All Hail the Future!


Today I ran into two German guys who run an art gallery in an neighborhood mostly full of car repair shops here in Dubai. We got to talking about what a strange place this is, being new and all, and seemingly dedicated to Futurism and Progress. There’s a blind faith in development at all costs. These guys are interested in the esthetic of industrial fixtures and machines, and so am I, so we got all excited talking about the movie Metropolis and Frankenstein.

There is development at such a grand scale here, and the bone-dry landscape is so unforgiving of the scars of such construction, that this place almost serves as a visual metaphor for any kind of extreme belief in the future. Sadly ironic that the Russian Futurist movement on the 1920’s sprang from a historically backward nation that thanks to its political system was consigned to remain one of the least advanced places on the planet.

I doubt if there’s anywhere on the planet with such daring development. And the local Emirati do not do the dirty work. Here, they have thousands of service workers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, all of whom are treated comparatively harshly. They wear purple jumpsuits and are bused from their concrete bunkers to and from the job site.  Their days are long, and during the summer, incredibly hot. They have no women to comfort them, and remind me of the workers in the movie Metropolis, furiously working underground, building the City of Tomorrow under the directions of unfeeling robots.

The Island of Lost Women in the Straits of Hormuz


Dubai is relatively strict about immigration. In order to obtain a residence visa, you have to fall into certain categories. Hundreds of thousands of people are here as construction laborers, housemaids, and then there are the prostitutes. They don’t give them visas. So the hundreds of Russian, Filipina and African women who make a living as prostitutes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, enter the UAE on tourist visas, which can be extended once or twice, but then they have to leave the country for at least a month. So they go to a group of three islands, The Tunbs and Abu Musalocated in the Straits of Hormuz, islands whose ownership is in dispute. The United Arab Emirates claims them, but they’re right next to Iran, and Iran is currently occupying them. So when a boatload of prostitutes comes to the Islands, they get their passports stamped as having entered Iran. And then they hang out there on that island for a month.

Of course, I only know this because a guy told me. He’s the kind of guy who knows the real scoop, the stuff they don’t print in papers. Now you know it, too.

So, as the story goes, these islands are the sole domain of various fallen women, with no men around to bother or amuse them except for a handful of Iranian customs officials and a few boat pilots. Sounds like a story from a 1960’s men’s magazine. “I Was Stranded on the Island of Women.”

There is a less comic aspect to the islands, and that is their strategic value in any attempt by Iran to close the Straits of Homuz  to shipping. If this were to happen, the United States would have to use force to keep the lanes open. It’s a narrow stretch of ocean,  and both day and night it’s wall-to-wall oil tankers.  Maybe the prostitutes keep busy by waving at the oil tankers  floating by, and counting the days until they can go back to work.

But Hollywood film scouts take note: this story has everything. Sex, current events, exotic locations, and guns.

Amazing Sand Formations


I haven’t figured out how to post more than one picture on this blog, but if you want to see more pictures of sand formations, check out my Facebook postings. This one that I took today looks like an enormous breast. It’s about twelve feet high, and sits in front of a construction site where they’re building yet another apartment complex that will sit empty for God-knows-how-long, competing with all the other buildings that have been sitting empty for the last three years. But what an amazing subject for photography. After a year in Thailand, where everything was green this is quite a switch. I’m surrounded by sand, and the wind does the sculpting.

Rough Country Indeed


In addition to beautiful red sand dunes, there are really rough, completely bare, scary-looking mountains along the border with Oman and along the UAE coast near Fujairah. Those mountains also extend northeast to Muscat, Oman. I have never seen more desolate country, except in Nevada. Even in New Mexico the hills have some sort of vegetation on them, but here it looks like photos sent back from the Mars rover.

This picture was taken on Christmas Day (not a holiday here) just after some pretty substantial rains, hence the spot of greenery in the foreground. I’ve noticed some green fuzz along the roadside sand as well. I imagine that will turn into dust within a few weeks.

Speaking of dust, the sand here has the consistency of dust. It’s so old it has been ground fine. If they need sand for filtering, they have to import coarse sand. I talked to somebody who used to work at a water-treatment plant in Egypt, and he said they imported sand for that purpose from Muscatine, Iowa!

Christmas Eve Day at Immigration in Dubai


Like dutiful Joseph and pregnant Mary, we spent Christmas Eve day  in the Middle East fulfilling a government requirement. It cost almost five hundred dollars and we didn’t get it all accomplished, but enough so that we’re still on track. Mostly we accepted the results and had a pretty good time, anyway. The high point of the day was when we left the car in the Immigration parking lot and took a bus to the Dubai Mall, where we hung out in a beautiful bookstore. I bought a book of Handel’s piano music. Even though you can download all that stuff for free on the Internet and print it out, it’s kind of nice to have it all in a book, rather than scattered around on xeroxed pages.

I recently went on a picnic with some Muslim friends, and they asked me how I could possibly believe in three gods. There is but one God, they asserted. Everyone knows that. Common sense demands that. But then I thought about the power of a story that God gave up his only son, and having lost a son myself, I know how hard a sacrifice that would be. And I thought of how recent a faith both Christianity and Islam are. One is two thousand years old and the other fifteen-hundred. There are graves here, near Dubai, in Al Ain, that are eight thousand years old! That’s earlier than the pyramids. Six thousand years before the birth of Christ.

Anyway, just some Christmas musings from the vantage point of Dubai, 100 miles from Iran, about 1,500 miles southeast of the Holy Land. Where camels wander at will over endless stretches of sand and there is no snow, ever, except inside the ski run at the Emirates Mall.

Camels Here Are Like Bears or Raccoons Back Home


Today I went to the outlet mall, which is a few miles past the last ring road, the last highway that circles the city. We already live about 10 miles south of the center of town, say Dubai Mall, and there’s a lot of desert out here that will be filled in some day, but that day is still fifteen years in the future. As I prepared to leave the outlet mall parking lot, I spied a camel, just poking around in the sand. I later saw he was chewing on cardboard, as he was near the dumpsters out back. Then I realized there were about twenty camels back here, all eating cardbaord. They were raiding the dumpster behind the mall ,the same way bears do in Minnesota and raccoons do farther south.

The camels had a rope tying the front legs together, prohibiting them from running. So I guess that’s all their owners do to reign them in. Otherwise, it’s every camel for himself, and since the roads aren’t fenced,  every driver might want to keep a watch out, as well.