In Lieu of a Hand-written Note

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If only all goodbyes could be said with a gif.

 


That Girl On The Wall

 

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There was this girl up on the wall, and they were drinking to her. Cheers, toasts, salut, and all that. I wanted to be that girl.


Afternoon Delight (Food Porn)

spareribs that I actually cooked

spareribs that I actually cooked

 

An afternoon nap led to a strange dream. I was in someone’s house, cooking spicy spareribs. I’ve never been in that kitchen before, but I seemed familiar with it, it looked like a combination of all the kitchens in all the houses I’ve lived in through the years.

The spareribs were done, and I was sitting on the counter with the laptop typing away, when my ex suddenly came in. Don’t ask which ex, I’m not telling. He went straight to the pan of spareribs on the stove, lifting the lid and sniffing with his eyes closed. Then he turns to me and says’ “Why are you not sharing this with me?” I was silent. He glares at me, then pouts. He goes to the counter, takes out a plate and a fork and helps himself to the spareribs. In between bites he keeps muttering, “It’s so good, so good!”

This is when I woke up from the dream, disoriented to find myself in bed instead of the kitchen. It felt strangely erotic. And now I am hungry.

 


The Secret to Invisibility

 
One way to be lost is to back pedal 
over tracks. Reverse step into each footprint, 
match heel and toe exactly so you become 
invisible, erased as cleanly as 
that puff of breath exhaled into fog.
 
Another way, much more subtle 
but just as easy, is to insert oneself into crowds. 
Follow the pace of the horde, shuffle quietly
shoulder to shoulder, sidle in sideways 
and become absolutely hidden. 
 
This is the true double-cross.  
We are so alike we render ourselves translucent, 
float like tiny fish under the current, 
become white noise, indistinguishable 
from the rest of the confusion.
 
The real secret to disappearing though, 
is to live out in the open, back to the sun –
faceless, and acquiescing. The camouflage
of so many single weeds blanketing an empty lot, 
verdant, sweeping, and ultimately, unseen.

 


Wander on: Airport Secrets

 

picture-pretty window, Siem Reap airport, Cambodia

Picture-pretty window at Siem Reap airport, Cambodia

 

Every three months or so, it never fails, I end up in an airport somewhere with hours to kill until the next flight. I have mastered the many rituals of the plane passenger, for instance, how to get to your gate at just the right moment so you don’t have to wait too long to board. I’ve killed time at bars, coffee shops, souvenir stalls, bookshops, massage spas. There is a little secret to it, you need to remember your alcohol and credit card limit, else there will be missed flights and a whole mess of trouble ahead.

From traveling so often, I have collected quite a few insider tips. These little airport secrets are good things to keep in mind. I’ve learned firsthand to avoid the cheaper route through Delhi because I know how they detain passengers in that dead end side of the airport until it’s closer to their departure time, no matter how long the layover is. You’re stuck in an empty hallway for hours, no shops, no bars, just a broken vendo machine in the corner. In Singapore, I’ve found a corner where they have these ergonomic lounge chairs that you can lie down in and sleep undisturbed, amid lush greenery.  In Cambodia, the prettiest spot at the airport to do a selfie are any of those picture windows that look out the gardens. My frequent hub, expensive Dubai airport harbors a twilight zone where you can get free wi-fi, it’s near gate C17. Liquids, gels, and waxes are frowned upon at London Heathrow, and anything that overflows a little baggie will have to go into the trash. They don’t care if it’s your special $300 face cream, into the bin it goes. Also, most of the security personnel at this airport are notoriously rude, for no fathomable reason. At Chicago’s Midway I learned that if you rub your fingers on your forehead you will have an easier time getting your fingerprints scanned. The oil makes your prints more visible to the machine, or so the immigration officer tells me, smiling at my horrified expression upon realizing that my face is oily.

