Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life After Race

DISCLAIMER: Just wanted to say thanks to my sister for reminding me that I need to continue to express myself. Hopefully this will spark a few more blog postings, and maybe I will get the bug again.

Imagine a world where you are not judged by the color of your skin; a world where you do not perceive the world through your cultures tumultuous history; a world where your interactions are free of the skepticism and paranoia that accompanies discrimination, whether overt or subtle.

I am not speaking of the future, or of a Utopia, but of place here and now in this crazy world. It was not until my sister came over to visit, from America, that I realized how much I have drifted in an area that used to be very central to my existence, race relations. Not long after getting off the plane, my sister was inquiring about the number of blacks in the country, or on the “black” behavior of young girls in the mall. Over the next few days, other racially tinted issues were raised, such as “did he treat me like that because I am black?” or “I wonder if anyone out here can do my hair?” All of this led me to an undeniable conclusion; we were living in two very different places in the world. My sister was coming the UNITED States of America, where racial tensions are an every day occurrence, and I was coming from a newly acquired mindset of living in Qatar, a very literal melting pot of cultures.

I can very confidently say that Qatar is not a racist place. Come to think about it, I have not really given much thought at all to my race since being here. The one exception to this was with my relationship with Inna. As a Russian-born, Canadian-raised women who would be considered “white” in most circles (and virtually all circles of America), my relationship to her did bring to mind some of those very-American concerns related to inter-racial dating. But beyond that, I can firmly say that for the past year, I have not lived life as a black man. I have simply lived life as a man. Most understand the difference, but just to make it clear: in the USA, everything from your diet, friends, religion, love life, education and culture has a direct tie to your racial background (not always, but most times. Because of this, outsiders and insiders tend to stereotype about racial groups, and the inevitable clustering of like-minded people begins. This all leads to the segregated nature of even modern America. Thus, minorities tend to define themselves by their culture/race just as often (or more frequently) as they judge themselves by sex or profession. So in America, I saw myself as a black man, and in Qatar that title no longer applies. I do hope your instinct is to applaud this shift, because it is a truly wonderful transformation.

So what it is it about Qatar that promotes such racial ambiguity? It could be the wealth that promotes equality. After all there is generally enough money that everyone here tends to be making a better living than they could elsewhere. It could be the history, or rather lack thereof. Not only does Qatar have a relatively simple history, but its history is riddled with international collaboration rather than exploitation. It could be the culture, which is dominated by the religion of Islam. It can’t be denied that the true teachings is Islam mandates acceptance and respect of all people. And if could be the demographics. There is no real majority/minority here when you consider the population and the dependency of each group (age, race, nationality, wealth, etc.) to another. It is probably a mix of all these things and more, but the result is a world where race has yet to come up as an issue. (NOTE: I would like to point out that my or anyone else’s race is only commented on in a negative way from my fellow Americans. The worse part is that there often seems to be a sense of pride in the practice).

Before you all pack up your bags and move to Qatar, I will tell you that human nature is a very creative force. Qatar may not be full of racist, but it is full of other things. You see, Qatar probably gets away with not judging people on race because the pigeonhole them by any number of other ways. In Qatar you are most likely to be judged first by your nationality (distinct from race): says a lot about why you are in the country, what you earn, what you can get away with and what you are interested in; then your religion: no one will come out and ask you what you are, but there is no denying that Muslims tend to live a different lifestyle in this Muslim country than those of different faiths; next would be income: in this materialistic and money drenched country, your purchasing power is usually advertised to the world by the sound of your exhaust pipe or the sparkly things adorning your body; and I mention this one last, but it might not be least, your sex: the Middle East and its Islamic persuasion is notorious for its controversial differences between women and men. I for one can say that Qatar appears to be a bright example for the rest of the Gulf and region concerning the treatment of women and the opportunities provided to them. It is certainly not perfect, but I want to give the country its due credit for its progressive policies.

