August 06, 2006

40 Days and 1001 Nights

"40 Days and 1001 Nights'
A Womans Dance Through the Islamic World"
New book project
By Tamalyn Dallal
e mail:

September 13, 2006
Suitcase recovered and mission accomplished. After sixteen days of getting people in three countries involved, my suitcase was successfully transferred from Pakistan to China. A word of advice: If you are taking two airlines in remote parts of the world, don't count on your bag being checked through and transferred from one airline to another. Without my travelling partner, Melissas Chinese language skills, and the help of a Chinese woman who works in Abu Dhabi, I would have written the whole thing off.
We went to Urumqi, the main city of Xinjiang for a few days. One would think that the hinterlands of western China would be simple and exotic, but Urumqi is a thriving, sparkling metropolis whose industrial sprawl never seems to end. The shopping is great, and it is very multicultural. Not many westerners go there, but in addition to tour bus loads of tourists from Beijing and Pakistani traders, there are thirteen major ethnic groups in Xinjiang whose presence are felt: Khazaks, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Mongols, Hui (Muslim Chinese), and of course the Uyghurs. As well, there are Han Chinese from other parts of China who were sent by te government to settle, making a stronger Chinese presence, and quelling any separatist temptations the locals might have. The tension that creates is felt in Urumqi, and the Chinese, hyper developed areas are worlds away from the exotic local bazaars and street markets just blocks from one another.
Now, we are in grape heaven. A 2-1/2 hour bus ride out of Urumqi lies a small city called Turpan where collonaded streets are covered by grape trellises with grapes hanging overhead, and the industry in many homes is drying thousands of bunches of green grapes, strung from the ceiling in the front room. Fields of grapes extend as far as the eye can see. It is amazing, peaceful, clean, friendly, beautiful, and every superlative one can think of for a place where we teach and learn dance under grapevines every morning, go to beautiful places in the afternoon, and watch traditional dance peformances in the evening.

September 4, 2006
As a dancer, of course I am going to report in with the local dances. We have seen traditional dance in performance, which uses elegant long dresses with full skirts, pants beneath, at least five long braids, and square caps. Red roses often adorn one ear, because Xinjiang is known for red roses. The movements are elegant and lifted, using elaborate hand and arm movements with shoulders and head slides.
There are two plazas, one in super modern Chinese style lined with giant red lanterns, multi colored, high tech fountains that change colors and water patterns, and Chinas largest statue of Mao Tse Tung. The other is constructed in Islamic style near the ancient It Kal Mosque. Every night, the men dance traditional Uyghur dances, simply for their own enjoyment. We also went to restaurants that are like banquet halls where you order a lazy susan full of food that is more than anyone can possibly eat. They feature a keyboard player with several singers, one after another, and everyone dances, from tiny toddlers to grandparents. Traditional dance is popular, as is the waltz, which men often dance with men and women with women. It is common for women who are sisters or friends to dress alike, so you see a lot of double vision. We also went to the disco. For $5, which is serious money here, you get soft drinks, dried fruits, nuts and microwave popcorn. Once again, there is the keyboard that sounds like an entire band and a singer, but the sound is very young and hip, still keeping the Uyghur traditional dances and waltzes, and most of the people are under thirty.
There are many traditional herb shops and a hospital for Uyghur Traditional Medicine. I wanted to learn about this, so I interviewed one of the hospital administrators as well as a man I met grinding pungent green plants into a paste near the plaza. Interestingly, this practice is a descendant the medicine of ancient Greece, and is based on the idea that everything on earth pertains to four elements: wood, fire, water, and air. These elements must be in balance to maintain good health and illnesses stem from these elements being out of balance. Melissa was told to eat milk and honey while I was instructed to consume more meat and sheep fat.
The update on my missing suitcase is that this has been a lesson in ineffieciency and how to get a runaround in a system where people will never lose their jobs no matter how badly they do them. Some travellers refer to this as the "Great Wall" of China. I have literally spent hours on several occaisions with all sorts of translators, and people helping out in three countries. My suitcase quest may become a running saga throughout this section of the book.It is in Islamabad, but getting it here is the problem that should be simple, but isn't.

August 28, 2006
Hello from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, with another dancer from New York named Melissa, who speaks Chinese, and is a great partner in the search for dance, music and sparkly things.
Yes, there are Muslims in China. This area is predominately Uyghur, who are a Turkic speaking people known for being extremely beautiful and having elaborate music and dance. Everyone knows how to dance and on the plaza, where I am in the town of Kashgar, the men and boys dance nightly, very elegant, graceful, and masculine, with lifted chests and delicate hand movements. There are maze like bazaars selling everything from dried fruits and nuts to local Uyghur herbal medicines, sequinned fabrics, silks, and more.
Lamb and mutton is the staple food, and at the Sunday livestock market, farmers come to trade the cutest "fat butt sheep". They have big fat pouches on their rear ends and are shaved all except little tufts of fur on each hip bone for decoration. Women wear many varieties of dress, but most are less stringent than other Islamic countries. They wear loose transparant scarves, long skirts, and often donn sequins even during the day. Sequins sparkle magnificently in the sun. Maybe we should try it in the U.S.
On my way here from Jordan, I stopped for a couple of days in the United Arab Emirates, where I interviewed a famous composer from the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club (see my previous entries about Zanzibar), Ali Abdullah Buaishi. He composed my favorite song that inspired me to go to Zanzibar last February and record a CD. Now, he lives in Dubai and graciously invited me to his home for dinner with his wife and three daughters.
The following day,I met my pen pal of thirty two years. Ravi and I have been writing letters since 1974, but never met. He is from Sri Lanka, but lives with his wife and children in Saudi Arabia. They came to Dubai to meet me and it was one of lifes very special and memorable moments.
Unfortunately, the flight from Abu Dhabi to Kashgar, here in China lost my luggage somewhere in Pakistan and I am not having much cooperation in finding it. I am a bit concerned since it contains a beautiful dance costume, all my paperwork, two boxes of CD's and the clothes I would like to be wearing. Wish me luck.

