31 August, 2008

Before and After

"One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life." - Chinese Proverb

For the past week, my colleagues and I have referred only to two points in time as of any importance. Before Ramadan and After Ramadan.

Ramadan is the month of the lunar calendar in which the Qu'ran was said to be revealed. For this reason, Muslims fast for the 29.5 days in order to practice patience and humility. Ramadan begins tomorrow at sunset here and began in the Americas this evening.

We arrived here in Dubai the first week of August. There is much ado about everything when one is settling into a new country and here is no different. Thankfully, the school cuts through much of the red tape for us, otherwise I imagine it could be much worse.

Because life changes here during Ramadan, our goal was to complete logistical tasks related to residency, transportation and communication before Ramadan. I just made it. I have my residency visa, my driver's license and my mobile phone. I have my Salik tag, my wireless Internet and my bank account. And now, I finally have my automobile. After Ramadan, I will consider acquiring my M card, a license one must have to purchase spirits. It is not a primary concern.

This weekend, people made sure to go out, for it was the last party before Ramadan. Folks made their runs to buy alcohol, for it was the last chance before Ramadan. I made a bigger trip to the grocery store, as hours will change and some food etiquette will too in the days between before Ramadan and after Ramadan.

We are supposed to have a gym in our building, along with the pool. The pool was finished about one week ago, but the gym remains unfinished. I ran into Binu in the parking lot Friday. "When will the gym be finished?" I asked him as he began to simultaneously tilt his head and grin. "Before Ramadan or after Ramadan?" He did the Indian head bob. I made a face. "After Ramadan?" He did the move again. I nodded my head. "After Ramadan." He nodded as well.

During Ramadan, many people here will work for six hours a day. Most schools, except ours, will have a shortened school day for the month. From what I have heard, people will work during the morning through the early afternoon, and then again in the late evening.

I was speaking to a woman at school about the hopes of getting my car before Ramadan. "InshAllah," she said. "Don't get your hopes up." She let me know that if I didn't get it before Ramadan, I probably wouldn't get it until after Ramadan. "People work during Ramadan, but they're not really working," she stated. I bit my tongue. My hopes were still up.

Also per rumour, is that driving is particularly dangerous in the evenings, when people are trying to get home to break the fast or Iftar. This is all second hand. My colleagues said it's a good idea to be home by 5:30 in the evening, so I will aim to do so. After all, I don't mind being home. Sometimes I jump up and down when I get here anyway.

Right now I am sitting here with the door open to the balcony. The music I often associate with the call to prayer has been playing throughout the city for over thirty minutes now. I can only assume it is because Ramadan begins tomorrow evening. I am faintly looking forward to this time. There will be no pressure to go out to smokey bars where ex-pats wear too few clothes. We will take our meals in private and sitting down, as opposed to on the go and in public. I will come home from work at a decent hour and grade more and write more and reflect more. And I too, perhaps will practice a little patience and humility.

30 August, 2008

So Dubai

"Satire - trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly." - Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

I am officially in Dubai. I have my residence visa, a sweet, pink, little card, inserted in my passport. It will be considered null and void only if and when I leave the country and do not return for six months. If that happened I would also lose my job, thereby eliminating my need to return.

Gracefully inhabiting the sacred spot behind the clear veil inside my wallet is my United Arab Emirates driver's license.

I have my account at the local bank and my Etisalat Internet connection inside my flat. I have my quad band mobile, which I can use when I go back to the States on holiday (with a different SIM card) and no voicemail whatsoever. So Dubai. I have yet to call a number that ends with a message on which I could also leave one. Luckily (unless one is in a meeting) no one in Dubai is afraid to call back, and keep calling back until they reach their intended party. Who needs voicemail? We're in Dubai.

I just picked up my new car with 30% tinting (the legal limit here) and my Dubai plates and stopped to pick up my Salik tag on the way home. Salik is the toll system here, and the Salik tag, which is placed on one's windshield, is automatically scanned when a person drives under the toll. The government — or whoever — will send us an SMS when it is time to add money to our Salik accounts. This I will supposedly be able to do easily once I sign up for online banking benefits. It's all connected. On my way home, I switched three lanes faster than I ever did on the East coast to make my exit and did not disrupt traffic. Very Dubai.

