Thursday, March 20, 2014

This is the Place.

I stayed only a couple days at my folk's house where I was reunited with my beautiful Jana (my motorcycle) and took her up to Ogden to see the rest of my family.  Utah was just amazing to me that summer.  I realize I had just spent a year in the wasteland of the Arabian desert, but Utah always seems so beautiful when I return and I when I am there I sometimes wonder why it is I always leave.  I do love much about being there and often think I will want to return on a more permanent basis. 
It was very green there that summer of 2011, nearly three years ago. I rained much through the spring and the sky was clear and the weather warm and wonderful with fantastic breezes blowing out of the canyons and cool summer nights.
I visited my best friend from childhood, Jason, for a short time and I did chores around my brother's house and happily idled my time away.  I walked with the dogs and with my brother and drove my motorcycle up through some of my favorite rides.
I went back down to my folk's for a few more days to enjoy the country splendor and my nephew Brannock was there also and we hung out and joked.  I did get to spend a little time with my nephews.  They are such fabulous kids and it amazes me how much they still seem to love me.  I should be a stranger to them how little I see them and how far away I have lived.  I will always love them though and they are among the things I miss the very most when I am gone. I miss seeing them grow up and being a part of their lives and I am often jealous at the lives of my sister and brother, that very typical American life, spouse, kids, mortgage, etc. 
I spent the 24th of July in Fairview with my parents. That morning we did the community breakfast in the park and walked around the booths and watched the singing competition, which had the level of professionalism and talent you would expect of a small town.  We went to the kids rodeo in all of its droll splendor.  We also went to the adult rodeo, bucking broncos and wild bulls and over sized belt buckles, lassos, and barrels, and rodeo clowns and the food was that fabulous fair food, and I had had a craving for Navajo tacos for over a year and it was wonderfully quenched  with the crispy fry bread and hot beans and sour cream and all the proper fixings. I noticed that summer how much more I was paying attention to American culture, the food and clothes, and how people interacted and acted and moved and talked.  I wanted to take pictures of handlebar mustaches and BBQ platters and old country trucks and over sized portions and American flags.  I was a tourist in my own country and in my parent's town and all around people that spoke my own language and grew up the same way I did and yet I was a tourist and it seemed I appreciated my own culture more that way.  I was fascinated by all the tiny things that I would not have normally noticed and that seemed so strange and different and I was proud to be from such a place.

 The event of the year in small town Fairview seemed to be the demolition derby that brought people in from all the surrounding towns and some even from down in Happy Valley.  It was a blast.  I had not been to a demolition derby in a long time and I laughed and cheered and smiled at the very idea that such a crowd would form around and enthusiastically cheer around a bunch of old jalopies banging and ramming in to each other in an effort to see who could demolish the most and last the longest.  It might not be fine art or old mysticism, but that my friends is culture, red neck and backwoods and glorious and beautiful culture.

 It was all a grand ceremony in patriotism, though not a national holiday.  For anyone unfamiliar with Utah, the 24th of July is nearly as big as the 4th of July, though instead of celebrating the the nation's independence, we celebrate the arrival of the pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley and their settling of Utah.  It is called Pioneer Day, and is treated much the same is Independence day, with rodeos and fairs and parades and festivals and too much food and family and outdoor celebrations and parties and time at the lake and running through the sprinklers and BBQ and lemonade and fresh corn and fireworks and a hot summer day and cool summer night.  It is always fun to be back in Utah for the 24th of July and I was happy to be with my parents in a small rural town of cowboys and farmers and country drawls and wide open spaces and green fields  and livestock, a town where rodeos mean something and demolition derbies  are a huge attraction

 It really was a great trip. With my parents we ate dinners around the fire outside, grilling burgers and roasting hot dogs and making smores, the perfect summer meal.  I slept out on the lawn with my nephew Brannock and went out for drives with my old man and chatted with my mom and played with their dog. I constantly gazed up to the majestic mountains and as always I was in awe of them, the rocky peaks and boulders and stone slides slipping down the steep slopes, the trees clinging and climbing and the green of trees and gray and brown of earth and stone and the stars at night speckled and spattered and the blackness of night contrasted with a bright moon and that fantastic breeze crawling down in soft whispers from the canyons that surround where I am from.  I love that breeze, the feel of it on my face like a clean shave and a cool kiss.
 We also stayed to watch the fireworks show, surprisingly well done for a town of only a few thousand people. No grand celebration seems complete with the popping and pounding of colorful explosions in the sky.

