There are white sand beaches in Paraguay! Laguna Blanca, Paraguay Weekend camping with friends/teachers from the American School of Asuncion.
Photos courtesy of Linnea. This is Linnea with her winning beer can sculpture of the Eiffel Tower at the Beer Olympics. She was representing France, of course. *This has nothing to do with Laguna Blanca ;)
Paraguayan lomitos: Marinated pounded sirloin steak, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, a runny egg, garlic creamy spread, in between the softest freshest bread. Words don't do these justice. Pictures don't do these justice. The only thing better is when someone at the table announces they're getting seconds and then it's ok for you to also!
Oh, and they're served from a bus or outside vendor stand! At 3:00 am, expect the lines to be long. But they're worth the wait.
While living in Asuncion, we decided to get a puppy. I wanted a Labrador and Mark wanted a German Shepherd. So we compromised and got a German Shepherd. Buying a dog in Paraguay is tough. Well, buying a dog that isn’t inbred is tough. The pet stores are filled with dopey-eyed puppies. They are cute; there just isn’t much going on upstairs. We found a legitimate bred German Shepherd through a student. His father doesn’t do anything half-heartedly, so when he decided to breed he did his research and got the best female he could find in Switzerland and the male came from a heritage line in Chile. We got the runt of this litter. But we could see immediately in her eyes, she was intelligent. We spent a few days trying to come up with a name for her. I came up with some really clever names like Perra and Princess. But Mark came up with Luque. Pronounced Lou-kay. So, again, we compromised and named her Luque. It’s actually a really cool name because it is a city just outside of Asuncion and we figured going back to the States it would be unique to the fact that we got her in Paraguay. The only bad part is when we lived there, it was really embarrassing to tell a Paraguayan her name because they would look at us quizzically as if we were stupid. I guess it would be like if we met someone in the States and asked their dog’s name and they said something like: Compton. We would be like why would you name your dog after a run-down socio-economic challenged city? Which was Luque. But we had some complications with Luque; the dog, not the city. Luckily, we found a great vet. Sometimes finding someone great was based on the sole fact that they could speak English. However, it was because of this vet that Luque is still alive today. When we took her in to get fixed, we told him that she had been having trouble the prior week; slow to get up, limping, whimpering when we touched her. I thought it was because we had just moved into a house with lots of tile and she had been sliding around chasing her ball and she had pulled a muscle or was just sore. But right when the vet saw her he said, “We need to run some tests.” He took her blood and we waited. Three days later he told us she had Canine Leishmaniasis. I got on Google: “… is very serious and infectious. It is difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat and the outcome is rarely good.” Our vet told us Paraguayans put their dogs down immediately when they have this. But, he said, “Luque is very strong and I would like to try to treat her if you want.” Of course, we wanted. Even though we had only had her for three months, she was already our family. But, it was not easy. We had to wait for the medicine from Spain (since it is illegal to purchase in Paraguay—dog control, I suppose). Then we had to administer a shot in her neck every day for 30 days. We cooked her steak (it was actually cheaper to feed her steak than dog food) and rice and we watched her slowly gain weight and become more lively. Our vet ran the tests again and it came back negative.
Luque is one of very few dogs out there that can say she survived Leishmaniasis! I guess that’s why she feels entitled to every toy in the store.
In order to buy liquor in Dubai, you must apply for a liquor license. This is accomplished by receiving a no-objection letter from your employer. If you are a wife who does not work you need to submit your husband’s no-objection letter. You must also provide: documentation stating what religion you are, passport, visa, work contract, 2 passport photos and a fee. Once you have procured a license—which is a small booklet—you are advised to carry it with you at all times. Any time you buy alcohol it is documented in the license and you are monitored so as not to spend more than 20% of your monthly income on alcohol. That would have equaled about $1140 per month for me. However, I didn’t have to go through all that. Because I lived in what was considered the "Wild West". Ras Al Khaimah did not require a license. And it is home to Barracuda; the largest liquor store I have ever seen in my life--two rooms full of wine from all around the world. (Barracuda is actually in Umm Al Quwain--the Emirate just South of Ras Al Khaimah). Many expats from Dubai would make the 35 minute drive north to purchase their monthly libations. There was only one catch to this: driving through the Emirate of Sharjah. Sharjah is a completely dry Emirate and even having alcohol in your trunk could land you in jail if caught. Visiting Barracuda just before Ramadan was like Black Friday; you could wait up to an hour to pay for your shopping carts full of booze! We did have three other options in Ras Al Khaimah and it was the most intriguing one that I brought my parents and sister to when they were visiting. Located in the back alleyway behind Spinneys, it always felt like something out of Prohibition Era slipping around back to purchase your whiskey. Mom was clearly nervous as I led her up the stairs to the steel-handled unmarked door in the back corner outside the local grocery store. Her gasp was audible as I pushed the door open to reveal a liquor-stocked room full of smiling Indians waiting in line to pay for their hard earned 40. We made our way to the labeled Wine Room and I had to chuckle as mom declared, “Look, they even have Gallo!” Gallo Wine; recognizable even in the Middle East!
