23 April 2008

Oh, man!

In true Arabian fashion, I have been treated to quite fine hospitality here. My couchsurfing host in Dubai took me out, drove me around a bit, and had an apartment full of amenities to leave at my disposal. His Syrian roommate was unbelievably welcoming, too: two minutes after meeting me, upon learning of my difficulties in procuring a visa to his country, he called his friend at the Syrian consulate and told me it was all taken care of. I'd still have to wait a week for approval from Damascus, though, so I don't think I'll be able to take advantage of his kindness. Still, what connections! He even gave me one of his necklaces as a going away present. To thank Ismail and Hassan, I made pasta for them one night. I know this sounds like the lamest possible meal to cook, but I made the sauce from scratch, as is my custom. I don't think they'd ever had it before, because when they served themselves, they separated the pasta and sauce on either side of their plate and used the sauce like a dip. How amusing our cultural differences can be sometimes!

Yesterday, as usual, I just barely managed to make the Dubai-Muscat Express bus. And now I am in a country called Oman, which my new couchsurfing host, Susan, who is possibly even more hospitable, calls the jewel of the Gulf. She's not mistaken: this country seems even nicer than the UAE. Even the border post looks more like a Sultan's palace than a government facility. Everything appears to be new. Everything is clean. Everything is detail-perfect. You would have a hard time imagining this kind of wealth if you never saw it. I mean, what country spends money decorating highway rotaries with elaborate sculpture? Or even plants flowers in them?

Look, people, if you think the Middle East is just an impoverished breeding ground for terrorists, you need to make one of these countries your next vacation destination, OK? Oman is nicer than America! The whole place is like an Aladdin theme park, every building and even the highway viaducts conforming to Arabian Nights architectural codes, with domes and arches and crenelations all over everything. Many hundreds of years ago, the fabulous wealth of the infidel Orient was legendary in Europe. I can assure you, friends, that the legend is real in our own day. The only difference is that the men in white thobes and women in black hijabs drive cars instead of camels--expensive ones, too; even the lowliest engineer in Oman seems to have an Audi TT as his ride.

The woman I'm staying with now is a dental hygienist from Canada. Like so many people in the Gulf States, she is a foreigner (one-third of Muscat's population are ex-pats, mostly Indian, she tells me) who has come here looking for new opportunities and a higher standard of living. Her apartment, in which I am now sitting, is huge and immaculate, really much nicer than anything I ever expect to have in America, at least in such a good location.

Unfortunately, I won't be going out to tour the forts and sample the hummus today: once again, I have acquired a case of explosive diarrhea (in Dubai of all places?!). Susan, just back from India herself, sympathizes. Constant trips to the toilet have made me weary, so I'm just going to lay around watching her collection of DVDs. And why not? It's the weekend in Oman, time to be lazy and escape the heat, and nothing will be open anyway. When I'm back to solid stools, I'll be back here to enthuse more about the jewel of the Gulf. Oh, man!

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