What is the exchange student with an expired 30 day tourist visa to do to avoid deportation? Hmmm. Try finding that one on yahoo answers. This is the question we found ourselves asking this past month with a tinge of unease and apprehension, as we had reached this predicament ourselves. Luckily, with the assistance of the ministry of education, who tirelessly prepared our visas to ensure our safe returns, we planned a trip outside the country so that we could obtain our student visas upon return. I know this is sounding somewhat complicated…
So this explains why we were off to the airport Sunday by 2 in the afternoon with little more than a small backpack and an extra t-shirt. As we approached Dubai in our plane, it was clear we were no longer in Muscat. Barren stretches of desert blanketed the area surrounding Dubai with little more than a few tire tracks in the sand left by some brawny hummer or some restless dune bashers in an oversized jeep. Finally as we approached, we could see a division of bright green grass. Houses began to emerge from this desert oasis in the form of sprawling family compounds sprawling much further than the roots of the date trees, the national emblem. Continuing on past this suburban sprawl, buildings morphed from these homes into huge longitudinal ware houses and then finally to something close to man made mountains scraping the sky.
Every square foot of central Dubai holds a stainless steel skyscraper or a sleek glossy tower, but the city itself is lacking in public parks. Even in the most cosmopolitan areas, a major 4 lane highway runs along the streets, so there is little opportunity for walking. This is a city that created man-made islands in the sea in the pursuit of higher grossing real estate. The entire time I was there, I felt a bit despondent, a bit lost in a big show of flashy lights. Where the Emirates have thrived commercializing and expanding their more than impressive economy, they have also neglected heritage for consumerism and consumption. They have focused on wealth and bypassing records in what was formerly wasn’t thought possible in construction, but they seem to have been unable to preserve their own history or at least it is somewhat lost in the show.
Today, only 20 present of the population are native Emiratis and the population is predominantly young and male, about 2/3 male and 2/3 ranging from ages 19 to 39. Despite these interesting dichotomies within the nation itself, as a whole people are quite proud of everything they have accomplished under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The route they have taken as a nation has boosted the economy of the entire region, and by that, hopefully has created a greater sense of stability. It does raise questions though, for a country so well endowed with carbon wealth under the ground and reliant on government funds, what will happen with the depletion of natural resources, or even the day they begin taxing? It is all some pretty nutritious food for thought you could say.
But for the time being, I was stuck alone in the Dubai mall to ponder this, with a small case of over stimulation, lost in the marble hallways and listening to instrumental music with thousands of people and more than 1,000 shops. We paid our dues to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building featured in Mission Impossible a few years back, and ventured almost all the way to the top. After a one and a half minute elevator ride, we reached a small lookout deck somewhere near the 150th floor. The view was nice; people were taking pictures, hopefully validating the price of the tickets. We proceeded through the gift shop and back down the elevator, another relaxing day in Dubai.
As we boarded the gate back to Muscat, I almost let out a sigh of relief. Though I enjoyed my stay very much, I feel, if anything, I am more able to appreciate my home here in Oman. The sound of the stamp on my passport coming back through customs was really settling. Next step is my residency card, and that should be coming soon.
After all, there is an old Arabic proverb; it takes 40 days to understand a place.