So in the end, is it really that different than what I am used to? After all, I just gave a slew of things that are stereotyped in Qatar. Is it much better to just parcel out race as one? I emphatically say yes. I cannot speak to other countries or for other individuals, but the contrast between America and the Middle East (as a whole) has been wonderfully refreshing in the context of race relations. Maybe in time, I will grow just as offended at being boxed in as “American” as I once was at being “Black,” but so far I have been much more welcoming of my supposed love of fireworks, freedom and guns than I have been of my assumed love of basketball, watermelon and well… guns. We shall see.

One things for certain, my expectations have been raised and its going to be hard to settle for less.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bye Bye Dubai

Living in Qatar certainly has some drawbacks, but one plus that greatly outweighs the negatives is the easy access to travel destinations. Inna and I recently returned from a very relaxing and enjoyable weekend trip to Dubai. The purpose of the trip was partially to go somewhere new, but mostly to just get away and shake things up a bit. Dubai seemed like a perfect choice, especially considering the fact that a Qatari friend of ours (who knows Dubai fairly well) offered to be a tour guide.

We met new people, went out on the town, relaxed by the beach, skied indoors and had some decent meals… all of which contributing to the contentment of the vacation. It was not until the last day that I realized that I did not like Dubai. I am a firm believer in having fun wherever you are and that fact sometimes dulls your ability to really see a place for what it is. This feeling happened last with Las Vegas, and now again with Dubai; I was having too much fun with the people and the idea of ‘vacation’ to realize that the setting was offensive.

It hit me as we were walking through the Mall of the Emirates. It began as a very small feeling of revulsion and worked its way to the verbal conclusion that “I find it offensive that so much space is dedicated to retail”. It was not until later that I realized that the ‘space’ I was referring to was not just the mall, but the entire city. The theme of the entire city seemed to be excess: If you have more money than you know what to do with, come to Dubai… we can help. I don’t expect many people to find that offensive, but I do, and it all boils down to my personal beliefs. I likened it in my mind to a devout Christian visiting Saudi Arabia. There is nothing inherently offensive about Saudi Arabia, but due to the Christians belief system, he or she may find the place offensive.

I feel very strongly against excess, greed, and materialism. These things simply rub me the wrong way. In normal life, and in normal places, I don’t take much notice of it because it is a part of a normal spectrum. In Dubai, it is the norm, it is everywhere, and it eventually overwhelmed me like a rising tide.

I don’t particularly blame Dubai for its character, as Inna pointed out, it’s their way of surviving, but I do find that it goes against what I have come to believe as ‘right’. This was more of a personal revelation than any condemnation of Dubai. Where some people stay away from countries with rampant poverty, because they find the sights unsettling/disturbing/offensive, I should stay away from locations of extravagance and excess.

PS… My dislike of excess and extravagance comes from the simple fact that we have too few resources to waste it on “the world’s tallest building” or (in the states) the five pound burger. My frugality reflects this viewpoint, although many aspects of my life probably conflict with the idea… after all, who defines excess.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Man vs. Wild… Wild Wins

It seems every time I leave the comforts of metropolitan Doha for the wilderness of the Qatari desert, something memorable inevitably occurs. These situations tend not to be pleasurable, in the true sense of the word, but they certainly build character. This past weekend was no exception.

Prior to the heat becoming unbearable, a group of friends and I decided to make one more foray into the desert. It was to be a relatively small group, nine people in three cars, and all spirits were high. Outside of Inna’s friend Mia that decided to come (on her first camping trip in life), everybody knew each other and almost all were looking forward to some fun in the sun.

The trip to the desert had its share of events (failed dune crossings, failing 4WD, aimless searching for the “perfect” camping spot) but was overall fairly routine. Driving for miles in the desert is bound to have some incidents mostly centered on being lost. One highlight of note involved Ben (driving a Jeep like mine… except with power windows) and a river crossing. Let’s just say that you can’t judge the depth of water very well until you are in it. Luckily for all, he got to the other side without flooding his engine. In short though, the trip there was pleasant. Once there we did what desert campers do, set up tents, played in the water, drank beers, cooked BBQ and played around the campfire. All in all a good time. That was all to change by morning.

