What to bring when leaving America?

One of the first things people will tell you when you finally decide that you’re going to leave America for real is this: remember you’re still taking yourself with you wherever you go!

They mean to come across as deep: instead, they reveal themselves as trapped individuals, unable to escape the infernal malebolge; you, on the other hand, have already given the hiho.

When you decide to abandon the land of climate change deniers,  it is best to determine carefully what to take with you, while fulfilling the experienced traveler’s dictum: always travel as light as possible, Dahab style.

You will most definitely need a rugged Filson duffle bag for your t-shirts, spare underwear, cargo pants, Jimmie Hats, hoodie, Hawaiian-motif bathing suit, and minimal assortment of essential knickknacks; the one above is a trusty piece of luggage that I’ve had for a decade.  It has been to the Sinai with me, as well as Le Grand Sud in Tunisia, much of the South of France, various bluegrass festivals in Fla, and my hometown, NYC. It is a rock solid luggage item, very expat hip, and can take almost any kind of beating; I have only had to replace the zipper with an industrial one. Buy it:  it fits in most overhead luggage racks, and packs a ton of clothes.

You will also need the S8 plus, unlocked of course. (iPhones are for pussies; Android is the way to go.) Thusly you can change your SIM cards easy peasy japanesee wherever you wander. You may want to bring with you a $30 foldable keyboard, to write your great novel or noodle with your Bruce Chatwinesque thoughts on your Galaxy using iAWriter. With the sentries from the Land of Planet Poison now making laptops a pain in the arse to travel with, your nice little notebook is now a thing of a past.  Deal with it: your phone is now your workstation.  Don’t forget to back your data to your Google drive, after you encrypt the files, and activate the fingerprint lockdown technology that comes with your phone. Transfer everything to your SD card, wipe the phone clean, and keep your (removed) SD card somewhere safe and inconspicuous. And if you are actually going to Egypt for a visit, read this to know what is really going on in terms of Internet spying and surveillance there.

When you’re traveling around in coach, you don’t want to be at the mercy of the vaguely 30-ish harried mother sitting behind you tight-mouthed with 2 rat-faced kids who will invariably snap their trays for the duration of the flight.  You could gobsmack the ugly bitch, but that would be so wrong; therefore you only solution is a good pair of headphones, since they no longer allow carry on minis.  I recommend the JBL Everest 700 (in titanium, naturally), with the 2 year warranty you can get from Best Buy; fuck the elite noise suppression version, as it distorts, plus there’s the lag thingie you have to hassle with.  These headphones will totally isolate you from the unpleasant characters you will be forced to share space with in your travels. Just because you can hear does not mean you have to listen to assholes.

Also make sure that 200GB SD card installed your phone is pre-loaded with all the ripped anchovies you need to entertain yourself during long flights or while chillin’ in a place like Gouna. You can get one for around 60 – 70 buck on Amazon.

Never even think of doing evil deeds, though, such as  take out a Netflix DVD subscription 3 months before you leave, and fillet the fishies you want to take along with you (Pierrot Le Fou, anyone?), because that would be so bloody wrong, so don’t ever do this. Capice?

It’s okay, though, to load up on Xanax; that, and Trammies, will ease the urge to turn around and headbutt the tray-snapping brats in the seat behind your, or deck the overweight palooka with the extension belt sitting in the middle aisle next to you. That be the same one who’s trying to play King Elbow armrest dominance games. Eff him, and everyone like him: your X elixir, along with the wireless headphones, will go a long way to building an impregnable serenity moat around you, from which you can occasionally peer at your fellow travelers as if they were bugs from another planet. Always remember, too, that Americans do this elbow stuff because fundamentally this is a deeply insecure nation led by an orange ponce for president with a predilection for grotesquely swishy hand gestures while giving idiotic speeches.

Speaking of Gouna, one thing that shall be waiting for your there are skeeters.  Make sure you bring a Mosinet pop up net with you, or your nights will turn into pure hell.  This is a must have item on the Red Sea, wind or no wind:  these skeeters hide during the day, and come out at night looking to turn your face into Mosul.  Screw them niggahs, and be good to your Mosinet; this is one purchase that will  have you laughing laughing laughing in the most gratingly madcap kind of way possible, like the guy who played Mozart in Amadeus, as the skeeters buzz around in an airborne rage, trying in vain  to get at you, until they turn on each other and commit, yes, insecticide: what else?

Movies are nice, y’all, but what about books?  Yes, of course you have to take that Frenchie novel you bought at Rockefeller Center from La Maison Francaise back in the ‘aughts before it went bust, but what you really need is a Kindle.  So load up from Amazon on all those contemporary Arabic novels in translation, some of which are really good, particularly Hassan Blasim, and Ahmed Naji, whose Using Life will soon be available in translation, as well as books by Saleem Haddad and Abdellah Taia, who will make you see a side of Arab literature that you may not know exists.  Again, if you are going to a place like Egypt, be sure to read The New Arab: there must be a reason that governments block it (last I heard), along with Mada Masr etc., in the media shutdown wars that are all the rage currently in the Arab world. Never forget this: even if you choose to escape to a La La Land such as Gouna, always remember that the brown shirts are never far behind.

