Part I: A Humbling Reminder
A few days ago Scott and I traveled to one of the malls that is further away in order to set up our bank accounts here. What is most interesting is that taxi drivers here do not talk to you like they do back home. So if any conversation exists between us and the taxi driver we initiate it – which is harder than it sounds. Since most of the drivers are from other countries we cannot practice our Arabic. The Pakistani drivers speak Urdu, then there are drivers from Bangladesh, the Philippines, and various other asian and middle eastern countries. Many of them do not know Arabic or enough English to be able to hold a conversation that is longer than – where are you from? how long have you been here? So, our taxi rides have grown quite quiet. During one ride our taxi driver turned on the radio and we heard what sounded like the news but in a language we did not recognize. It was spattered with English words like “GOP convention,” “Republican Party,” “Mitt Romney,” “Obama” etc. so we figured that the station was on the world part of their news. Suddenly Scott’s phone rang – it was Ikea informing us of a change to our delivery time for next Tuesday. The taxi driver kindly turned down the radio. When Scott’s phone conversation ended, I said, very slowly and very clearly, “thank you for turning down the radio, you can turn it back up if you want to.” Our driver smiled at me and, in perfect English complete with a British accent replied “it is no problem Ma’am, there was nothing of interest on the radio anyways, just news.” Scott then said, “the station did not sound like it was in Arabic, what language was it?” He then informed us that it was Urdu and that he is from Pakistan. I had to ask, “Your English is excellent, did you learn it here or in Pakistan?” Our taxi driver said “I learned it here while working for a British family. I also worked at the airport. I was in college in Pakistan but I had to leave my home because terrorist attacks started in my village.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said “what were you studying in Pakistan?” “Business, I was going for my BBA but now I am here in the UAE. I long to be back in my home in Pakistan but I don’t know when I will get back there – but some day I will go back home.” I was so touched and so humbled by this man. Such a smart, determined, and kind person who wants simple things – to learn, live, and have a family in his homeland – Pakistan. But because of terrorists and violence his dreams and his potential have been stifled. I have heard several stories like this from refugees who are in America and each time I am reminded of all the blessings I daily take for granted. My education, my safe homeland, my loving and supportive friends and family, and the fact that I can travel to another country on my own will – for a desire to learn and grow instead of out of a necessity for safety. As we left the taxi I asked him, “how do you say thank you in Urdu?” “Shukrani” he said. As I placed my hand over my heart, a sign of sincerity here, I replied “Shukrani” and left the taxi with Scott – both of us humbled in this land of plenty.
Part II: The Watchman and his Watcher
Just yesterday Scott and I rented a car and drove down to Al Ain in order to be there for our washer and fridge delivery. We did not know when they would come to deliver the appliance but we knew it was going to be sometime and that they would call when they were close. So in the mean time we set up our cable, phone, and internet and bought some cleaning supplies so we could clean the place while we waited. And that’s just what we did – we waited and waited and waited. At about 6pm we went back to the mall where we bought our items and informed them that our delivery had not arrived, “Don’t worry Ma’am-Sir, we deliver until 7 no problem” (p.s. the phrase “Ma’am-Sir” is how we are constantly referred to, not Ma’am and Sir but Ma’am-Sir said together fast with a nod to me and a nod to Scott. They are very polite!). Well, and it should come to no surprise to anyone, we did not get a phone call at 7, or 8. But we did end up buying a T.V that was on sale for pretty cheap and figured we did a lot in one day we just didn’t get the delivery. As we were about to leave, we hear Scott’s phone ring and – voila! the delivery men are outside waiting for us to open the building. Well, that means all is not in vain – we got a washer!
Oh, and in case you are wondering, the washer goes in the kitchen in the UAE, it’s normal. So the delivery men come upstairs and get ready to install it until they realize that they can’t because “the watchman” has to install and hook up the hose and drainage. The watchman? What does it mean to have a watchman? Well before I explain let me tell you that at 10:00pm we got a phone call that our fridge was outside ready to be delivered!! So – voila! We now also have a fridge and plenty of room to spare in the kitchen:
So now – back to the watchman. Apparently most apartment buildings have a man who lives on the premises who is there to help you with any maintenance issues (but he is not the landlord), or really anything you could need. Our watchman’s name is Kahim. He knows very little Arabic and even less English. He is a very devote Muslim so he does not shake my hand (because males and females do not touch) or look me in the eye. In his mind I am a married woman, not covering my hair, and therefore should not be looked at by another man. So, need-less-to-say, Scott interacted with him. He explained that his friend could come with the pieces needed to install the washer right now and it would be installed in an hour. Well, it was 10:30 at night and we still had to drive back to our hotel in Abu Dhabi, an hour away, so we decided that we will take care of it once we moved in. He offered to clean our place as well but we had already cleaned it! But I have to ask (and if anyone out there knows this reference you earn major kudos in my book!): Who Watches the Watchman????? Well, yesterday I found out!!!! Raji – Raji watches the watchman!!! In addition to having a watchman, our apartment also has a security guard and his name is Raji! He is there all the time and will be ensuring our safety as we are living at Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Complex in Al Ain! Sorry for the long and wordy post all, but I thought this might give you a sense of our daily lives. Most of the people we interact with are not Emirati but from all around the world. While being around so much diversity is wonderful it gives me little chance to practice my failing Arabic! But language barrier or not, every person we run into and get to know has a culture, a history, and therefore a story . . .