ENVYING A BIRD ON A WIRE


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Have you ever felt stuck in some sort of completely arbitrary and artificial human situation and found yourself envying a bird? A few days ago, I found myself in such a quandary, waiting in line to be processed for immigration and watching a bird perched on an electrical wire a few feet above. He could have flown off at any time, ignoring international borders and their guards, but he was content to sit where he was and stare down bemusedly on the long line of we humans waiting to have our passports stamped.

 

Sick with envy, I then mused that if I want the freedoms a bird enjoys, I would have to be willing to endure the risks a bird takes. He cannot visit the ATM and then go to a grocery store or restaurant to eat. Instead he has to consume the bugs and worms he can catch. He spends all his time in the open. I find too much time outdoors exhausting. I like to take a nap after lunch. If it’s hot out, I enjoy air-conditioning, and if it’s chilly, I crank up the heat.

 

So all freedoms have a price, and wishing that weren’t the case is merely an exercise in self-flagellation. In fact, envy itself tends to always involve a bit of voluntary self-torture, because it’s based in the arrogant supposition that you know enough about the object of your envy to make the comparison at all. You’re comparing your insides to somebody else’s outsides.  

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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.

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.