Author Archives: carolyn black

About carolyn black

I commission contemporary art in unusual locations, amongst other things - like writing, mentoring, training & consultations.

Mumbai to GOA!

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Headin’ South from Mumbai

 

We took a rickety old ferry from the Gateway of India, across the filthy water to Mandwa with a large number of Indians, who enjoyed the on board entertainment: us. We felt the pressure lift when we rolled off the pier, into the shade of the coconut trees; ahh space and oxygen – what luxuries.

It was already pretty late in the day so we didn’t make it too far; only 20 or so kms, but an beautiful little shady road, mainly flat, through little villages full of confused-looking locals (I guess we mustn’t have been what they were expecting). We arrived in Alibag, where we stayed in Guruji Beach Resort – cheaper and less grandiose than it sounds! All other hotels were full (or hideously over-priced – R6000 (£80) for a tiny, dirty room?! Yeah I know it’s Diwali but come on, that’s a little much, no?), and we were getting mozzy-bitten and frustrated so we were delighted to come across Guruji (best price after haggling R820 (£11; for spacious clean room with bathroom) down a backstreet near the beach. The fish thali wasn’t great, I think we were the only guests, so the fish must have come out of the freezer, and was uncooked in the middle.

 

The following day we only made it another 20kms down the coast, the scenery, despite it’s beauty, was seriously hilly – us being unaccustomed to riding after 2 weeks lazing around waiting in Dubai/Mumbai. AND for some reason we’d got into the habit of sleeping all morning, completely unable of rousing ourselves before 11am! It felt like we were jet-lagged from our 2 ½ hour flight; which seemed a little absurd a good 5 days later. By the time we managed to get out of the guest houses in the morning, it was lunch time. Tsk! What we needed was a little kick up the backside; and such a kick rolled up alongside us as we sat by the side of the road trying to get a map to load on the kindle, in Mhasala – in the form of a fellow cycle-tourist, namely David from New Zealand! Wow! Another foreign cyclist, in India, must surely be a pretty rare sight! We were gobsmacked! he’d started out in Singapore and ridden through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia before flying to Mumbai, and riding down the coast (in almost half the time we’d taken!) When we met him, he’d just completed a 100km day (we’d only just begun! -slackers!) He came at just the right time; and was heading South to Sri Lanka, which is what our plan had been, before we only got granted half the India visa-length we’d be counting on. He was just the inspiration we needed to get our sleeping pattern back to daylight hours, we checked into a nearby lodge, and made plans to set off just as the sun rose at 6.45 the next morning. Great! I love the early mornings in India, and looked forward to leaving the town just as it woke up.

 

The next day turned out to be a scorcher, even as we hit the first hill before 8am, we were sweating buckets. For some reason Joel’s sweat glands work on over-drive so he looks like he’s just been for a swim for the most-part of the day. This is really a struggle for him, as it’s almost impossible to keep hydrated when you’re losing so much water. He was wondering if he’d be able to continue, but kept on truckin’, stoically. We wound around the little lanes, deciphering the Hindi signs, and after stopping for a second breakfast (something we found we had in common with David, and probably quite a few other cyclists!), reached a little river and loaded the bikes onto a waiting ferry.

The other side of the river, we rode through a tiny fishing village, with no roads, only narrow little lanes between the houses, and everyone was out in the street wishing us happy Diwali and smiling as we passed. It was so colourful, with lots of traditional, bright, sand patterns drawn on the ground to celebrate the festival of light. The day was Friday – the weekend of Diwali, and we’d been warned that the guest houses along the coast would fill up, as they’re popular with the local tourists, who drive down from the state’s major cities, Mumbai and Puna. We rode out of the little village along a coast road/path, but a couple of chaps stopped us in our tracks saying “How you will go? high tide is there!” They happily diverted us up the steepest hill on the planet (but luckily not too long), which we made a good crack at, but Dave (his bike a good 20kg lighter) zoomed on past. We stopped for breath next to an old man with blue eyes I recognised from the ferry, who’d asked us for money, just ‘because’. He timely asked me again, and a saw a little win-win situation. For ten rupees (13p) he pushed Arthur up the hill for me. (Don’t worry, he wasn’t that old! He was perfectly capable, and happy to make such easy money. He kept a fag in one hand the whole way up.) We then followed the coast round until we reached a second river, where we ummed and ahhed about which place would be the crossing place, not wanting to drop down unnecessarily, and then have to climb back up if it was wrong. Our water supplies were getting dangerously low, and the heat was almost too much to bear; these hills were tough going and Joel and I were burning. David checked out the options and reckoned we’d do best to keep going a bit along the road. We followed and got some mixed advice from some road-workers, stopping to lunch on the side of the way. One group said to ride straight, presumably to a bridge, 30kms away; the other to go back to the point we’d considered previously for a ferry. We turned back. Luckily there was a port there, in the business of shipping aluminium ore to Ukraine, and the boss spoke perfect English. We’d missed the boat, but this friendly chap set about making us feel comfortable with water and all, and in fact arranged for the port’s boatman to come and collect us. We had a kip in the meantime.