Besides having some personal problems in the night, leaving me and my missus with some animosity, the physical conditions had deteriorated quite rapidly. On the way to the Inland Sea (the camping site) the worst thing we had to deal with was 46C/114F degree heat but it seemed on the way back we would have to survive a sand storm. I slept in my car and I could feel the wind shaking the car just standing still, attempting to crest dunes in those winds was going to take some marbles.

Unfortunately we were going to postpone those worries for a while. One of the cars, a Mitsubishi Pajero, was having some difficulties in the dunes on the way here and today was no different. As we were situated in a valley, we had to drive up a dune just to get out of our camping site. These dunes were not very steep, but for some reason this car was having no luck on its several efforts to climb the hill. It was not long before someone came up with the brilliant idea of trying to tow the Pajero up the dune. Hint: Towing is usually done with stationary (i.e. stuck) vehicles. So they attach the tow rope and the Jeep and the lagging Pajero speed up the dune face. It seemed that this was the one time that the Pajero decided to sprint because it ended up coming even with the Jeep running over the tow rope in the process. When a rope comes in contact with a spinning object, bad things usually happen. In this case, the tow rope wrapped around the axle of the Pajero and drew taught, springing the two cars together like it was a rubber band between them. Luckily there was no collision, but the Pajero now had a whole set of new problems… like the thick rope now coiled around its axle.

I am observing all of this from the bottom of the dune, and it plays out predictably. When the rope catches the axle it is more unfortunate than surprising. I continue to sit back in the car while they spend the next twenty minutes unraveling the rope. Luckily there appeared to be no damage to the axle/struts/suspension and the Pajero was free. Its next job was to back down the dune and try to crest the hill again. The Pajero backs down the dune alright… right into the ocean. This all happens slowly and painfully as well, here I am in the Jeep watching as our friend helplessly slides towards the water. In a matter of seconds his previously dry Pajero is now two wheels underwater. The car was somehow still on (as was evident by the bubbling exhaust, but the car was still sinking deeper into the water. Thus prompting the use of the just freed tow rope, yet again. Soon the Jeep is at work again towing the Pajero, but this time with much success. Danny (the Pajero driver) opens his car door to release the flood of sea water and mutters several phrases that captures our perils thus far. The good news is that his engine did not flood, the bad news was that his electrical system got pretty screwed up leaving his horn constantly blaring (which was fixed with a yank of the fuse).

The Pajero finally crosses the dune and we are on our way… except no one can tell which way that is. Visibility in the sand storm was terrible and we were leaving a different way than we came in. Regardless, we keep moving and eventually come across what was unmistakably a trail. We follow this trail and all of a sudden things start to look really familiar. Soon we are faced with a terrifying sight, the dune bowl that we got stuck in for HOURS on our very first camping trip. Sufficiently scared, we turn back around and abandon the path. We decide that we should take a road on the other side of the dune that appears to bypass our problems. **This was about the time we put on the Gospel music in the car in hopes that God will save us.** So we head to this new road and continue heading North, or what we guess to be north. It was not long before we were more like the Israelites in the Desert than a caravan headed home. Lost and hopeless we began to look for signs of other people. Eventually we see a couple of guys fishing and we ask for help. Evidently they did not speak English, but they could draw a map in the sand with no-problems. Following that map was another deal.

Whether the map was wrong or we got lost, we were soon in places that we clearly did not want to be. We all found ourselves in what can best be described as stinky quicksand. This whole time we had been driving through sand and mud and everything in-between, but this stuff was different. It smelled like Sulfur-laced-poo and had a sandy surface that yielded to a muck-like dark soil the color of petroleum. My Qatari friend later told me that it indeed does yield oil and that you don’t want to drive in it. He also explained why it was that we all got stuck (yes all three of us got stuck) the way we did. He said you never follow each other if you find yourself in that stuff because one car will destroy the soil’s rigidity making it harder for the driver behind to follow. This would explain why the first car (Ben’s Jeep) got stuck towards the end of this field, the Pajero got stuck in the middle of the field, and I, who happened to be eating a Banana at the time, got stuck in the beginning.

There seems to be two types of stuck in the desert. One is when the car’s wheels are spinning but the surface is so loose that you don’t move. Typically this results in huge amount of sand getting kicked into the air by the spinning wheels… which leads to the second kind of stuck. The second comes when the wheels are so buried in the frictionless material that the wheels no longer have the ability to spin. This is the worst place to be. That was my situation. By the time I gave up and got out of the car, the bottom of the Jeep was sitting on the mud with the wheels buried nearly up to the hub. Walking to the Pajero revealed that he was in a similar situation but his muck was much dirtier and slimy than the stuff I was stuck in. Ben, the first car, had already freed himself but was not going to risk coming back into this trap. For the next twenty minutes or so, we pushed, pulled, and rocked the Pajero until we were satisfied that the task was pointless. I asked for Danny’s portable shovel and headed back to my vehicle to dig my car out of its mess. About the time that I had exhausted myself, the other folks came and took over the digging effort. Between Inna digging with her hands and everyone else alternating with the shovel, we had Jerry the Jeep fairly excavated.

I hopped in the Jeep and floored it, to no avail. The tires were spinning but we were still going nowhere. But with everyone pushing, me flooring the gas, and with the technique of violently turning the wheels back and forth, the Jeep jumped out of the rut and I was able to guide it onto more solid earth. While all this was happening we had our real miracle. The girls spotted a Qatari guy in the distance and were able to signal for him to help us. He left briefly to get some extra supplies but came back and set to work freeing our last vehicle. To do so, he wanted to use my recently freed truck, to which the girls gladly agreed. I find out about this as he is walking to my truck clearly intending to drive it back into this muck. I should note that this guy was driving a huge Chevy Silverado with duelies (four rear wheels instead of two) which would easily tow all three of us out of our current mess… but I understand not wanting to risk getting your truck stuck for some strangers. Anyways, so we get to the truck about the same time, and I basically try and test the idea of me driving and him directing me. He quickly shot that idea down (in broken English) by saying that he had been doing this his whole life and that we clearly had no idea what we were doing. So, convinced, I give him the keys and he starts making his way through the muck. It was a good thing he took the keys because I would have either tipped my truck, gotten stuck or just been too afraid to attempt the stuff he did in getting to Danny’s Pajero. Eventually we get there, narrowly drive around Danny’s car, and park close enough to attach the tow ropes.

Up to this point he has been telling me how crappy my Jeep is and that it has no muscles. Once we attach the tow rope and give a pull on Danny’s car his insults became more severe. Our initial efforts to tow the Pajero left his car unmoved and my wheels spinning. Time for plan B. This involved backing up and essentially “jerking” the Pajero out of the mud. So he backs up close to the Pajero, gains speed and eventually the tow rope becomes taught. This violently shakes both cars (feel sorry for whoever buys my Jeep) but it does the job. The Pajero is free and we made it out of our predicament.

We were still far from home and the sand storm was still in full force. This trip would be far from over if it was not for the continued generosity of this Qatari. He volunteered to drive us all the way to Sealine (where the road to civilization begins again) and we gladly accepted. I can confidently say that it would have taken us all day to get out of there without him, but he got us back in about 30-45 min. We barely got his business card before he sped off, leaving as if he did this kind of thing for a living.

Tired and exhausted, we re-inflated our tires (you let the mostly out in the dunes) and drove back to Doha. The road was long and my car had developed the violent shakes from all the crapt stuck to the tire and underbody, but we made it home. We survived after all.

