INGULFED

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مطب — Bump

A cross-country trip in the United Arab Emirates is never very difficult. From Abu Dhabi to the Saudi Arabian border, no longer than four hours; it is no longer distance from the city’s warm insulated nook in the Gulf to the other side of the Emirati promontory where waters are cleared and cooled by the Arabian sea. Roads are wide, fast, straight — I could make no more than four turns and be through the low mountains to Fujairah, supine by the sea with a snorkel and a bottle of rum. It would be so easy.

It was sometimes a struggle navigating the HMS Matsuflex through the stream of white Land Cruisers racing past. A favorite local driving technique is to charge drivers ahead flashing high beams (day or night) to make them move: Give me passage or give me death. I shant change lanes. It must seem so convenient to drivers in their hulking SUVs to have a stick to the left of the steering wheel that simply makes traffic move. If you don’t take notice quick enough, if it isn’t nighttime and you haven’t been blinded by lasers in your rearview mirror, you’re finished.

Although a ’92 Benz won’t be the fastest in any Emirati fleet, it was easy to go the 120 kph speed limit (75 mph) without trouble (conspicuous radar detectors issue instant $200 fines at 140), but that wasn’t good enough. In the right lane, trucks inched along out of everyone’s way, in the center traffic still moved too slowly, and in the left lane, we were prey to assholes. On the high seas of the Sheikh Zayed Highway, we were in constant struggle.

After only an hour, the car seemed to be wheezing. She would reach a top speed and then jerk suddenly slower, as if struggling to change gears. The radio would turn off. The ship had become a horse — in short bursts with my coaxing she stayed speedy, but only for moments. We pulled into a highway gas station and turned off the engine. The battery died.

One jumpstart later, we were soon on the Dubai-Hatta road, following signs for “Eastern Regions,” and heading deadly straight toward the Fujairah coast. The wheezing seemed to have abated, and golden sand dunes sprung up along the roadside, red-orange from beneath my sunglasses. My god, the desert is actually pretty.

And that’s when I smashed into the back of another car.

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Azerbaijan Six: Flight

Previously, in Azerbaijan:
Azerbaijan One: The City — أذربيجان واحد: المدينة
Azerbaijan Two: The Escape — أذربيجان اثنان: الهرب
Azerbaijan Three: The Trick — أذربيجان ثلاثة: الخدعة
Azerbaijan Four: Rest (and a little paranoia)
Azerbaijan Five: Lost and Found — أاذربيجان خمس: مفقود وموجود

Baku was 360 kilometers away, and we had only a few hours before the flight. I drove fast. Another sign boasted “radar” on their new M2 highway. No worries, radar tickets show up delayed under the car’s registration — not my problem . Not the case.

The police flagged us down at the next checkpoint. Uh-oh. The man made no effort to speak slowly or with simply words — I made it clear I understood nothing (I understood some), but still he pressed on, repeating the same phrases, demanding that I comprehend. Yes, we are all guilty of wanting to grab and shake people onto our wavelength, but movements of complete unwillingness to try another approach, to rephrase, to use hand gestures, anything — are moments of plain, dumb ignorance. I needed to fight dumb with dumber.

Something about maschina which I knew meant car. “Maschina?” I frowned, and made a hammer-and-nail gesture. Let’s play the Confusion card.

He held on to my passport and license and motioned me out of the car; I stashed most of my money, and another policeman read me a list of typed English phrases and pointed to numbers he had penciled in a notebook. One was our license plate. One was the speed limit, 100 kph — a complete waste on one of the only 4-lane roads in Azerbaijan. Another was the speed I’d been going. We argued.

“Airport,” I kept saying. “Flight. Baku airport.” I’d make a plane taking-off hand gesture and point to my watch. I sharaded “running”. We’ve gotta move fast..

“You pay 100 manat,” said a cop.
“Baku airport.”
“100 manat.”
“Airport Baku. Flight.”

Finally, I let on that I understood. “We don’t have 100 manat,” I showed him. Look. I had 12 manat in my wallet. He took them and leaned in. Omani rial, Qatari rial, Nicaraguan cordoba, Emirati dirham… and twenty greenback USA original dollars. Shit. He took those too.

I eyed my passport. We’ve got nothing else. “NO more manat!” They looked indifferent. Three cops. I needed my passport. Time slowed. They talked — now I really didn’t understand.

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