Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Border Post: Part 3

After another hour of slow-mo travel though Al-Ain, we finally arrived at the right border. Surprisingly, the man at the first gate lets our huffing beast of a car through. The second gate does the same. This is such good luck. I’m in awe. Smooth, albeit slow, sailing from here.

We still needed, however, to get the ever illusive “stamp” in our visa. Depending on the country in the Middle East, and depending on the humor of the customs official, this could take anywhere from 2 seconds to hours on end. We parked the car and walked over to the first promising looking office. The man says to go next door without looking up from his phone. We head to the next office. With his feet up on the desk, a young guy in jeans and a tee-shirt looks at us like we’re from Mars. Friendliness is the key, I think to myself. If you’re positive, people will always be more likely to help you out. Well, generally this is indeed true. This dude was having none of it. He told us to go next door. I’m thinking that is becoming far more difficult than it needs to be. All we want is a visa stamp saying that we can leave the country. We weren’t even asking to come in. I guess they like to keep their tourists.

The men other next door were more like the first guy—dressed to the nines in the daily Emirati customary garb…a white thobe and a complicated turban held in place with a weighted rope. Not very practical to say the least, and somehow manages to make Emirati men look irrepressibly arrogant. This time there were 5 of them. No one seemed to see us. I moved closer. No one looks at us. I feel like I am a fly on the wall in the quintessential stereotype of an Arab officer’s office: the room reeks of the hustle bustle of inactivity. Everyone is shouting and doing a miserable job of trying to look busy. I don’t care too much about social norms at the point and push through the men to go up to the desk. I start explaining that I just want my exit visa, but the officer thinks he’s cute and decides it will be fun to tease me, pretending he doesn’t understand.

“You want to leave?” he says in Arabic.
“Yes, where can I get my stamp?”
“No stamp, just go back to Al-Ain there.”
“No I want to go home to Oman. I live in Oman.”
“Ah, you are Omani.”
“No , I live there.”
“Ok, fine, go next door.”

What a miserable man. Or at least what a miserable customs official.
Naturally, next door want the first office we went to. We have now been to all available offices. This same man, still playing on his phone, tells us to go next door again. We said that we’ve been next door (on both sides!). Go again, he says.
“To who?” we try to confirm.
“The Egyptian.”

I’m confused. Who’s the Egyptian? George, having spent a year in Egypt and a year in Saudi Arabia, knew that calling someone “Egyptian” in the Gulf meant “the non-traditional punk.” News to me. We finally get the man to come outside with us and show us where this office is. The young guy happens to be standing outside as well. The first officer says, “There, the Egyptian.”
The young guy looks totally not amused and says “My name is Ahmed.”
“Yeah, ok, Egyptian,” the first officer shrugs. Despite the undeniably interesting inter-Arab culture clash going on, I still just want my visa. It takes a solid 10 minutes of standing around in Ahmed’s office for us to acquire this all important little pink piece of paper. The Gulf loves superfluous paper-work. Get something stamped and you’re golden.

Well, back to my visit into Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Way Out/Dead End). I feel trapped and starting to get a little panicky. George thankfully is a border God and manages to keep his cool indefinitely. We end up back in the first guy’s office. He gives us a little green piece of paper for our pink one. But only after he insists on giving us a mini Arabic lesson. “You know, Dakhool mean enter place. Kharoog, that mean go out place.” He smirks about how stupid we are. Hmm. This would not be the time to start talking to him in Arabic. Do not insult the proud Emirati man who may, or may not, let you go home.

After the strain of the day, this experience felt entirely surreal. At least the men at the last exit gate were remarkably pleasant.

As the night wore on however, we moved from the world of existentialist literature to epic film.

No comments: