Our typical sort
This last Saturday we set out on our latest adventure. Our friends the Andersons, Palmers and Queros joined us on a dhow cruise along the northeast coast of Oman, Musandam. A dhow is a “A lateen-rigged ship with one or two masts, used in the Indian Ocean” though ours was powered by motor not the wind. We purchased vouchers from a site called yallabanana.com. Yallabanana is much like Groupon selling deals to various vacation and entertainment fun in the UAE. Yalla in Arabic means “Let’s Go.” Now who couldn’t love a name like that. I’m always a little nervous about sites like this but I’m happy to report that everything went swimmingly. We paid a total of 550AED (150 CAD) for passage on the dhow for Lisa, Me and the kids. No buyers remorse here; we had a great time.
The day trip included a cruise up the coast line where we anchored off the shore of what looked like a nice beach. I can’t say for sure because we were having too much fun jumping and diving from the boat and snorkelling to bother with the beach. The water was beautifully warm at the top 5 feet or so. If you swam deep enough you entered a crisp and cool layer of water – perfectly refreshing. We spent several hours in the water before climbing out for a buffet lunch on deck.
I wish Lisa had the camera pointed at Jeremy when I snuck up underwater and tugged on his fins. He thought a shark had him… his face must have been priceless. We took a “banana” ride with the kids behind a little speed boat. It was slow for the adults… and Kirsten but the little guys really enjoyed it. Jaron was adamant from the time we left the house that he would not be riding on the banana boat. I’m not sure what he thought it was but he quickly changed his mind when he saw the other kids riding along behind the speed boat. Jaron really surprised me though when he jumped from the second story of the dhow. All the kids had a great time leaping to the waters below.
After lunch we were back in the water which was generally beautiful. Though as I was holding onto the boat I caught a whiff of something putrid and turned my head just in time to see what I assume was toilet waste ejecting from a hole in the side of the boat (It may have been the kitchen wash water – somehow that makes me feel better about it). After throwing up in my mouth a little I made sure to give that section of the water a wide berth. Indeed, I was happy to get underway shortly after.
Leaving our beach port we headed out to sea to do a little fishing. No fishing poles just line wrapped around a spool. Sadly, we were all skunked. Had I brought a cooler with me I may have stopped at the fish souk back at port before we headed home. Without a cooler I didn’t want to risk driving an hour in the heat with a fish in the trunk. The dhow departed around 11am and had us back to port about 4:30pm. For the price this was an excellent trip – the company expedited the boarder crossing into Oman for us and provided a great trip minus the close encounter of the second kind. Yallabanana turned out to be a great way to get a deal.
This may be our last adventure with the Andersons as they are leaving the UAE at the end of June. We won’t soon forget them and their 4 beautiful kids. As we headed out on the boat we played a great game of balancing on one foot on the deck of the boat. We followed that up with an excellent game of Simon Says. This is how I will remember the Andersons, full of laughter and fun. I’m not sure when or if we’ll ever cross paths again in this life but my life is richer for the time they gave to my family and when all I have left in life is memories I will cherish the thought of them.
With this adventure behind us it was time for another of a different sort. When we first arrived here I was intrigued by a man I saw each Friday at church, Solomon. He dresses in the traditional dress of Pakistan, the Shalwar kameez. This, of course, is not an uncommon thing to see in the UAE but certainly uncommon to see at our church. His English is extremely limited. For some reason he seems to have taken a liking to my family. He greets us each Friday with a smile and a hug. The hugging and cheek kissing is awkward for us westerners and likely always will be. Yet, the greetings and farewells continue each Friday.
I’ve learned that his home is in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. He has been in the UAE for 4 years and though he claims he is in his early forties I suspect his age is closer to the mid fifties. It is likely he does not know his own age. If he is in his forties his life is etched into his visage. He works for less in a month than I make in a day and lives with thousands of others crammed into a labour camp barely more than 20 kilometres from my front door.