August 21, 2006
Much of Jordans population were originally Bedouins. Though some are rich and own a lot of land, which is at a premium price due to the influx of rich Iraqis trying to get their money out of Iraq, many are desperately poor as well.
I went to a Bedouin poetry competition in a little town where contestants hailed from around Jordan, as well as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. I didn't understand anything, but the dance group that came after were interesting. There was more to hear than see as a row of men simply swayed. One had a sword, and another a staff. The music consisted of only their voices and occasional hand claps. Sometimes they sang words for the King, and other times it was like mystical incantations and one part sounded like synchronized grunts. It was amazing to hear, so I hope my recordings come out good.
Another day, I stopped in an open area with scattered tents and livestock roaming around. These were tents of Bedouin shepherds, and they were very poor. In one tent made of plastic, and I met Fatme, the mother of three sons,who shared a bit about her life with me. Her family travels to one area with their sheep in the summer, and moves to the Jordan Valley in the winter. Winter is cold because they only insulate the tents with plastic. Her husband was out tending 30 sheep, which they sell when they need money, and in the winter, they sell the milk. There was a small tent with a mother chicken and chicks, a bunny rabbit, two goats, and a turkey. Though there is no electricity, they hook the television up to a car battery which is recharged every so often.
A program called "Beni Hameda", a cooperative that employs Bedouin women from 14 villages to make carpets, candles, and furniture, has greatly improved the lives of these families and encouraged women to seek out more in their lives. Young women are more ambitious to continue their education and have careers, and the ancient weaving techniques have been preserved instead of being allowed to die out.
I had a very interesting interview with Halime, a Bedouin woman from Beni Hameda who drives a pickup truck, talks on a cel phone and is in management of the co op. She then pointed out the ruins of a castle on a distant hill, which turn out to be where Salome danced for King Herod, thus John the Baptist was killed. Of course, I headed straight there, and climbed to the top. This place is in the most spectacular location. With the Dead Sea in the background, dry terraced mountains are caused by rock formations as well as ancient terraced farming. Many caves dot the area,and it is apparent that people once lived in them. The castle itself is being restored, has several columns and a dungeon where John the Baptist was held, remnants of an ancient staircase climbing the mountain, and a walled walkway leading up to it.
The person who brought me was Jordanian, but had no idea this place existed. There was not a soul around, so I don't think it gets many visitors.

August 14, 2006
Happily, the war next door to us has ended. Unfortunately, over a thousand innocent people- most notoriously, children, were killed and an entire country was laid to waste while nothing discernable got accomplished. Isn't it time that we realize that there is no longer a noble purpose for war and that it needs to be made obsolete once and for all?
I just got back to Jordan from a couple of days visa run in Syria. It is beautiful. Much more asthetic than Jordan, but though the people are nice and hospitable, there is more reserve. Whereas in Jordan, anyone from anywhere gets a big hearty "Weelcommme", and you are invited to share their lives,in Syria, the welcome is there, but it takes more time to come forth. What everyone, everywhere I meet has in common is that they don't want war and feel that war does not represent or benefit the people, only political interests. They like Americans and see us as separate from our countries politics.
I went to the most amazing wedding in Al Ramtha, on the Jordanian side of the border with Syria. Rows of women in elaborate caftans embriodered in tiny cross stitches danced "dabke" in an open lot, then the men took over. Since men and women can't dance together, a couple of men dressed as women and covered their faces. A man beating a big drum twirled and jumped. The guys serving sweet date drink that tastes like cough medicine from a huge flower laden jug spun, as others hoisted a giant photo of King Abdullah to represent that he has the humility to be with them in a village wedding. Men danced atop each others shoulders as fake snow showered overhead during the putting of henna on the grooms hand.
Some people don't admit that bellydancing is part of Jordanian life, but I have seen some of the best bellydancing in homes and womens parties, and learned some new moves to teach when I get back.

August 6, 2006
Another day, another adventure. The belly dancers in Jordan are from overseas and I have met wonderful dancers from Russia and France. Luna, the French dancer told me about Gypsies in Jordan and suggested that we go looking for their camps. I called Ahmad, a knowledgable and intelligent man, who took us driving around vacant lots until we found a huge camp of bright colored tents in a dusty, industrial area. These nomadic people call themselves "Turkmen", and speak an ancient form of Turkish. There is no electricity, so the women make all of their brightly colored clothing on hand powered sewing machines. Men dress like other Jordanians, mostly in jeans and t shirts, and sell inexpensive Chinese goods like sunglasses on the street. Women wear ruffled pants and long tops. With long braided hair and oftentimes red spots on the forhead, they look Indian, but say they came to Jordan in 1948 from Palestine. We are still hoping to see dances and hear their music, which is supposed to be wonderful.
I also spent time with the 68 member Circassian dance group El Jeel, ages 16 to 22, who preserve some of the oldest dances of their culture that only exist in Jordan. Circassians came to Jordan after a war with Russia in which Russia got the land and the people were dispersed through the Ottoman Empire. They are from the Caucuses mountain region and their dances are beautiful and acrobatic.The music is majestic, based on a stringed, violin like instrument, percussion, and a special type of accordion. Unfortunately, most cultural events in Jordan are cancelled because of mourning for Lebanons war victims. El Jeel were scheduled to dance at the Jerash Festival, which is held yearly in an ancient city of Roman Ruins, and includes artists from around the Middle East. Unfortunately, it was cancelled too.

July 26,2006
Jordan is like a peaceful oasis in the midst of several warring states. It is strange to see the highway signs that say "Iraqi Border, 120 Km, or to look across the water and see Israel. The violence in Lebanon has torn many people apart, since so many civilians have been dying and many people escape Lebanon into Syria. The wealthy leave Iraq for Jordan. There is a strong Iraqi presence both economically and with regard for the arts. The Iraqi music is great.The women dance tossing their hair like the "Zar", and all the little girls here immitate the Iraqi girls from Arabic MTV. Due to modernization, there is less Jordanian music than before, since the music of Jordan is rooted in it's Bedouin heritage.
I have been seeking out Bedouin weddings. Last night, I was near Petra, the magnificent ruins from 600 BC Nabateans. Until 1984, hundreds of Bedouins lived in the caves at Petra, but due to archeological excavations and tourism, the government moved them to settlements nearby. I went to a wedding in one such settlement. The party was for the grooms family. Men were in the yard and it looked a bit boring. The womens party was inside a nearby house and it was a lot of fun. Teenage girls danced different variations of Debke. There seemed to be two mothers for the groom, since the father had two wives. One was Egyptian and the other local Bedouin. The women sang wedding songs, then played Egyptian bellydance music on a stereo. The Egyptian mom was a big woman wielding a big stick. Once I got up to dance, she refused to let me sit. I danced with a very old woman who wore 4 tea glasses on her fingers, clicking as she danced.The bellydancing was good, and all ages danced. I am hoping to see a traditional woman's sword dance done to the chanting of men's voices.

July 17, 2006
Due to increasing violence in the region, my plan to visit Syria for the next 40 days has been diverted to Jordan. There is no way to tell if Syria will come out unscathed, or if this will become a nightmare. Anyway, it is only a bus ride away, so if all is well, I will sidetrack into Syria during my 40 days in Jordan.
I arrived last night, knowing little about the country, since I was not planning to be here, but here are my impressions in my first 12 hours:
Jordan is expensive. After trotting around the third world, where western currency is strong, and a couple of dollars buys a good meal, I went to the exchange booth in the airport and learned that the Jordanian Dinar is worth fifty percent more than our dollar.
My flight out of Cairo left characteristically late. I almost didn't get on because I arrived at the airport with less than an hour to spare and the counter was closed. After much insistance, a representative came and led me through security and into the waiting room.
Back to Amman, uniformed helpers abound, so you don't have to lift a finger to fetch luggage or hail a cab, and it is all at the governments expense. My taxi was modern with leather seats, and the 35 km ride into town along a smoothly paved highway was a pleasant shock after spending a month being bumped and jostled, barely averting running over pedestrians, donkey carts, bicycles, and facing busses head on in Egypts chaos.
It was 3am, and the hotel most reccomended by "Lonely Planet", "Fondouk Palace" was full, so the driver took me to one with a similar name, "Fondouk Amman Palace" down the street. A monolithic dive with no sheets and an overpowering aroma of mothballs, for almost $40, the desk clerk offered me half price not to move out. Luckily, a room vacated at the "Palace" by morning.
I set out walking, and found lots of fresh juice stands, shops with beautifully emroidered caftans, and learned that nobody speaks English, so I will have to be more serious about my Arabic and try to remember what I learned in school. All the buildings are the same sand color, jumbled together, and quite nondescript. That doesn't matter because I am not writing this book to be wowed by beauty around every corner. I want to learn and share how everyday people live, and the people seem quite nice.
I found the most delicious felafel and hummus at "Hashems", in an alley full of men, where all they serve is felafel, hummus, beans, and french fries, on squares of paper with no utensils, accompanied by sweet tea. Being the only woman in sight, I started out feeling like a martian, but the staff were friendly and really appreciated my badly spoken Arabic.
65 percent of the people here are Palestinean, refugees from the wars of 1948 and 1967. Most others are Bedouins. Jordan is a kingdom, and is considered one of the more moderate countries politically. People are holding silent vigils with candles in the night to protest the attacks on Lebanon and express their sorrow for the civilian deaths.
The CD is out! "40 Days and 1001 Nights", Bellydance Music for Tamalyn Dallal, by the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar.
Last January, as part of this book project, I was in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt, when a Bedouin man who sells bootleg music in the plaza asked me "Do you want to hear music from Zanzibar?" "Why not?" I responded. The song he played was called "Ifkar" was perfect for bellydancing. Enchanted by the song,I made my way to Zanzibar soon after. My first day on the island, I was trudging through the dark rainy alleys shen a young man asked "Can i help you find something?". I asked about the music, and he led me to Nadi Ikhwani Safaa, which turned out to be the first musical club formed in Zanzibar in 1905. The Sultan Barghash would send musicians to Egypt to study, and a new variation on the Arabic music called "Taarab" evolved. It turned out that this was the band that created the beautiful song I had heard in the Siwa Oasis. I came to the club many nights, which was like an African version of "Buena Vista Social Club", and one day it dawned on me to ask them to collaborate on a bellydance cd. Now, May 25, 2006, I am in Seattle, and 1000 CD's arrived from the factory yesterday. They are truly amazing, and they are available at all of my workshops, on, or at the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange (305)538-1608.

"The Muslim World" (from "Introducing Islam", by Tien Wah Press, Ltd.)
The Muslim world straddles the global middle belt: from the shores of Senegal and Morocco to the Pacific ocean and the islands of Indonesia, and north to south from the mediterranean coast of Turkey to Somalia. It consists of 52 sovereign states, incorporating more than 60 languages, with ehtnic backgrounds as diverse as those of the Arabs and Indians, the Turks, Chinese, Malays, Uzbeks, and Hausa people of west Africa.

I once read a quote by a French explorer, "You cannot know a people until you spend 40 days with them".
In these days of misinformation about the Middle East, and the millions of people whose spiritual path is Islamic, we Americans should start to learn about life on the other side of the perceived divide, where for many, fear prohibits us from venturing.
How do the women live? I am a dancer, so I want to know how they dance, and under what context. What do they think? We may think we know, but who in the western world ever asks them?
Do the people of these countries want to be saved by us or is there a need to bridge the gap between "them" and "us"? I do not know the answers, but I invite you to join me on a year long quest for knowledge and objectivity, behind the veil in five Islamic countries.
Stay posted as I travel, revealing the countries I am in from September, 2005 through October, 2006. I will share photos and excerps from my upcoming book, "40 Days and 1001 Nights', A Womans Dance Through Life in the Islamic World". It will be published and available as of January, 2007, but I invite you to share the journey and the process, which I think we can all benefit from.

Notes from ZANZIBAR, February to April
April 9,
Heading to the airport (out of Africa). I went on a great Tanzanian safari where we saw all the "Lion King" cast, and more. Zebras, giraffes, wildebeasts, warthogs, hyenas,a sleepy lion by the side of the road, and much more. Read past my event list for all of the travel excerps from Zanzibar, Egypt, and Indonesia for my book and film project "40 Days and 1001 Nights", A Woman's Dance through Life in the Islamic World. For this project, I am living 40 days in each of 5 Islamic countries. Next stop (In July) will be Syria.

April 3, 2006
Hello from the island of Pemba. This is the other half of Zanzibar, a lush, and rural island full of clove plantations. It is beautiful, but very poor, with no infrastructure, so getting around is a challenge. Luckily, there is a quaint hotel called "Swahili Divers" that arranges whatever you need. There are only 3 of us in the place, since it is low season.
When I arrived on the night boat, it was very early in the morning, completely dark, and pouring down rain. One guy ran with my suitcase. Another gave me his jacket, and before you knew it, we were on a daladala (like a truck for passengers) to the town of Chake Chake. Luckily, the rain stopped and I was able to rent a bike and find a beach. Today, I went along with some divers on a very rough boat ride into the open sea to the island of Misali, which has beautiful beaches, wilderness trails, and caves that are considered magic, in which each one has it's own native healing doctor to work with the ghost that dwells within and heal peoples sicknesses.
Since I have little time remaining in Zanzibar, I have focused on exploring outlying areas a bit. Last week, I visited Jambiani, a small village where women farm seaweed. When the tide is low, they go out and tend to their crops, which are carefully arranged and strung to wooden sticks. They carry the wet seaweed on their heads to let dry in the village. Two companies buy the dried seaweed for about 4 cents a kilo. I really don't know how they can survive!

March 27, 2006
Wow! This week has been intense. I was inspired to produce a belly dance CD using these amazing musicians from Ikhwani Safaa, which is a musical club, kind of like Cuba's "Buena Vista Social Club". They adapted "Taarab" songs for me and made them into really special music for belly dancing. This was a real cross cultural artistic collaboration. They have never played for belly dancers, nor are there any belly dancers in Zanzibar, but a couple of the musicians did a pretty good bellydance when inspired by the drum solo. "Taarab" began over 100 years ago, and is influenced by classical Egyptian music. The flavor retains that old style, but has since added some interesting twists. Whereas, in Egypt, the modernization is making it hard to find new bellydance music I would want to dance to, this old "Taarab" style added something beautiful to the music.
The CD is called "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Belly Dance Music for Tamalyn Dallal, by the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar". I am making a new costume from "Kangas", the local fabrics worn by Zanzibari women, to introduce this music to the belldance scene with.
On Sun., May 7, the new cd will be introduced at a fundraiser at the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange in Miami Beach. This is to help the nonprofit organization raise funds operational funds so they can continue to be the most amazing belly dance school around. Each dancer will perform to one of the peices from "40 Days and 1001 Nights". I will wear my new Kanga costume, and we will be cooking Zanzibari food. Call (305)538-1608 for more info.

March 20, 2006
"Kibuki" is the Zanzibari version of what belly dancers call "Zar" in Egypt. 93 year old Biashura, who looks thirty years younger, leads these traditional healing ceremonies that channel warrior spirits from the Comoros Islands. I had the rare opportunity to attend part of a four day women's only "Kibuki",in which they go into trances and dance. It was amazing to see. Some was very similar to what belly dancers do on stage as the Zar, but made me look at our version with new eyes.
I got the grand tour from a friend of mine to see women making all sorts of breads at home to sell out of glass cases on the sidewalk. "Vitimbua" is made of rice flour, coconut milk, and cardomom, fried in a mould over coals with so much shortening that the calories must be astronomical. It is delicious though. Here, people still cook a lot over coals and on fires in the street or behind their homes. We also saw "mkate wa ufuta", which means sesame bread being made over a fire. Each piece is stuck to the bottom of a small frying pan, then turned upside down over the fire.
I expected lots of African drumming at the famous full moon celebration here, but instead it was modern house, rap, hip hop, and "Bongo Flava", which is Swahili rap. The village by the beach was only accesable by a barely traversable pot holed dirt road, but the beach was beautiful, with white sand and turquoise water lit by the moon. The dance floor was filled with men, dancing with such wild abandon and elasticity that it was beautiful to watch.

March 13, 2006
There are so many contrasts in Zanzibar. I started teaching Belly dance at the Serena Inn, where expats and rich people go. That is another world, something idyllic and luxurious, as well as expensive. A well heeled tourist could easily spend $500 per day in Zanzibar, on hotels, food, and excursions.
Most people make about three dollars a day, and live behind beautiful, carved wooden doors in homes that can be comfortable, once you traipse through rubble and ruin to get to their door, or they may live in such abject poverty that they are in danger of the walls around them crumbling. Rents can be as low as three dollars a month, but some live with no walls, and I doubt that they are charged rent.
The tourist industry tries to fleece foreigners for all they can, and the sky is the limit with regards for what you will be charged for a day trip around the island. Fortunately, at the market, "daladalas" are little trucks with low ceilings and benches where passengers are crammed together, and merchandise is piled high on the roof. Those cost about a dollar to cross the island.
It rains a lot, so I keep saving the beaches for another day, but yesterday, I visited the "Jozani Forest", where the rare "Red Colubus Monkeys" live. Trees are tall, and the monkeys swing high overhead, and often sit on branches snacking, dropping their leftovers onto ones head.
Henna designs on the hands and feet differ in each country I visit, but what remains constant is that they do this for weddings. The designs are really beautiful in Zanzibar. I noticed that they combine black and orange, but when I went to get mine done (I'm not getting married), the black part turned out to be hair dye, so I opted for only orange. Still, that stung and smelled like chemicals. At least it stays for a long time.
Due to a water shortage in the hydro electric dam in Tanzania, the government has decided to turn off the electricity for an hour every night until the crisis is finished. Neighbors spend time socializing on roofs and the cement benches outside their homes, sometimes by candle light, others with portable lanterns. My computer works on battery, so I have shown DVD's to the neighbors during black outs. Sometimes, we snack on homemade donuts, and now the moon is full, so it is actually fun. The tiny streets are pitch black and dangerous during this hour, so we cannot be out until the lights return.

March 7, 2006
In many ways, Zanzibar is like Cuba. The revolution of 1964 forced the business and ruling class to flee and the government gave their mansions and palaces to the poor people, dividing each home into living space for many families. They forgot to consider upkeep and many of these houses are collapsing. Finally, the city of Stone Town, which is where I am living was declared a "World Heritage site", and there is some effort put forth to restore, though they need much more.
Last night, we ate in a restaurant with two tables, in the dining room of a beautiful home. They do that in Cuba as well.
I live in an apartment in the winding streets behind the port area. Women here love to learn belly dance. It is part of their heritage that they see on TV, but never in person. I am teaching on the roof of my apartment building.
Chasing behind my favorite music, Taarab, which has a strong Arabic influence, is going well. There are two main "taarab clubs". One reminds me of the movie, "Buena Vista Social Club." I am trying to get permission to film them, because their music is like a dream.
Today, I begin my Swahili lessons, so hopefully, I will learn how to communicate. There are so many ways to greet, and so many ways say "Good" or "Fine", that those words, as well as negotiating my way about the maze of tiny streets that wind through the town, that I need a teacher to drill more information into my head.

February 26, 2006
Something inside told me I wouldn't be in Zanzibar as soon as I thought. I just couldn't imagine it, so how could it be?
Sure enough, I got to the airport in Cairo, and there was no ticket counter for Ethiopian Airlines. I was told it would open soon, but I thought, an hour and a half before flight time and there are no passengers? The information officer told me to be patient. After fifteen minutes, I insisted that things weren't making sense. Someone told me there was an office upstairs. My bags were far to heavy to carry up a flight of stairs, so I left them with strangers.
The flight was cancelled and the solitary man in a cluttered office told everyone to come tomorrow morning. Several people were way less patient than me, so I kept quiet. I noticed that the Africans had a lot of patience and smiled at others who were uninitiated in the art of relaxation.
Sometime the next afternoon, the flight to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia took off. Barely anyone was going to Ethiopia. It was mostly Nigerians going home after the "Africa Cup" soccer match, and some aid workers and UN people headed for various parts of Africa.
An Australian man named Paul was the only one headed to Tanzania, so we stuck together. The airline magazine showed us tantalizing restaurant offerings of Addis Ababa and we looked forward to a good Ethiopian meal on our overnight stopover.
The plane touched down unexpectedly in Karthoum, Sudan, where most of the passengers got off. Could it be that last nights plane didn't take off because there were not enough passengers, so they doubled us up with a flight to Sudan?
Anyway, we got in late, and joined the throng of people in transit from other flights who would get complimentary hotel rooms. Paul's boarding pass and room assignment were given to another passenger, so we were the last ones to leave the airport.
I noticed a little girl crying in the airline office and asked what happened. The frazzled employees told me she was unaccompanied and they were trying to figure out what to do. I sat with her until Pauls problem got straightened out, showing pictures on my computer and trying to cheer her up. She was fine until I stood up to leave, then she got really upset and one of the employees blamed me "What did you do to her?". It was then that I realized that she would have a terrible night and I offered to take her with me. They said "OK", and we headed off to the hotel.
She was a bright, well mannered nine year old girl named Olucha, heading from Nigeria to Malawi, but of course, the plane was late and she missed her connection.
Our hotel voucher included dinner and breakfast. It was 1:30 am, so room service brough four slices of white bread, no butter or jam, and two Coca Colas, and an apology for the meager offerings.
Needless to say, I saw nothing of Ethiopia, but the next day, our flights all took off without incedent, and Paul had a driver waiting in Dar Es Salam who took me straight to the ferry dock.
I made up for missing the Ethiopoian dinner when I got to Zanzibar. A local man stopped me from buying street food at the famous fish market, saying it was too expensive and not always fresh. He took me down a side street where men were cutting up squid and octupi, then motioned the way to a local restaurant. There was a glass cupboard full of plates. You bring your own squid, then they serve the accompaniments: Chapati, spiced potatoes, vegies, and spagetti, fried with sugar and cardomom, all washed down with delicious spiced tea.

Egypt, January 10 - February 24
February 20, 2006
I left Siwa yesterday. It was really sad, because I made some special friends, and living in Siwa is like living in another reality. Time means little on the oasis, and since this is an extremely powerful place, energetically, it often seems like one is living in a dreamlike state of conciousness. I felt like it had been at least a year since I arrived, but the time went by like a blur. Several people working in Siwa have told me the same thing about time. It has an entirely different meaning. Fortunately, I will be back in July (read below,) and it may be a reunion of sorts, bringing friends from two worlds together.
Next 40 days? Zanzibar! This is an island-state off the coast of Tanzania that has both Pesian and Arabic influences and was part of the Omani Sultanate. They celebrate "Nooruz" (Persian New Year), which I will be there for. I was attracted by the music. My new favorite song is from Zanzibar.

February 14, 2006
Lots of dancing, bread baking and embroidery this week. I went to a wedding where the men and women celebrate separately. Women mostly sat, but some took turns dancing. Afterward, the women and children crowded into cars and on the back of pickup trucks, and sped around town until we reached the grooms house where the bride would stay.
Since ancient times, Egypt has been known as "The land where people eat a lot of bread". Women in Siwa bake pita bread in mud ovens, fueled by flaming palm fronds. In one sitting, I watched eighty pitas being baked, for one family to consume in one day.
I had the rare occaision to attend a mens party. These are held outside the town for those who work the land. It was amazingly wild, and the men danced a style of belly dance with other touches, accompanied by hand clapping, singing, and several instruments.
Embroidery is the another famous aspect of Siwan culture. Everything, from heavy, coin, button, and shell laden wedding shawls to wedding dresses and the "tarfotet", which is the blue cloak worn to cover married women is elaborately embroidered. In one home, they dressed me in the mothers wedding clothes and made me pose with their son while everyone took pictures with their cell phones.

February 6, 2006
Here's the scoop on oasis life. Most people have a "garden", which is a desert farm of dates, olives, and a few green things growing beneath, with a spring running through. There is a beauty in this wild untidyness. Life revolves around the gardens and drinking tea. A lot of sitting takes place. That means gossip and people watching, so there is always someone who knows or thinks they know what you did before you do it, and this is all filtered through a male mind set that is totally alien from what we know.
For men, the lines of sexuality can get blurred. Homosexuality is common before marriage, and the lives of men and women are completely segregated. That said, I have had some opportunities to spend time with women, doing henna, sewing, attending a wedding, making bread, and inevitably, dancing. Sometimes, the women are protected, even from the view of foreign women, so it takes some patience and perseverance to meet them. You will be surprised that, living so separated, we are not so different from one another, and not even so exotic.

January 30, 2006
This week was surreal and strange, full of beauty and mishaps, coupled with incredible serendipity. I saw the most beautiful places, including the "White Desert", that looks like a Salvador Dali dream of odd mushroom and bird shaped white rock formations in a remote desert where I sat on blankets by the fire, listening to American oldies music played on a laptop computer, looking at photos as they were being downloaded and learning about Korea as most of the tourists in this area are Koreans.
At one point, while in another desert, the sky was so clear that there was a blanket of stars. Not a black background. You could almost touch infinity as the stars layered upon each other.
I joined the "desert camping trip from hell", in which all nine of us, tourists from five countries were dumped at some point or another. I wound up in a very bad situation and had to tell some very bad people that "I am famous in the US. I have to check in by e mail every three days, or the embassy will be notified, and the police will come looking for me." I said the magic word, "Police", and was on a bus to Cairo within minutes, with extra money tucked in my passport. I never figured out what that was about, but arrived in Cairo, met a dancer who is working in Dubai, who saved me by inviting me to her posh hotel room to stay a couple of nights before the long, boring bus trip back to Siwa.

January 22, 2006
Today I caused a commotion at the local carpet factory. Looking to get to know more women, I wandered into this factory full of teenage girls. It is one of the first initiatives by the Egyptian military to get women into the work force. Everyone is between the ages of fifteen to eighteen, and not yet married. There are two soldiers and a foreman watching over the girls. I don't know how that is allowed, since there is no interraction with women, who are in seclusion or completely veiled after puberty. Anyway, my Arabic is limited, but I was such a novelty that the girls fought over whose loom I could sit at. I tried tyeing a few knots, and managed to communiate my name, age, and marital status, plus make a date to have my hands hennaed after work next Wednesday.
Mohammed Kilani is the local olive oil man. He grinds up the olives by pushing a wooden stick around on a stone, then does something similar with the olives in a piece of wool. The oil has a strong flavor, not like what we get in the supermarket.
He used to be a "magician", meaning a wizard, who does magic spells. We discussed "djinns" in detail, which are known in the west as "genies". There is a lot of traditional magic in Siwa, much of it not the nicest kind. Relatives have to sleep in the graveyards for at least three days after a person dies to make sure that practitioners of "bad magic" don't rob the graves of body parts.
Mr. Kilani invited me to his home, where his twenty year old daughter speaks some English and teaches computer programming at a school for girls. Here, in Siwa there is no school after junior high. After that, they have to travel to Marsa Matruh and live there. Siwan families won't allow their daughters to live away from home, so that is where their education stops. The young ladies who opted to learn computer programming in Cairo had to take the "accelerated course", which meant cramming three months of material into seven days.

January 16, 2006
After a five hour bus ride from Cairo, I arrived in the Bedouin city-town of Marsa Matruh. This is the biggest town in the entire western desert region. It was so cold and rainy that the streets were flooded. The bus station is barely a bus station and has no place to sit inside. I was so lucky that my friend Ali from Siwa arranged for a car to pick me up for the remaining 300 kilometers, because I would have sat outside for three hours with a huge suitcase, getting wet.
A man met me at the bus and put my bags in a car, then he and the driver took me to a small fish restaurant where I was the only customer. A big, heavy Bedouin came and took the car, with all of my belongings. I would have panicked, being in the middle of nowhere in a flood, abandoned with a fish cooking on a grill on the sidewalk and not knowing if my bags were ever coming back.
Fortunately, I have good instincts, and know something of the Bedouin culture. They adhere to the custom of treating strangers with hospitality and have their honor, so I wasn't worried.
The fish was delicious, and the big guy soon came back and sat with me as I ate. His driver took me across the expansive, flat desert with no sign of life and in the middle of nowhere. At least it wasn't raining. He zoomed at 140 km per hour, which translates to about 90 mph. We got to Siwa in a little over 2 hours, where the direct bus takes 4.
It is always a pleasant surprise how the land transforms and becomes a magical oasis when we enter Siwa. This time, it is winter, and surprisingly cold.
So far, I have made meat pies in a Berber home, spent an afternoon with an ex- wizard who now makes olive oil by hand, 4 wheel driven through the sand dunes, bathed in a natural hot spring by moonight, and drank innumerable cups of thick, syrupy tea cooked over open fires. I am excited to find out what the next 39 days have in store.

