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The intent of this blog is to keep you informed in an informal way (pun intended) of the adventures of myself and my wife, Mary Ann, as we set out in a new life in the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) or as I have dubbed it The Other Side of the Coconut. You can subscribe to this blog, if you care simply by clicking the little box on the right. It wont cost you a dime, and you can unsubscribe any time you wish. Please subscribe. This is how I promise to keep my old friends informed, individual emails are just too much hassle these days.
How did I come up with that name? Well, I was explaining to one of our indigenous workers that Mary Ann and I were leaving Bocas. When he asked where we were going, I just said Arabia. He did not have any idea where Arabia was, so I picked up a coconut and said “This is the world . Here is Panama” After spinning it around to the other side I said “Here is Arabia.” The questions went on for five minutes. They confirmed all my opinions of the educational system in Panama. Reading? No. Writing? No Rythmatic? No. And certainly not geography.
I came along as Mary Ann’s “dependent”. She landed a great job working at the American University of Sharjah. (AUS).
Sharjah is one of the 7 (or so) Emirates that got together after the end of British rule in the region. This happened in the mid sixties. In the late sixties, they discovered oil. Too bad for the Brits. The most famous of the emirates to outsiders is Dubai. Dubai is called “The World’s Fastest City”. In a decade it has gone from not much of anything to a huge metropolis which now has the worlds tallest building among many other architectural wonders. To date, I have not explored Dubai, but I will soon. I hope to post photos from the observation tower on top of the worlds tallest building.
Sharjah is right next door. While Dubai is the party capital of the Arab world, Sharjah is the cultural capital. Dubai is a clubbers heaven, Sharjah is dry. More on that later, in future posts. For now I will enlighten you about my magic carpet ride here from Bocas Del Toro.
For the entire four years we were living in Bocas we had been paying good money to store god knows what in Los Angeles. We decided we would just ship it over here, but I had to go to LA to get it all out of storage and on the boat to the UAE. Actually, in a great waste of resources, they air freighted it.
One of the requirements for me to get residency was I had to have the original of our marriage certificate. We had brought that with us to Panama so Mary Ann could get residency as MY dependent. Yes, the world turns. Anyway, when I contacted our lawyer to get my file with all our paperwork, she informed me that the originals were on file somewhere in Panama City and it would take 4 months to find them. OK Panama, keep the friggen paper.
So, in LA I was able to get an original copy, and get it notarized by the California State department. Then it had to be authenticated by the United States State Department and the only place to do that happens to be in Washington DC, so I was on a jaunt.
The first leg of course was Bocas-Panama City. In PC I spent the afternoon with my old friend Danny of Rip Tide fame.
Then I was off to Los Angeles. The only flight I could get to LA from PC took me through Mexico City. I looked at the itinerary and realized I was going to spend 11 hours in the MC airport. But that was only dreaming.
Back up a bit. The only seat I could get on the plane was a center seat. I would almost rather walk to Mexico that sit in the center seat on a Copa 737 for 4 hours. I took my seat, and there was no one next to me, and my hopes soared. Then, just before they closed the door to the plane, the last guy to board sat down next to me. He was fat, but worse, he had apparently decided that bathing could be avoided if he covered himself in cologne. I immediately began to gag. I could not breathe. I called the cabin steward, and unapologetically told him I could not possibly sit here for four hours, or I would probably die somewhere over Nicaragua. He moved me to another center seat, and I survived.
The plane was late. I was informed that even though I had checked my bags through to Los Angeles, I would have to claim them, go through customs, then check them in the next morning. Why? Because the airport was closed. All of a sudden, my “dream” of being able to find a piece of floor and sleep in the Mexico City airport was gone. Now I had to deal with all my crap. This was not a simple vacation I was on. Hell, I was moving to the other side of the coconut! I had 3 heavy bags.
Well, customs in Mexico City these days consists of mean looking Federales with automatic weapons, and dogs. The dogs had to sniff every bag like it was a fire hydrant. It took forever, and believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was complain to one of these M16 carrying, swat team clothed tough guys about being inconvenienced. By the time the dogs were done, it was 1:30, closer to 2 in the morning. I had the option of sitting outside in a cold drizzle, probably being arrested for vagrancy or being mugged, or finding a hotel room. I knew from previous times in Mexico that the nearest hotels were “muy lejos”. But luckily the Mexico City airport had a new hotel. It was extremely comfortable, and expensive. But it was that or ending up dealing with the Federales as an indigent or a victim.
