Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Good morning, Sir"....

.... the doorman rushes to get his greeting out as I run outside to try to catch a cab. I wonder when I will no longer think it is funny that I am often addressed in pigeon English as "Sir." I hope never. Those funny things keep me going. Those of the working class that know a little more English usually address me as "Madams" (Plural, but right gender). I always look around to see if they are addresing me? OK. I am in my fifties. But I do not feel I am a "Madam." Yet.

The doorman is Chinese. He looks like Mau T'se Tung in green work uniform. He is Chinese, working for an Egyptian boss, with a Filipino crew, in an Arabic speaking country, serving British, German, French, American, African (Maybe Nigerian?), Indian and Pakistani Tenants. I am honored that he greets me with "Good morning" even if I am called "Sir."

Less than 20% of the population in the UAE are indigenous: the Emeratti. They are the heirs to the oil based wealth of this country. The men dress in the long white "dish dash" with white head covering fastened on with a black ring with long cords running down their backs. When they are at a desk or sometimes out with friends they tuck the long folds from their head covering back. A modified "flying Nun" look. At the front, where a tie might be they sport a three or four inch length of intricately woven white cloth that is the same color of the dish dash. I was told that this is how you can tell they are Emeratti as lots of other men from other countries dress similarly, but without the tale tale woven piece.

The working class are often here to make money to send back to their home countries. Our maid, for example, is from the Philipines. She is here on a contract. She gets one short visit home after two years. She left a young daughter at home in the care of relatives. Her eyes tear up when we ask her. So we don't ask her often. She is always so cheery and positive. She works extra jobs on her hours off. I have seen others be very dismissive to her as well as other maids and taxi drivers. That so rubs me the wrong way. But then again, sometimes I find myself so frustrated trying to communicate something that I think is simple. That should be obvious (in my humble opinion). And they don't get it and they don't get it (though all the time nodding "yes") that I end up getting short as well. I am not my best self at those moments.

I often try to talk to the cab drivers to find out a little bit about where they are from. This isn't always possible as some have extremely limited English. Then I just smile and ride in silence. But most try. Most seem really surprised when you ask where they are from. I think not too many passengers care. They just yell with impatience. Sometimes they will ask me if I am here for big money contract (as they rub their fingers together with one hand). Or they assume I am a teacher. There are many western women here teaching. Cab rides are very cheap and most locals or people who have been here a long time give them a 1 dirham tip for each ride. A dirham is worth about $0.30 US. They are always so grateful when I round up the tip and say keep the change. That's maybe a dollar tip or so. I fantasize about handing them a 20 or even 100 dirham tip just to make their day. I probably will do that this Christmas season (and even say "Merry Christmas" even though they don't celebrate it, just because that is why I would be doing it).

Melissa and I took a very late cab ride accross town to the hotel this weekend in Dubai. We had been out celebrating a birthday. But the celebration didn't include food and with a few too many drinks in us we determined we had better put something thick and greasy in our stomachs. So we asked the cab driver to get us to a McDonalds on the way back. he sighed heavily and seemed irritated that we needed this stop. When we were a block away I asked him if he preferred hamburger or chicken sandwich. I think he thought I was teasing. I asked what drink he preffered. "Coke" he said, very softly. I said "please wait" as we got out of the cab. When we came out five minutes later with his dinner he was speachless. Actually he was speachless before (just heavy sighing) but his mood seemed better knowing he had a meal to eat. That was a feel good moment.

Life is pretty hard here for the workers. The construction workers are the ones my heart goes out to most. The temperatures are so very, very hot. Work conditions do not look safe at all (you should see the scaffolding they are climbing around on: scary). They are bused on these old gray busses that surely don't have air conditioning between the job and the labor camp where they "live". Life just cannot be very good for them. I think they are probably committed for a long time on their contracts. So sad to think about them living so far from home working such difficult jobs, living in the labor camps. Probably no, or very little, education, and so very difficult to imagine doing anything else.

I complain about the work conditions here. I admit it. It's just so very difficult. Everything. And pretty thankless. It will be a very long haul. But just an awareness of what some of these others are dealing with puts it in a good perspective.

From Sir, with love....


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