Sunday, June 27, 2010

Civil Disobedience - Saudi Style

There are very few times in life I find myself winding up a fist-pump and shouting "you go girl", but if I'm going to embarrass myself in a fit of overwhelming feminism this is a good reason to do so.

As most people know the role of women in the family, workplace and society as a whole in certain Islamic nations can be very limited. Saudi Arabia (ps. if you want to sound like you know the region just say 'Saudi' the whole 'Arabia' part is very American - no one else says it) isn't known for topping the lists for a great human rights track record or granting civil liberties and basic freedoms to women. Just one of the MANY things a woman can't do in Saudi is drive. The only time a woman can get anywhere in a car is when she is accompanied by a male relative, because if she were to take a regular taxi she would clearly be 'alone' with a male non-relative.A group of brave and ingenious women who are fighting for their rights in Saudi have come up with a solution/treat. Either let us drive or we will breastfeed taxi drivers for the right to drive with them.

Seem like an odd solution? Not by the Koran's standards. It is stated in the Holy Book that once a woman has breastfed an infant (whether kin or not) that baby is now a 'daughter' or 'son' of that woman. Many believe that the practice was developed because during nomadic times mothers would often share the responsibility of feeding infants. By then declaring that a certain group of infants were all now 'related' you discouraged them from marrying and therefore they would need to seek out mates in other tribes which was healthy both biologically and for their trading partnerships.

These woman are threatening to turn taxi drivers into their 'sons' so they can then legally hitch a ride.

The most disturbing part? A renowned religious scholar and senior advisor to the Saudi king issued a fatwa saying "ok, that's reasonable." Rather than grant women the right to drive he has gone on record to say that this would be an acceptable way for woman to 'get around' the ban on driving and that it has the government's support.

The women say they aren't bluffing - and they were commence with a campaign. What's worse is now they are receiving backlash from the community attacking their modesty and values despite that they are merely making good on what their scholars have told them. Unbelievable. Stay strong girls!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Paragliding - Fly Like an Eagle, Fall Like a Human

You can see my dilemma - on one hand, my mother told me she'd never allow me to fly a plane (I think that pile of fabric on the right qualifies). On the other, I really, really wanted to jump off the cliff by running down that ramp on the left. Into the clouds. As the first people to paraglide off Neuschwanstein after 6 weeks of rain. Ahem. It's a parachute, and a chair, and some REALLY thin rope. What could go wrong?
Well, I ran down the ramp after all, and was rewarded by feeling what it's like to be a bird. A bird with ugly shoes (they made me wear them), but a bird nonetheless.

And the views of the alps, with the castles below, from a flying chair at 5,000 ft were just amazing. The clouds finally broke as we flew down threw them, and I was able to snap this vista (mental note: never trying changing a lens while paragliding)
Afterwards, a fellow glider had fun by landing on our sail, but don't worry -we survived...
...right up until we started doing inverted loops, and other crazy maneuvers that you should never approach without a 45-year old instructor with a pony tail named "Tiger" (mine was, fortunately). This picture was taken while my chair was ABOVE the parachute. So was what I had for lunch, unfortunately!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Greatest Tie Since Bunker Hill!

Goaaaaaaaaaaaaalll! It was on Saturday night I learned the sheer pleasure of screaming this word out loud. In football-obsessed Dubai you hear the TV and radio announcers do it all the time but I never really tried it on for size. Finally in the UK-US world cup match up I had my chance.

The American Business Council and British Business Group hosted a joint World Cup watch function at the Meydan race course. Our group of friends was divided right down the middle for the two teams and we decided to host a friendly-fire Dubai tailgate (Matt says we can call it a tailgate because he found some BBQ Ruffles to put out) before the real action divided.

Our British friends were a little, ahem, over confident, although I had been told to prepare myself for a loss so my expectations were low. Which is why, when we tied the game we went absolutely bananas. I think the NY Post has gone a little far to claim victory, but the Bunker Hill quote is priceless!

I can't help but think that it was our Americana-inspired outfits that helped push the team over the edge, especially Lisa's sunglasses

Munchin' in Munchen

The food in Munich deserves its own little post. Let's just say that Mr. Atkins would approve. Not to mention it turns out that being from Pennsylvania Dutch territory I felt right at home with the menu!
Yup. I didn't even know they could come in that size. Oh happy day!

Each mug is about 3.5 beers. Matt got brave and went for the super dark stuff.

Apfelstrudel, you just can't say no.

They are so good apart, why not together? Matt reports back: ewww, don't do that.

The power of the pretzel.

