The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The story line in The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah is straightforward – Adam Levinson scores a job as program coordinator for New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus and uses his time in that UAE capital as a springboard to explore the region – Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Somaliland, Syria and Yemen.

The curious title is because Adam is Jewish and bar mitzvah is the Jewish coming of age initiation ceremony, which is supposed to happen when you’re 13 so he’s a bit late in getting around to it. Possibly because he claims to not be very Jewish. It’s a curious title because the central idea – here’s a nice Jewish American lad in the heart of Arab 9/11 territory – turns out to be somewhat irrelevant, nobody gives a stuff that he’s Jewish and they’re not very concerned that he’s American either.

Plus straight-laced and rather dull Abu Dhabi is about as internationally friendly as you can get in the region, his bar mitzvah could have been more interesting in Kabul or Karachi.

I’m nit picking, because with the bar mitzvah accomplished he abandons Abu Dhabi and sets off to visit a bunch of interesting or potentially unsafe places. This is happening as the Arab Spring gets underway, but fortunately before it all goes to shit in Syria, before ISIS takes over much of Iraq and before the Saudis decide to give the Iranians a good kicking by way of a proxy war in Yemen. So it’s a fortunate little window of opportunity and he makes good use of it. Unfortunately he doesn’t really get to Iran – just to the island of Qeshm, no visas are necessary to the island, directly across the Gulf from Dubai – but from there forget about taking the bus to Shiraz if you haven’t got a visa. Unhappily Iran wasn’t handing out visas to Americans.

Nor does he get to Saudi Arabia, the real centre of 9/11 trouble. It always seems a shame that Google Maps will give you directions to drive from Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Bahrain, Kuwait or wherever to Riyadh and other centres in Saudi Arabia, but there’s no way you’ll be doing it, the Saudis don’t dispense visas easily.

Never mind he accomplishes plenty of other interesting trips, particularly the finale, taking a boat straight south from Aden in Yemen across ‘pirate alley’ – check Adam’s YouTube clip – to Berbera in Somaliland. Now there’s a trip worth doing.