On Tuesday night I set out to pick him up from that camp and bring him to my home for dinner. As I turned off the highway I left behind the BMWs and Maseratis for long convoys of buses packed with tired dirty men heading home from their labours. The roads were suddenly less well tended and thick with men walking their dusty shoulders. I stopped at a grocery store I believed I was supposed to meet him at. There were so many men in the store the building clearly did not have room to receive them. They milled about the entrance a great swarm of sweating humanity. I reached Solomon on his cell phone and learned or guessed really that I was at the wrong store. The name above the door did not seem to fit the sound coming through the phone. I approached a few men and asked if they could direct me to a store by the sound I parroted. I must have got it right as they directed me further down the road.
Solomon was his usual smiling self when I saw him. I expected to pick him up and head back to my place but he directed me on to his home. Entering the small parking garage beneath the apartment building I wondered what may be in store for me. I followed Solomon to a door that I would come to learn led to the complex manager’s office/home. Removing shoes we entered a small windowless room with a high ceiling. Two men sat on couches dressed in white shalwar kameez smoking and talking. They stood to greet me as an honoured guest and invited me to sit. I took a quick inventory: old apartment fridge, small television tuned to a cricket game, mismatched couches and between them a coffee table with a single stone ashtray in its centre. Oddly very little ash and not a single butt littered the tray though the men smoked. The bed against the wall was neatly made with an assortment of blankets. The room was small and humble but it was clean.
My hosts offered me some coffee or tea which I for perhaps the first time in my life declined with a sense of sadness. I worried about being rude. One of the men had a better command of English for which I was glad. When he offered water I happily accepted as I wished to be polite. My happiness dwindled as Solomon reached into his pocket and withdrew five dirhams. He handed them to a young man who left the room and quickly returned with a bottle of water and a few dirhams change for Solomon. As I drank this gift I learned that the man with the better command of English was called Ajaz and the other, Araf, was the manager of that housing complex of 700 men. I have probably butchered the spelling of their names.
I soon learned that Ajaz and Araf would join us for dinner. Actually, I was not sure whether I was giving them a ride some other place when they first piled into my car or taking them with us. I simply started driving and when they made no gesture for me to take them anywhere else I took them home with me. They had never been to University City and I took a little delight in pointing out the various colleges. They peppered me with questions about the cost of tuition (for which I did not have an answer) and how much money a professor made (a question I strained to answer without answering). As we approached the gates and security guards I wondered if I might have some strange explaining to do. Araf asked through Ajaz if we would have problems at the gate and I assured him we would not. I held my breath as I slowed and waved to the guard then breathed as he waved me through.
When I entered the house I was keenly aware of the shoes sprawled in the hallway, the dog hair in the corners and every smudge on the tile floor. I worried over the meal. I doubt I would have felt less awkward had it been the Sultan I was entertaining. Jeremy Palmer joined us for dinner too, for which I am deeply grateful. These men had a deeper command of Arabic than they had of English. Jeremy was able to converse much better with them. We learned that Ajaz and Araf both had 4 children (two girls and two boys) back in Pakistan. They return to Pakistan once or twice a year to visit. Araf has been here for 15 years and Ajaz I believe 10. I can hardly imagine what that must be like.
I cajoled Jeremy into coming with me on the return drive. The return was much like it was at first. This time I found myself in the small room with Jeremy sitting next to me. Soon there were two bottles of water and cans of orange drink on the table in front of us. Sitting there next to Jeremy I felt like a missionary all over again. Jeremy remarked the same though there were no gospel discussions. We chatted the best we could as we finished our water and then made to leave. They walked us to the car shaking our hands and wishing us well. Solomon leaves for Pakistan at the end of the month. His mother is very ill. It is a strange friendship we’ve struck and I am still working through this experience. I think I will try and learn a few words in Urdu so when Solomon returns in a month I can greet him in his own language.