From the back alley of Spinneys in Al Hamra. They have since added the sign "Beverages" since I took my mom there!
Back in something like the 1st Century, King Kasyapa chose this site in Sri Lanka as his capital. His palace was built on the top of this rock, Sigiriya and he had constructed a gateway in the form of a large lion about half way up. We spent the day hiking up....and up....and up and were awarded with an incredible view of the Central region of Sri Lanka.
If I were King Kasyapa's queen, this would have been the site of my bedroom window! :)
Ancient paintings still preserved in a tunnel on the way up to the top.
The gateway to the palace at the base of the Lion's feet.
Just starting our ascent. The grounds below were the site of many pools where the maidens would bathe.
Of course, our reward at the end was a well-earned Lion Lager!
Upon arriving in the UAE, I wanted to learn and know everything. Some things are just not appropriate to ask though. And who would I ask what was under those kanduras anyways? The men of the UAE wear these blindingly white man dresses, most of the time referred to as kanduras but sometimes called dishdashas or thobes. I was immediately curious as to what was worn underneath. Boxers or briefs? And admit it; you are too. Otherwise you would have quit reading by now. Thankfully, I fell into friendship with a British woman who was also curious and who made it her quest to find out. It only took about three weeks until she relayed her findings. “Cheers Lisa.” “Hey Lorraine.” I just never could get in to the British “cheers” greeting. Lorraine pulled her chair up to the table and whispered dramatically, “Well, I know.” “Know what?” “What’s under those dresses?” “No. You didn’t. What’d you do?” I don’t know if I was more shocked that she knew or that she must have actually had physical contact with one of these unattainable white-robed men. “Oh, yes I did. I found out.” “And…” “Well, they don’t wear boxers.” She paused and winked at me, then continued, “And they don’t wear briefs.” “What? Nothing? You’re joking?” “Nope. Nada. Nothing. Commando.” She emphatically shook her head back and forth with every word. “Holy crap. How’d you find out? Never mind, I don’t want to know,” I laughed. “But really. How do you know?” “So, you remember Khalid from the other night?” She looked around as if we were on a covert mission and relaying highly dangerous information. “The Emirati who was buying beer for all of us?” “Yes, that one. Turns out he wanted to have a little fun.” “Oh, my gosh. I don’t want to hear this,” I mockingly covered my ears. But she continued, “Oh, I’ll spare you the details.” “Just tell me about the kandura.” “Well, when the long dress is off, there is actually another cloth under there.” “What?” “Yeah, it’s just wrapped around their waist.” “Like a skirt?” “Yeah, like a wraparound skirt.” “Well, that makes sense, because you can see a second layer under there that usually stops around their shins,” not that I had really checked it out. Ok, I had. “Yup, and then when they unwrap that….nothing.” “Ah, man.” Upon further reading, I knew what Lorraine said was accurate. The lower garment that is typically worn wrapped underneath the starch-white kandura is called an izaar. And under that, not a lot. Ends up, I learned several things about the Emirati men through Lorraine’s many escapades.
