lunes, 9 de junio de 2008

"On the Road Again"

“Fatti non foste a viver come bruti
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza"
(Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Inferno canto XXVI, 116-120)

“Ye were not made to live like unto brutes, But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge"
(Translation from

Picture: the seaport of Socotra, Arabian Sea.

sábado, 7 de junio de 2008

Mahas salaama!

Those who live the life in successive geographical contexts should be used to start and finish each stage, like awaking and falling asleep, day after day. It should be easy after some years… Some would look back to the runway the plane just took off from, other would just relax and think about the nice things they would do back home, before leaving for a new adventure… Sometimes I cursed the place I was leaving behind in anger and frustration; sometimes I cried during goodbyes to friends I may not see again; sometimes I just could not care less.

However I shall feel, this stage of my life has reached its end. Unless Yemenia comes out with a last-minute nasty joke, I shall soon say farewell to Socotra, like many other tourists did before me. I may not see again such beautiful beaches again, or won’t have the chance to work among very peaceful people anymore. But these last timeless weeks made clear to me that it is about time to go. Sure, it will not be easy to say “good luck” to Ona and Soma: most probably this would be the only tear I shall shed; the monsoons that started last week undressed my tree and spread around my patio foreign garbage. There is nothing left for me here.

“And still those voices are calling from far away”. I cannot track down the source yet, but I hear them loud and clear. Like the Argonauts, I shall not resist the Sirens; anyway, to bind myself to the mast would not be a wise thing to do, for this ship is now sinking. Who knows: maybe a sweet mermaid will take me to the happy djinns beneath the sea; or maybe I shall just drown somewhere else…I have to find out; I shall definitely answer the call.

To you, who followed this blog from time to time or came across it while searching for something totally different, I would like to express my gratitude for the attention you have paid to my words, or for the comments you left behind. I just hope that, in addition to the personal satisfaction and self-entertainment I had in leaving behind these footprints on Socotra, you also had some good time while walking with me for a while, on this wonderful island.

All people I talk to are sure that Socotra will dramatically change in the near future, and not for good. Hurry up! Eve has already bitten the apple: one of the last paradises on earth is about to disappear for ever.

Mahas salaama!

lunes, 2 de junio de 2008

miércoles, 28 de mayo de 2008

A Neighbour

jueves, 22 de mayo de 2008

Djinns & Djinniyahs

A rich cultural inheritage is often the pillar around which a civilisation moves forward. I believe that this is the case of the Arab culture, which is full of interesting and peculiar aspects, like its popular traditions, some so strikingly close to the ones of neighbouring civilisations. In the Arab folklore, I find particularly interesting the character of the djinn, made worldwide famous by the one inside the oil lamp (the English word “genie” simply derives from Arabic).

As written in the already usual reference Wikipedia, the djinn was present in the Arab culture long before the revelation of Islam. The djinns are considered as a divinity of inferior rank, having human attributes: they eat (but with the left hand!), drink and procreate their kind, sometimes in conjunction with human beings. They have their community, boundaries and armies. Usually they haunt cemeteries, dirty places or deserted locations, especially the thickets where wild beasts gather. Djinns live much longer than humans, but are not immortals. They are massless, therefore can fit in any space: the whole universe or a tiny lamp. They are invisible but, when appearing to man, djinns may assume the forms of humans, or animals, like donkeys, cats…

Even if some of them are evil or supernatural thiefs, djinns are usually peaceful and well disposed towards men; they are even believed to have inspired many pre-Islamic poets. But the djinniyahs, the female version (often associated with succubi), can be more of a problem: for instance, they may throw stones around in the peaceful night of a village, or make fun of sheperds by imitating the cry of a goat in distress: when the sheperd gets to the place and realises there is no goat, the silly djinniyah is already somewhere else and again imitating the goat. A curious aspect of all djinniyahs is that they have a tiny spark in their eyes and cannot avoid having long nails, either in her fingers or in her toes. Hadibo, capital of Socotra, owes its name to a good djinniyah, who protects the house, especially when the owner is away, and appreciates that the kitchen door to be always kept open as to be able to eat something if she feels hungry during her visit.

Islam integrated the djinns, believed to be created from smokeless fire and to have free will. The first djinn that disobeyed Allah is called Iblis. When Allah made Adam from clay as His greatest creation, Iblis, once a very pious servant, was very annoyed and became arrogant, jelous and refused to respect and adore a creature made of “dirt”. Since then, he is called Shaitan (Satan) and Allah punished him to eternally stay in the hellfire after death. By the way, he is the one who offered Eve a tasteful apple.

If you need more info about this subject, Wikipedia provides further data: check and But…what about Socotra, specifically? As I mentioned before, Hadibo is a djenniyah…and, thanks to my Socotri friends, here are a couple of stories concerning local djinns or djinniyahs.

The first story is about a Socotri gentleman who had to walk several days with his donkey to return to the village he was from. He got to a river and noticed a woman washing her face and hands. They began chatting and knowing each other and, though quite surprised of the unusual situation, he accepted her company during the travel and offered his donkey to carry the luggage she had along. They arrived to a village and checked if they could find some food and water, but the place seemed to be completely deserted. She proposed him to stay for the night in one of the houses but the man, feeling more and more unconfortable with this misterious travel-mate, refused to share the shelter with her. When she asked what was the problem, if he was scared or something like that, he decided to change his attitute and pretend easiness and confidence, and finally accepted to share a room with her. During the night, the doubt about this strange woman was growing in his mind and decided to check the toes of the woman during her sleep. Yes, she was a djinniyah, and the poor man decided to run away as soon and fast as he could. He ran like the wind and she ran behind him, scaring him with death threats and other similar things. The man beated any possible human record to cover the distance from where he was spending that unforgettable night to his final destination.

The second story is about a ship going from Zanzibar to Socotra, loaded with passengers and foodstuffs. All of a sudden, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a passenger asked the captain to stop the ship and to let him disembark with his foodstuffs. The astonished captain pointed out that there was no island around, but the weird passenger insisted in his request. He even invited the captain to disembark with him, so he could pay him the fare for the voyage, and assured the poor sailor that he would soon be back to his ship safe, dry and with the money. It is not clear how the captain trusted this peculiar invitation, but what he found below the sea was a whole city, beautiful and lively. He went for a short tour with the strange passenger, got his money and actually returned to his ship. In conclusion, some djinns live a peaceful and beautiful life under the sea surface.

If you ever scrub a lamp and a fat funny fellow shows up, ask him to take you to Socotra. The wish is worth it. And, according to the legend, you would still have two others!

domingo, 18 de mayo de 2008

sábado, 17 de mayo de 2008

The Turtle Night

Last night something very strange happened in the sky of Socotra.

There was a very big ring of light around the moon. As it was impossible to take a picture, imagine the good old vinyl LP: the moon would be the round label in the middle and the ring of light the circumference of the disk.

I would be most happy to know the scientific explanation for such phenomenon, but a nice local guy told me that it happens one night a year and in this season. He also romantically reminded the local tradition, which says that during this night a huge number of turtles would arrive to lay their eggs. Possibly true, because this is the time of the year when these animals come to Socotra and leave behind the future generations. I had the pleasure to see one some days ago.