Today, prior to going to pick up my car, I ordered domestic services and a maid will arrive for the first time Saturday morning, and then she will return each Thursday to clean up after me before I begin my weekend. (I do not yet consider myself an ex-pat wanker, but cleaning the whole flat end to end takes me approximately 10 or more hours, and with the amount of grading I will be doing this year, on top of planning, teaching and my master's program - it makes sense to hire a professional). So, Dubai.

Directly after I hung up with the woman from Sky Maids, I called the dry cleaners. They will pick up my dirty, dry-clean-only laundry from the security guard downstairs in the morning sometime after I fax them a map depicting the location of our Al Barsha building with no name. So Dubai.

23 August, 2008

Yes, We Can - The Obama Factor

"He stands not just for Black people, but all people." - We Are the Ones

Thursday in AP U.S. History, my co-worker introduced the students to the Yes, We Can videos. (And yes, they did look at other campaign media as well.) When they arrived in my class they were in awe.

"Miss, have you seen the 'Yes, We Can' videos?" They asked. "They're awesome!"

I was surprised they had not seen the videos before. My students are very news savvy. The day the papers announced Musharraf's resignation, the student's knew about. Some of them read the Huffington Post. They knew Obama was going to select a vice president soon. They understood the controversy of the (now unlikely) chance that the Clintons may have joined Mr. Obama in the White House.

The kids have yet to mention John McCain, in any manner in my class.

To boot, they understand the implications of an Obama presidency.

One of my students, stated that he would like to be president one day, of either of his home countries. He is half American and half Pakistani.

On the day Musharraf resigned, he got a little ahead of himself. "This is my chance!" he said in class. I laughed. He's a good kid who respects people. That's a good quality for a future president.

"I'm hoping Obama will pave the way for me," he said during his one-minute speech the first day of class.

No argument here.

Water, Water Everywhere

"A toilet is something of a feng shui hazard. Flush it and great amounts of ch'i, quite literally, go down the drain." Karen Farrington, Feng Shui: A Practical Guide to Health, Wealth, and Happiness

This is the first time in my adult life that I have lived in a “complex” style apartment. Prior to this I have always rented apartments in houses, duplexes, or other such non-conformist dwellings. The fact that I usually lived on the second floor meant I also did not have to deal with the effects of others’ whimsies and errors.

To try and manage my own space, I try to integrate a little of the Eastern philosophies, one of which is Feng Shui, the Chinese principle for enhancing ch'i in the spaces we occupy. One of the most stringent rules is to keep the bathroom doors closed, particularly between the bedroom and the bathroom. The reason behind this is because water is unpredictable and hard to contain.

Binu was downstairs when I’d arrived from work. He assured me that the blue bathroom, the one with the water heater explosion, was repaired and that it will not happen again. I was still very skeptical. I had, after all, been in the shower when it popped and the event was a little traumatic. I did not plan on using that loo anytime soon.

I got home and walked into the pink bathroom. I put on my flip-flops and I heard the phone ring, so I went to answer it.

“Why are my flip-flops wet?” I wondered.

I went back into the bathroom; the bath mat was wet, which was odd because it usually dries so quickly. I lifted it up. The floor under it was soaking. I looked all around the bathroom and did not see any water elsewhere. I looked in the toilet and I was surprised to see what looked like bits of spinach and maybe...carrot. The water was a greenish blue. I hoped I’d be able to catch Binu before he left the building.

I was walking to the elevator on the other side of the building when I saw him.

“It’s coming again?” He asked.

“No, not the blue bathroom today,” I tried to calmly explain to him. “The pink one.”

He walked with me to my flat as I tried to explain what I saw without sounding paranoid. After all, I have lost track of the number of times he has come to check on water issues for me. Although there always is at least one at the time of complaint.

I showed him the situation in the pink bathroom and at first he seemed confused. He didn’t see where the water was coming from either.

I told him it looked like someone vomited into the toilet. He quickly reassured me that no one had been in my flat all day. I said that was not what I was implying; I was just describing the visual.

