More Rum

When I left Wadi Rum in March, I told my Bedouin hosts that I'd be back. I'm not sure they believed me then. Just four months later I pulled up to their home in Wadi Rum Village in a rental car, along with Joanna and her mother, Bodil. Once again, Eid's family were fantastic hosts. Before the iftar meal we loaded into Eid's jeep for a desert spin. Long after the stars had come out, Salman drove us to the family's new camp, built us a fire and, after a serenade on his brand new oud, left us in the silence of the desert for the night. Before taking leave the next morning, Eid drove us to the foot of Umm Ishrin on a detour back to the village, where Muhammad helped Bodil and Joanna mount up for the requisite camel photo. I visited Ali in his sitting room, where he was stretched out on a mat, recovering from surgery. He was disappointed at not having been able to join us in the desert. I assured him it wouldn't be the last visit to Wadi Rum.




Capture the Colour Contest

A new contest has just been announced: Capture the Colour, asking for photos capturing the colors yellow, green, blue, red and white. The contest is judged by professional travelers, writers and photographers and runs until the 29th of August, after which the winners walk off with iPads or a £2000 cash prize. That last bit was all I needed to be convinced. As I've always been drawn to colorful subjects, I put together five of my own to have a go...

Yellow: Soccer Silhouettes (Vientiane, Laos)
Lao boys kick up dust on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane. I spent a couple days couchsurfing in the capital, where my host lived in a poor suburb just a short walk from this field. Every afternoon several games started up on this same dusty field, and after smiling and and motioning their approval to take photos, they barely noticed me on the sidelines. Full post.

Green: Fatehpur Sikhri Boys (Fatehpur Sikhri, India)
Boys launch themselves into the pools of the Mughal-built Fatehpur Sikhri, just an hour's bus ride from Agra. These pools were once reserved for royalty, but green as they've become with algae, they now serve local boys as an ideal place to cool off in the Indian summer. Dripping wet, these boys enjoyed seeing their photos on my camera, which I struggled to keep dry. 

Blue: Street Cafe (Old Cairo, Egypt)
A typical street cafe is set in front of an old, crumbling wall in Islamic Cairo. I wandered the narrows alleys from the Khan al-Khalili to the Citadel many times, each time proving a unique experience. There are thousands of hidden gems within this part of Cairo, and upon running into this tiny cafe I felt I'd found one. Full post

White: Afar Cattle Drive
Location: Danakil, Ethiopia
Caption: The dwindling cattle herds of the Afar, shrunken by years of drought, march towards Lake Abhebad in the desolate Danakil, known as one of Africa's most inhospitable lands. This wilderness area, several days' march from the nearest power lines, is also home to one of Africa's fiercest tribes, the Afar. Spending a week in the small Afar village from where the shot was taken, I got used the sulfuric stench of Abhebad, as well as the legendary hospitality of the Afar people. Full post.

Red: Shay Lady
Location: Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Caption: A woman at her tea shop in Sudan's tiny, dusty border town of Wadi Halfa. While waiting a couple days here for the ferry to Egypt I visited her little shop several times. On the day of the ferry she wore this bright red scarf, accentuated by the pale blue wall against which she set up shop. Unlike most women in Sudan, she agreed happily to a photo, and laughed freely upon seeing herself on the LCD screen. Full post

And for my nominations: 


Ramadan in Umm ad-Dunya

Cairo can be daunting any month of the year. From the flashy, high-rise hotels that hug the Nile, the city stretches for miles upon miles in all directions, crammed with dust-coated apartment blocks, enormous mosques and crumbling slums as its twenty million residents ply their way through, under, over and around the lot in buses, cabs and metro cars. Add the sweltering heat of July to the swarming crowds, as well as an overall sense of chaos, and you have an especially challenging city to traverse. Ramadan made conditions even tougher.

During daylight hours food was scarce, restaurants mostly shuttered. In the few that remained semi-open, staffs, menus and hours were all severely cut. Downing water in half-closed kiosks, our backs half-turned to the downtown streets, no amount of discretion seemed enough to deter disapproving glances. With empty stomachs, parched throats and spinning heads, the tension of post-revolutionary Cairo seemed to thicken in the air. As long mornings marched on into long afternoons, the sun weighing like a ton of bricks over Cairo's sprawling concrete jungle, moods soured and patience at times wore thin. Scuffles broke out among crowds of dehydrated men. Home to some of the brightest, jolliest characters on earth, in those dark hours Egypt seemed nearly devoid of smiles.

As the end came into sight, moods lifted. Tables across the city filled up just before sundown, stretching well into the streets, food and drinks served but not touched. Millions in transit on metro cars and buses sat ready, Iftar stash in tow, some in silent anticipation and others mumbling scripture over little pocket Qur'ans. Exhaustion and, at times, a touch of frustration, melted away into the serenity of a fast nearly complete, and the heated arguments of the afternoon turned to warm, friendly chatter. When the first dates and juice were finally raised, the entire city exhaled as one. Late into the night, lit by colorful fanawees and tacky Christmas lights, Cairo kept wide awake, much the way it does during less holy months.