Guys, avoid being profiled at LAX in Los Angeles by shaving off, or at least neatly trimming, your beard. A friend and I arrived at this conclusion after he was detained and interviewed for close to an hour in a small room, his suitcases turned upside down, his credentials scrutinized to the last detail. Next time he passes thru clean-shaven, nothing happens. At Kathmandu airport, any and all knives found in your carry on (why would you have a knife there to begin with) will be confiscated and dumped into a little wicker basket. They let lighters go through, but the knives, they take. In Kuala Lumpur, there’s a roast duck that tastes as fantastic as it looks, and if you eat only one thing at this airport, that duck is it. In Manila, walk briskly past the old guys in shirt jacks who smile sweetly and ask if you need help with your luggage. Yes, they may look like everyone’s favorite uncle, but ten times out of ten, they will rip you off. At Japan’s Narita airport, identical looking women in knee socks will direct you to your gate, whisk you briskly through scanners and go through your carry on with ruthless efficiency. You will look on quietly and let them.

And lastly, at Kabul airport – should you have the misfortune of finding yourself there — if you are a woman, X-ray scans are easier when you ‘accidentally’ show the female security person photos of your children. She will blabber at you in rapid Pashto or Dari and nod and smile endlessly, but no matter. Suddenly, the scan will be forgotten, and you will be waved through as though you paid dearly for secret passage.

 

 


Dubai Night Drive with Little Omar


Yesterday evening, I shared a hotel limo with a Palestinian woman and her 7 year old son, Omar. There were no taxis available at the hotel that night because it was Iftar, when the Muslims break the day long fast, and everyone was busy feasting.

The lady said she and her son were passing thru Dubai from a trip to Palestine, on their way back home to California. She was dressed in an abaya, but her face was not covered, only her hair. Her son was dressed in western clothes, and spoke only English, as far as I could tell. We got to talking in the hotel lobby after she asked me if it was my first time to come to Dubai. I told her I was passing thru as well, and that Dubai is my hub for travel coming from Afghanistan. She couldn’t quite believe that I worked there.

She and her son had an easy, loving banter — Omar was very well behaved, not once did she have to scold or raise her voice at him. He shook my hand graciously when I introduced myself to him and asked his name. He had very beautiful brown eyes, with long, sooty lashes.

I asked them to share the limo with me as we were all going to the mall anyway. The lady was glad to have company and readily accepted. They wanted to see the Aquarium, so I decided to go to Dubai Mall as well. On the drive over the lady would point out landmarks and buildings to her son. At night, the Burj Khalifa was lit up, a silver sword rising from the vast, twinkling desert. Omar said, “It looks awesome, mom!”

As we sped by the traffic-less streets, Omar looked out the window, mouth open at the sights. It gave me a new appreciation for this city that I would pass by so often, seeing it now through this boy’s eyes. It made me miss my sons, made me instantly fond of this dark eyed little boy.

Passing by yet another skyscraper, Omar pointed to it and said, “Mom, I wanna go up there, can I go up there?

His mom laughed and said, “Oh sweetie, you can go wherever you want.” She turned to me and gave me a smile, her dark eyes sparkling. I knew exactly what she meant, and I smiled back.


The Sudden Death of Stars

A few lines to mark the Lenten season.

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The Sudden Death of Stars

one contemplates
the sudden death of stars
light breaks up, dissipates
and darkness moves in
to become what is missing.

I realise that the sky,
with this one void is not left empty,
other stars blink their brightness
tawdry as whores in sequins
all hours of the day.

death is as cheap, my love.
we shuffle bodies as we utter promises,
and each night we look to the skies
to whisper wishes to the stars
but only the darkness hears.


A Trick of the Light

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I tell no one, but it’s been two, no — three months now — that I haven’t been sleeping straight through the night. My sleep is haunted by random thoughts and images, flashing memories that I can’t seem to control.

It’s better when I am at work, because work, mundane though it be, requires a focus that serves to rein in the random thoughts. But at night, the controls fall away and my consciousness becomes a dark, swirling current that sweeps me, helpless and drowning in the flood of memories. Sometimes I’m not even sure if the memories are real, or if they are only imagined, a trick of the light, the cunning creations of a mind that wants a different ending to the story that was.

Trick of the light or true, I just wish I could stop the thoughts, it would be such a welcome rest.

 


Girl + Gun(s)

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Guns are every day objects here, this being a war zone and all. I see them all day, slung across the chests our Gurkha guards, dangling from belts, holstered at the waist, clasped in hand by men walking along the hallways. It’s inevitable of course, that I will have one put into my hands, eventually.