He began flushing the toilet. I jumped at first because if the problem was the toilet, then it at some point it was spewing liquid projectile style.

After a few flushes, he confirmed that the drain was clogged somewhere on the parking level. He said that the problem was not my toilet, I just happened to be the recipient of the problem. So I get to suffer for the people who do not know to refrain from putting their food down the drain (we do not have garbage disposals). Sweet.

It was, of course the end of the day. Binu told me the technicians were gone for the day, so they will come tomorrow. He told me not to use the pink bathroom. Clearly. He said just to close the door, and they will fix it tomorrow.

I took the mats and everything else from the floor - my new trash can and the matching bins, all made of fabric of course - and put them outside on the balcony. I mopped up the floor and I closed the door. I was going to have to use the blue bathroom sooner than I thought.

Since I’d arrived in Al Barsha two weeks earlier, I’d learned just how unpredictable and hard to contain water really is. All of us have.

The master bathtubs are poorly designed. When water hits the back wall, where the spigot is, it runs across the back and down the side of the tub. When water hits the inside walls of the tub, it runs forwards and down the front edge of the tub, right onto the floor. We all dealt with this in different manners.

As a temporary solution, I placed small towels along both ends of the tub to absorb the liquid. Lee bought some silicone and applied it herself, but she was quite frank when she said it was ugly. Other apartments had L-grooves, which I still have not yet seen, but are also described as ugly. I called maintenance and the woman said they would apply more silicone to the tub. However, when Binu came to check it out, he explicitly said that he would prefer not to do so since silicone is ugly.

I eventually found some temporary solutions, including using the blue bathroom to shower and the pink bathroom to bathe. Once the blue bathroom had its hot water heater drama, I was resigned to the pink bathroom, and I placed a second shower liner on the inside wall of the tub. It worked wonders.

Others have had their share of water problems as well. Currently, when Kelli and Adam shower, the water comes back up from the drain onto the floor. One day, Kelli did something she had not done before in her green bathroom. She poured coffee grinds into the toilet. When she turned on the water in that sink, it was brown. “Does that mean...is connected to the sink?” She asked us Thursday night over cocktails. We all grimaced and could not discuss the implications.

One of Caira’s bathrooms has a leak inside the wall which is coming through on the other side. For this place we gently refer to as the desert, there certainly is no shortage of water.

Following the hot water heater incident, came the backed-up drain, and I made haste to clean up the blue bathroom again so I could use it while the pink bathroom was out of commission. The switching of the bathrooms and showers was getting old.

After one day of using the blue bathroom again, I felt reassured that things were fine in there. The ceiling tiles were a little beat up, but it could be worse.

Wednesday night I came home and Binu said the pink bathroom is fine. Somewhere on the parking level people were throwing things into the drain that should not have been there (construction materials perhaps?), but now the problem was fixed.

We had been at the car dealership all evening and it was now 9:00, so I decided to save the clean-up of the pink bathroom until the next day. The blue bathroom was fine.

Thursday morning I noticed a little water on the bath mat in the blue bathroom; I figured it was wet from the night before. However, once I got in the shower I noticed otherwise. There was water leaking form the ceiling. It was a slow leak, but leakage nonetheless.

I calmly finished my shower and decided not to shave - again. When I got downstairs, I left a key with the watchman and let him know it was for Binu. I had not yet called him, but he would be coming today. Again.

I returned home that Thursday evening and Binu assured me the leak in the blue bathroom was gone, and that it will not happen again. That was two days ago, and so far so good.

Although we are having our share of plumbing problems, which is to be expected due to the rapid rate of building here, it is nice to know that someone will come to fix them, or at least try. Whether this is a benefit of living in an apartment complex or the benefit of living in a city where everyone works very hard in order to achieve the dream, I do not know yet. But as long as the water only comes between Sunday and Thursday and someone answers the phone when I call maintenance, I just shrug my shoulders Al Barsha style and keep the bathroom doors closed.