 With my mother we took drives around the towns surrounding hers, looking at houses and and the farmland and stopping at small thrift stores and country ice cream shops for BBQ sandwiches and ice cream cones and we just drove around more to spend time with each other than to see anything in particular, though we did stop off at one of her favorite homes in the center of a small town down the road.  It was a beautifully restored home with guest house and old barn turned in to a gorgeous studio, though the best part was the cottage garden completely surrounding the property, decorative moss and ground coverings growing in through patchwork stone walks and grasses and flowers in a bright variety of colors standing tall or hanging low or clinging in vines up along walls or drooping down from trellises. We knocked on the door to ask the owner if we could walk around the property and take pictures and he gave us a full tour both inside and out and I was reminding of my love of flowers, a love planted and nourished by my mother and fed by my desire to hold on that connection with her.  That was a beautiful garden, a garden I dream to have that wraps around in a perfect precision of chaos and order.  It has been a while since I have grown my own garden, and I do not know when I will grow another like the one I once had.

 My friend Suzette also visited me from California.  I picked her up at her sister's house down near Provo and we drove up to my folk's and she spent a couple days with me.  We took Jana up the canyon and down around the lakes and the river on the opposite side of the mountains and we walked around up on top of the pass and we wrestled and trash talked and teased and sat out by the fire and acted just as we did before I moved away from California several years before.  It was great to have her visit, to have such a great friend.
 We decided to head up to Ogden so I drove Jana up and she followed behind me in a car and on the way up, an absolute torrential hail storm came down with winds that fiercely pounded against me blowing me all across the road and the hail felt like thousands of BBS stinging my skin in piercing shots and I could see nothing, visibility of mere feet in front of me.  I pulled off and drove slowly along the shoulder, fearing to even park my bike knowing the wind would knock it over, but barely able to keep it up while I drove on top and impossible to see and soaked and drenched riding unprotected in the rain. It was a painful ride and miserable and frightening, unable to see, but unable to pull over.  I found a road to pull of on, though the visibility was so poor, particularly with the hail pounding down on my helmet's visor, that I could not see the road until I was up on it, though just off that road was a church and I parked my bike up on the sidewalk under the awning of the door and fortunately I had some spare clothes in the car so I changed out of my drenched clothes in the bathroom of the church and then Suzette and I slowly drove to a nearby restaurant to wait out the storm.  It passed and we continued the journey up north, driving more canyons and wrestling and trash talking more and being friends again.  She only stayed a couple days and then she flew back to California.  It was great to have her visit. Shortly after she left, I did as well, on my way out of the country again, to a new part of the world and ready for more adventures and new experiences.  I said goodbye to my family again and to my hometown and to my motorcycle and packed my backpack up again and my father drove me to the airport stopping off at Jamba Juice on the way down for favorite meal and then we came to the airport and then I was gone, and Utah and my family were again far from me, though I knew I would return.  I suppose there is a part of us that always clings to home and to the familiar and the memories.

 Utah I’m glad to be here where the mountains rise
Dazzling white ‘neath the clear blue skies
From crimson dawn ’til the dear day dies
Way out west in Utah. 

-"Utah" by Minnie Hardy

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Brother's Best Man.