Omega 3

If you’re going to be hanging out in a mirage resort town like Gouna (and I will give you my take in a future post on the difference between the Gouna and Dahab vibe, which has become an increasingly popular topic in Egypt travel writing), you are going to want to dive. Sure there will the partying, and you may get lucky with some pliant German or Italian tourista traveling solo and looking for action, so you will want to do something other than self amuse yourself in your empty rented studio flat in Gouna. You will want to dive. Two things, above all, when it comes to diving: don’t get narked and try to share air with the sharks, and don’t entirely rely on that dive computer. Leaving Amerika sez: always have a pressure-tested analog watch with you, just in case something goes wrong.  My personal fave is the Omega Seamaster, I bought it in the late 80s, and had it completely refurbished this year. The Morgan silver ID bracelet is something I’ve had since I was a teen growing up in Cairo. I wear it because it spells my name correctly, and also because it is a reminder for all to see that I don’t bury my origins for anyone. So there!

Lastly, don’t forget those weird International plugs.  It’s a 3 dollar item, but you will stew in your juices in Nice if you forget to bring this crucial item and have to haul butt to MonoPrix to recharge your phone.

Now that you’re all set, happy trails!

 

The Android Tourist

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This past weekend, I was feeling so good about my decision to leave America and head for the achingly beautiful hills of Nice that I bought myself an S8+.

Now as followers of Leaving Amerika know by now, Nice is not my ultimate destination.

That place is called Gouna.

It is on the coast of the Red Sea in Egypt. It is an affordable bastion of privilege, a retirement haven for about 20,000 well off punters, who are betting on the continued stability of the Egyptian state. And it is really affordable, given the current exchange rate of the US dollar to the Egyptian pound.

Having decided to frolic in gorgeous touristy Gouna until the current turmoil in the US abates, I asked myself, er, what are you going to do in Gouna, exactly?

I looked at my gleaming new S8+, and thought: wouldn’t it be convenient if there were a sorta concierge Gouna app?

So I tapped my way to Google’s Play Store, and shazam, there it was: the app that would keep me plugged in to what was going on in Gouna, aside from reading Gouna News of course, which, alas, is appless.

Eager and excited to see what this app had to offer, I tapped on the download button.

Then this happened.

 

 

Why on earth would an app that presumably offers restaurant promos and news of local events and possibly discounts in hotel booking need permission to access all this highly sensitive information off my phone?

The truth is, it most likely doesn’t.

What the purpose of this app seems to be is to offer some sort of carrot (great deals in Gouna!) with the terrible stick of compromising my personal privacy.

And not just mine, but that of anyone whom I have listed in my Contacts.

The Gouna app also wanted to be able to read all my messages. It wanted access to all my pictures and tunes. It wanted to track my movements.

It even wanted to know extraordinary low-level technical things, like highly detailed information about my phone, such as various serial numbers, that, in theory, would enable anyone who had access to this information subject me to ransom demands or simply shut down my gorgeous new phone by informing Samsung that the device was stolen.

Let’s switch gears for a second.

Everyone knows that America takes a cavalier view of individual privacy. For example, if you vote in an American election, your name, party affiliation, and home address can be published anonymously on the Internet, for anyone who might wish to see.

This is perhaps one reason the rich in this country purchase their homes through LLCs.

Add the fact that data brokers cull all sort of government and private data banks to amass frightening dossiers on you (phone numbers, email addys, age, family member lists, income level, possessions, job history, listing of where you have lived, marital status, arrest record, court appearances, and so on).

That Americans in general are willing to mortgage their privacy in return for the promise of a few points off some product deal is breath-taking.

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Which brings us back to the El Gouna Android app.

Think about it:

What are the unintended consequences of granting such an app these privileges?

Are you in fact willing to let some unknown party monitor your location, possibly spy on your friends, open them and yourself to constant harassment via SMS and email and pop-up ads, and, more darkly, allow nameless entities to spy on you in real-time via access to the microphone and camera on your phone? It sounds extreme, but these permissions would allow much of that.

In the era of annoyware and ransomware and the annihilation of online privacy by predatory actors such concerns do not make you a Cassandra.

So, next time you’re poised to gleefully tap on Accept, before downloading an Android app, think about what you are about to do.

Your overseas privacy may depend on it.

 

NB: The dev team responsible for this app was recently contacted via an indirect channel.  The query asked why were these permissions needed for this app.  There was no response to the query, although 4 developers read the query.  Consequently, my advice is do not download the El Gouna app.  It’s too bad, as I was interested in determining if this app was a full blown native app with legitimate and useful functionality, or a simply a shell, possibly spyware app, that makes use of the WebView short cut.

In general, if you have a device that is running Android 6 or above, you can now turn off some (but not all) permissions for apps that you have downloaded.

You can also (in addition to researching the voluminous articles on the subject of Android security that are available on the Net!) perform the following simple task on your smartphone: