Friday, August 20, 2010

In the footsteps of Alexander the Great

A journalist with GlobalPost, Theodore May, is attempting to follow the route of Alexander the Great from Greece through the Middle East to Persia - on foot and by car, alone, in an area not noted for its tolerance of infidel outsiders. As he says in his introductory article:

It was Alexander’s 11-year conquest, between 334 and 323 B.C. that had brought me to this point — sharing a belching ferry ride this month across the Dardanelles with a gaggle of school girls giggling at the sight of a passing pod of dolphins. It was his crossing here that also made me realize, with a laugh, that my own ambitious undertaking — to walk 2,000-plus miles in the footsteps of Alexander as he set about redrawing the maps of the ancient world — lacked what would, back in the day, have been considered essentials (an army of many thousands of men, horses and supplies for at least a year).

Do they still say the pen is mightier than the sword?

There's more at the link.

Mr. May is blogging every couple of days about his progress, and his experiences en route. It's a fascinating look 'behind the scenes' at areas and countries that are often in the news, but seldom understood in the West. Here, for example, is his report on marriage in the Gaza Strip.

Tea Leaves: Sex, Love, and Marriage in Gaza

On our half hour drive back, I began peppering Hamouda with questions about one topic I’ve never delved into here: sex, love, and marriage in Gaza. He was a good sport and let me cover all the relevant topics top to bottom. Hamouda, age 20, says he wants to get married in 2 years. His parents will facilitate the arrangement with a girl’s family.

In the world of arranged Muslim marriages, it’s somewhat incorrect to assert that there isn’t a period of dating and courtship. It just happens in the opposite order of how it’s done elsewhere.

Here, after families pair the bride-to-be with the groom-to-be and financial terms are arranged, the two get engaged. The engagement, which can last typically 6 months, essentially allows the couple to spend time alone with one another and get better acquainted. They can sit next to one another in cars, enjoy one-on-one dinners, and walk together in public. In other words, engagement first, dating second.

I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories involving Hamas police beating up men they catch walking down the street alongside a girl they’re not engaged or married to. Hamouda told me that when he drives a girlfriend (or “a girl that is a friend,” if we’re going to get high school about it) in his car, she sits in the back so he can claim to Hamas officials that he’s driving her for work. Still, though, Hamouda insists that young men and women find a ways to maintain friendships, through cell phones, the internet, and a little bit of discretion.

The highlight of the conversation came when I asked Hamouda about the wedding night. He’s already picked out the spot for the party, but he was quick to move onto the after party, which features the couple’s first ever trip to the bedroom.

Hamouda described at length how it’s important for the groom to find an apartment for him and his bride to move into immediately after the ceremony because, as he explains, you don’t want to sleep with a girl for the first time in the family house with your parents right outside the door.

As for honeymoons, a great line: “Gaza is closed, and we can’t leave. So we spend the honeymoon in the bedroom.”

Again, there's more at the link.

In general, Mr. May's travel blog is a very interesting look at history in modern context, and modern society in the light of history. Recommended reading . . . and I hope he survives his experiences and completes the journey!


1 comment:

Firehand said...

"I blame it all on Alexander the Great. Ever since that little Macedonian twit decided that he had to conquer the whole world before he was old enough to shave, every fool with a sword and a decent pair of boots has sought to do the same. In the days of my youth there were a number of would-be Alexanders in Rome."
Nobody Loves a Centurion, John Maddox Roberts