Still want to go camping?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Our Idiocracy

I am only half-way through reading the article on the Somali pirate that was recently brought to the US, but I have heard enough. All I can do is laugh at this unintentional joke, because to take it seriously is just impossible. I don’t even know where to begin… oh let me count the ways:

1) You can’t charge a pirate with treason: Similar to the Europeans who charged the pirates off their coast with Treason, the charges her are equally preposterous. A pirate has no loyalty, and no law… that’s why they call themselves pirates. So charging them with Treason is a farce, but that is not the point of the charge now is it. The point of the charge is to have an excuse to get rid of one more pirate.

2) Is your goal to reduce the number of pirates?: Assuming that the intent is to lessen the number of pirates, you have to ask if this is effective. Pirates most likely arise from desperation and a lack of oversight of a host nation. Occasionally there might be some pirates who just want to be pirates for the sake of being a badass. Whether its desperation or bloodlust, death or being flown to the US is not exactly a deterrent. In my books death by starvation is worse than death on the high seas in search of riches.

3) Isn’t he supposed to be punished? This kid (and we will get to his kid/adult status next) has just been flown to the US. I am sorry but this is a little bit like Elian Gonzales barrel ride to the US from Cuba. They both are here through a tragedy and they both find themselves in a situation much better than they left. The Somali kid is probably confused but also just as excited at this celebrity treatment he is receiving. I bet those prison overalls are a lot more comfy than his pirates outfit. Who knows, maybe if we tell every pirate in Somalia that “You had better stop misbehaving or we will fly you to the US and feed you three times a day!” we will have a lot less pirates, but I have my doubts.

4) What the hell are we going to do with him? So they already have this kids mother screaming to have him returned (understandably) because according to her he is just a sixteen year old who got wrapped up in the wrong crowd. Sixteen? I thought the news said he was “at least 18”, surely they must know right? Of course, the kid always travels with his birth certificate… of course they have no idea how old he is but they need him to be “at least 18” so they can legally fry (I mean try) his black a**. So we will bring this 16 year old kid (forgive me for believing the mother on this one) who speaks no English and has no legal representation to the US and we will make a show out of him for all of the Americans demanding revenge for this injustice in some part of the world they can’t even point out on a map.

I find this whole incident to be so upsetting. Is pirating wrong, yea. But I also think shooting three people who are drifting in the open sea with no food or water is also wrong. True these pirates had a hostage and guns, but they were on the verge of realizing their situation was hopeless. But they did not shoot these guys because it was right, they shot them because it was convenient… because they did not want to have to do what they have done now… bring a random Somali kid to the US for a farce trial. So Anthony, in all your wisdom, what should we have done? Well if you insist on doing something, reprimand him to his own Government. Wait, Somalia has no government? True but not true, they have no national government but there is local government and there are also neighbor states (Ethiopia, Eritrea) who could be coerced *cough* Cash *cough* into handling the case on behalf of the US since both of these governments have served as interim governments for Somalia. All I know is that I would have let the kid go before I stretch the law to extradite the guy. You must remember that we intervened in order to save an American life not punish or exterminate the life of the offenders.

Words of Wisdom: Pirates in Somalia will persist as long as it is beneficial for them to do so. Shooting them seems to be a reasonable deterrent, shipping them to the US, not so much. The real answer though is promoting a government in the country and alleviating some of the poverty that drives this desperation. If it was me, I would gladly hijack the oil tanker cruising off the coast of my country if the alternative was worrying about how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, and I think that until you change the options you are going to get people acting in the same way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Somebody Help Me Out Here

“I do not ask for this support lightly. These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future.” - President Obama

When I first read this quote, I thought it a poignant reference to the bailout funds or to our investments in the stimulus packages, but I was surprised to learn the quote referred to President Obama’s decision to deploy 4,000 additional troops (and more money) into the war in Afghanistan. I must be missing something.