So, next morning, I get on another flight. This time I actually had an aisle seat. When I got to the seat, there was someone sitting in it. I showed him my boarding pass and told him this was my seat. He told me “fuck off, find another seat.” The seat next to him was empty and his girlfriend was in the seat by the window.
“My girlfriend is pregnant and she might throw up, so I need the center seat for her to get sick in” he told me.
All I could say was “get her a baggie, because this is MY seat”
When I sat down he screamed at me “I don’t want to hear a fucking word out of you, not one word all the way to LA.”
I plugged in my IPOD and turned it up as loud as it would go. The guy was a short cycled bi-polar nutcase. In moments of lucidity, he later told me that he had walked out of a mental institution in Los Angeles and ran off to Panama with his girlfriend. They got kicked out of the lodge they were staying in because of his antics. Then, on a direct flight to LA, they had to land in Mexico City and kick him and the girlfriend off the plane. I think they only reason they let him stay on this flight was because there was no place to drop him off again. He kept screaming about how he was gonna “fuck this guy up, fuck that guy up” and how he was “not going back to the hospital.”
I was really happy to get off that plane.
LA is LA. Always has been, always will be. I had an amazingly easy time with the paperwork, and dealing with the storage and shipping went well. I did not unpack anything from the boxes it was stored in. I just turned it over to the freight people. I am a little worried about that, because my lifestyle might have traces in at least one of the boxes. If so, I will be deported when they open them in customs here in the UAE. I’ll let you know what happens.
Washington DC was Washington DC. Always has been, always will be. I was DONE at the State Department at 7:45 in the morning. DONE. So I played tourist for a while. I had the Lincoln memorial all to myself, just me and Abe. Then I went to breakfast at a nice restaurant, I figured I deserved it more than an Egg McMuffin. At the table next to me were three congressmen ( I could tell by their little MEMBER pins on the lapels of their too expensive suits), sitting with three lobbyists. I could tell by the Gucci shoes. As I fished and was paying my bill, I told the waiter, just loud enough so the next table could hear me “do me a favor.”
He asked “what?”
I said, “see those congressmen at the next table? Spill some hot coffee in their crotch.” I got up and left, no one bothered me. I guess national security aint all it is touted to be.
I trained it up to NYC. If you ever want to show someone how pretty America is, DO NOT take them on the train from DC to NYC.
I met up with Mary Ann in Penn Station. We stayed with her sister in Harlem. Yeah, Harlem. Tell ya what, I loved it. I normally hate NYC, but Harlem is actually down to earth. Her sister lives in a very nice apartment building next door to a church called The Congregation of the Presumptuous Assumption, or something like that. Sunday morning saw lots of ladies in big hats and little kids in pinstripe suits. You could buy or eat anything you wanted within 3 blocks. I rode the A train somewhere and got serenaded by a Mariachi band at 9 a.m.
So, now the final leg of this expedition. A non-stop flight form NYC to Dubai on Emirates Airlines. 12 hours. It was wonderful. We were flying coach, and it was as good as business class on other airlines I have flown.
The arrival in Dubai was stunning. terminal 3 of this airport which is totally devoted to Emirates Air is big. Big? How Big? It is probably as large as all of Bocas. No joke. It took longer to walk from the gate to the street as it takes to walk from the Bocas airport to the Super Gourmet. BIG. And beautiful. Incredible architecture. Waterfalls. Impressive gleaming steel columns reaching two or three stories in height to a ceiling that added to the grandeur of the scope and size of the building. The duty free store was absolutely awesome. Wanna buy a Bentley duty free? Go to Dubai.
Mary Ann’s contract calls for free on-campus housing. However, they are full until new units come on-line in May or September. Meanwhile we must live in a 5* hotel in the next Emirate over called Ajman. It is right on the beach, we get a free breakfast and dinner. So we are living in a $350 dollar a night suite, with a balcony overlooking the Arabian (some say Persian) Gulf.
The next entry will cover our first tourist expedition. Stay tuned.