19 August, 2008

Al Barsha

"Al Barsha!" -Ann Laros-Weaver and Grant Weaver

Finola Pinto is the woman who was in charge of our shipments from the Dubai side. One week after our arrival, all of the new teachers from my building still did not have our shipments. Most of us sent them in June. One was even coming from as close as the Philippines.

We discussed Finola everyday. So much so, that one of my coworkers' children, who is only six-years-old, but very verbal, got the message.

“Finola is not getting a Christmas card this year,” she said one day. No. Finola will not be receiving any kind of card from anyone in Al Barsha.

Al Barsha is the area of the city where we reside. To say it is under construction is putting it mildly.

Supposedly our building’s name is the Sheik Rashid; however, the name is not on the building, and we only know it by the plot number. It is a government building. Some people confirm that Sheik Rashid is the name, others say not. Here in Dubai we do not use street names or addresses. Mail goes to PO Boxes. If one is completing a form, not only does it ask for the building, but the landmark. Locations are dependent upon landmarks. All of the landmarks near our flats, aside from Mall of the Emirates and its famous ski slope, are new and therefore often unknown. This makes taxi cab rides and receiving deliveries an adventure all their own.

Aside from living in Al Barsha, under construction in more ways than one on its own, we have the frailties of new construction to deal with. This adds to our daily problem-solution activities - most of which have to do with water - clearly. In short, living in Al Barsha right now is a little jacked up - to say the least.

One day on our way to school, Caira was stating how she told Finola off the night before.

“I told her about herself,” said Caira.

“ I heard you told her she was a liar; did you?” said Ann.


“Did you say exactly that - ‘you’re a liar?'” asked Ann with a combination of humour and curiosity.

“No. I was a little more professional than that,” replied Caira. “And then I told her I was never talking to her again.”

“Ooh,” said Ann. “And did you say that - ‘I’m never talking to you again - Al Barsha'.”

Grant, Ann’s husband chimed in “Yeah, Al Barsha. That’s what we say now. It’s Al Barsha.”

We all burst out laughing. Finally, something more accurate and politically correct than "rustic," "up and coming," “ghetto,” "desert oasis" or the adult version of "jacked up" to describe the situation we were in. Al Barsha.

Al Barsha describes the fact that I won’t sleep past 5:45 on any day, due to the construction outside my bedroom window. Al Barsha explains all the plumbing problems. Al Barsha describes how dusty we might get walking through the sand and construction to catch a taxi cab, hopefully. Al Barsha is the best descriptor for the fact that we shipped most of our clothes, but that none of us had our shipments, nor had our washing machines been delivered. Al Barsha.

“Well I didn’t say that,” responded Caira. “I said I will never be using her services again.”

Al Barsha!” We all exclaimed.

15 August, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it." Lao Tzu.

I had a slight problem our first week in Dubai. We live in the desert. Although the transformation of Dubai means our skyline is constantly changing and it is becoming increasingly more challenging to count the malls, there is a little bit of sand left, mostly surrounding the area near my apartment. Because of the climate here, we wear sandals and open-toed shoes, and one has to walk somewhere, even if to the nearest road, to catch a cab. Therefore, my feet are always dirty by the end of the evening. Always.

I don't mind getting dirty, but I hate dirty feet and I despise the black marks they make on my new bathtub, in my new home. This is my first experience with anything close to living a luxurious life, and it's still new. Those of you who know me, know I love a hot bath, preferably every night. So every night, I had to wash my feet, and then clean the tub, and then take a bath.

However, after a couple of days, I got used to the fact that I have 2 1/2 baths, and I was enjoying using all of them. I would actually decide which water closet I wanted to use every time I needed to wash my hands or what have you. Utilizing the space in my elaborate flat was becoming fun.

So, I had a brilliant idea to use the blue bathroom to shower in, and the pink one for baths and as my main lavatory. This would solve two problems - by showering in the blue bathroom, I would no longer have to worry about the waterfall issue in the pink shower*, and I could just shower before I took a bath at night (it has gradually become more humid in the days after I arrived, and frequent bathing is essential).

