OK, now I really am leaving the country. Tonight!


It’s been a long wait. I’ve been waiting exactly a week. It took that long to cancel my work visa and to get paid. I don’t know why it took that long, but it did, and for most of that time I was on pins and needles, thinking “Tomorrow it’s gonna happen. Tomorow I’ll be in Thailand.” Well, tomorrow I’m going to be in Chiang Mai. There, I’ll sell my piano, close my bank accounts and send the money back to Iowa. Then, after I’ve hung out long enough to get bored, I’ll challenge myself further by hopping on a plane to destination undecided at this pont.

I just got my passport back and leafing through it, discovered the visas of Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar, and the United Arab Emirates. That’s a lot of travel in one year. And what did I learn from all that expense and effort? Most people in most places speak a little bit of English, enough so you can make yourself understood. If they don’t speak any, you can still communicate with mime.

Countries we’re not generous with treat us the same way when it comes to visas. People are pretty nice and generous all over, if you take the time to communicate with them. In the entire year I’ve been adrift, I haven’t been robbed or even lost anything of signficance. Maybe somebody shortchanged me, but if so, I didn’t notice.

I’m sixty-two years old and in the best physical shape of my life. I don’t smoke or drink and I get regular exercise. As long as I don’t do anything stupid, social security should enable me to continue living in places with a standard of living about a third of what it is in the States. There are a lot of such places, and many of them are really great.

So life is good.

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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.

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!

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.