2016
05.31

OSMAN AND I

SYNOPSIS:  Still going… just like the energizer bunny.

The layover in Dubai went quicker than I thought.  Once again, I scoured the airport for travel alarm clocks to no avail.  There literally was a watch shop — Rolex and up, if there is an up from Rolex — at every corner, paired with a perfume shop.  But the watches were even more expensive and gaudy than the ones in Boston.  And, I wonder, can they really sell that much perfume and that many watches to justify dozens of stores?

Over my preoccupation with alarm clocks I almost forgot to look for cigarettes.  No, I have not started to smoke, but the Lonely Planet Guidebook (my ever-trusted companion on these trips) recommends packs of cigarettes as gifts for the chiefs in the villages, the guides, and anyone else you want to make happy in Indonesia.  I have to find out, but I infer from this that cigarettes are expensive and most people still smoke.  Even at the duty free, cartons of cigarettes add up!  I had forgotten how expensive cigarettes are.  I hope they will be as effective as predicted.

I spent a few days in Dubai several years ago, as the guest of the family of one of my former WCC students.  I remember how awestruck I was by the architecture, the ostentatious, slick malls, the brand-new roads — and how I could not wait to get away from it all.  It just is not my cup of tea.  I also remember that I have never seen more stylish ladies in hijabs than in Dubai.  The heels are as high and thin as they get, the handbags are glitz and glitter, and beneath the hijab fake hair pieces make the head scarves bulge out into monstrosities resembling beehives or alien eggheads. 

I looked around the variety of people who assembled in the waiting area for the flight to Jakarta.  Among the 500 or so passengers, there were about 10 Europeans.  Everyone else resembled a most remarkable spread of ethnic mixes.  Some dark-skinned, some with more distinctly Asiatic features, some short, some tall.  If all of them really were Indonesians, what are the common racial features, or are there any? 

I sat next to Osman from Turkey, a 30-year-old entrepreneur who was visiting his friend in Jakarta for a few days.  We had some interesting conversations but for the most part we snoozed, exhausted from this never ending journey, his only slightly shorter than mine.  When I filled out the customs declaration there was a 200 limit on imported cigarettes.  I had 3 cartons with me, which for a moment I thought amounted to 300 — that’s how much I forgot about smoking — but I actually had 600!  Osman agreed to be the carrier of one carton, but thankfully, in the end, nobody even cared.

The Jakarta immigration area was crowded and chaotic.  Two lanes moved slowly but steadily and we were second to last as we had sat at the very rear of the plane. 

All of a sudden voices were raised at the counter and an exchange of words followed, presumably in Indonesian.  But suddenly the officer switched to English and we all could hear what he said:  “This is immigration.  If you want to enter my country you have to show me your face!”  A man had reached the counter with four women in tow, covered in niqabs (the black dress that leaves a mere slit for the eyes).   I had noticed him before.  I had assumed that they were Indonesian and had been surprised by the strict Islamic dress of his four women.  That was a custom I had associated with Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, perhaps.  And indeed, he was not a native, but a foreign visitor.  For a moment, I pictured a US immigration officer yelling this very sentence to a man with four niqabed women.  All hell would break loose, CAIR would file a lawsuit, and most likely the officer would be fired.  And yet, here was a Muslim officer, presumably of a much more moderate bent who was not going to have it.  “If you want to enter my country you have to show me your face!”  He was not even offering to get a female officer to do the looking.  The women were asked to go behind the glass barrier and show their faces.  Only then, did he let them go.  As they walked away, he shook his head in obvious contempt. 

I parted from Osman and took a taxi to my hotel which I had chosen for the fact that it was both near to the airport and cheap.  What should have been a 10 minute ride turned into 25.  And what should have cost $1.50 ended up costing $10.  Was that really all due to construction, or perhaps due to the fact that I was an ignorant foreigner?  I will never know.

Pop! is the name of my hotel and the idea is great: a green hotel, energy-conscientious, filled with 6 floors of modular small rooms in the brightest primary colors possible.  All the essentials were there, from hooks to a shower stall.  Everything seemed new.  And best of all, the internet was fast!  I plowed through dozens of emails and with the help of a sleeping pill forced myself to sleep.  You would think that I would just zonk out after 36 hours in transit, but the body is a funny thing: my internal clock was on the opposite end of the spectrum and signaling the beginning of a new day.

But night it is!  Let’s sleep.