As normal, I turned on the water heater approximately 30 minutes to an hour before I planned to shower. The pink bathroom has rockin' hot water, as does the kitchen, so I expected nothing less of the blue bathroom. (Each room has a separate hot water heater in the apartments in our building). I considered myself lucky because many from our crew were having hot water - or shall I say lukewarm water - issues.

I showered the first night, and my shower was lukewarm. The next day, I decided to leave the hot water heater on overnight for my morning shower. It was no warmer.

Everyone in our Al Barsha crew - Ann & Grant, Caira, Lee, Kelli & Adam, and I - had been calling maintenance for some reason or another in those two days. We figured out to leave our keys with the watchmen while we were at work during the day, so that deliveries and maintenance could have access to our flats and do what they deemed necessary. I called maintenance again and requested they increase the hot water in my guest bathroom. They'd done so for my coworkers, and it had worked. I also left a note with my key at the desk - "Binu - please make more hot water in the blue bathroom."

When I showered that night, the aqua was piping hot. I had my remedy for dirty feet, and a poorly designed bathtub.* Golden.

Or so I thought.

As I was showering yesterday morning, I heard a loud pop. The pop sounded hot. I know that seems like an inaccurate description, but that was the experience. I looked up, and water was coming out of the ceiling.

"I guess I am not shaving today." I turned off the water, got out of the tub, and proceeded to wash my face at the sink. The water was still coming. Steam began pouring from the ceiling. I turned off all the water in that bathroom, the lights and the water heater. I ran around trying to find something to put on that covered my shoulders and my knees and ran downstairs. On my way, I tried to call maintenance. The message said they arrive at 7:00. It was 6:45.

I got downstairs and I told the watchman. He seemed unconcerned. He told me to call Binu, our building's maintenance supervisor and walked me to an alcove where I thought I would find Binu but did not. Perhaps the guard just thought I would have better phone reception there. I reached Binu, who was not in the building, and told him the situation. He sounded like I had awoken him from sleep. He said he would come by. He also portrayed an attitude of disturbing nonchalance. I went back upstairs.

My bathroom was filling with water. It was not going down the drain. In our dear Al-Barsha building, each room that has water in it, has a drain. I called Binu again. He did not answer. I tried twice more. I got dressed. The bus was picking us up for work at 7:15. I was going to have to forgo breakfast - that disappointed me because I'd been looking forward to it all morning.

Once I was ready for the day, I tried to call Binu again - no answer. I got all my dirty towels - not many since my shipment had not yet arrived, and placed them between the bathroom and the guest room. Thank goodness neither my furniture nor my shipment was here yet. I went upstairs to get advice from Lee. She reminded me to get everything off the floor in the entire apartment - and to move my happy chaise as close to the balcony as possible. When I went upstairs, the water was in the guestroom. When I came back down, it was drifting into the hallway toward my bedroom.

I called Binu again. He answered.

"Water everywhere!" I said, following the 'eliminate all helping verbs, prepositions and pronouns rule'.** He said the technicians were already on their way, and he would call them and tell them the latest.

I went into the bathroom, drenching the bottom of my pants and getting rained on. I moved the drain cover - genius move - a little late - and heard the lovely sound of water draining, albeit too late.

The doorbell rang and the technicians rushed in with a ladder and some tools. I made a peanut butter sandwich. It was time to leave. I heard the water finally stop running from the ceiling. I picked up my bags, thanked the men, and went down to catch the bus for work.

Bubble Burst

"Filthy water cannot be washed." ~African Proverb

I arrived home yesterday at 4:30. Even though this morning was a disaster, this evening held promise. My shipment had arrived and had been cleared through customs. The delivery men were on their way to my flat. The last of my new furniture, at least for awhile, would be delivered tonight. I walked in, and I went to check on the situation in the bathroom. Everything was dry. Thank goodness. They had cleaned up the water.

I debated calling Binu to ask him for an update. I decided against it at first, then I wondered if later I might decide that they must have fixed it and end up trying it out. I settled on the decision not to use it all until I heard from Binu.

I did not know what to do with myself while I waited for my shipment. I still had nowhere to sit. I decided to sweep the floors.

