Monday, June 22, 2009

Abdulla the Aqaba Scuba Terrorist of the Red Sea

I LOVE scuba diving. Love, Love, Love, Love it. I estimate that I go down to see the little fishies about once a month now in Aqaba. The water is warm, clear, and filled with endless colorful varieties of fish. I tried scuba diving once in santa cruz, california and decided to give it up when I looked at my diving partner and her chubby face had puffed up underwater and turned blue like some over-weight freak smurfette. Lord knows what I may have looked like.

The outfit I go with in Aqaba is the Red Sea Dive Centre (0795591310). Its run by this Jordanian giant named Abdulla (you tube video here) and his cousin Amet (youtube video here). These guys must be working hard because I was asking them questions you ask 40 year olds here, like 'where are all your kids' or 'how many wives do you have?'

Errrr... 'Frank, we're 29.'

Guys. You need to wear more sunscreen.

So this time around, I asked them to organize a night dive for Elodie and I. Yes, the fabled night dive of aqaba. Its the stuff of legends. Sea creatures from the deep come out to feast on the easy meal they find in the coral reefs. Large predators, rare species, and prehistoric fish with bad dentistry all come out to eat the little nemos. And we were going to witness it.

When we arrived at the beach to do our dive, we were met by a soldier from the Jordanian Navy who had to watch our every move. Aqaba is right on the Saudi Border, so I guessed that maybe he was making sure we weren't planning on doing a night safari in Saudi Arabia.

We walked into the surprisingly warm water armed with underwater flashlights and our guides. It was pretty exciting as we went down as we found an octopus swimming in the grass. Its pretty hard to appreciate the beauty of a sea creature when all you are thinking about is how good it would taste on your plate. MMMmm. I love to eat live octopus like in this youtube video.

Following this, we saw the hugest puffer fish I have ever seen. Its easy to find one here the size of a rugby ball, this was even bigger. If it puffed up, it could have been mistaken for a pilates ball. The corals were hugely different with bright fiery colors and species of fish I did not recognize.

We saw so many fish, and really, its too many to name in this blog. We ended our tour and walked out of the beach from underneath the boardwalk pier. After about a minute of walking back, my spidey senses went buzzing off. I looked above at the pier to find about 200 jordanians crowding above and staring down at me whooping and cheering us. I suppose that maybe they don't get to see a dozen people dressed as frogs come out of the sea in the middle of the night that often.

After our dive, I had to ask Abdulla more about the Navy Guy. What was he worried about?

-'Frank, you mean I haven't told you the story of Abdulla the Terrorist?'

"Here in Jordan, we had a terrorist attack on some hotels three years ago in the capital city. The weeks after the bombings it was very tense and the government was on a high alert.

I had a job at the Marine Research lab to collect coral samples from various locations in Aqaba. One week after the bombings, I took my research boat and went past the port. Now, sometimes they have Navy boats, but this time they had dozens of them. More frightening was the fact that they were all coming towards ME!

The first one comes to me and starts shouting, who are you, and what the hell are you doing here??! Luckily for me, the captain of the navy boat was my friend and once he recognised that it was me he said, 'Abdulla is that you? You dumbshit! What the hell are you doing here taking your boat so close to the port just after the bombings!' I looked around and saw that there were the police, the navy, the army, all watching me from the Port.

I was able to explain that I was doing research and was left to continue my business.

I then took my boat to the other side of Aqaba and went diving for a coral sample. When I got back into the boat, another Navy Boat came to me at full speed. "Put your HANDS UP or we will SHOOT!"

"Abdulla, you dumbshit! is that you???!" This time, the captain of this Navy boat was my cousin.

"Abdulla, there is a report that some guy at the port saw a scuba diver had put a bomb on the bottom of a boat and everyone thinks that it could be you since you are the only one diving around today. Go Back home NOW."

So I go back towards the research center, but I realise after some time that the army from the road sees my boat. From the shore, they shout at me with a loud speaker. "Put your HANDS UP or we will SHOOT!"

I was forced to bring my boat to shore, with about 50 men with automatic weapons pointed at me. A large crowd was gathering from shore, many of them people that I knew.