This is the only job I’ve had where it is a requirement to be familiar with guns. They give us classes on guns. We have Safety Day activities that demonstrate weapons handling, unloading, and dry-firing. The first class I had on weapons familiarization was taught by our lead gunner, a huge guy with a shiny bald head. He taught us how to dismantle, load/unload, and aim guns. I have broken down and put back together again an M4 and an M9, whatever good that skill will do me. My dad was thrilled to hear about the experience though, so it makes for an interesting story. I remember that class, I was the only female there and we were fumbling around with a pistol and a rifle. Those things are heavy, what can I say. There was a point in the class where we were told to get your rifles and lie down on the floor.

Of course I was the only one that asked, “Why?”  The instructor explained that we should learn how to fire from a prone position. I couldn’t resist teasing him, I said, “But the floor is dirty, I don’t want to get myself all dusty.” He went red in the face, trying not to laugh and not to show any reaction. He said that we were all required to do it, the standard answer to everything. One of the guys in the class, my friend since high school who knew what trouble I could be, pleaded with me, “Just get down on the floor, please.” I did, after all, I’ve had my bit of fun.

They all do take their guns seriously here, I must point that out. As they should, these things take away life at the pull of a trigger.

There was a break-in once at the camp, a raggedly band of Taliban launched a rocket that hit right next door to us, rattling my office windows with such force the blinds shook off most of their dust. A few insurgents were able to breach the wall and the ground attack alarm was sounded. We all went into the bunkers to wait it out in relative safety. In a ground attack of such close proximity, everyone on camp that was authorized to carry a gun had to go into the armory to get one. Gunners and medics were patrolling the camp grounds constantly, most everyone had a weapon. Some of the guys that I am friends with dropped by my bunker to see how I was, telling me to stay inside. All of them had weapons, the glint of the metal reflecting the same glint in their eyes. I thought it was excitement, and it disturbed me somewhat.

My radio, in crackling bursts of static, sent out the announcement from the FOB manager that if anyone breached our camp gates and if that person was not recognized as one of us, they were to shoot on sight. Shoot on sight.

I listened to it, I listened as the message was repeated and I sat still, just sat there looking at the radio. That was the moment when it really became real to me that this is a place where people actually get killed, that a gun here was not just for show, it means death to those at the opposite end of the barrel. Most of all, I realized that here, those who hold a gun are ready to kill.

 

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Uga – The New Foe Gras

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Deprivation does strange things to people. Case in point: all the Pinoys here on camp who, plied with DIFAC (dining facility) food day in and day out, crave collectively for uga or dried fish. Yes, dilis and danggit, those humble little bits of dried fish that stink when fried, but are salty-crunchy good. Dried fish hits the spot for us Pinoys after months of greasy, under-seasoned American-style food.

I don’t eat dried fish that often at home, but when I do, I usually have dilis, those small anchovies. I stir-fry them briefly with a little brown sugar and chilli powder, then serve the dilis as a side dish to compliment beef nilaga (beef in a clear soup). Yum.

But here in Kabul, where the taste buds are much deprived, uga saves the day. Chow hall food tends to lean aggressively towards the bland. Most days it’s either a medley of meat drowned in unrecognizable sauces or fried everything. Fried potatoes with breaded fried fish, fried pork, fried chicken. For variety there’s extra dry turkey breasts with equally wilted broccoli and carrots. The salad bar has all the same stuff I remember seeing there from two years ago. The exact same kind of lettuce, cut exactly the same way. All the same ingredients laid out in exactly the same spot, the handiwork of an obsessive-compulsive chef, probably.

On some days the food offerings are just depressing, so what do we Pinoys do? We turn to uga. One of the guys goes out to that hidden spot behind the water treatment plant to fry up the smuggled dried stuff, fresh from the checked-in luggage of whoever recently came back from break in the PI. We pilfer those little pats of butter from the chow hall and use that to fry the dried fish in. Butter-fried uga, the humble ingredient elevated to lofty invented cuisine. Depending on the variety of our stash, we also usually have dried squid, and sometimes salted red egg to go with it all. You could say we overkill it a little with the salt. But we gobble up the salty, stinky stuff like it’s foe gras.

Deprivation, it does strange things to you.


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