I was in the hallway, and I heard a chilling, hissing sound. It sounded eerily familiar. I ran into the guest room and at exactly that moment water began pouring from the bathroom ceiling. I quickly looked over and saw that the water heater was switched on. I switched it off. Water kept coming, much quicker than it had that morning.

I got on the phone.

"The water is coming again!" I said to Binu.

"It's coming again?!"

"Yes! Right now."

"I am coming," he replied.

I went through the process of bringing in the towels from the balcony and lining up between the bathroom and the guest room again. I made sure the drain was open, even though it was not really draining. Finally, Binu arrived. The water was already in the guest room and headed toward the hallway.

I waited for about five or ten minutes, it seemed like fifteen, until the water went off. Binu was soaked. He turned on the sink, and all that came out was steam for awhile. The ceiling was whistling. He said it will make that sound for about 15 minutes, until all of the air is ut. (It actually took about one or two hours, but no more harm was done.)

Binu informed me that the hot water heater was overheated. In my head, I am thinking, 'you mean the one you just adjusted the heat for yesterday. I didn't need it that hot.' But no matter. I asked for it.

I looked at my watch; it was 5:15 on a Thursday. I had been lucky; 5:15 on a Thursday in Dubai is worse than 5:15 on a Friday in the States. In Dubai, the holy day is Friday. Everyone rushes to finish work Thursday evening, and Friday mornings Dubai is sparsely populated. I had caught Binu in the nick of time. If my water heater had exploded any later, he would not have been in the building to come turn it off so quickly, and most likely no one would have come that night, or the next morning. If my water heater had exploded again any later, my shipment would have been here, and possibly my furniture, and there may have been damage to both. In a sense, I was lucky I mistook the button for the water heater as a light switch.

I cleaned up the water in the guest room, and closed the door to the bathroom. The men would come to fix the bathroom Sunday. I resigned myself to using only the pink bathroom until then.

After I regained my composure, I phoned Finola. The delivery men with my shipment were supposedly downstairs in the lobby. My spirit returned.

14 August, 2008

The First 24 - Part 2

"The welcome ever smiles, and farewell goes out sighing." William Shakespeare

The Marhaba ladies were my first introduction to life in Dubai. The administrators from my school had given us very detailed instructions for arrival, so when I got off the plane, I knew to look for the Marhaba ladies; although I did not really know what they were. They would be wearing bright yellow-ish jackets and I would find them somewhere after the escalator. I knew they would have a board with my name on it, and that they would assist me in the customs control process.

As I walked through the airport, I immediately noticed how refreshingly serene the airport was. It had an air of cool, calm and collected. No one was rushing. There were no loud disruptive announcements. It was surprisingly empty. I felt at peace. What a lovely way to enter my new living space.

After approximately five minutes of walking, I met my first Marhaba lady. She was petite and she quietly handed me a pamphlet, confirmed that I was expecting a Marhaba lady, and pointed me in the direction of the the others, one of whom would be waiting for me. It was all very mysterious.

I arrived at the top of the escalator and saw two petite women in the Marhaba uniform. I had not expected this. I was imagining a large, burly woman with thick sunglasses and a yellow poncho, who could lift many suitcases and move people out of her way quickly. Not so.

My Marhaba lady took me to a place where I could leave my carry-ons and assured me they would be safe. I left them and went downstairs with her. She did not explain where we were going. We approached a counter, and handed the man behind it my papers. He stated there was no need.

The Marhaba lady explained that there it was unnecessary for me to have my iris scanned electronically, but that she brings everyone to that station because now, in Dubai upon arrival, the rules are constantly changing. (I later discovered many of my coworkers did have to complete this, although we had the same type of employment visa).

We went to customs control, and the Marhaba lady took us to our very own special line, in which we were first. I approached the counter and kept my head down. On the plane Paul told me not to look any of the men here in the eye. I did not know if he was joking or not. I figured he meant if I did so they would be more inclined to pursue, but I was overly cautious. The man behind the counter looked me dead in the eye and said "Hello, how are you?" I looked up and smiled. This is my new home, and I am being welcomed to my new life at every step. There was no reason to avoid eye contact or over analyze my presence here. I kept smiling and the man behind the counter handed me my passport and my temporary Visa.

My Marhaba lady adeptly acquired a porter. We went to baggage claim and were there for no longer than five minutes. The bright green on my luggage was easy to identify, so we moved on to the baggage screening. The Marhaba lady and I waited as my bags went through the machine. The woman screening them apparently found no reason to examine them. Moving on.

The Marhaba lady and I went on to meet the Superintendent of my school who was picking me from the airport and would take me to my apartment. I kept seeing this mascot, who is yellow and has a big smile. The woman explained that he is the mascot for a festival that is occurring, something about a smile campaign. Apparently it is Dubai Summer Surprises, and I have no idea what it's purpose is yet, but I think people win things at the mall, and that it is partially sponsored by a credit card. This is no surprise because shopping is a favourite activity here, for both nationals and visitors.

I could not believe we were done. I expected to be at the airport for hours, but in reality, it was less than one. Once we all arrived, it was hard to forget about the Marhaba ladies. We asked, but that was the only time the school will provide us with that service. Apparently there is a card that will make the airport process just as simple, but probably not as delightful.

We met Harold, and he asked the young lady where she was from. "Romania," she replied graciously.

Before Harold and I left, she turned to me and handed me my paperwork. "Welcome to your new life," she said smiling. I beamed.

10 August, 2008

The First 24 - Part 1

"The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one." ~Wendell Willkie

I was bloody lucky. My row mates on the plane were brilliant - they could not have been better. I got to know them well enough since the lights, television and anything else electric was not working in our section from our row back. We had 14 hours and little light to get to know each other.

On the far left, in window, was an American who works in Doha, Qatar. He is a project manager and he has something to do with oil. We did not get into those details. In the middle, I found out the next day, a few minutes before disembarking, was Paul, an American who works in Kuwait, but has lived overseas most of his life. At aisle, was I, an American going to teach in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We immediately began conversation. By the time we were prepared for take off, we were old friends. It’s a good thing because all the toys we brought with us to keep us busy, were useless. Our lights did not work, so we could not read. Our televisions did not work, so we could not view the movie or the tele. We were bummed to say the least...at least for the moment.

“I am so glad I am sitting next to you.” I raised an eyebrow at my row mate when he said that. “I have learned so much already! When I saw I was sitting next to you, I was like ‘thank you’.”

Glad to be of service, I laughed. I had learned much as well. I learned what signals were OK to use towards others when one was driving (and angry), and which ones to avoid. I learned which nationality had the best reputation for maid service - I’ll find out in a couple of weeks. I also learned that I will be able to afford dry cleaning services that will come to my house to pick up my laundry and drop it off, as well as the fact that I could probably have someone come to my apartment to do my nails and toes, as Paul does, as opposed to going to a salon.

“I can’t wait to see you in one year! You are going to be so spoiled!” He laughed.

I laughed. I was not going to argue. But I did a little.

“I am not going to be bougie!” I laughed and looked away haughtily.

Life in the Near East was going to be just lovely. I did not know this man’s name, but he painted quite the palatable picture of life in my new home. He was returning from holiday in the Bahamas.

I could not wait to get out of the plane and into the heat. I must admit, I was happy to sit next to him also. Another Black American, living and working happily in the Arabian Gulf region...and an Anglo-American who wasn’t complaining...good company.

Prior to boarding the plane, I was a little concerned about having an aisle seat. I love the window seat because I have an affinity for viewing take off and landing, and in between the two, I like to sleep with my head on the window sill. But for the long flight, I chose the aisle. How was I going to sleep without permanently injuring my neck?

“You can lean on me if you want, so you can sleep.”

Gaia bless Paul.

“That was some of the best sleep,” my neighbor stated next day.

I did not respond. I realized that I just slept on this man’s shoulder and I did not even know his name. I had already thought of him as my first friend in the Gulf region, and I did not even know his name. Somehow, that felt very wrong.

Closer to our arrival, he had his license out (or passport, I remember not which a week later) and I took it. Paul.

Approximately 12 hours after we sat down and began talking, I introduced myself.