  Well, it has been a long time since I have bothered to write here.  It seems I often find myself unconvinced of worthwhile reasons, though I have had much to write of these past couple years, many journeys, many new countries traveled, many experiences, thoughts, emotions.  I won't remember them all and can only hope to write a modicum of these things, inadequate as always, insufficient as ever.
  I last wrote when I left the deserts of Arabia on my way home to Utah for a brief visit.  That must have been 2-3 years ago. That visit has long passed, while some of the memories remain.  One of the main plans for that trip back home was to attend my oldest brother's wedding.  My brother Dustin proposed to his girlfriend and seeing as I missed the other weddings in my family due to living out of state and unable to return home, they actually planned the wedding around the time I would be back home in the states, and there was not way I was going to miss it.
 I flew in to Utah and my brother Dallin picked me up at the airport and late that night we arrived at my folk's house and I ran in to hug my parents.  It was not the same return home I had the year before, walking in on my surprised parents with them in a bewildered state of disbelief upon seeing me.  I definitely remember that day, the whole 3 day hitchhiking journey home, the bruises and blisters and growling stomach and sleeping in ditches and collapsing on the side of the street from exhaustion and hunger and having every minute worth it when I walked in the front door of my parent's house and put my backpack down and tapped on my mother's shoulder.  I would still consider that among the best days of my life.
 Dustin's wedding was two days later.  It was a small wedding with only family invited and held in the lush green yard of my parent's home. The weather was a perfect Utah day with perfect Utah scenery, everything green up through the canyon and farms and fields lush in verdant color even in to early August. I always love going back to my parent's small cabin canyon home.  They call it Bridge Hollow, though often shortened to "the Hollow."  It is calm personified.  I know why they love it there so much.  It is a place to lounge days away in a hammock, to sleep outside on a cool summer's night staring up to a million stars, to eat breakfast outside in the cool morning air and roast marshmallows on an open fire with the soft whistling of night time breeze or to enjoy the perfect gift a shady tree.  Yes, I do always love visiting home.
The wedding was small and quaint and wonderfully not overdone.  I guess I have never really understood the reasons for big overblown weddings and prefer simple ceremonies shared with those you truly love and this wedding did not disappoint in this regard.  My brother actually had his leg in a cast and was not suppose to walk on his leg and his cast was in his favorite Bronco orange that stuck out the bottom of his suit pants and he wheeled himself around on his leg scooter, even as he stood up taking his vows, his one bed leg rested on his scooter next to his beautiful bride dressed in white and gleaming as a new bride should.  Women do always steal the wedding, and understandably so, they are the fairer sex for sure.
I was asked to be the best man, though not given typical best man duties such as planning any bachelor party. I made the wedding toast and held the ring and walked the maid of honor, my sister, down the aisle to usher in the star of the show, my new sister-in-law.
The ceremony ended and we enjoyed the light refreshments and the company and the weather and I was happy to have been part of the wedding.  I have often missed the big family events and I still have the photos from my sister's wedding where I was photo shopped in because I was not able to be there.  I was happy to be a part of this and to see my family and have my brother be married to a woman that truly loves him.  It seems it was not too late for at least one of us Stott boys and in even all of my extended family there are only three of us that are still single, the youngest in the family, my cousin Sarah Beth, and then just myself and my brother Dallin.
Anyway, I will write more of Utah in the next post.  For now, I leave with pictures from my brother's big day.



You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
-Khalil Gibran.  "The Prophet."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Arabian Nights.

"I speak of Desert without repose
Carved by relentless winds
Torn up from its bowels
Blinded by sands
Unsheltered solitary
Yellow as death
Wrinkled like parchment
Face turned to the sun."
  "Landscapes" - Andree Chedid.