I have been iffy about some of our new-presidents policy but I really need some explanation about this. What exactly are we doing in Afghanistan? It took me a while to remember how all this started; 9/11 led to bombs in Afghanistan (because that’s where the terrorist were right?), then we moved on to Iraq (because that’s where the oil was… I mean money for the terrorist + WMD’s were right?). Pretty quickly the world realized that Iraq was, at best, based on false assumptions and, at worst, an elaborate grab for oil but no one really recanted on Afghanistan.

Have any of you been to Afghanistan? Well neither have I, but I have seen pictures… and movies… and let me tell you, it’s nothing worth fighting over. It is virtually a wasteland full of rock and opium, but its most abundant resource seems to be the pride in its fighting people. Since 1970 superpower’s have been treating them like punching bags. First Britain, then the Soviet Union and now the noble US have bombed and shot the living daylight out of these guys… and they don’t seem to give up. Reading the news the other day got me thinking about all this again. I had forgotten, and most of you have probably forgetten as well, that 13 of the 19 terrorists involved in the Twin Towers attack were residents of Saudi Arabia. It is obvious why we would not go bombing Saudi, but we should offer at least a similar hesitancy to the Afghans.

So Al-Qaeda trains in its mountains, are we willing to tear up the floorboards to find the mouse? Like Iraq, the number of civilian and previously un-involved (meaning non-terrorists prior to the invasion) citizen casualties vastly outnumber the number of ‘terrorist’ deaths. This whole thing is like the broomstick in Fantasia, while trying to destroy one deviant we spawn a million others. Focusing our efforts on destroying the group that we think wronged us (despite the fact that this group is much more complicated and diverse than we initially imagined) is simply making other groups pop up in response to our own ‘terror’-like behaviors.

I guess I am just a little flabbergasted that with all the other problems going on in the world we are still committing resources to a war that I have yet to see a point in. I really am hoping someone can explain this one to me, because I must have forgotten a long time ago why it is we went into that place.

Oh wait, now I remember, after an attack on American soil we could not just sit around twiddling our trigger fingers. We had to bomb SOMEONE, why not the Afghans.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

To Cream or Not To Cream

Well I am officially diseased. Technically it may not be a disease, but its something with a name and I’ve got (because a doctor told me so). I’ve got Vitiligo. Some of you have known that for years, but this was the first time it has been told to me by a professional. Here is some background for the rest of you.

Ever since I can remember, I have had a migrating white spot. The first place I remember seeing it was my palm. Since then it has moved from there to the back of my hand, to a spot on my jawline, to my nostril, to under my chin, then it disappeared, and then reappeared on my other nostril. There may have been some that I missed, but typically I have had a spot and it stays put for a year or two. At times there have been no spots, and at others there have been two spots, all the while I had been mildly comfortable with it. Then recently the spot formed a new place on my neck (joining the one that was already on my nostril). This one worried me a bit, both because it was bigger than the previous spots and because I was sort of hoping that the spots were finally going away. Then I was feeling a bit panicky when a THIRD spot showed up on my jawline. One spot, ok, two spots, so be it, but three spots… something’s up. Around this time I saw my parents and after their many questions, I told them I would finally go see a dermatologist.

So in Houston, I look up a dermatologist and I go see the guy. As I sat in the waiting room, it became obvious that dermatology is 90% cosmetics (i.e. botox, collagen injections, wrinkle removal) and 10% medicinal where you actually cure somebody for something. Nevertheless, I walk into the office and talk to the doctor. The conversation goes something like:

Me: I’ve got spots and they move.
Doc: Interesting
Me: See here are the ones that are here now.
Doc: Oh yes, I see.
Me: I have been paranoid and done some research on my own. I think its Vitiligo.
Doc: [Shines a light on my face] Yep, that’s exactly what you’ve got. A mild form of it.
Me: Alrighty.

So he prescribes me some creams and sends me on my way. He basically reaffirms what my research had already told me, that doctors have no idea why Vitiligo happens and that there is really no effective cure. The creams rarely help but they are worth a shot.