January 9th, 2006
I am en route to the Siwa Oasis, deep in the Sahara. This is in Egypt, quite near the Libyan border. In fact, until fairly recently, the border of the Western Deserts was not delineated, and one could not enter without special permission. Now, it is accessable, but many locals are concerned about the impending construction of an airport that might bring too many visitors and too much developement to this unique oasis.
The people living in Siwa are Siwan Berbers, whose native language is not Arabic. They speak Siwan, which is a dialect spoken only in this oasis. There are also many Bedouins, who were previously nomadic and travelled back and forth from Libya.The Bedouin women wear black and are occasionally seen walking, but the Berber women are completely covered, to the point that you do not even see their eyes. They ride in donkey carts. Many young boys on the oasis have donkey carts, and this is a major form of local transportation.
It will take me two days to fly from Seattle to Cairo, which includes a twelve hour stopover in Istanbul (fun!). I will stay four days in Cairo, then travel ten hours by bus through the flattest desert imaginable and arrive in Siwa on January 15th.

INDONESIA, September 11, to October 20, 2005.
From September 13
Hello from Indonesia. Yesterday, I took the ferry from Singapore to the Riau Islands. I meant to go to one island, but the phone number of the ferry company was out of order, so I took a cab to the "World Trade Center", a shopping mall with a ferry dock behind it. Waiting for a boat to the industrial free trade island of Batam, I met two guys that work for a Norwegian corporation. One was Brazilian (Alancar), and he had just missed the boat, causing his Indonesian friend (Arief) to stay behind and look for him. This was lucky for me, because I made two new friends, and Arief has taken great interest in my book project. He proceeded to call people all over Indonesia to try to introduce me, found me a hotel, brought maps, took me to try "Panang" food, and convinced me to get an Indonesian cel phone (Very cheap and can be used all over Asia).
Onto the subject of food. Panang food consists of a big bowl of rice, then the waiter piles up several spicy dishes, including fish, chicken, meats, and a mysterious steamed leaf. You only pay for the dishes you eat, and the rest go to someone elses table later on. It is traditional to eat with your right hand only. That is tricky when you have to cut meat and smoosh it together with rice and chili sauce while trying not to make a mess.
This morning, while writing my diary, I realized that I embarked on this journey from the "World Trade Center" (of Singapore), on September 11, 2005. What an eerie cooincidence.

Checking in from Banda Aceh, September 19, 2005.
With some trepidation, I boarded a plane from Medan, which is the main city of North Sumatra and a transit hub for flights to and from Banda Aceh. I did not want to go some place depressing, but my friend Areif was right when he told me that travelling to Indonesia to write about the Muslim world must begin in the nations most religious area, the northernmost provence of Aceh. He further encouraged me by calling one morning with "I arranged for your ticket to Banda Aceh. You have an hour to go and buy it...Here is the address." I spent part of the evening cutting a bellydance caftan at a diagonal to wear over jeans, and used the rest to make a headscarf with an idea I saw in a cencer survivors magazine. I wanted to keep some personal style, and keep my identity as a westerner (a fashionable one), while following the dress code that would allow me to be accepted into the society. I then sat for hours waiting for a flight that took off three hours late, and soon found myself in this famed and feared little city. BAnda Aceh is one month into a cease fire agreement between the Indonesian militayr and separatist guerillas that has kept the province closed to outsiders for thirty years. It looked pretty and green...a bit dilapidated, which is not unusual for Indonesia. Arief arranged for me to meet Octa, a nursing student who works for Islamic Releif, one of many NGO's that have come to help out after the tsunami.
This petite and beautiful woman was wearing a white headscarf, carefully pinned to cover the neck and hide her hair, She wore two layers of skirts, thick socks, long sleeves over a type of gloves that cover the wrists but not the hands, and a jacket over her loose dress. At first I was intimidated by all the layers and thought I could never get to know the person below whose vision of life must be so different from mine. She invited me to an exhibition that night. Many NGO's (aid organizations)put together this festival with stalls, food and trinket vendors, and a big stage. Islamic Releif had one of the biggest exhibits, with a running film of devastation and interview of victims families. People stood and watched, and cried. There was a room up a treacherous stairway to pray, as people must do here five times a day. It is perfectly normal to go to someones office or to a restaurant, shop, etc. ask for someone and hear the reply "She/he's praying. Wait a few minutes."...Or "Excuse me. I must go pray."
I was introduced to the staff, who were of many nationalities: Lebanese, Bangladeshi, Palestinian, British, Macedonian, etc. They invited me to a concert they were organizing for the next Saturday of Ache's most famous singer, Rafli and his band, Kande. Of course, I accepted. That was one of the hottest and most exciting shows I have seen in a long time. The driving traditional drums and modern electric guitars, plus Raflis passionate voice dove the audience wild, and some of the Arabic men from Islamic Releif could not help but jump up and dance on the stage with joy. Surprisingly, a lot of this "rockin'" music is religious, because in Banda Aceh, Islam is a part of every waking moment, from the way they dress, speak, eat, express themselves through dance and music, and how people treat each other. Octi was not secluded from the men, joking and talking comfortably with men and women alike. She would take part in planning meetings, organize educational workshops, etc. and did not lack confidence or authority. I asked why she covered so much, and she said that although she was raised in Jakarta, where they do not cover, she had wanted to do so since Junior High. What held her back was the fear of not fitting in or being ridiculed. At the age of 17, she read a book about death and thought about how time on earth is limited. You may die today or tomorrow, or many decades later, but you should not die without doing what is in your heart. She made her decision to cover completely six years ago, not because of any pressure from the outside, but because she felt it in her heart.
The women here do cover completely, but not to such an extreme...Usually in colorful, silky caftans, with flowing headscarves fastened to cover the neck. Some wear cotton and lace headpieces with an elastic band securing the fabric under the chin. When the scarf is white, there is a nunlike look.
I stayed my first two days in the dumpy "Sulthan Hotel". It is the best in town, and the coffee shop is a haven for western aid workers and reporters. I met two young Irish backpackers, who told me about the grass roots organization called "FBA" (Forum Bangun Aceh) they were volunteering for. I called right away to volunteer as well. Many aid groups have their offices in a house where the volunteers stay. I moved in with an untold ammount of Achanese men, who are very polite and proper. We eat lunch across the street in a shack of weathered wood and fresh air. The meal consists of rice, fish in sauce, vegetables in curry, and water which I am not alowed to drink. It costs less than a dollar.
Bustami, a sweet man with a motorcycle and very little command of English offered to take me on an outing. We wound up in a devastated beach front village where there are few homes standing, and what is left are battered shells. That is the area where Forum Bangun Aceh is building a school. There are families living in tents amid the rubble. This is the land they own and they do not have the money to rent a house. Housing is scarce here, since many have been destroyed. There are some camps of tents and temporary homes built around town. Over 200 thousand homes have been destroyed and there is not enough wood, even in the nearby endangered forest where soldiers had cut the wood and shipped it to one of the unsuspecting larger aid organizations to sell as imported timber and get paid in donated dollars.
The group I am volunteering for is all volunteer, even the director, and they give micro economic loans at no interest to people that lost their businesses in the tsunami (Women get preference), plus they accept donations to give scholarships to children: $60 buys six months of school supplies, uniforms, and the necesities for one child to attend school. They accept computers, tape decks, and school furniture, as well as any ammount of money. There are approxomately 500 people on the waiting list for help at this moment. There is a lot of aid money tied up in red tape. When people want help, they ask one of the organizations, who must apply for this money, much like a grant, and it can take months to be released. Private donations to FBA reach individuals in need within about ten days and if you specify what you want the money used for, a complete explaination, plus photos of those who benefitted and how the money was used are supplied. At this moment, FBA also needs two used laptop computers for the staff to use out in the tsunami area where there is no electricity. If you or anyone you know has one that you can donate, please contact me, or Aznawi at