Another long adventure, another experience is winding down.  I am in my last night here in the deserts of Arabia.  It is always a strange feeling to leave a place that has been your home.  I have not just visited the Middle East.  I have not just passed through the isolation of the Western Region of the UAE, but I have lived here.  This has been my home for a year, and I know I am leaving now.  I am leaving my home.  I am leaving forever.  This is not the first time I have left a home, nor will it be the last.  It is a different feeling than before.  It is perhaps the absence of a feeling.  When I left Arizona, I was sad.  When I left Utah, I was sad.  When I left California, I was sad.  When I left the US, I was sad.  When I left Korea, I was sad.  When I leave here, I will not be sad.  I am not sad now.  I have lived here, but perhaps I should rephrase what I said before, this has not been my home.    This has been so different from other places I have lived.  I have had some unique and fun experiences while living here, but the living here seems to be defined by the absence of things.  I miss living in a place where I can just take a walk outside.  I miss living in a place where I can see something beautiful and find some peaceful spot.  Here, there is no place to walk to, no beauty for miles and miles, just an emptiness of flat sand, smoggy air, and electric lines. 
  Living in a labor camp is an interesting experience.  Yes, this is a labor camp, but do not get visions of WWII camps stuck in your mind, or us poor starving souls out digging ditches.  This is a camp for day laborers, most of them from poor Asian countries who come here and work long hours in the HOT, HOT sun for $200-$300 a month.  Yes, some do make more than that, and we westerners make considerably more than that, but there is a huge inequality in these countries.  There is a definite class or caste system.  Nationals are automatically superior to everyone and anyone else in the whole of the world, followed by other oil rich GCC countries.  Western expats are next on the list, and we are treated well.  After us westerners, other Arabic countries, then falling far below comes in the Filipinos, the Pakistanis, the Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Indians, and so forth.  The Indians are down at the very bottom of the barrel.  This is a country of indentured servitude.  Many of the people here are only a rung or two above being slaves.  It really is awful how they are treated, disrespected, and looked so down upon. Many of the people at the camp fall in to those lower categories, though those falling in to the very lowest are crammed in to camps and living conditions FAR worse than what we have here.  Our camp is not entirely bad, though the atmosphere here does strange things and seems to suck the life and will out of you.  It is not a good place to be.  Other than a very small handful of us English teachers, the only westerners at this camp only stay for a couple weeks until their company finds them better living arrangements, or they are here on short assignments only.  Those I have told I am here for a year have this mixed look of pity and respect.  Perhaps we are at least a little deserving of both. 
  There are perks to the place.  We do get our clothes washed, room cleaned, and free food at scheduled times.  The room is not always extremely clean, but clean enough, and not too many cockroaches and bugs to really bother you.  It is a basic room, as I mentioned in an earlier post, but basic is good enough for me.  I can honestly say that I have stayed in guest houses in Asia for between $5-$8 a night that are better than this room, but again, other than the horrible, horrible mattress, I am content with the room.  The food is well balanced, but not well prepared or particularly good.  We have chicken nearly every night, and it is like chewing on an eraser.  I rarely find myself excited about a meal time here, but eat because I know I need to and am hungry.  The meat here is so incredibly dry.  I feel like I need a gulp of water with every bite.  The good nights are when we have these small miniature sized steaks, that are also pretty dry, but not near as bad as the chicken and not as caked in fat as the lamb.  Still though, it is better than shopping and cooking for myself, though sometimes I don't really believe that. 
  There has only been one social event this whole year living here at the camp.  There was a basketball tournament between some of the companies who had employees here.  We got a team together and played.  Most of the games, I was the only white person and the only westerner on any of the six teams.  The last two games we got another American guy who lives at the hotel about 30 km away to join our team, but other than those two games, I was it.  My team was all Lebanese guys and one Filipino and then me, and all the other teams were 100% Filipino.  We did win the tournament.  Yep, we are may as well be the basketball champions of the whole Western Region.  We weren't the best team, but when you are playing all Filipinos you tend to have a height advantage, and we really capitalized on that advantage. 
  The rest of the time at the camp you feel like you are in lock down.  I think I mentioned this before.  I call the camp "prison with a paycheck."  We get our work release and we all meet in the dirty cafeteria at meal times, and other than that, you stay in your room the rest of the night.  There really just isn't much else to do.  I leave every weekend, usually just to the one hotel that is 30 km away, though sometimes I head to Abu Dhabi or Dubai and I actually find it shocking to see a woman out there.  Unless I go to the hotel, I don't see a woman where I live, not at work, not at that camp, and not even out walking around.  Where I live, the only place to walk on is the dangerous highway, and people in this area are notoriously bad drivers and there is a high traffic fatality rate here. 
  This really is an interesting country, crippled by their wealth.  The government gives the locals everything, free houses, free money, free everything, and because everything is handed to them, most of the people here are quite possibly the laziest and most incompetent people in the world.  It is sad really.  It is not the Arabia I hoped for.  It is not at all the Arabia I envisioned.  Eighty percent of the country are expats, mostly from India and Pakistan, and then the Philippines.  The locals often complain about too many expats in the country, but they could not survive without these expats.  They would not be able to pump, drill, and refine the oil, and in fact, I don't think they would be able to pump their own gas at the petrol station.  This country is entirely dependent upon expat labor to do everything.  It is good for them they have all this oil. 
  It has not all been bad.  I have had good experiences and done fun things.  I have gone out to the desert, gone dune boarding and dune bashing, been on camels, swam in the sea, taken great and amazing vacations to new and exciting countries, seen the tallest building in the world, dined in the world's most luxuriant hotel, toured the world's most expensive mosque, visited old souks and bazaars, bartered and bargained, bought Arabian frankincense and myrrh, and made new friends, and most of the year, the weather here is quite fantastic.  Yes, in the summer it can be horribly hot and extremely humid.  It was about 122 degrees the last couple days, and very, very humid on top of that, but most of the year the weather is not so bad, and much of the year it is extremely pleasant, with wonderful evenings and warm days.  Yes, I will miss those Arabian nights when after working out at the hotel I would stroll the grounds of the hotel out in the dark alone and the weather would so sublimely sift across my body and soothe and settle upon my skin.  Those were my peaceful moments, my Arabian nights. I did enjoy that.    I have certainly had my moments here, and those moments are coming to an end.  I will likely never again be in this country, will never again teach a Bedouin child, or spend hours driving through the blank desert.  I am leaving it all.  I am leaving it forever, and yet, I am not sad for this.  This is not my home.  I have had several homes, and this will not be one of them.  I am heading soon to one of them. I do not get excited about many things.  I get excited about traveling though, and always get excited about going home.  I wonder what it will be like this time.  I know I cannot top my last visit home and that great surprise.  I will not hitch hike home, skinny and starved and tap on my mother's surprised shoulder.  Still though, I am excited.  I am always excited to see family, and living abroad makes me far more excited.  I am not just seeing my family.  I am seeing my home.  I am seeing my country.  I suppose Utah will always be my home, even though I have no home there myself, and have not lived there myself for 6 years, but it is where my family is, and I will always keep a large part of myself there.  I will always be a Utahn with a lot of California in me and room left over for Arizona and Korea.  I cannot say when I will live in the US again, but I know I will live and die an American and will be proud of that. 
  Anyway, there is in fact a lot more I could say, but I wake up early for a long day of traveling and still need to finish with packing and wish to write at least a paragraph about my last little venture out of the UAE, my venture in to neighboring Oman.

