Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Abu Dhabi

Getting to know a city is like getting to know somebody. It involves a similar dose of excitement, a comparable degree of openness, and a dash of mystery that make you wary at first. Then as you engage in the relationship, you get fascinated, disappointed, amused and saddened. It’s all of these emotions that besiege you and change you over time. These past couple of weeks, I have had a chance to feel Abu Dhabi in a way I hadn’t before.

1:00 PM. It’s Rush hour. I am not sure I know the reason. Whether it has to do with people who are heading home for their siesta at around lunch time or with children who are coming back from school, it’s when you could wait up to an hour in the scorching sun before you finally get in a cab.

The city—hot and humid, lively and imposing, neat and fresh—offers an impressing view of Arabia. Here, domes and minarets of traditional mosques rest in the shade of modern skyscrapers. There, recently -built boulevards ornamented with aligned palm trees are keeping up with gigantic roundabouts where hundreds of cars speed constantly. Not too far on the sidewalks, circles of construction workers are eating their lunch while calls for prayer reverberate loudly from everywhere. It’s a bizarre blend of wealth and poverty, arrogance and deference.

The people—a pot-pourri of nationalities and personalities: Filipinos, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri-Lankans, Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Emiratis. As the Arab men, dressed with their ‘kanduras’ walk around like the lords of the new era, the women, buried in their ‘abayas’ hold their Versace handbags in defiance. But under this interesting modern-day Babel lie a kaleidoscope of parallel lives that rub shoulders with one another with no chance of intersecting, a melting pot of hearts, souls and stories that can make or break your day in a second.

I was in a cab with my baby. The driver, in the rearview mirror, kept on starring at us. As he maneuvered his way to the jammed streets, he asked: “baby boy?”

“Yes”, I responded in a whisper.

“Nice baby”

“Thank you. Do you have kids?” As soon as I asked the question, I wish I could take it back. It’s a question that I vowed not to ask anyone.

“Yes, a boy”. He paused briefly. “A small baby, 5 months.”

Before I could respond, he pulled a picture out of nowhere and handed it to me. Before my eyes was a perfectly beautiful baby boy, bundled in a green overall. I opened my mouth to congratulate him, but he did not let me finish.

“My wife is dead”

I told him that I was sorry and asked about the cause of her death. He said quietly: “I am from Pakistan; I’ve been here 2 months”. I did not understand whether it was a change of topic or an explanation, but I said in more cheerful voice.

“See, you got a new president in Pakistan”

He answered “yes , very bad people”. As he insisted “very very bad people”, his eyes, void and yellow, projected a subtle gloom upon his smile. It took me fifteen minutes to get to where I needed to go, but my enthusiasm was gone.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Becoming an adult

I don’t know exactly when I traded my young-adult status to mature status. I don’t think it has anything to do with turning 30. Indeed I know 40-something women who are in the best shape they have ever been—physically and emotionally. My husband was just teasing me for my sudden interest in politics and global warming, when I realized that it had been a while since I watched a movie, Fashion TV or read an entertainment magazine. CNN, CNBC, and ejunior are the three channels that we watch in our ‘free’ time. The rest of the time, I am running errands that have to do with my children.

Last time we had some time off, there wasn’t any time and energy for late night dinner, love making on the beach or any adventurous leisure. Going to amusement parks, museums, and children-focused activities were the only activities that were feasible. Furthermore, last time I went shopping, 90% of the stuff that I bought was for my children.

Yesterday, I was in a taxi and the driver asked me the usual “where you from?”


Here in Abu Dhabi I always answer Africa when asked that question—most people have never heard of Haiti, and I don’t have time to give geography lesson to everybody. Many people believe that Africa is just one country; so when I say ‘Africa’, the person often leaves me alone. But if he/she is a bit more aware of the world, he/she will ask: “where in Africa?”
Then I’ll say any country that comes to my mind. So far I’ve said Soudan, Senegal, South Africa, and Ivory Coast.

But yesterday the driver was in a chatty mood. After I answered ‘Senegal’, his questions kept on pouring” “How long have you been here?” “Why did you come here?”

The truth is I did not choose to come here. Coming here has chosen me, as have most of the things that have happened to me. I guess I did not choose to become a ‘mature’ woman, a ‘mature’ status has chosen me without my noticing it.