As I leave the office with my prescription and samples, I began to realize that I am unsure if I want to use the creams or not. Which brings us to the question: to cream or not to cream? Let’s begin.

To Cream:

This is the easy argument to make. People typically want their bodies to work normally, and having spots of depigmentation is just not the way the body is supposed to work. Although there are no health issues with pigmentation loss, there are certainly cosmetic issues. White spots on a black person is not exactly flattering. My spots now are small and mostly out of the way, but there is no telling whether they would stay that way. Basically, if I want to get rid of these spots (and look completely normal) I should try the cream.

Not to Cream:

Maybe I don’t want to get rid of the spots. Don’t get me wrong, the spots make me very self-conscious (seeing someone and waiting for the inevitable, “what happened to your neck”) and I particularly worry about the unpredictability of them (what if I turn into MJ who claims vitiligo turned him white? Or worse, what if I end up half and half?). But is being a little scared or self-conscious a bad thing? It could very well be an opportunity, both to become more at peace with who I am and to deal with adversity. To be honest, I have never really used my good looks to their full advantage (I never was much of a player and I usually dress so poorly that no one quite looks long enough to tell if I am attractive), so losing them would not be so bad. More importantly is the fact that the people that matter to me in life would not really care. My family, my good friends and potentially a wife (depending on why she is with me) would love me for me and not because I am of one solid color, so there would be no loss there. But so far, I have only described reasons why I would not be losing anything, now let me tell you what it is to gain. I would learn how to conquer a fear. I would learn to see the world in a different way, both by the new way I would be treated and in the way I would see imperfections in others. I would be forced to get over my vanity, because although I may not use my good looks I do take pride in them. Lastly, I would feel like I am not fighting fate. I was given this condition for a reason, so should I try and fight it? Though this argument falters when you remember that if it is meant to be, it will be (i.e. if I am supposed to have spots the cream will just not work). It boils down to this, can you go through life chasing perfection or an image of yourself that is only superficial? Does that not degrade the value of who you are on the inside, the part that really matters? I feel like a guy who is slowly going bald, or a girl who sees she is losing the battle against controlling her weight. At some point you have to accept that you are who you are, and you are beautiful despite whatever “condition” you are afflicted with. Learning to do that will let that balding man, or the fat girl, or the spotted man walk into any situation (high school reunions, beach parties, first dates) and feel good about themselves. Maybe this wishful thinking, but it’s definitely an experiment I would be willing to take.


I am actually writing this in retrospect. I had all the thoughts a week or two ago, and I am trying to recount them now. In that week or two I decided I would use the stupid medicine, and actually got myself to start it this morning. So now that I have creamed, do I think I am giving in to vanity or fear. Yes and no. In those weeks I definitely realized that I will be okay with whatever happens but that it was silly to try and remove that fear of uncertainty. I just have to work with the fear, accept it, and move on (see Dune’s Litany Against Fear). While I will be ok with whatever happens, I do have the selfish desire to remain the pretty person that I am.

When I looked in the mirror the other day, and fretted over these inconvenient spots, I had a small daydream. Some guardian angel appeared with a big red button in his hand. He says “Push this button, and I will cure you of these spots forever” and immediately my hand goes for the button. But at the last minute I pause, and that’s where the story ends.

PS: I only will accept positive comments as I am still sensitive about the subject. That includes not saying things like “bummer” (Chisom!).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trauma In the Sauna

On my recent trip to Houston, I had a very interesting encounter. It went something like this:

Setting: After a long day at work, I decided that I wanted to check out the sauna in the fitness center. In Qatar, I have started going to the sauna fairly regularly and find it to be a very pleasant experience, plus its conveniently located in my apartment tower. All this gave me a good bit of anticipation about going to the sauna in the hotel. So I enter the gym and walk straight to the sauna and discover that it is not on. Its warm in there, hot maybe, but not sauna hot. So I turn the knobs to full blast and walk around the gym for a while. After ten minutes or so, I return and find the sauna to only be marginally warmer. But since it was getting late, I just decided to go ahead and wait inside while it warmed up. So I strip down, wrap myself in a towel and plop down on one of the wooden benches. A few minutes pass, and then I am interrupted…

