When imagining international border crossings, people often possess images of high-security outdoor settings—areas protected
by military-grade fencing, fortification-strength concrete barricade structures along with a broad array of control towers and
surveillance systems. Other people’s thoughts might drift toward the more commonly encountered, indoor-operated travel
terminals predominantly seen in international airport arrival halls—those well-lit and methodically planned passageways of
bullet-proof, shatter-resistant, polycarbonate-laminated plexiglass doors and windows. To still others, an international threshold
can instead be composed of nothing other than low-security, nearly overlooked enforcement measures—just a delicate time-worn
swathe or two of reflective road paint, with at best perhaps a sentinel flagpole and its reliable swaying flag-marker. At the most
informal crossings (usually limited to remote jungle locations and desert outposts) people may even retain memories on the verge
of the phenomenal and seemingly implausible—The passing glimpse of a laminated poster or a delicate time-worn tin-sheet cutout.
Hand-painted reminder signs or collage compositions that resemble more an artistic drawing or spiritual signpost than an official
governmental notice of an international boundary. Traveling Autoroute E99 southward through Ruus al Jibal, from Khorfakkan
through New Madha Township, past the steep winding entranceway and Hollywood-inspired signage for the panoramic Hill Top
Restaurant and the nearby blinding neon glow of Madha Waterfall, along the pristinely-manicured, contemplative grounds of the
Sultan Quaboos Mosque, then curving slightly uphill past Bin Shams Trading Center (with its latest assortment of Dallas Cream
and Sohar Chips), and westward finally toward the humble and remote counter-enclave of Al Nahwa, one will make their way in
swift succession through two of the most understated examples of international border crossing. Territory to enclave, enclave to
Border Crossing 1 of 2 (Territory to Enclave):
Traveling southeast along the Rugaylat Road section of Sharjah’s Autoroute E99, a few minutes after passing the ornate and lush Khorfakkan Fountains Roundabout and the neighboring High Vehicle Exit Ramp (with its breezy shaded underpass), a right-hand turnoff road towards Al Nahwa and Shees will soon appear. On completion of this turn, and with the ceremonial splendor of not so much as a decorative signpost or at minimum a formal roadway border stripe, one may notice (and with car radio volume low enough, even be shocked by) the reception of a simple digital ringtone from an incoming cell-tower message (most likely Omantel), which should without fail light up all portable electronic devices on board, and here mark the successful passage into the Sultanate of Oman with a generous array of mobile internet roaming package offers. And unless an eagle eye is kept on the situation, this distracting digital messenger (in combination with the sudden dense clouds of smoke rising from the competing roadside food stands) will in all likelihood have been just enough to keep one from noticing the nearly unmarked transition from one land to another.
Border Crossing 2 of 2 (Enclave to Counter-Enclave):
A few minutes after climbing the narrow road out from New Madha Township (just north of the Heritage Village BBQ Spot), the small counter-enclave of Al Nahwa will soon announce itself at the top of a brief straight-away with the appearance of a stunted and unorthodox, three-meter-high obelisk, precisely painted on all sides in the four shades of the United Arab Emirates national flag, and posted directly alongside a billboard-sized portrait of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, sovereign ruler of Sharjah. Upon arrival at a close enough distance to read the portrait/billboard’s lower caption—a cryptic welcome to passing visitors in the area—a subtle but noticeable change in roadway texture will then be felt: an upward bump from deteriorated light-gray to recently laid charcoal-black asphalt. And together in unison with this pavement change jolt, a second digital beep should without fail once again be coughed-up from all portable electronic devices on board, this time announcing the new data roaming plans on offer in the United Arab Emirates.
And is it not immediately after taking in this bump and cough of digital announcements that instantaneously (as if being summoned by an unseen presence) a small troupe of Arabian Tahrs are to appear and gradually take over the narrow roadway, assembling into a type of drifting street-level cloud formation, with their multi-directional jostling taking place at what some refer to as ‘at tumbleweed pace’. Although in this instance it might best be described as at the now long antiquated, though more properly fitting ‘village idiot’s pace’, with all the sympathetic pageantry and incalculable logic that this tempo entails. And at that instant, upon cautiously guiding one’s vehicle to rest under the shade of the Al Nahwa Police Outpost entryway trees, don’t the various whirling & spinning, near-dancelike maneuvers of a few specific outliers of the Tahr group make it nearly impossible to comprehend that a second international threshold has yet again been traversed? And if not careful one might also miss (halfway hidden along the far side of the slow parade of Tahrs) a gleaming white, 2020 Starship Technologies delivery robot, gliding here & there with a whisper quiet, suddenly forwards, suddenly backwards method that makes it appear to be in service as more of a chaperone and wrangler than as an actual delivery service robot. And owing to the current, highly-endangered status of the Arabian Tahr, one could surmise (and correctly at that) that this white six-wheeled companion is on active duty not as fun-loving guide, but instead as security agent and watchful warden, remotely connected and controlled by a vigilant small team of observers at the regional Management of Nature Conservation’s new Digital Observation Lab in the nearby foothills of Jebel Hafeet. Indeed during rainy seasons—when the area’s normally bone-dry Wadis can be easily overwhelmed and without warning morph into highly dangerous overflowing flood channels—it is not uncommon to spot a second or third supporting Starship robot dancing along with, and protecting the course of this shaggy troupe of two-horned travelers.
It should also be reported that even though the results of the new high-tech security detail have provided much better support than otherwise expected, many citizens (including a handful of self-proclaimed ‘area experts’) have an ever-expanding list of concerns regarding this newly implemented Robotic Shepherd Program. The dramatic downsizing of actual shepherds and mountain guides (themselves much better prepared to ward off both roving packs of feral goat adversaries or the random nighttime poacher), as well as acute robot performance issues (sand-clogged wheels and dust-covered sensors ranking highest), being two key topics of discussion.
And minutes later, as the meandering mass of Tahrs (along with their silent sentinel guide) begin a headlong descent into the safer private confines of a nearby Wadi, the subtle upwards nod of a head, or pensive clasp of hands behind one’s back might be spotted amongst the village elders who have now quietly gathered here in the small expanse of shade, in communal observation of this beloved daily village ritual: the slow passage of two-horned bleats and one-horned beeps through the quiet hills of Ruus al Jibal.