So I was taken to the police offices and had to explain that I am a research diver and that I had all the clearances to be in the water. They brought in the witness to verify if I was the bomber.

"Hmmm. He has the same wetsuit. He has a mask. The watch is also the same. But I can't tell the face. I am 50/50 on whether it is him." Thanks asshole.

I eventually got let go and life returned back to normal. However, the arabic rumor mill would NOT stop!

Every time I took a taxi, the drive would say to me... "Hey did you hear about this terrorist at the port?! They caught him with a home-made bomb and he's in jail now!"

My mother was at a wedding and someone said "How is Abdulla?? I heard he was shot!" I had to assure her for two hours on the phone that I was indeed alive and not shot.

"Hey did you hear about the terrorist. He escaped from prison!"

So Frank, that explains why we have high security. Lots of smuggling of course, but we have a high alert for terrorism also."

I was amazed by this story of Abdulla the terrorist.

The next day, I wanted to give it a test. I went to get my haircut in Aqaba, and well, you know barber shops. They are the same all around the world. FULL of town Gossip.

I asked, "Hey, did you hear about this terrorist 3 years ago that tried to put a bomb on a boat?"

One of the clients there told me in a as-a-matter-of-fact fashion, ' Actually, it was not a bomb. It was a home-made rocket that he was trying to fire at a ferry boat.'

After he explained to me that Abdullah was trying to fire a home-made rocket at the ferry boat, he then tried to explain to me that 9/11 was a conspiracy from the american government and that the airplanes that struck the twin towers were actually US military planes according to a witness who 'saw the whole thing'.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Personal Space Bubbles

Folks, I have a personal space bubble. Thats right. That means when you sit next to me on the bus, we don't touch legs and we don't share the armrest (My bus trip to the Red Sea). You don't fall asleep in your chair and use my shoulder as a pillow and drool on me (My subway rides in Tokyo). We don't watch tv in my living room and you use my lap as a headrest (My entire dormitory in Korea).

Almost on a daily basis, people do things to me that would otherwise be seen as an uncomfortable moment back home in the States. People always giggle when they saw George Bush holding hands with the Saudi King. That's kinda like my everyday here.

Its very easy to get into these uncomfortable situations because in the US, we just don't like physical contact with others and we don't like others touching us. Here, you just kinda need to go with the flow.

Its easy to run into problems when it comes to personal space, especially in countries where the men and women are seperated from eachother during their youth. They tend to develop habits that err, would raise eyebrows in different countries. This kind of leads to an interesting phenomenon... namely, very very homophobic people being very, very gay with eachother.

In Korea the the men and women are seperated too so its pretty much the same thing. I'm used to it, but I always revel in watching a newbie to Jordan get tortured when someone calls them 'habibi' (my love) or someone gives them the traditional three kisses on the cheek (which almost always results in a bad beard burn). Here its not as bad in Korea where part of the culture is to go to a traditional hot bath house and make a train and scrub eachothers backs while your all butt naked. However a good friend here wouldn't think twice about giving you a soothing back rub in front of your wife.

Really, its just people being friendly in the way that they grew up with and one of the things you have to cope with when living in a new country.

Just watch the master on how to adapt:

The other day I was at a traditional Bedouin restaurant in a large outdoor tent here in Amman. I was presented with beautifully prepared pulses of eggplant, hommous, and fhool, followed by steaming plates of barbecued lamb and salted yoghurts. The food was delicious, and when we polished off our plates a large egyptian man with a thick heavy mustache arrived with a tray full of deserts.

Now, I can choose most dishes off of a menu now, but these house special deserts were knew to me.

Me: Marhaba, can you tell me what desert this is?

Waiter: Yes sir, this is a cocounut pudding with bread.

Me: Is it any good?

Waiter: Of course! Try!!!

Before I could even blink, the waiter grabbed the bowl, took a spoonful, and in front of my guests tried to feed me like a BABY at the table.

When in ROME right??? MMMM. Yum Yum. I rubbed my tummy as my new Papa served me my baby food desert. Now THATS adaption.