September 29, First impressions of Jakarta:

Jakarta is on the island of Java. It is predominately Muslim, but not nearly as strict as Banda Aceh, and has a completely different atmosphere. This city of ten million plus is vast and crowded. There is no subway, nor any efficient form of mass transportation...only motorbikes for hire, little trucks that hold about ten people hunched under a low roof, tiny homemade looking trucks that puff out pollution at an alarming rate, and appear to be soddered together, some taxis, and some busses that people say are good places to get your pocket picked. Those who can afford it hire their own driver. There are wide boulevards to accomodate this chaos of humanity, and tiny alleys lined with homes. Today, there are 14,000 people, mostly those in the transportation industry, who are on strike, all demonstrating on the streets because of a rise in the price of gas.

I am visiting my friend Devi, who is originally Indonesian, and is a belly dancer and social worker,living in Hong Kong. I will be teaching a belly dance workshop this Saturday, possibly the first in Indonesia. Overseas educated Christine Yaven has studied a bit of belly dance in Singapore, Malaysia, and Austalia, and she organized this workshop for me. Last night, we met in the Nikko Hotel, which is fancier than anything I have seen in the U.S. Christine, Devi, and I had a sumptuous Indinesian fusion cuisine dinner in a luxurious restaurant that gave me decorationg ideas for my next apartment. We all hit it off, had a great time, and I am sure that Devi will be teaching in Indonesia whenever she comes home to see her family. Christine has a passion to get this art form started in a good way here. She expressed concern that people may have the wrong impression of belly dance and wants to fix that.

Afterward, Devi and I went to a disco called "De Leila", that advertizes on the internet that they have bellydance shows. We were looking for a type of Indonesian music called "Dangdut" that has a strong Arabic/Indian influence. What we found was a beautiful club with Arabic decorations, and a live band, all Indonesian, playing Arabic hit songs. They were quite good. Afterward, a DJ played Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti songs and the place filled up with prostitutes wearing skimpy, "South Beach" style outfits. The woman at the door informed us that it was "Ladies Night". The prostitutes far outnumered the Arabic men, and men and women seemed to ignore each other as they danced,in separate groups. It was common knowledge that most people would get lucky by the end of the night. Soon the music changed to hip hop and three go go girls in bikinis took their places to do sexy American MTV immitations....We are a long way from Banda Aceh.

There is much more to Jakarta, which I have not even scraped the surface of in my first 36 hours. Much of the experience revolves around eating delicious food. This is fortunate, because on Monday, Ramadan starts, and the entire Muslim population fasts from sun up to sun down. I plan to fast as well.

Devi took me shopping at the most crowded textile market I have ever seen. In the passageways, barely wide enough for one person to walk through, one must dodge orange juice sellers and short men rushing by with huge packages on their heads. I bought a beautiful sequinned and batik skirt, and lace to make an Indonesian flavor bellydance costume. For elegant occasions, the women wear special hairpeices that are made to hold golden sticks with rhinestones laden flowers. I bought one of those to complete the look.

October 6, Cirebon

I am in a small city that few people have heard of, in a slow internet cafe, typing on a computer with sticky keys...So if I overlook any aaaaa's or eeeee's, please be forgiving.

My friend Arief, who I met on my way to Batam from Singapore almost a month ago invited me here to visit his family. His mother is a wedding planner, so the entrance to their home is filled with sequinned tops, batik skirts, and golden headpieces. Every part of Indonesia has different customs and clothing for weddings, but what they all have in common is that the dresses are elaborate, and they add intracately woven shawls of jasmine flowers on top of it all.She sshowed me a video of one wedding she organized. The bride sobbed the whole time and they had to keep giving her tissues. I was told thaat this was normal, even though they marry out of choice and for love. The brides cry from emotion, both happy and sad. People stay at home with their parents until marriage, when the bride moves in with the grooms family. This is a huge and scary change for a young woman who has never lived outside of one home.

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan started yesterday, and while I am in Indonesia, I am fasting as well. Non Muslims are not required to fast, nor are children, sick people, women on their period or people travelling over 80 kilometers. Friends have told me that some non muslims fast during Ramadan to lose weight, and they don't get as tempted by food because nobody around them is eating. Considering that Ramadan involves only eating at night, and wee hours of the morning, and we have been eating such goodies as deep fried fruit, rice wrapped in banana leaves, heavily salted eggs, fish cured in salt, then fried, and lots of chiles, only time will tell if I gain or lose weight.

Although the fast lasts one month, I will only be in Indonesia for 16 days, so I will miss "Hari Raya", which is a major holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. This fast is from sunrise to sundown and you are not allowed to eat or even drink water during daylight hours. It is a very spiritual practice that has a lot of good ideas. One is to teach people more compassion for the poor who are hungry all year. Another is to make one more appreciative of the food they have. I experience this with water. I absolutely love my first drink of water. During the fasting month, of course, there are special prayers, but everyone is also supposed to give generously to their fellow man, especially the poor, and to apologize to anyone you may have hurt throughout the year, and try to purify as much as possible with good actions, so when Ramadan ends, people are new again, like babies, with past resentments left behind. Every year is supposed to have a cumulative effect, as they work on raising their conciousness, and hopefully the collective conciousness. (Please note that this information is what I learn from talking to people in Indonesia, and there can be many ways to explain the same thing.)

Today, we went to a series of manmade caves that were created by a king several hundred years ago. Now, the moats are dry, the grass is brown, and it is in ruins, with too much garbage and grafitti, but it is still beautiful and interesting. I have heard mention of Muslim holy men who reach such a supernatural state through meditation that they can travel to other lands. I thought it was astral travel, but in this cave area, a guide explained that they are beleived to reach a state where their entire body travels. He told of a king who the Dutch wanted to kill. They were so frustrated, because he and another holy man fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and when the soldiers thought they had the two trapped, they were actually in a meditative state. One dissapeared to China, while the other ended up in Mecca.I really liked the correlation with the title of my book, and kept asking him to tell me more about these men.