[John Doe opens door] John: Is the sauna working?
Me: I think so, but it is taking forever to warm up.John: Hmmm, yea, it does not feel too warm in here, but maybe it will warm up.
Me: Yea, I am hoping so [secretly wishing this guy would close the door and stop letting in what little heat is already inside].
John: Hey, where did you find the towels?
Me: [thinking “what an idiot” he just passed the towels, and he is STILL letting out the heat] The towels are right there on your left.
John: Thanks [disappears]
Me: [yelling to catch his attention] Could you close the door better? The heat is getting out with it cracked like that. [thinking ‘douchbag’]

So as John leaves, I continue semi-relaxing in the tepid heat. I give up on thinking it will get much hotter, but its still nice being in the warmth. I was quite content by myself when John came back in.

[John enters and stands up against the wall opposite to where I am laying down]
John: Not too hot in here is it?
Me: No not really. Pretty sure its busted.
John: So you stay here?
Me: Yep. [What kind of question is this? It’s a hotel gym… of course I stay here]
John: Yea me too… here on a business trip. I hate all this traveling.
Me: I’m here on business too and I agree, traveling can be a pain.
John: They did put me up in this killer suite though. The place is huge, its basically an apartment.
Me: Not bad, how did you get hooked up with that? What floor is it on?
John: It’s the top floor, and I have no idea how I got it. Guess I just lucked out.

[Silence for a while. Decide John is just weird but a nice guy]

John: So how was your workout?
Me: I did not work out, just decided to come to the sauna.
John: Oh, it looks like you work out though. You look like you’re in good shape.
Me: Thanks. [I think]

[More silence]

John: Man, this place would be awesome if it had massages.
Me: Yea, that would be great. I just had a massage the other day though, my mother recently opened a massage spa.
John: Cool. [Pause] I give killer massages.

[Now I am officially thinking this dude is a bit weird. That was a pretty gay thing to say, but he has no signs of stereotypical gayness. Just seems like a 40 something white guy]

John: I can’t wait to get back home.
Me: Oh yea, being away from the family [hint, hint] just sucks.
John: No, I never worry about that.
Me: Oh. Well when are you leaving?
John: Tomorrow, last night in town.

John: You really do look like you’re in great shape.
Me: [Thinking, ‘damn, this dude really is gay’] Not really man, looks can be deceiving.
John: No I don’t think so.

So at this point, I realize this dude is eyeing my no-fly zone, but at the same time, I want to enjoy my sauna. So I am sitting there trying to figure out if I am going to have to leave, yell at him, or wait for him to give up. But also, I am a little curious about what he is going to say next, after all this is the first time I think I have been officially hit on by a dude.

John: You up for a massage?
Me: No thanks.

[Silence, for the first time I start to mentally verify that I can kick this guys ass]

John: Are you sure you don’t want a massage? I’ll give you a massage.
Me: [chuckling] No man, I don’t think I want a massage from you.
John: Well if you change your mind, just come up to 2312.

[John exits sauna]

I sit in the sauna for a few minutes because I am afraid of running into the guy again, and eventually another dude comes in to the sauna. He sees it’s not that warm and starts to leave. Seeing my safety net, I jump out of the sauna and follow that guy to the locker room. Sure enough, old weirdo John was in the locker room very slowly putting his clothes on. Eventually he leaves, but not without giving me another look-over. Yuck.
*As a caveat to any gay/lesbian friends out there. Although slightly disturbed by the idea of man-lovin, I mostly found it disgusting that this random dude tried to pick me up in a sauna (like a prostitute), and not that a gay man hit on me. PS, I don’t think he was ‘true-gay’ either, I think he was one of those DL guys who probably has a wife and kids at home. Sad.*