On the other side we had to walk down the beach a bit before arriving in a gorgeous jungly village, just like something outta the Jungle Book. Monkeys n all, much to Joel’s delight. We found one guest house with one room available, and after a small mix-up with the first room, which turned out to have been pre-booked, we moved into the attic room and the manager told us we’d get breakfast thrown in free for the hassle. Nice and early he said, what time you want? 4? 6 we said, OK six no problem.

We went for a walk around the village before dinner, and after some ominous rumbling, the heavens opened! The first rain we’d seen in a good 2 ½ months. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, to Dave’s pleasure, as he’d seen far too much water on his way through SE Asia, having hit Vietnam during the monsoon!

The place was teeming with Indian holiday-makers, mainly big family groups from Puna. We all ate dinner communally, veg thali served on banana leaves, as is customary in S India.

The next morning we were up at 5.40 and went down for breakfast at 6, as we’d been promised. We sat around drinking chai til 7.30 when it was finally served. A spicy semolina dish, with grated coconut on top. Tasted like super-noodles to me.

 

Today was easier going temperature-wise, and I think our legs have re-adjusted to riding again, so the hills didn’t cause quite as much grief as yesterday. We rode along the coast, up and over the various hills, and stopped at around 3pm when the boys found a bar… As they enjoyed their extra strong Kingfishers in the dingy little room, I received a call from my friend Tom back home, and took pleasure in catching up on the latest from home.

We checked into the last room in town again, this time a ‘Deluxe Suit’ [sic] was the only one available, complete with a gazillion lights and switches, air-con and hot water! All for R2500 (£30 – £10 each). The entire hotel, and the only other in town had been booked up for a YEAR by a local ship-building company, this was the only room free.

It came as quite a surprise when the phone rang, just as we were all getting into bed, and a little voice explained that he too was a cycle-tourist, and had just arrived! He turned out to be Gurav, from somewhere near Delhi, also riding from Mumbai to Goa, but arrived too late to get a room. He took our number, and we agreed to meet him tomorrow morning to ride on together! I hope he finds somewhere to stay, last we heard he was off to the bar! We’ll see…

 

We were practically woken up by Gurav; waiting downstairs and raring to go! He popped over to a controversial shipping yard (the one who’d booked up both hotels in town presumably!) to get the low-down – as he’s studying journalism, and met us a few kms down the road, where we were waiting for our extra large omelette brekkies. It was great to ride with him, he could even read the signs and speak to the locals, something we could previously only struggle with. He was a really sweet chap, and a great addition to our group. He only had a few days left of his college holiday, so was pushing hard as he wanted to make it to Goa. Something I think he ruled out after the first few gruelling hills! (There were plenty more!) We made it to Ratnagiri, where Joel and I stopped at a post office to send home some of our unnecessary camping gear – an experience that was pure India, a ridiculous number of hoops to jump though, ended up lasting us over three hours! We had to find a box, then find some white material to wrap it in, then sew it up, then write the to/from addresses in marker on the packages. Corr Blimey, this was enough to drive us both through serious frustration into hysteria! We waved goodbye to Gurav, who got the train back to Nagpur, where he’s studying. (His hostel there costs him about £10 a month! Super cheap!)

 

The next day was Joel’s birthday, I woke him up with a pistachio and pineapple and luminous green flavour cake, complete with number candles I’d found the night before. They didn’t have a nine, so he regressed to 26 (I’d bought a six thinking of turning it upside down, but alas, no wick! 26 will do.) Other pressies found in record time included; a mosquito-wall-plug, the biggest firework I could find, a card for one’s dear husband, written entirely in Marathi verse, a handful of chocolate eclairs and a bagful of local fruit, including pomegranates, his favourite! The biggest present was yet to come, although we didn’t know it just yet.

 

A few more seriously sweaty days in the saddle saw us finally board the ferry over the creek that divides Maharashtra from Goa; the boat was full of Russians and other bright white tourists, none of whom acknowledged our presence, which felt a little odd after being stared at unabashedly for 2 weeks. Bring on Arambol beach I thought… The boys were shocked at how crossing a little creek could feel like crossing an entire continent – we suddenly rolled into Europe, but a little hotter and cheaper. We checked into a cute little bamboo hut on the beach for Rs250 ($5) and hit the beach for a fresh fruit juice cocktail and a fresh fish tikka supper all for next to nothing. YUM! I heart Goa! ❤

 

MORE NEWS TO COME! ran outta time, gotta meet Abhinav for dinner. xx

 

Pics and latest news tomorrow x

 

 

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24th October Sharjah/Dubai/Mumbai

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So we took the ferry from Bandar Abbas (pretty grim place, not a lot going for it! – and disgustingly hot!) on the 6th, just two days before our visas expired. We used our last few rials on a hotel for the night, and prayed that we wouldn’t be charged extra at the port for the biciclettes, as we didn’t have it! Very exciting to arrive into the port at Sharjah the next morning, after spending the night on the ferry with a fellow traveller also Kathmandu-bound – albeit directly by air from Dubai – Wolf from Germany, and finally be able to get cash out of an ATM! (Unfortunately, this was something we did a little too much of during our stay in UAE – everything being so expensive!)
We spent two nights in Sharjah’s heritage hostel (how old is it?- this arabian souk-style building in the narrow lanes of the “heritage quarter” we asked Naim, the Bangladeshi migrant worker in charge – very old madam, his reply. How old is very old I enquired? Oh maybe 35, 40 years like that. Turned out the locals had knocked down all the remains of the pre-oil-wealth fishing village, but later realised that old things are actually interesting to the foreign tourists… Oh well, we’ll just build it again!)
We got a call from our lovely new friend Sarah, living in Dubai, who we’d met at Ozora, and she told us she’d sorted us out somewhere to stay! Wow, this would make our necessary stay in this snazzy city slightly less financially painful! Grrreat – we piled the bikes into a pick-up taxi (the only road from Sharjah to Dubai (only 10km or so) was a 6-lane highway, and our experience of local traffic was a somewhat aggressive one) and off we went, chatting away to our friendly Pakistani driver about the crazy world of Planet Dubai; which appeared like a sci-fi mirage above the desert, all shiny glass buildings with the most futuristic train network, hovering over the roads, weaving through the jungle of skyskrapers… Everything is on offer in this global city; if you got the means that is; indoor ski-slope (umm, in the desert?!), world’s biggest shopping mall, underwater hotel, man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, the world, and soon some “poetry” by the sheikh: “It takes a man of vision to write on water” (Read: it takes more money than sense to…) So you get the idea, nothing old in sight, all cars must be made in the last 5/6 years to be on the road, NO bike lanes or bikes in sight. Plenty of fast cars and scantily clad women, alcohol is allowed in your home or hotel, but not outside, you’re not technically allowed to house-share, and definitely no sex outside of marriage. Hmm, and yet there is an international community living and working here, doing exactly what they would at home, and it all goes unnoticed, until the local authorities decide to make an example and give harsh jail terms. (One example Sarah gave us: a European couple who had recently met, out one night, somehow the girl fell out of a window and died, the guy goes to her and is holding her body, the police arrive and arrest him! Because 1; they’d been drinking, 2; they’d had pre-marital sex, and 3; there was some evidence to suggest they might have been sharing an apartment, like some of his clothes in her place… -Disgusting.)
We arrive at Sarah’s office, in the aptly named Media City, as she’s in the middle of a project with a deadline for the fast-approaching Abu Dhabi Film Festival next week, so she’s crazily busy. We wait for her in a lebanese cafe next to the BBC building as she’s running late. She rocks up in her boss’s swanky 4×4 (he’s away in Germany for a few weeks, and has left her not just in charge of his car but also his apartment, which is where we’ll be staying). She drove us there in it. My my, and what a swanky apartment it was too! 22nd floor, Gulf view including the Palm Islands, all brand new, big TV and surround sound (as you might expect for a top media type), and a huge collection of english, french and german films! Wow, what luxury.

The reason for coming to Dubai was to find an alternative route to India, not crossing Pakistan. One day I hope to visit Pakistan for sure, but sadly I don’t feel that now is the right time. So the plan was to find a ship from Dubai to India. The only real possibility for this turned out to be by dhow, a small wooden boat used for transporting cargo across the Arabian Sea, we asked a few people, and it sounded pretty dangerous, they’re not the safest boats, and to be honest I was too scared of flipping over and Arthur and Clem sinking. That would really throw a spanner in the works. So we looked into flying. I felt pretty hypocritical as i’ve often had a few words to say about the air industry, but at least by cycling, we’d cut down our flight time from 9 hours to 2 ½. That’s pretty good going i’d say.

After a trip to the Indian Embassy, it transpired that we’d be waiting up to ten days for our visas – we were a little saddened as Dubai was drinking up our savings a little too quickly for our liking, We spend a few nights in the apartment, then moved to a hotel in Bur Dubai (the Indian quarter, to my delight!) to make way for the 3 french editors who’d been flown out to work on Sarah’s film. Good guys, we all had dinner together at Sarah’s friend’s villa one night after their deadline passed– Joel cooked steak and a big yummy salad (went down a treat, turns out everyone usually survives on takeaways) and we dined in the garden by the pool – a huge luxury in Dubai, where most people are very far removed from the earth, living in spindly tower blocks!

We wiled away the time reading, learning Hindi, swimming in the rooftop pool, sweating in the sauna and watching movies. Oh and sampling the delights on offer in the local indian restaurants – the only thing in Dubai not ridiculously over-priced! Yeah I know, hard life… We were delighted to get a text saying our visas were ready a little early – and raced about the city sorting everything required to fly that night. When we picked them up, we realised we’d only been granted 3 months, instead of 6. We were both fairly gutted about this, and threw around some ideas about flying to Sri Lanka first or Nepal, but in the end we got on an Air India flight to Mumbai, and didn’t even pay any extra for the bikes – they let us off after we’d told them all about the details of our trip! They were flabbergasted! AND my bike box was 42kg – 12kg over the international limit for any one piece of baggage. However, true to the Indian tagline: sab kuch milega (anything is possible), some calls were made and we were waved through with a couple of minutes to spare.

We arrived in Mumbai after a relaxed (and nearly empty) flight, with the sweet joking hostesses fussing over us (and even taking pictures!), and after a few hours in a ridiculously over-priced grotty room, we got in touch with Abhinav, called a cab and made our way to his place in the Andheri part of the city.
He had a lovely Italian named Silvia staying too, and we enjoyed listening to them playing guitar together and singing. A little sanctuary in one of the craziest, filthiest cities in the world. The pair of them set off for Goa, but Abhinav’s father agreed that we might stay a couple of days longer, in order to collect our bikes, which were in Firefox Bikes, Bandra (recommendable – for quality of parts and service – so clean!!) being fixed.

We’ve been out a few times, and although I’ve spent a few months travelling in India previously, the sheer level and scale of poverty never ceases to amaze me. We saw some distressing sights, including a man with half his skull missing from an untended wound that had been left to rot (on a train, where everyone just leapt out of the way, and noone tried to help him, myself included as I couldn’t think of anything to do for him.) It certainly makes one feel grateful for all of the blessings we have.

