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    Entries in - Personal essay (85)

    Tuesday
    Feb212012

    Since the last war

    THE MORNING NEWS - 21 FEBRUARY 2012

    The reporter is wearing an eye patch.

    “And who do you work for?” she says, clearing her throat.

    “I’m retired,” I say.

    A grizzled tribe of Middle East correspondents has gathered at the Mayflower Hotel’s wood-paneled bar in Beirut. Wine is poured, mugs of beers are guzzled, and cigarette smoke hangs in blue clouds. I don’t really belong. I’m here by marriage.  

    After being apart so long, it’s still pretty raw, this life my wife and I are making together. There are the shared meals and a morning at the American University park and a Saturday run to the farmer’s market downtown. But Kelly’s leaving again soon, this time for Yemen.

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    Monday
    Feb202012

    Remembering Anthony Shadid in Beirut

    THE MILLIONS - 20 FEBRUARY 2012

    The wind was blowing as morning broke over Beirut. In the kitchen, I poured a glass of milk for our daughter. Firing up the iPhone, there it was: New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid had died on assignment in Syria. He was 43 years old.

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    Monday
    Feb132012

    Right into the fire

    THE MORNING NEWS - 13 FEBRUARY 2012

    My daughter is bawling, red faced, legs held ram-rod straight.

    Loretta was born in Saudi Arabia, turned two in Turkey, and we've just moved to Lebanon. In a stroke of luck, we found a rare flat in a stunning French Mandate house. But until our boxes arrive, the place is empty, echoing.  

    I reach out to touch Loretta's head, assuming she's hot again with fever. But maybe it's something else.

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    Friday
    Aug192011

    Beirut, Texas

    THE MORNING NEWS - 19 AUGUST 2011

    Back home, people are debating the beliefs of a guy named Rick Perry. I’m enthralled, but from a distance, being as I am in the Middle East, on a month-long posting in sticky summertime Beirut.

    My wife and I are staying in the gentrifying neighborhood of Hamra, on the city’s west side, where everywhere you see the bullet holes from Lebanon’s more than decade-long civil war. Beginning in 1975, it had been a fight that was at times waged block by block, pitting neighbor against neighbor, belief against belief. The city hasn’t fully recovered: Today, the government barely functions, with routine cuts in critical services.

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    Thursday
    Aug112011

    The little things my father would never do again

    SALON - 11 AUGUST 2011

    I entered the darkened shop, a wreck of a man with an unkempt beard, and the barber flipped a switch. Lights hummed, a singer began to croon from a crackling radio, and a steel fan creaked to life. What did I want? I had no idea. I had stopped caring months ago, and my face was a wall of curls.

    The barber nodded. With a sigh, I took a seat, and he wet my head with a spray bottle. It made sense at this point to close my eyes. Then my head began to spin. I was hung over, and the foul funk of grief burned in my throat.

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    Friday
    Jun242011

    The cannibal birds of Burgazada

    THE AWL - 24 JUNE 2011

    We saw the island as sun dipped below the hills. I hefted luggage onto the dock. My wife Kelly, who worked in Iraq, had flown to Turkey, where I was raising our two-year-old daughter. We'd planned a week's stay on Burgazada, one of seven islands a short ferry ride from Istanbul. I was excited.

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    Friday
    Feb042011

    Hawks and Doves in Kurdistan

    WORLD POLICY JOURNAL BLOG - 4 FEBRUARY 2011

    I travel every few weeks to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Surrounded by low peaks, the city of two million hasn't seen serious violence in years, and most agree it's one of the safest places in an otherwise dangerous country. But it's still Iraq.

