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Mirissa Whale Watch II: now I know how Ishmael felt

Our second morning of whale-watching started as smoothly as whale-watch number one: we puttered out of the harbor around 7AM on beautiful morning, waving at the fishing boats cutting gracefully through gentle swells on their return from a pre-dawn expedition.


The crew passed around small plates of fresh fruit for breakfast, and all seemed well with the world.  One of the crew explained that yesterday, whales had been sighted relatively close to shore, but that today, the whales had returned to their more typical path further out, “grazing” in the deep ocean trenches.  There may have been some smug smiling among our family when we realized that we had seen this close-to-shore whale, while the other people on our boat anxiously scanned the horizon, wondering if today would be their lucky day.

Out into the deep waters we went; Mirissa’s cliffs dwindled to a thin line and then vanished altogether and it was just us, plowing through what the crew said were calm seas.  Calm rolling seas. Up and down we went, over swells that probably weren’t very big but weren’t very small, either.  Up and down, up and down, up and down. And then sometimes just for fun, a little side-to-side action when we’d shift direction in search of Moby Dick whales.

Plus? It was hot. Really, really hot. No breeze whatsoever and I had my eight-year-old sprawled across my lap, complaining that he felt “weird.” I popped half a dramamine in his mouth (I am nothing if not prepared), and then gave the other half to Liam, who had ignored our suggestion that perhaps he shouldn’t crouch on the deck reading (the final book in the “Mortal Instruments” series, apparently un-put-down-able) if he wanted to avoid being seasick.

“I am not seasick,” he insisted. “I just feel…weird.”

Apparently others on the boat were also feeling “weird:” I saw three or four people resting their heads on the boat railings, and a woman sitting near us got up with alarming frequency to hang her head off the side of the boat and vomit.  Lovely.

On and on we went, up and down, up and down.  The world looked like this (for full effect, wave your computer screen around as you look):


Do you see anything? Yeah. Me neither.  The waves, which only a few hours ago had seemed so picturesque now seemed diabolical.  And the slice of fresh mango I’d been served for breakfast was suddenly imitating the movements of the waves.

I tried, people, I tried. I kept my head up, looked out at the horizon, took deep breaths, but I had Caleb moaning in one ear and Liam moaning in the other, and that damn mango would not sit still.  I shoved the children off my lap and heaved myself to the little bathroom at the back of the boat just as the mango made a precipitous exit.

Post-mango, I felt much better, but my children and a handful of other passengers–judging from their pallid skin and hanging heads–were still feeling weird. We’d been on the boat now for about three hours and all we’d seen were a few dolphins, far in the distance.  It was ten o’clock, ten-thirty, eleven o’clock and nothing. Nothing, that is, but sunshine glittering up at us from the water and beating down on the deck.  Most of us huddled under the canvas shade stretched across the deck, which meant we were all squashed together, the last thing on earth (or sea) you want when you’re wrestling with mal de mer.

And mal is what that mer was, let me tell you.  I imagined all the blue whales of the world gathered in some thousand-meter canyon, laughing at our vain attempts to find them.

We’d occasionally veer more quickly in one direction or the other and everyone would perk up–maybe a whale-spout had been sighted….but then, nothing.

So we turned back. Five hours on the water and nothing.  But when we headed back for land, the breeze picked up, the boat stopped rolling, and the mood on board lightened considerably.  Even the Frenchwoman who’d spent the better part of the morning with her head hanging off the side managed a smile.

A little while later, Husband poked me. “We’re going back out,” he whispered. And sure enough: the shore line was behind us again, the boat was rolling again, the breeze had died down.


Yes. The guide explained that the fishermen had reported seeing a blue whale “in that direction,” (waving vaguely at the endless ocean) and so we were off again.  “We want you be satisfied,” he said, “so we will find the whale.”


But the only way I was getting off the damn boat was to swim, and given how far we were from land, that wasn’t an option. Plus I’m afraid of sharks.

On we went, heaving through the waves, which had picked up a bit in what was now the afternoon breeze.  The crew handed ’round a snack: one cream cracker and one gingersnap. Well, two gingersnaps.  Bon appetit, eh?

We went lurching in one direction and then another.  No whales. The whales had sensibly all gone out for lunch, which is what we should be doing. Or they were napping. Or they were half-way to freaking China.

The ocean offered us a consolation prize:


 But no goddamn whales.  We’d now been on the boat for seven hours. Several of us had vomited at least once, others more frequently.


On we went.  For a little while, a few other whale-watching boats stuck with us, but one by one, they came to their senses and went back to Mirissa, whale-less. But not us, oh no, we had the dedicated crew; we had the persistent crew.

And then–miraculously–came the call: “there she blows.” And indeed, there she blew. A whale. An actual freaking whale:


Yep. After seven and a half hours on the boat, we saw a whale. Or maybe just a big honking rock. Who knows.

