More from Our Correspondent in the Middle East: Some NPR-Like Snippets About Bank Accounts, Apartment Hunting and Condoms in the Dust from the Front Lines of Daily Existence in the Deserts of the Gulf Region

I have a Brain Technologies associate now putting down roots in one of the more advanced of the Middle Eastern countries. From time to time, I want to share some of this person’s observations because they have a National Public Radio-like way of revealing more than the headlines often do.

The tight focus with which the news media cover “life as it is lived” in the deserts of the Gulf region usually edits out much of the flavor of these societies as they reach for—if they are seriously reaching for—modernity. When you have some understanding of the side scenes and the sideshows, it’s easier to understand that even when modernity takes hold, living there never seems to be a picnic.

• The men wear long white robes (cool); the women wear long black robes and scarves (not cool). Also, the women have trouble with osteoporosis because they can’t get enough Vitamin D from the abundant sun here because they are so covered up.

• The women at work fight with the scarf. I wonder how much work efficiency is lost just with the time spent “fixing” the scarf?

• The jewelry is absolutely ostentatious. I swear I saw a woman wearing MILLIONS of diamonds the other day, eating at Chili’s in the mall. She had on one 30 carat (at least) ring and another band covered in diamonds. Then a wrist band covered in diamonds about 3 inches wide and then a whole arrangement that went down the sleeves of her black gown and over her front and back. Normally all the glitter on the gown is just crystal, but this was too glittery and ostentatious! All this just to go shopping?!

• Driving on the freeway through the desert is sometimes like driving in the prairies in the winter in a wind. Except, instead of snaking snow, it’s snaking red sand. You wash your car and then it’s dirty again the next day from the blowing sand. You definitely want a LIGHT colored car.

• I got an apartment! YEA!!! After looking at many, after getting lost trying to find them, I was getting discouraged. Some were decent sizes but were old and smelly. I kept debating about whether I would go out towards the newer parts of the city (but construction and traffic is crazy) or more in the older city center (but traffic is also crazy). I looked at lots of ones in the older part and some were decent and I got on their waiting lists, but when I walked back to the hotel through the prostitutes and dog messes and used condoms on the street, I decided I really didn’t want to be downtown anywhere.

• You pay all your rent up front at the beginning of your year long contract. Big hit at the beginning, but then you don’t have to worry about it in the monthly expenses. And talk about pre-sales – if you want to buy a one bedroom apartment, you have to buy now for ones that won’t be finished until mid-2008 AND they want 80% of the money by 15 months in advance and are surprised when you ask about mortgages.

• Did finally get to a Rotary meeting. There were more visiting Rotarians and guests than there were club members. Lots of folks from all over – a deputy governor from Tunisia, folks from several European countries, New Zealand, U.S. and myself. Most people are in construction but made a few contacts. Like everything here, the president, a Sheik, sits and the secretary (another Sheik but obviously lower level) runs the meeting. Much of the meeting was in French because of the Tunisian DG and the visiting opera stars from the Paris Opera.

• I waited for one and a half hours [at a government office] to get my certificate to take to the bank to APPLY for a bank account. Honestly, it was a real study in process engineering! People spent most of their time walking around with pieces of paper, getting several folks to sign for them. The certificate paper is kept by one woman and the customer service reps have to sign their life away to get one and then have to create the certificate in English and Arabic. My guess is that they don’t have it in a template as long as it took for someone to type the 3 paragraphs. Then, I had to sign my life away that I had received it. I headed straight to the bank to set up the account. I had to fill out about 6 pages of forms and then they will decide if they will accept me or not

Of course, you can have similar kinds of experiences in many cities and countries, modern or not, Western, Eastern or Middle Eastern. And much of what this person is reporting is culture shock, pure and simple. But I’ve received eight dispatches so far. And the assault of antiquated, inefficient ways of thinking on this person’s world-traveled sensibilities seems unrelentling.

One thought among many as I reflected on the above: if America’s top government officials thought they were going to wage a quick war and establish a viable new democratic government before the first major sandstorms in a region often struggling with near-medieval institutional rigidities, it was obviously because they’d never spent much time at all in these places. At least, much time outside their wide-bodied aircraft, limousines, plush hotel lobbies and pampered sleeping, meeting and banquet rooms.

Second thought among many: Those near-medieval institutional rigidities are eventually going to yield. Such is the nature of a nonzero-sum game, and, no matter how stuttering its pace seems to be at certain times and in certain places, this appears to be the game we are all involved in on this particular G star.

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3 Comments

  1. Thiago says:

    essalam alykommon fre8re sid ahmed j’ai de9ja lu ce vous avez e9crie allah ma3ak et nous somme les e9lement de aenilbeida derrie8re vous pour toujourston fre8re Samir

  2. I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knowledgeable?

  3. cialis says:

    This article went ahead and made my day.

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