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    Wednesday
    Jan192011

    Fitness for Foreigners

    SLATE.COM - 19 JANUARY 2010

    Here in Istanbul, where I swim laps at a university health club, time in the pool looks a little different than in New York: A pear-shaped boy prefers the deep end, where he sinks to the bottom, twirling slowly, floating gaily back to the surface to bob and splash. Then there are the two bronzed women who emerge from the locker room in flowery towels. Wearing the briefest of black bikinis, they slip long limbs into the far lane, dog-paddling daintily to and fro, painted toes barely pushing the water. In the center lane, a thick man in his 40s dives in, sending tremendous waves skating around. He swims furiously, nearly drowning us, his hairy arms thrashing. But two laps later, he's standing in the shallow end, soaking, massaging his vast upper body, smiling. I smile back, then continue swimming, getting nowhere fast on another day far away from home.

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    Monday
    Nov292010

    Holiday in Baghdad

    SLATE.COM - 29 NOVEMBER 2010

    Rising to stretch my legs, I surveyed my fellow travelers, who had just endured a 3 a.m. flight to Baghdad. Among the Iraqis, there was a preponderance of plastic and/or leopard-print overnight bags. The men had big mustaches and weary eyes. The women were generally in their 30s, wearing colored headscarves, some of them no doubt coming back to Iraq for the first time in years. The plane smelled of sweat and perfume.

    I felt weak in the knees. An Iraqi girl sized me up with a hardened glare. What did you expect? her eyes seemed to inquire, and I let my head fall.

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    Wednesday
    Apr072010

    Embedded at the Mayo Clinic

    TRUE/SLANT - 7 APRIL 2010

    Your correspondent is no longer based in the Middle East. I am instead reporting from the ICU floor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where my dad is battling cancer.

    This is my sixth day here and it's been a constant state of siege. Basically, we're battling to keep my dad stable enough in order to undergo the daily radiation that could prolong his life. Every hour, it seems, we confront a new and significant hurdle to that plan.

    In our tiny room, my mom, sister, and I take shifts staying up all night, holding his hand, skipping meals, trying to cater to his every need. He can't talk anymore, so we talk for him, charming the nurses into giving him his pain meds on time and to treat him like man, not meat. We listen carefully and take notes and ask tough questions, and when a doctor appears to discuss some new terror, we remain calm.

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    Saturday
    Mar062010

    Did I see a man die this morning?

    TRUE/SLANT - 6 MARCH 2010

    Traffic in Saudi Arabia: After every white-knuckled trip here, I was such a raging, quaking mess that I finally gave up renting a car and took to using a driver.

    This morning, heading east into Riyadh, I saw a bronze-colored Camry swerve on the west-bound service road. Trying to overtake slower traffic, he veered onto the soft shoulder but lost control. There was no guardrail, and I saw the vehicle slice into yellow sand and jackknife into the air. Kicking up a dense cloud of dust, the car flipped over once, the dark underbelly exposed, then flipped again. In a concussion of glass and metal, the Camry slammed to the asphalt, rocking on its roof in the middle of a four-lane freeway. Mecca Road.

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    Thursday
    Feb182010

    Living in Riyadh's ghost town

    THE REVIEW - 18 FEBRUARY 2010

    It was September 2008; after a few days in Riyadh, my wife and I left our spartan hotel room, with its bouquet of sweat and sewage, to rendezvous with two American bankers we’d met at the Sharjah airport. “Poor you,” they’d said, learning we were just moving to Saudi. “Let’s meet for dinner.”

    Outside, the dust was thick. The bankers -- one a buff guy with a buzz cut who looked like a parody of a CIA agent, the other a wry Korean-American -- picked us up, and off we barreled through snarls of sun-baked cars. Battle-scarred Crown Victorias gunned their engines past late-model Toyotas. A Hummer ploughed over rumble strips, cutting off a brand-new 700-series BMW. The low-slung immensity of central Riyadh -- economy booming on oil, population growing exponentially, housing at a premium -- shimmered in the late summer heat. This was home, if we could find a place to live.

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    Friday
    Feb122010

    I dream of war

    TRUE/SLANT - 12 FEBRUARY 2010

    Woke up early this morning with John McCain slapping me on the back. I was in fatigues, standing among fellow soldiers for some sort of honor guard ceremony. I leaned uninjured against crutches, trying to fake my way out of fighting. McCain, his big scarred face a plastic mask of fellowship, slapped me on my back again and nearly knocked me over. Then a towering, super-buff Latino General -- of higher rank somehow than McCain -- came over and laid his crushing, buff arm over my head. This Latino General regarded the field of soldiers, the gleaming guns, the spectators in the stands. How was I lucky/unlucky enough to have the two important guys on either side of me? Then I realized the Latino General thought McCain was a bullshit pussy, and I -- with my glasses and touch-typing fingers -- was someone just as bad.

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    Saturday
    Feb062010

    Last night, at the checkpoint

    TRUE/SLANT - 6 FEBRUARY 2010

    The blogger stood beside his compact green sedan, the police lights washing over his polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I coasted over, surprised at how slight he seemed in person. The gears of my Chinese-made bike clicked, and I felt in my breast-pocket for the comforting heft of my U.S. passport.

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    Tuesday
    Feb022010

    In which my friend tells me he's leaving forever

    TRUE/SLANT - 2 FEBRUARY 2010

    I'm riding in the back of a taxi driven by Sabic, a six-foot Keralite with piercing yellow-green eyes. Dust from the Empty Quarter bathes the morning in an ill, yellow haze. Usually I read, but today I'm sizing up the central city buildings, reading signs, taking note of the way people drive.

    "When are you going home?" I ask Sabic.

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    Monday
    Jan252010

    Not dead, I was nonetheless hit by a car today

    TRUE/SLANT - 25 JANUARY 2010

    The sun glinted off oil-smeared asphalt. Winter's already over, and the heat was building in the last morning minutes before the call to prayer would ring out across this city of several million.

    I stood at one of Riyadh's busiest intersections, half-way across Olaya Street. With cars blasting by to my rear, I checked the light ruling the traffic I'd need to cross. Sweat began to bead. I felt like a bug: All flesh and limbs and fluid, ready to pop against the unforgiving weight of a metal cleat.

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    Monday
    Jan182010

    When teenaged Saudi girls attack!

    TRUE/SLANT - 18 JANUARY 2010

    I knew it would happen eventually. I've jogged just about every night the year-and-a-half we've lived in Riyadh. First was in town, when we rented a hotel room for the first month. Back then, I dodged Crown Victorias and made my way round and round the parking lot behind Kindgom Tower, one of two skyscrapers here. It wasn't pretty; choking on exhaust, I was always on the lookout for religious police, who had every reason to bust a geeky white dude pounding pavement in shorts.

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    Saturday
    Nov212009

    Night of the gun

    ST. PETERSBURG REVIEW - ISSUE 4/5, 2011

    After living for six months in Mohammad’s apartment – a 1980s unit in central Riyadh with tall ceilings, dark windows, roaches and fluorescent lights – I could no longer dodge his repeated invitations to visit his farm. And so, on a recent Thursday afternoon, my wife Kelly and I loaded up our rented Toyota and headed north.

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    Monday
    Nov092009

    Where seeing a woman makes you gasp

    TRUE/SLANT - 9 NOVEMBER 2009

    In an echoing, blast-chilled Riyadh mall today, I saw something unusual. At a series of tables outside an up-market cafe -- rather than a chain-smoking Saudi dude or a pair of ill-dressed European businessmen looking jet-lagged and confused -- I encountered a woman.

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    Friday
    Jul312009

    You'll never walk alone

    THE REVIEW - 31 JULY 2009

    Rihan told me to meet him at a car park near the stadium around 6.00pm. As I drew closer in my humble Corolla, I noticed that several beat-up cars driving around me had a door, trunk lid or maybe both side mirrors spray painted green: the colour of the Falcons, the national football team. Saudi kids leaned out the windows, waving the national flag. Rihan's cousin showed up first, in a Jaguar. Rihan himself, the son of a general, appeared shortly thereafter in a brand-new Jeep - imported all the way from Texas, he told me. The cousin and I got in, and Rihan jokingly asked if I'd locked my little Toyota. "Wouldn't want anyone to steal it," he said, guffawing.

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