Apparently this whale had her calf swimming alongside her, but I never saw it –the other passengers, frantic in their desire to see a whale, crowded to the side of the boat and blocked my view. Thus you get only this picture of a whale-rock and not some magnificent National Geographic-worthy shot of cetacean maternity.

And while yes, magnificent ocean creature and wow nature is amazing and blahbittyblah, you know what mattered most when we saw this whale (and her ostensible calf)?



Continue Reading · on April 5, 2013 in environment, Kids, Travel, Uncategorized

underpants for the underage

I will not be the only blogger who writes about this latest “ooh aren’t we edgy” marketing campaign; there are bloggers with far bigger platforms than mine who will draw attention to the latest entry in the “How Low Will Corporations Go” sweepstakes.  You thought perhaps the JC Penney “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother does it for me” shirt was lame, right?

Is your daughter too pretty to do her homework?

And I imagine you weren’t real happy about the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch had a campaign to sell padded swim-suit tops…to 8 year olds. Because really, let’s start training these girls early that it’s all about the boobs, girls, all about the boobs–and thus every swimsuit should, without a doubt, resemble a personal flotation device. (You’ll be happy to know that the company altered the description of the swimsuit top from “padded” to “lightly lined.” Which totally makes it okay.)

But now? Now we may have a winner in the Tastelessness Sweepstakes. I present to you the latest line of underwear being marketed by that bastion of tastelessness, Victoria’s Secret:

It’s a whole new line of undies that seem designed not so much in the “delicate unmentionable” category as they are in the what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking category.  Here’s another beauty:

Victoria's Secret: Pull "Bright Young Things" From Shelves

Couldn’t a gal just, you know, text some guy her number instead of dropping trou to present her request?

The undies are part of the new “Bright Young Things” line being launched as part of the VS PINK line; the ad campaign features scantily clad girls women frolicking in what are being billed as “Spring Break Must-Haves,” which is why I guess the collection also includes some fabulous beach towels, like this one:

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old lady muttering into her hearing aid, I’d like to suggest that from meet to kiss there should be more than one step. It seems appropriate that a beach towel carries this message, which is about being utterly and completely passive: just recline and let things be done to you: be called, be met, be kissed, be pinked. It’s like the girl is some kind of puppy waiting to be adopted from the pound: like me like me like me, all tail-waggy and dewy-eyed. And let’s not even contemplate what “pink me”  means, shall we?

Oh I know, there we go again, we shrill humorless feminists, we mothers whose memories of youth vanished when we zipped up that first pair of comfy mom jeans. I mean, it’s just a towel, for god’s sake, it’s just a pair of underpants.  Reeeelaaaaaxxxx, right?

Or as this oh-so-clever article from E! Online (ever a reputable news source) says, “don’t get your panties in a twist.”  And here’s why we should all just chillax, according to the article:

Victoria’s Secret PINK is a brand for college-aged women,” the company said in a statement to E! News. “Despite recent rumors, we have no plans  to introduce a collection for younger women. Bright Young Things was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.”

So, in other words, they’re not trying to make teens too sexy before their time.

The misunderstanding originated when the company’s chief financial officer, Stuart Burgdoerfer, said at a conference, “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”

The Bright Young Things just got caught up in the fray.

So no worries on the underpants front, folks, those sexy-pants messages are safe from your high school daughters.  Victoria’s Secret isn’t trying to turn 15 year old girls into sexy college students, absolutely not. I’m sure that store clerks will be carding their customers to ensure that no prepubescent lassie will be buying underwear that says “I Dare You.”

But hey, as “part of the magic,” I think that PINK should by all means encourage college girls women to emblazon sexual challenges on their scanties, and to splay themselves on beach towels that encourage objectification, passivity, and … pink-ing, whatever the hell that is.

Okay, sure, it’s just a stupid marketing gimmick and it’s just an overpriced pair of underpants that maybe don’t mean much. But the body that will wear those underpants? That body has meaning; that body has value.

Or at least, it should have value.  Unfortunately, the folks at Victoria’s Secret seem to have missed that point.


A petition to pull these pants off the shelves (as it were) is circulating the web; you can find the petition here.

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2013 in Feminism, Gender, growing up, Kids, Parenting, Politics, Products, ranting, sex, shopping, Uncategorized

water, water, everywhere…

Abu Dhabi, the city, is a bit like Manhattan, in that technically it’s an island, but it’s easy to forget that fact when you’re wandering in the maze of skyscrapers and multi-lane roads. Where Manhattan has New York Harbor, Abu Dhabi has the Arabian Gulf along one edge, and then a series of creeks and canals that separate the city from the mainland.

