Archive for September, 2010
This border is not one-dimensional like the fine, fountain pen line between the US and Canada; the vague area between the Emirati back door and the entrance to Oman could be drawn faithfully with a Crayola marker on a globe. But after ten minutes of driving through no man’s land, we were in every man’s land.
Fiftyish men puffed fiftyish shishas, drank tea, and watched us be Western at a roadside cafe half-hour into the country. A huge projector blasted Spanish soccer to the going-out crowd of northwestern Oman. The coffee tasted dark and sweet, not like the light brew served too often in the Emirates, and the mint tea smelled like Morocco and older traditions. I went to ask for more coals for the shisha.
“You speak Arabic?” The owner asked me. Again, same words — completely different question. A minute later, he was introducing me to his favorite customers — a group of five Omani men — and we three American travelers were welcomed into their circle.
We talked about soccer, about Oman, and about finding a wife for the owner in Washington before telling them our travel plans (drawn on a napkin) and the difficulties of making reservations anywhere without phones or internet.
“Ahmed, go get a SIM from the car.”
My useless Emirati phone was taken from me, popped open, and charged with Omani hospitality (and a ton of credit). And after sitting for hours, Malik paid for everything we’d touched the entire night. No, no, a friend explained as we squirmed at the niceness, he’s the boss.
To the sound of the afternoon call to prayer, we set off in our Nissan toward Oman… east. Yeah, let’s go east.
Our car of three sped away from the eyes of city-center radars, toward Al Ain where we aimed to cross the border. Once there, I found myself having trouble finding the biggest thing I’d ever looked for — a whole country. We knew it was there — three million people were right there hanging out — but according to the map, it seemed to have been out for the afternoon.
My friend asked a shopowner in Arabic where we could find Oman, and I listened as he gave us directions that were clear, but seemed to contradict the existence a dead-end I’d seen. So I tried to clarify. And in that moment, he said something that had been said to me so many times before gently and in surprise, this time curt and with disdain: “Do you speak Arabic?”
I had never had a relationship that was purely based on Arabic — even Arabs I’ve met and known only through Arabic have understood that it was a foreign language for me, taking my words at more (or less) than face value, and giving me more credit than I pronounced. But here I was assumed to be an Arabophone. The jab echoed the sarcastic taunts of “You speak English?” heard a million times on the streets of New York, always with the assumption that the insulted does speak English, fluently in fact, but misheard. In his assumptions, this salesman was — in a way so rare and re-encouraging — a total douchebag.
They say smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, but they never said which memory. The smell of electric keyboard adaptor fizzling and smoking reminded my of my childhood labors in the kitchen mixing cookie dough with an overheating beater. Things like that really help calm you down.
The 120 volt adaptor brick was smoking, of course, because I had plugged it directly into a 220 volt outlet. See, my shipment from the states had arrived — all 16 boxes — and in my excitement I forgot to remember that old electronics are like old people: they have their one way of doing things, it works for them, and why don’t you go bother your brother for a change. None of this “dual-voltage” new-agey bullshit. Anyway: bang.
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When life gives you pillows, you chaperone them.
Hi, my name is Adam, and I am a pillow chaperone.
Last week, among my many programs to coordinate sat eight large decorative pillows that needed supervised transportation from one part of campus to another. Unfortunately, I was not the supervisor. I was assistant to the supervising advisor of the facilities manager who facilitates (and manages) such transportation. And I was totally useless.
But I’m not complaining. I’m learning.
Life’s Good… until LG kills your family.
A study once revealed the hippocampi (thought to be major memory centers in the brain) of London cab drivers to be much buffer than those of non-cabbies. Abu Dhabi taximen are a step above. Or sometimes not.
The huge blocks in the city, spaced about a kilometer apart, are interlaced with a patchwork of little unnamed backstreets that run like neverending parking lots through garages and alleyways. Addresses, then, in this city free from zip code and street number, take a much different form. Our western obsession with the numerical exactness of the address is replaced with the “rural route”, which relies on landmarks and major street names: Apartment X, Geneva Laundry bldg. Khalidiya Street, across from Kentucky Fried Chicken. ّWell that’ll get you going in the right direction. After all, the “ad” in address means “toward” — isn’t that enough?
It is now the final day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration commemorating the end of thirty days of f(e)asting and its resulting indigestion. The conclusion of the month of Ramadan is a time for family gatherings, hardcore chilling (not a litteral Qur’anic translation), and reflection.
To recap these wet hot Arabian nights, I will say that the choices of things to do are somewhat limited, but always deeply connected to the spirit of the city. A few days ago, the Kuwaiti national soccer team challenged the UAE home team in Al Nahyan Stadium, a 12,000 seat park practically connected to Al-Wahda Mall (malls are a really big deal).
Even for the national team and free tickets, and perhaps because of the I’ll-just-sit ethic of the month, not many more than a thousand spectators turned out. Here, the club teams are still the bigger attraction, a not so subtle reminder that only four decades ago the arab emirates were not united and that local rivalries between neighboring towns or tribes or cities still remain a fundamental part of the culture.
This is not to say these rivalries extend beyond the football pitch — there I have no idea. The fact that Bears fans (allegedly) throw cheese at Packers fans doesn’t (necessarily) have any bearing (pun intended) on the relation between Illinoisans and Minnesotans. But it might.
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