So that brings us to this morning, when I’m hurriedly typing away as Joel packs up the last few bits and we’ll hail a cab to take us to the ferry port in Colaba. Considered riding the 30 odd K through the city, as we really feel quite safe on the roads here, unlike Dubai, –I guess they’re used to the mayhem! -but figured it could take us all day, and we are SO eager to get out of the city now that we decided against it.
So we plan to escape the city by boat, and begin our ride from the peace of the northern Konkan Coast, we’re expecting beach camping, plenty of hills, small roads, lots of monkeys, ferries to cross the many rivers and about 10 days on the road before Goa, possibly in time for Joely’s birthday on the 1st…. Oh yes and things are hotting up just two days before Diwali – everything’s lit up and folk are going shopping-mad! It’s busier than usual, which is hard to imagine was possible!

the Gulf view from our borrowed apartment in Dubai! 22nd floor!

mubarakeh

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celebrating the top of a pass after mubarakeh

The pass didn’t prove too hard, I think we must have gradually been going up all day yesterday, nonetheless we celebrated at the top, thinking as it was the only pass marked on the map, perhaps the worst of the hills were over(!). The wind hadn’t really let up, and there were big cyclones of dust sweeping across the plain, one came right past us – yuck! Stopping for coffee in a little abandoned hut, Joel mentioned something that a guy had told him back in Burujen, the villagers up in the mountains here had a tendency of throwing stones… Oh no, not at us, he’d insisted; not tourists! Umm, who, I wonder, do they throw them at then… Gory pictures from a film (The stoning of Soraya M) we’d watched at home before setting off came to mind, and I tried to push them away. It had, I thought, been set in a mountain village… We tried to reason that most people warn us of something in the next town/province/country and they’ve never appeared to be true, so this was likely the same. Nevertheless I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

The mountains were really stunning, and we enjoyed lengthy downhills. But of course this always leads to one thing; this time, a ridiculously steep climb, lined with trucks groaning and clunking and kicking out filthy black smoke. Up we went, cough cough cough. We were by this point thinking about camping, but just at the prime moment, a friendly, self-proclaimed “responsible” man, who works for an oil firm (I couldn’t help but question him on how these two things went together: Responsible? Oil-firm?…), appeared and asked us our life story. He then told us most definitely NOT to camp where we were about to. Very danger! Umm, what kind of danger, we mimed… I made some animal sounds, and established that there might be dogs and big cats, but no bears. Hmm, that was the second time we’d been warned of big cats, maybe we should take heed. The choices were limited, right in the middle of the mountains however. My favourite was to hitch to the next town, but as I began to wave down a truck, our responsible friend almost had kittens; very danger, very danger!!!

“Well, what, I beg you, do you want us to? We don’t have a lot of choice here!” I snapped, feeling exhausted, on my last little drop of energy. He came up with nothing. We decided to make it over the hill and decide from there. This proved to push me to breaking, and I heaved up the steep incline, with tears, gasping. At the top we assessed our options. Camp, make a fire to ward off any potential kitty cats; hitch; or carry on through the dwindling light to the next town. I voted to hitch, and just as I did so, a blue van pulled over. Phew! The guy was massively friendly, and laughed all the way to his house, where he insisted we stay! A fantastic event ensued, involving, gradually, the whole village coming to take a look. The women whisked me off to dress me in traditional bridal garb and full garish make-up, and then made me dance in front of everyone, much to their enjoyment. Joel was entertained by the blokes, who spent the time marvelling over our technology and asking how much things cost. Some confusion arose, leading us to believe that the two younger women were second and third wives, but in the morning it was revealed that they were his daughters. Phew! (But they were sitting back, out of conversation all the same, and definitely not down to dinner, but instead serving everyone.)

Unfortunately the morning came and revealed some damage done to Arthur, presumably in the rough truck ride. His front derailleur had sheared. Luckily this village, although short on most things, didn’t lack the good old let’s-fix-it Asian mentality, so fix it we did. This involved a trip to a mechanic, a family member, who laughed when we suggested taking the chain off, instead sawing straight through the derailleur – then a trip to a welder; another family member – who fixed the sawn bit; all probably in less time than it would’ve taken to take the chain off and get it on again. Perfect! -well almost… The chain rubs substantially on the welded wound, so a new one will need to be sought out in Dubai. But a good short-term solution, and caused no real issues the rest of the way through the mountains to Yasuj.

25th September

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The following day was equally hard-going, with head wind and gradual incline. After plodding on for a few hours, feeling glum, a guy pulled over in his car. We don’t have the energy for this, not now, we thought… He came over and offered us a small apple each. We smiled and thanked him, and felt bad for having had the negativity in the first place. We ate the apples soon after he drove off, but, lacking energy, continued to stand there, contemplating the upcoming hill and headwind. Before we set off again, the same guy was back; this time bearing a huge plastic bag full of biscuits and drinks and sweets! Without wanting to bother us with conversation, he quickly wrote down his number and told us to get in contact if we needed anything. What a kind man. We took a pic with him, and the second he was out of sight, stuffed our faces with biccies! I love the way that our needs are provided for the second we let go and stop worrying; this happens so regularly on bike tours, i’m now a firm believer in going with the flow! Trust in the kindness of others (and of course act through loving kindness ourselves).

We struggled up the hill a short while longer, and then stopped for some respite from the wind, and had a nap. Later we flagged down a small blue truck (ridiculously common in Iran, every other person has one!), for a ride up the mountain to the town of Burujen, where we collapsed in a tourist hotel. That headwind had taken it out of us, fingers crossed for tomorrow when we’d be going over the pass at about 2600m.

 

23rd September – meeting Elyas

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friday feast with elyas and family in mubarakeh

Leaving Esfahan was almost as much of a challenge as getting in had been, involving riding on the motorway ring road, on which Joel got our first puncture of the trip, but luckily spotted immediately the culprit; a staple, and marking the point of entry with a marker, to ensure a quick fix. The entire valley was full of smog, and cycling through it was truly unpleasant. We imagined how beautifully clear it must’ve been before the invention of the motorcar. Added to this difficulty, we had a laughably strong head wind, and an ongoing slight gradient, which looked deceptively flat, and thus confusing (we thought we were just weak!).

By the wayside, we saw a smiley looking couple who waved excitedly at us. We continued past and waved back. Soon they overtook us in their car, and motioned for us to pull in. They wanted to take a picture with us. Ok, we weren’t feeling too energised, but Abbas and Fariba’s smiley-ness was infectious, so we obliged. They asked where we were going, and told us they were going to Mubarakeh, a town about 30km away. They invited us for dinner, but not offering any contact details, we thanked them but carried on imagining that nothing would come of it.

At the top of the next hill, lo and behold there they were again; this time asking us to speak on the phone to their son, Elyas, who spoke very good English. It was arranged! We told them it should take us a couple of hours to get there, but promised to call on arrival.

They came to meet us and we followed them through the town to their house. Elyas was full of energy and so excited to have some English speaking buddies. He was very entertaining, telling us of his future plans, and his love of America! He amazed us by telling us that at just age 17, he’d already written two books. Published! We wondered about the content…

After a day’s ride, we were struggling to keep the energy levels up. It transpired that this was the grandparents house, and as it was Friday (like our Sunday) the whole family was gathering for a meal. When they said whole family, we didn’t expect 20 of them! It didn’t take two many cups of tea, for our energy to return. The house was full of laughter, and kids playing. The spread was impressive, and pretty tasty! The non-alcoholic beer was flowing, and Joel entertained the masses with his contact juggling skills. Even Grandad had a go!

elyas' grandfather trying to emulate joel's circus skills, in vain! lots of laughter. (just before i taught them the card game Noses - hilarious!)

We ended up staying an extra day, as they were so sad and begging us not to go. We were taken up a mountain and then to see the uncles’ shop; handmade leather goods, and photo printing services. From the shop we saw a passing parade, mourning the death of an imam, one of the 12 (can’t remember which, sorry) religious men, that are revered in Iran. The men in the parade were whipping their backs rhythmically as they passed. Very odd. Elyas says this is a very sad day and everybody shows their sadness openly, but you wouldn’t believe it from the peals of womens’ laughter coming from the kitchen later on (as they surrounded me armed with tweezers, attempting to reign in my unkempt eyebrows.) A wonderful experience to be guests in such a happy family home, unforgettable! (if, sadly, a little indoctrinated by the regime – unfortunately Elyas asked me how i’d like to live in Iran, and being one for honesty, I tried diplomatically to explain our views on freedom, i.e. against the death penalty, especially for being gay or renouncing Islam(!), amongst other things largely to do with women’s rights. He had been translating for his family, but when I explained about a member of my family coming out, he translated something else for them.I found it fascinating that such a pro-America-and-the-West youth could maintain such starkly contrasting viewpoints! i.e. in favour of this madness.)