And then, of course, once you wander away from the Gulf and over the creeks, it’s just desert. Sand blurring out to the horizon, a view that’s vaguely oceanic in size and scope except that it’s, you know, dry.  In fact, in photos of old Abu Dhabi (and keep in mind that “old” here means 1956, 1963, 1971) the desert reaches right up to the ocean’s edge, with roads cut through the sand.

image source

When you’re in the city now, it’s easy to forget, at least briefly, that you’re in the middle of the desert – at least until you realize that the slightest breeze blows fine sandy grit onto every surface.

In attempts to create the illusion of an oasis, the city has built grassy parks with shady walks; there are palm trees and flowerbeds around most of the public buildings; and everywhere there are fountains.

Big public “art” fountains:

And little fountains that spurt out of the bike path with no warning:

And fountains half-hidden from public view:


None of the water (that I tasted, anyway) seemed like salt water. I don’t know if the fountains run with the same desalinated water that comes through the pipes and that is in the process of wrecking my hair (see here for why, but suffice it to say that if we stay here for a long time, I’ll be wearing full hijab because I’ll be bald).

The fountains are beautiful, and they, along with all the green plantings do create the illusion that I’m living in an oasis city, not a desert outpost.

But all the irrigating, the endless miles of hoses and water-lines that criss-cross the city to feed the fountains and gardens…It comes at a price: desalinating is hideously expensive and ultimately damaging to the environment, not only because of the drain on the original water source but also because of what’s done with the chemicals used to treat the water and render it drinkable.  The UAE leads the world in water consumption, despite having so little of it.

The water everywhere makes me wonder if what’s really on display is wealth: you can’t really beautify public space with a crude-oil fountain but the oil pays, in a sense, for all these displays of water-fed beauty.

If the water dries up (or the oil), the sand comes back; it will cover the fountains and the flowerbeds. It’s like the ending of “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s warning about imperial over-reaching and the dangers of believing too deeply in the permanence of your own creations: Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Continue Reading · on November 27, 2012 in environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE, Uncategorized, urban nature

Living on Jordan Time. Sort of

It all would’ve been fine if Caleb and Liam hadn’t quarreled about who woke up whom at what time.

There we were at breakfast at the wonderfully named Moevenpick Hotel (say it out loud: move-n-pick, like pick-n-roll but without the ball), just outside the gates to Petra. We’d spent the entire day before climbing around ruins that had been ruins since Christ was a boy—literally—and now my own darling boys were wrangling about whether Caleb woke up at 6AM or 7.

Liam, adamant, insisted it had been six; Caleb, equally adamant, insisted that it had been seven.

Husband solved the problem by consulting the oracle of google,which told us that Jordan had instituted “winter time” (daylight savings time) that night, so that, in fact, both boys were right: it had been seven AND six.

Wicked early, no matter how you slice it, but it stopped the bickering.  We dutifully turned our watches back an hour, took one more look out the windows at Petra’s sandy hills, and then packed our car for the three-hour drive up to the Dead Sea.

So lucky, we told ourselves, that Jordan had turned back the clocks: it meant that we could take our time on our drive, but still have most of the afternoon at our Dead Sea hotel.  We puttered along, in our rented Citroen (has ever a car been more aptly named?), marveling at the view (okay, Husband and I marveled at the view; the boys marveled at the sights unfurling on their iPads. Upside: no bickering, no whining, no whenarewegonnabetheres. Downside: they saw almost nothing of the splendid, ancient countryside).

Indeed, that extra hour gave us more time in the Dead Sea, where we bobbled around until sunset, watching the lights come on in the tiny towns on the opposite shore (Israel, the country that can be seen but not named).

Blissfully scrubbed, skin gleaming from our self-applied mud baths, we presented ourselves at the hotel restaurant for our 7PM dinner reservation.

“Oh no,” said the host. “You’ve missed it. You’re an hour late.”

An hour late? How could that be? We checked our watches, showed him our iOracles, all indicating that it was 7PM on the dot.  We explained that we’d even been so clever as to adjust our clocks back, to account for Jordan’s daylight savings time.

He nodded, pitying comprehension dawning on his face. “There is no daylight savings this year,” he said.  “On Wednesday, the government decided not to.”

Just like that?  Like an entire government of Bartlebys, they simply preferred not to?

Apparently so.  And our oracle, the god google, as is the case with oracles, refused to admit its mistake and could shed no light on why Jordan would simply withdraw winter time; nor would it tell us what time our plane would leave the next day.

Here’s how I see it: if my kids hadn’t argued about who had woken up when, and if Husband hadn’t consulted google and found out about the time change, then we wouldn’t have changed the clocks…And we’d have been on time.  So my children, google, and the King of Jordan are to blame for our confusion.

Our flight the next day, by the way, was listed online as leaving Amman at 3PM.

We arrived at the airport to discover that the flight was leaving on time.

At 4PM.





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Continue Reading · on October 28, 2012 in expat, family, Kids, lost in translation, Travel, Uncategorized

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