Oct. 12, 2005

I was in a beautiful city called Bandung, which is referred to as the "Boston of Indonesia" because of so many universities. This is a prosperous city with wide boulevards, art deco and traditional Dutch architecture, and some homes that look like they escaped from Beverly Hills.

I stayed at a bed and breakfast belonging to a friend of my friend Arief named Sri, who dresses impeccably in lace trimmed tunics over pants, topped with a matching head scarf. Her 22 year old son, Cesar is trained as a chef and runs the guest house. He is also a medium who channels ancestors and lets his hands move involuntarily to write messages on paper.

Arief, Sri and I went to an active volcano, which was steaming in several places as vendors of everything from fuzzy bags to pens and handicrafts descended on me. I was the only westerner they had seen for a long time, so it was assumed that I come to volcanoes to do my shopping.

The other area, where you can boil eggs in hot water bubbling up from the earth turned out to be accessable only by hiking. Imagine me in my sparkling pointy toed shoes and Sri in color coordinated blue pumps. We made the hike though, saw the eggs cooking and I dipped my feet in a warm mineral mud pool with a big group of handsome Korean men. On the way back, a huge grey monkey rustled the tree branches high overhead.

I met the most interesting Islamic lecturer, who answered my questions and discussed many things about the religion from a well read standpoint. He explained how the religion has evolved in different ways depending on how far it travelled from the source (Mecca), and how in Java, there have been modifications.

I had to leave Bandung on Oct. 10, and be out of Indonesia the same day. The airline called Arief to let him know that our flight from Jakarta (4 hours away) would be leaving at noon instead of 2:30pm, as previously scheduled. Instead of taking the train, we scheduled a private van to pick us up at 6am for the trip Bandung- Jakarta. It arrived 40 minutes early. Luckily, we got to Jakarta early, because "Lion Air" did not have Arief on their passenger list and the flight was fully booked. They offered him a seat on business class if he would pay the difference. Finally, after some discussion with the management, they made room for him, which would mean bumping someone else off the oversold flight. We were killing time getting foot massages on the second floor of the terminal, when he realized that his baggage was being sent to Batam (our destination), but his boarding pass was to another place on another flight. One of the guys from the salon straightened it out.

Indonesia only grants 30 day non renewable visas, so foreigners have to leave the country every 30 days. If an expat lives and works in Indonesia, they have to leave every 60 days.

We got to Batam on time for me to take a boat to Singapore, stay 20 nminutes, get a new visa and be back in time for dinner.

October 18, 2005

"Back in Banda Aceh"

I looked forward to meeting Azwar, the head of the FBA, where I had volunteered last time I was here. His reputation preceeds him as the most energetic, outspoken, honest, and motivated NGO person in town. He was not in town last time, but when we met, he was really easy to be around and welcomed me back to the house.

I set about writing articles for the FBA,to help build up their press kit. The FBA is opening the new school that they have been building on Nov. 14. It will be a big celebration where all the people they have helped open businesses with micro economic loans will be selling their wares.

Azwar sent me out to meet people who have benefitted from the FBA and write their success stories. It has been amazing,and I have been able to integrate and experience society in Aceh even more this time than last. I met Sharifa, a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammed who lost 45 of the 48 members of her family, plus her home and business to the tsunami. The tsunami wiped away life as everyone knew it in a matter of ten minutes. No one was prepared for a thirty foot wall of water rushing at them 100 miles an hour (I do not have the scientific backing that it is the exact height or speed).

Sharifa was reduced to living in a tent in the rubble. Now, she lives in a plywood barrack with about 100 people. There is no electricity, and no plumbing. It is surrounded by sunken land and flattened homes that are now just scraps of wood and debris. Survivors want to stay on their land, because it is their ancestral home and contains their memories. Sharifa hand makes fishing weights by melting tin and palm oil together in a pan over a kerosine fire. Now, this has become a booming business, but she still has no home because there are no homes to be had.

I also met Rafli, the amazing and charasmatic singer, who is by far the most famous artist in Aceh. I met his manager by sheer cooincidence, and he arranged for me to visit Rafli in his home (and they gave permission for me to use Rafly's music in my upcoming film that will accompany te book "40 Days and 1001 Nights").

Life in the FBA house full of 12 local men and me is good. It is like having a bunch of nice, handsome brothers, and they are very respectful. I am saddened to learn that many of them have heartbreaking stories of losing their families, homes, and businesses in the tsunami. Most people here are philosphical and see it as God's will. I think their beleif gives them strength to keep going.

Now, it is Ramadhan, and we don't eat or drink anything during daylight hours. The muezzens from mosques call out when you can break the fast, which is determined by the position of the sun. Around 4am, they sing again, letting you know to eat breakfast. We all stumble sleepily out the door to a restaurant that serves rice, fish and vegetables to dozens of hungry men. You are supposed to pray for awhile after that, and Muslim prayers are quite physical, with kneeling, bowing, and standing repeatedly. Since I am not Muslim, I just go back to sleep,then wake up groggy with heavy, chili laden food still in my stomache, so I recently started buying fruit and just having fruit and water at 4am.

Hari Raya, known in Arabic as Id Al Fitri, is a big family celebration that marks the end of Ramadhan. Many people in Aceh are worried because their families are gone and they have no one to celebrate with. In the past, they would visit the graves of deceased loved ones, but many people were simply lost in the tsunami, and their bodies have not been found. Others were buried in mass graves because of the huge death toll.

Tamalyn Dallal has been bellydancing since 1976. She has danced for celebrities such as James Brown, Sean Connery, and others, as well as performing before royalty and world leaders: King Abdullah of Jordan (when he was a prince), members of the Saudi Arabian Royal family, and President Francisco Flores of El Salvador. She has also been the teacher and mentor of some of Americas top bellydancers, including Amar Gamal and Bozenka.

Raised in Seattle, she moved to Miami Beach in 1979, and founded the non profit arts organization, dance school and perfoming co., "Mid Eastern Dance Exchange" in 1990 with the mission to "Educate, inspire, and entertain the most diverse audience possible about Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture. The aspiration is to teach an appreciation of traditional dances while expanding the art into new frontiers..Promoting peace through understanding".

Ms. Dallal has written two books, "Belly Dancing for Fitness", and "They Told Me I Couldn't, which are published and available on Amazon. com,, and through the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange. She has written two feature length screenplays that have yet to be sold, and produced three full scale theatre shows, as well as Miami Beaches yearly "Orientalia" festival of ethnic Middle Eastern dance. Recently, she has started producing multi media Middle Eastern dance shows with dance and film combined with photography by Denise Marino.

After many years and many accomplishments, Ms. Dallal decided to venture out of Miami Beach and make the world her home. The Mid Eastern Dance Exchange continues, in the hands of her students and protoges. She is in charge of the newly formed "Cultural Connections"department of the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, through which she raises funds for artistic and inter cultural projects, and sees them to fruition. Ms. Dallal has been travelling extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East to teach workshops and perform.

"40 Days and 1001 Nights" is a huge commitment that involved many lifestyle changes, and will be a major growth and learning experience. Read on each week as the project unfolds.