We had a long holiday weekend not long ago, and I took advantage by heading over to Oman for the holiday.  I do typically prefer to travel alone, but I did invite a South African fellow living at the camp to join me, and he did.  He has not done much for traveling before, and I think this was his first trip without his mother he has been on.  It turned out be a great little holiday. 
  We left right after work and took a bus to Dubai and spent the night in old Dubai at the cheapest hotel in town.  Early in the morning we hopped a bus for Muscat, several hours out east on the sea.  We spent a few nights out there just meandering around the city.  Muscat is an extremely spread out city.  it seemed to be three or four town in one, all separated by mountains.  The mountains there reminded me of the mountains on the Sinai Peninsula, though not as large, still they stood tall and craggy and popped up unevenly and chaotically like pointed gopher mounds.  The roads curved and swayed and the whole city seemed built with the mountains in mind, from the color to location.  Muscat is a beautiful city, far more unique than anything in the UAE.  Old Muscat was wonderful.  All the buildings were Arabic architecture and the mountains curved around the sea with splendid views.  The buildings seemed to be placed mathematically and precisely to accentuate and blend in with the mountains around.  I don't know how to describe the city except to say that everything seemed to fit.  Nothing was out of place or called too much attention.  The city seemed conscious of itself, of its surroundings, especially the mountains and the sea.  We spent nearly all our time in old Muscat walking up and down the streets, staring at old forts and watch towers on top of rocky, jutting mountains with brick that blended in to rock.  We walked the old souk and shopped and ate and feasted on delicious juices, much needed in the heat and humidity.  We saw the Sultan's palace and his yacht, which I mistook for a cruise ship.  We drove out to a beach lying in an alcove and sat secluded and peaceful in the sun, surrounded by a desert that seemed so much more alive than Ruwais. 
  I did quite like it there, and was even fascinated by little things such as having locals work as cab drivers or hotel attendants.  In the UAE, locals only work in plush government jobs.  They hire poor Asians to do everything else, so you would never have an Emirate cab driver or hotel attendant, so I found it refreshing in Oman to see the locals working and providing a living for themselves.  I instantly gained more respect for that country, and the city did seem more genuine and more authentic and it offered a more cultural feel and vibe to it.  Dubai can be a fun city with many things to do, but it does not have a genuine Arabic feel to it.  Muscat had that.  I loved it, the very feel of it.
  Anyway, for any of you who read.  I am finished.  I am finished for tonight.  I am finished with my travels, at least for a short time.  Soon, new adventures will start, the first being a reunion with my family.  I do not know when I may write again.  I am never entirely sure if I will write again, but I'll make the effort, and hope to find more to tell than I have been telling thus far. 

"O land of ours where our childhood passed
Like dreams in the shade of the orange-grove,
Among the almond-trees in the valleys--
Remember us now wandering
Among the thorns of the desert,
Wandering in rocky mountains;
Remember us now
In the tumult of cities beyond deserts and seas;
Remember us
With our eyes full of dust
That never clears in our ceaseless wandering"

  "In the Deserts of Exile."  -Jabra Ibrahim Jabra.