I have always been curious by the unexplained and get a certain thrill when a new horror movie comes out. So imagine my delight when I learned that the village I lived in in Ras Al Khaimah was built upon an old abandoned fishing village that carried with it the mystery of the Jinn. In Islamic theology, the Jinn are demonic entities. My Emirati students would look at me with intrigue in their eyes when I told them I lived in Al Hamra. They would whisper and I would always catch the last word “…jinn.” But it gets even better. While I was living there, the movie Djinn was released. This was not just a backyard movie that was made, but was directed by Tobe Hooper. You know him from his direction of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The story is of a young Emirati couple that return from the United States to live in Al Hamra, where the malevolent Jinn invade their lives. You can watch the trailer here: (watch the entire thing; it is in English) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOj40HC5R1s Of course, no one that lived in Al Hamra would go with me to watch it; so I went alone. And then returned to my apartment that was very much like the one depicted in the movie. No, nothing happened.
Another insight to the world of the Jinn is in the book Alif the Unseen. I read this before arriving in the Emirates and it is absolutely wonderful. It follows a young man who has uncovered the secret book of the Jinn--The Thousand and One Days—and he is forced to go underground to struggle for life and death with both seen and unseen forces. If you liked Harry Potter, this is the Arabic version of magic and quests.
As soon as signing my contract to work in the UAE, I went into research mode. I started reading everything I could to learn about the area and more importantly, about the culture. http://ask-ali.com/ was my first stop. And the most pressing question/concern I had was about Islam, or Muslim. According to Ali, Islam is the name of the religion and is derived from two words meaning “Peace and Submission”. The teaching is that Peace is only found by submitting to God (or Allah) in heart, soul, and deed.
And Muslims are the people who practice Islam. Muslims live according to Five Islamic Pillars: declaring Allah as their only God, performing five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, donating 2.5% of their earnings, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). If you think about it, it’s probably pretty much the same as your own religion.
Still, there was a sense of fear that shadowed me as I entered the Middle East. How could there not be with the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media? But I soon realized the ignorance that had veiled my thoughts.
The Muslims that I worked with and met on a daily basis were kind-hearted and welcomed Westerners with open arms. They are as curious about us with our exposed hair as we are about them with their covered face.
Are there Muslims that you can encounter that you think are sweet, but underneath lies an evil and demented terrorist? Of course. But growing up, Father Chris was the most liked and charismatic priest at our school, and turns out he had been molesting innocent boys for years. So believing that every Muslims is a terrorist is believing that every priest is a pedophile or every Mormon is a polygamist. It’s stereotyping and racist…and like I was; ignorant. There are people in every race and religion that are bad seeds; but it does not define the whole and it should not shape your beliefs.
The first time I encountered a Muslim woman in the bathroom, I was standoffish and closed. I will admit the full black abaya and hijab revealing only her eyes was daunting for me. But after numerous encounters, I learned that smiling and greeting with a “Salaam Alaykum” always warranted an “Alaykum Salaam” and a huge smile (with her eyes, of course).
Holidays, or as Americans call them, vacations, were something I never quite figured out. Although, I don’t think there is anything to figure out since they change daily in the UAE. A “school calendar” is a “suggestion” of work days and holidays. More than once, the calendar would change just days before a scheduled holiday.
For example, if an Eid holiday was scheduled for a Wednesday, about a week before, the Muslims would start chattering that it might change depending on the moon cycle. How they could not figure out the full moon cycle, I do not know. I thought there was a calendar for that. But, alas, it was never quite clear.
Then about five days before scheduled holiday, there would be rumors of the Sheikh possibly declaring a holiday for the Tuesday before. And then that didn’t make sense to work Sunday, Monday, have Tuesday, Wednesday off, and return to work for Thursday, so then the rumor would start that we might have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday off (our work weeks ran Sunday-Thursday). One time this happened, a 1-day scheduled holiday turned into a week-long holiday. The only problem with it was, we learned about it only two days before, so many flights and plans had to be changed at the last minute. We would learn of the changes via text from Sheikh Khalifa along with a Happy Eid message.
Many other unscheduled “holidays” would pop up at the last minute. One, not so much a holiday, was on the death of Sheikh Zayad when the whole country was given time off for mourning (this was before I got there). But another was when Dubai was awarded the 2020 World Fair bid. A text/email came out from the Sheikh telling of the WIN at about 10:30 pm one evening and declaring the whole country off the next day to celebrate! I was lucky to have checked my emails late that night or I would have shown up to a closed campus (as many teachers did).