Thursday, February 24, 2005

Marcus in Arabia: Part III.

Life in the UAE was pretty good. Before I get going too far on FAQ is did you ever feel in danger. There was only two instances where I felt in danger one was early on (and in honesty the danger was only felt but not actual) the last one was later on and the danger was small.

The first incident was when I had bought a wardrobe for my bedroom. The shop keeper sent me off with the delivery guys and they were both Iranian. We jumped in the truck and off we went. We were driving and driving and very quickly I was lost (I was still fairly new) and we were in the desert. I started acting up and kept asking the two guys where we were and they would laugh a bit and tell me not to worry. Eventually we came up to a warehouse and they went in and came out with a box loaded it up and off we were again. Then shortly afterwards I started recognizing where we were. Phew! Then we reached my place and they unloaded it and put it together. Both were veterans in Iran-Iraq war and they were nice enough but the language barrier kept us from talking too much. I tried to ask them about the politics in Iran but they were not talking. A neighbor who had lived in pre-devolution Iran told me they had real reason to fear speaking out against the Mad Mullahs (see This Little Green Footballs blog).

The later event was at a public execution. The crowd was large and the UAE Police force had jeep mounted machine guns and guys with big rubber batons keeping the crowd in line. I had decided to stay away from the front and to keep my eyes on escape routes. Sure it meant I did not get a front row seat, oh-well.

Life on the whole was good. I had a good salary, housing was provided, I had a round trip back here every summer and the hours were fantastic. I worked four-1/2 days/week six hours/day. Sometimes it was more. Hiring people to do the things we would rather not do was no problem as these workers were typically from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, or the Philippines and were willing to work for much less.

Al-Ain was a provincial town where the UAEU was located. It was a nice town with a fair number of people and was green. Al-Ain sits on an oasis and in any event the leaders spend a fair amount on watering the city to make it bloom. Al-Ain bordered the nation of Oman and the more famous city of Al-Buraimi and we could cross back & forth from Al-Ain to Buraimi the checkpoint was probably about fifteen miles into Oman. Al-Ain is also home to Jebel Hafeet a lone mountain that juts out a flat gravel plain and people would picnic on top of the mountain as well as hunt for fossils in its foothills.

Al-Ain sits on an interesting geological border. When one hears of the Arabian desert one thinks of the large rolling sand dunes and one side of Al-Ain certainly had that. The other side though, was a flat gravel plain.

Al-Ain was home and there was not a whole lot to do, but when I bought myself a PC I was able to keep myself occupied with that. I ended up learning some programming and computer app.s. Also keeping me out of trouble was St. Mary's Catholic Church. Yes, you read it right, St. Mary's Catholic Church! The UAE depends on ex-patriate labor so allowing churches is one concession the UAE makes to the ex-patriate population. The churches are low key and we must not engage in activities which would be construed as proselytizing Muslims. Most of the parishioners were Indian and Filipino with some Westerners (USA, Brits, French etc) and a smattering of Pakistanis, and Arabs. I became quite involved with the Church

I could also purchase barley pops. I could either walk into one of the bars of the two international hotels and have them there or I could get a liquor license and buy for home. I was permitted to buy about $130/month but towards the end the liquor stores in town did not track the amount they just took the money. Pork too was obtainable but you had to hunt for it and usually was in its own section (which could be located in a variety store's hardware section) so as to keep the pork separate from the rest of the food.

The Capital of the UAE was Abu Dhabi which IMO was like Al-Ain just more of it and taller buildings. I only went there if I had to. Then there is Dubai. Dubai is a first rate city and the leaders of Dubai have vision. I really liked Dubai it was all there. I miss Dubai.

Other cities in the UAE are Sharjah (next to Dubai), Fujairah & Khorfakhan. Khorfakhan & Fujairah are the get away cities. They are on the Gulf of Oman and have some lovely beaches. The funny part is Khorfakhan is in the Emirate of Sharjah which completely prohibits alcohol but Fujairah was only about a fifteen minute drive from Sharjah. So when visiting Khorfakhan we would run over to Fujairah buy what we needed and return and empty our water bottles. Hey, who put water in my water?

Were their annoyances? You bet there were and they are the subject of my next installment!