when out in public.  (Some of this I learned later when hanging out with Salim, Ali, Thabet and Yessin.)  Also, that Mohammed the prophet taught that all people are equal, men and women, black and white, &c.  They pray 5 times a day and fast during Ramadan (September, I think) from sunrise to sunset, no food or sex. 

The palace of the Sultan is striking, like an extension of the mountain, it looks about 5 stories but once inside it is closer to 10!  I just kept hiking up and up, the majority of tourists there being Yemeni rather than European or otherwise.  There are a fair number of Europeans and Chinese as well, but lots of school groups and couples out for a holiday from local and far off cities. 

Once back in Sa?na proper, Salle takes me to his home and I meet some of his 8 children.  The only one whose name I remember was Salle jr, "Sali bin Sali".  He then drops me off at the north end of old Sa?na and I walk towards the old gate or "Baba Yemen".

I venture off a bit from the main path, get some ice cream at a local shop and run into a local bad boy by name of Yessin, which means "Crane".  Salle told me my name in Arabic is "Dobp", the bear, so I share this tidbit of trivia with Yessin, who then introduces me as Dopb to the rest of the people I meet.  We go to a restaurant and I go upstairs.  I say restaurant but it is more like the size of a bathroom with a small tiled indoor patio up top.  There is room for the two other customers, who appear to be a man and his grandson.  Grandpa motions me to sit at his table and share his food, which is super delicious!  I eat with gusto and thank him, when my food shows up as does Yessin from below.  What Yessin has ordered is a little spicy and not nearly as good as Grandpa?s meal, but I am still hungry so I do my part to polish it off.  The bread is this flat, thick and flaky tortilla type bread with black sesame seeds on top; one of the most delicious hot breads I have ever been served.

The rest of the afternoon is spent "hanging out" at a local shop, walking around, then a few hours in a TV room talking with some of my new friends, watching movies (two of which are different versions of the same story, that of the prophet Mohammed.  I get the feeling these people are serious about their religion.  It really is their life, not just a small part of the larger whole like many Christians or other fundamentalists in the US.  I mean, stopping to go to the mosque and pray 5 times EVERY DAY of every year?  That?s commitment.)  eating ghat. 

Ghat. Or Gat (sp?).  A leaf from a tree, the big ones the same size as maybe a walnut leaf, the small ones, the shoots that are desirable for chewing are maybe the size of your pinky nail.  You are supposed to pulverize it to a fine powder and tuck it in your lip as with chewing tobacco, but I don?t quite master the art.  I am given more and more until I insist several times that I don?t want more, I think I?ve ingested too much and I feel a little ill.  I am not experiencing any benign effects as promised such as "you will see/walk all the way to your home (California)" or "You will feel ready to do anything, very awake".  I get the idea it is a stimulant, but it must be mild cos? I?m not getting it.  I end up spitting out the half I didn?t swallow, about 3 oz of leaf paste, maybe two hours after I start chewing.  Another hour later and I leave with Yessin to go fix a money changing problem I had earlier.  Once we are outside, it hits me.  Not like a freight train or anything, just a subtle difference in the clarity of the world.  It?s a mild cocaine high, without the numb teeth.  I have a ticket back for 11:30pm so I?m okay with being stimulated for the next 3-5 hours anyway, and ghat is not a controlled substance, there are little piles of green in the street everywhere.  It is actually a major problem for Yemen because it is a cash crop but only Yemeni buy it so instead of planting exportable crops like coffee or tea, they grow ghat and sell it to themselves, lowering their GNP. 

On the way back to Aden, the bus is stopped by the military at one of the checkpoints.  I wake up because the bus has come to a halt and I can hear voices outside.  I glance through the gap in the sun curtain and see a soldier with a flashlight checking the back seat of a car alongside us.  He then waves the car on and turns to the bus.  I pull my shamagh a little higher around my face from where it has dropped during my subconciousness and melt back into the seat.  There is a flash of light at the window, then the light proceeds towards the front of the bus, flashing intermittently through the blinds.  No problems though, after an painstakingly infinite pause, the bus fires up again and begins to trundle along through the desert.  I resume a regular cardiovascular cycle and slip back into dreamland.

The next day, our last day in Aden, I meet with Jim, Ged and Sam after filling Albert II with fresh water for our voyage.  We head out to do some shopping and then get our clearance papers and set sail.  The first day, my stomach is in a major bind.  The ghat has remained to haunt my gastrointestinal system.  Two days of producing no solids, only gas and liquid in random order and in random amounts.  I am afraid to let out the tiniest fart without first running to the head and preparing for the worst!  The nausea was hardly bad at all, only slight and a minor inconvenience compared to my bowel problems.  I considered a tampon, lets just leave it at that.

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We are now at anchor in Massawa, Eritrea.  Anchored of the coast of southern Eritrea a few nights ago and took two night passages to get us here.  Very easy going sailing compared with Quickstep?s military-esque regimen of 4-hour watches round the clock, with a two hour "dog?s watch" to change the watch order every day between 4pm-8pm.  We took a log every hour, noting the barometric pressure, engine hours, temperature, GPS coordinates, speed, windspeed and direction, current heading and various other readings.  Aboard Albert II, there is one log taken once a day noting the location, distance travelled and any relevant information.  Quite different, really!


Our plans now include doing some diving locally (we have two sets of scuba gear and an air compressor aboard!) and going to the capital that I forget the name of.

In other news I got beat resoundingly not only at poker but also at my new game, ting Hamah!  Jim and Ged are fierce opponents, and yet very relaxed.  Don?t you just hate geniuses?


I leave you with a few quotes from my personal journal? taken in turn from Paulo Coehlo?s "Manual of the Warrior of Light".

The warrior of light:

?knows that he has much to be grateful for.

?takes every opportunity to teach himself.

?is never predictable (he does not spend his days trying to play the role that others have chosen for him)

?always has a certain gleam in his eye.

?behaves like a child.

?gives before he is asked.

?is never too ashamed to ask for forgiveness.

?concentrates on the small miracles of life.

?only accepts an opponent who is worthy of him.

?does not try to be coherent; he has learned to live with his contradictions.

?is never in a hurry.

?knows there is no such thing as an impossible love.  He is not intimidated by silence, indifference or rejection.  He knows that, behind the mask of ice that people wear, there beats a heart of fire.