Pork seven ways. That's almost too versatile don't you think?

The divine weissbier and infamous pork knuckles. Pigs don't really have knuckles, so I'll let you guess.

Matt ordered a BLT. More like a BBBlt.

Muellers in Munich

Prost! Welcome to Munich the land of beer, pork, castles, beer, lederhosen, beer, pretzels (!) and did I mention beer? I wouldn't dare tell you that we had visited Germany in the past week, for I now know that I was truly in Bavaria and that any good Bavarian will tell you that they want nothing to do with the "fish heads from the North". Read: Northern Germany is near the water = fish heads. In fact they won't even eat fish, it is considered such an insult. That's ok though, who needs fish when you can have pork knuckle, pretzels and beer?

This beautiful little city and the surrounding black forest is really as close to the fairytales as you can get, I can see why the Brothers Grimm were so inspired. The culture of the Bavarians runs throughout every aspect of their life (namely driving a BMW and putting away a few liters of brew at lunch) and they have an incredibly strong regional identity which makes them quite distinct, according to them, from their other Germany counterparts. You can pretty much tell they think they are the cool kids, and they are most definitely sitting in the back of the German bus.

We learned a few things on our trip:

1. Matt can't really be afraid of heights when he is willing to leap off the side of a mountain at a moments notice (and a few Euro lighter) - more on his paragliding adventures in a separate post.
2. I LIKE wheat beer! It's taken me 10 years (umm, 7 years if you are reading this Mom) and one too many frat parties to decide I don't like beer. Just when I'm about to throw in the towel all together Weissbier comes to the rescue, yum!
3. If you don't know anything about King Ludwig II you have to look him up, that man knows how to build a castle.
4. There is a such thing as too much pork (like when it starts coming in pudding form).
5. Trying to speak German can make you sound really silly once you realize some of it is like English with an accent. Like when I spent 2 minutes looking up "where is" in German. It's "vaw ist". Or when I told Matt we were looking for the "Kon-zer-t-ha-us" - on paper doesn't look like much but when you say it out loud and it comes out "concert house" you feel like you can speak German. It happens alot, I swear if you stare at any German world long enough you'll see English.
6. Mueller rolls off the tongue pretty easily over there, it's like the German version of Smith. Although I was called Frau Mueller a few times and that was just a little much.
7. Lastly, we learned that one trip isn't going to be enough. We can't wait to go back to Bavaria!

Example 1 of why Ludwig II is so cool. Look at this thing! Who cares if ran the entire county into a deep debt with his spending. How the heck else is Cinderella going to get to the ball, I ask you!

The view from St. Peter's Church bell tower. The New Town Hall with the glockenspiel, and the the two towered Frauenkirche.

The inside view of St. Peterskirche (see kirche = church, told you it wasn't that hard)

I didn't get to far into sightseeing until I needed my first pretzel. They were everywhere, god bless 'em. If you are missing any pretzels you can blame me - Pretzel Bandit.
The Deutsches Museum takes the study of German engineering to a new level. (4 levels that is, Matt catagorically when through every room). I'll admit this 1800's fishing boat was pretty cool.

The Chinese Tower in the English Garden right in the middle of Munich's oldest beer garden.

This is beer garden at the tower, it has 7,000 seats and on this beautiful Saturday afternoon we had trouble finding one!

The famous Munich river surfers. It's just one wave on the Isar but they dominate it even when it's only about 65 degrees! Wet suits required.

Rendez-vous at the Hofbrauhaus with the famous Mike's Bike tours.

We spent half a day at the Dachau concentration camp site. It was difficult and moving.

This is a statement in 4 languages: English, German, Russian, and Hebrew about how the world cannot let these atrocities happen ever again.

A chilling moment.
We hiked this gorge all the way to the bridge (seen at the top) to get the best view of Mad King Ludwig's beautiful Neuschwanstein. His mother the Queen had the bridge built so she didn't have to hike down one side of the gorge and up the other - I'll say.

Now THIS is a castle. Neuschwanstein was King Ludwig II's crown jewel. It is a total fantasy and looks right out of Camelot. This picture is taken from Queen Mary's bridge.

I think this is what people mean when they say 'pretty as a picture'. The view was honestly magnificent. I kept on singing "the hills are alive.." and Matt said "why do you keep singing that, where is it from?" Oh boy, movie night soon, even if I have to tie him to a chair.

Seriously, can you tell I love this castle. The guy had style.

This a pretty special view. This is Matt traveling on an updraft in a tandem paraglide.

It had rained for a whole month and had stopped that very morning. What a fantastic day!