Jared, a friend and teacher, has an amazing gig working one-on-one with a student in Abu Dhabi. He periodically sends transmissions of his experiences there. Below are a few paragraphs that I found to be particularly enjoyable:
Speaking of driving, I had my first experience behind the wheel when Andrea and I took our trip to Oman, and I must say it was far less harrowing than I had expected, though the fact that we rented a car at the airport, which is half an hour out of town, limited the amount of city driving we had to do and kept us away from most of the automotive lunatic fringe I mentioned in my last email. What I did find interesting about the trip was the border crossing. In order to get to our hotel, we had to enter Oman, but we didn’t cross a legitimate border checkpoint and as a result did not have to have our passports stamped or show any form of identification. Instead what we got was a dude in camo gear with a machine gun standing in the middle of the road and basically waving as motorists immigrated and emigrated in front of him. I don’t think he would have even stopped me had I not rolled my window down in the expectation that he would demand some sort of ID from me. Quite to the contrary, we had a short and pleasant conversation that tested the limits of my current mastery of Arabic (“Hi, how are you? I’m good”) and then he asked me (in English) where I was from and told me how to get to the hotel. Apparently the Omanis are not very discriminating about who they let into their country. The experience reminded me of my stint in south Texas when I would frequently cross over into Mexico and back. Upon returning to the states, I was always subjected to the most thorough of inquisitions by the border patrol: “Are you an American citizen? Yes? Well then, go right ahead! We don’t need to see your ID; you’re white, so we trust you implicitly. Would you like to upgrade your crossing today to our Contraband Special by helping yourself to some illegal fireworks and non-native flora and fauna?” Thank god for the Homeland Security Act: your tax dollars hard at work.All hyperbole aside, the concept of borders, geographical and otherwise, has come to fascinate me since I arrived here. In a country in which some boundaries, such as those governing interactions between men and women, are so clearly delineated, others, such as where one country ends and another begins, are remarkably fluid. What I find most interesting is that the very same boundary can be both rigid and dynamic depending on where and when you cross it. So as not to delve too deeply into the philosophical, I’ll illustrate with some examples.In my short time here, I’ve been to Oman four times, each time entering it at a different place; only half those times have I needed to even present a passport and only once has it actually been stamped. Sometimes the border is demarcated by nothing more than the aforementioned dude with the machine gun; other times there are a whole series of toll-booth like gatehouses at which you must present, in a particular order, various legal documents that you may or may not have. And regardless of the type of border post (or lack thereof), it’s not always clear exactly when you have exited one nation and entered another. When going to Muscat, my friends and I first had to stop at the UAE side of the border, get exit visas stamped in our passports, and fill out some other forms. Then we got to the Oman side of the border where we had to get entry visas. Perfectly normal…except that the Oman side of the border is 25 miles away from the UAE side. Where exactly we were in those intervening 25 miles remains a mystery. Though we had officially left the UAE, we had not officially entered Oman. Even better, during one of my rock climbing trips with my boss and a co-worker, we were driving down a road between two fences. On the far side of one fence was the UAE; on the far side of the other, Oman. The road itself, however, was technically not in either country and apparently exists in some sort of liminal zone between the two nations, terra firma’s version of international waters, I suppose – I was tempted to open a casino or rebroadcast football games without the express written consent of the NFL just to see if I could get away with it.