Saturday, October 30, 2010

Here vs. There

Saturday morning:
Around 4:30 AM with a call to prayer from the Mosque outside my window. A slow mournful song. To remind my Muslim neighbors that they have little time to do their abolitions (ritual cleansings) and prayers before sunrise. Since this is my day off (we have Friday and Saturday off), I roll over in bed with a sigh, knowing I don't have to get up for a while. I fall back to sleep for some crazy dreams about polar bears and ice-skating. I believe this is a result of Melissa and my current pastime of turning up the air-conditoining to full blast, wrapping up in blankets and watching Christmas DVDs. We miss the seasonal change at home.

Around 4:30 AM I am asleep in my cottage loft. Satchmo snuggled down under the comforter, not the sheets, dozing away, or not.

Around 8:00 AM I throw on my jeans, short sleeve shirt, flip-flops and head out for coffee and Manakeesh. I leave the air-conditioned coolness of the lobby, as the Chinese doorman says "Good morning Ma'am Sir". In the lobby is our new company driver, Hussein, from Lebanon. He started this week. Does not speak much English. When I saw him yesterday morning as he arrived at the office to drive a visiting co-worker to see a desert Oasis, I told him he did not need to come in today. That he could come on Sunday morning to the office for work. Apparently he did not understand and I feel badly that he has taken the 1.5 hour bus ride into the City to work on a day he doesn't have to. (His salary is standard. He is on call 24/7 so not working today will not cost him income. But it will cost him three hours on his day off to commute from and to the lower rent area where the laborers tend to live.) I offer to drive him home. He looks shocked and embarrassed and waves me away. I will have Rasha explain to him in the morning that he doesn't typically work weekends unless we have special needs.

Around 8 AM I lie in bed and look out the window at the early morning sun breaking over the water of Lake Sammamish. This time of year I imagine there are no leaves on the trees and the view is beautiful. I would head down my spiral stair to the kitchen where I would make my own Latte.

A little after 8:00 AM I walk out my building, having sent off the driver, and aim towards Costa Coffee. The temperature at this time is in the low nineties and it feels fine. Feels doable given that it was well over 110-degrees this time of day when I first arrived. Though it is warm I cannot see clouds in the sky. Cloud scouting is rare due to the layer of fog usually present. We are right at the ocean. In the Middle East. Blue sky and clouds are a rare treat. The humidity rarely gets below 80-percent. My sunglasses fog up usually as I step outside. But I notice this morning that I am no longer surprised by the temperature change leaving the building. I guess this is what you call getting acclimated.

The garbage truck is wedging between the cars parked down the middle of the street, trying to empty the large dumpsters on the corner. The stench of the garbage that has been simmering in the Middle Eastern heat is part of City living. In the City the nose is constantly assaulted by clouds of aroma: leaking sewer lines; "ripe" laborers as they pass by; incense wafting out of small dress shops; curries bubbling on burners of tiny restaurants; strongly perfumed women and men (there is some popular men's perfume that has a very chemical scent which is close to moth balls with ammonia), and; garbage dumpsters. I dodge dripping air conditioner units, pass by feral kittens stretched out on the tops of cars, and gingerly step around or over places in the "sidewalks" where the bricks have been upended leaving a sandy hole filed in with cigarette butts and rocks. While the sidewalks are in horrible disrepair there really isn't much garbage as the city has employed many laborers to patrol everywhere and pick up garbage. But they have their work cut out for them with the cigarette butts and candy wrappers as people just toss down those types of things. They know they will be picked up after.

I arrive at Costa's coffee, a modern coffee shop and Starbuck's biggest rival here. Though the shop is modern and clean, smoking is allowed inside. At this time in the morning about eight tables are filled, all with men, half in dish-dash, speaking Arabic. The others with single westerners on laptops. All of them are smoking. I order coffee from the nice young Philipino with whom I'm familiar. I tell her I want the largest cup for a skinny vanilla latte. She says they have no largest cup (they have been out for a few weeks now). The cost is 24 dirhams (about $6.50 US). This is one of the few food/beverage offerings that is more expensive than in the US. I leave the Costa shop with my procured latte in hand for the next part of my stroll. I love the Costa coffee cups by the way. They are a textured cardboard with wavy indentations that make it easy to hold. I like the cups and the taste of the coffee better than Starbucks. The only advantage to Starbucks is that there is no smoking inside. I digress....back to stepping outside with my latte in hand...

I walk outside for the three block stroll to the Lebanese bakery on the opposite side of my office/apartment building. I go past the fire station, around the corner, past our car that is parked along the curb. It was a good night for parking yesterday I guess. The car is on the curb, not far from the Mosque. Parking in this neighborhood, like most neighborhoods in Abu Dhabi is horrible. Once the curb spots are full a new line of parking forms down the middle of the streets leaving barely enough room for cars to squeeze by on either side. Aisle parked cars fold in their mirrors so that the passing traffic can clear them. At all corners and right up to the driveways cars wedge in. There is no "clear zone" from the intersections and drives. If there is any extra radius at the corners you will see cars doubled up. The driver of the exterior car leaves his mobile number on the dashboard so that the inside car can call the driver of the exterior car if he needs to get out. Cars are parked up on sidewalks, where there are sidewalks. Often, early in the morning or late at night you will hear drivers pounding and pounding on their horns. That is for wedged in drivers to try to get attention of the "wedgees" to move their cars if a mobile number hasn't been left or if someone isn't answering the call.

....back to my walk. I pass our car and cross in front of the Mosque. Though this is not an official prayer time (there are five daily) there is an assortment of about a dozen pairs of sandals on the Mosque stairs. Always there are sandals on the steps. There are apparently always some people in the Mosque praying. I round the corner to cross the garbage truck again who has made it this far along in the morning rounds. The stroll this time of the morning is nice as there is very little traffic out and, as I mentioned, the temperature is tolerable.

I arrive at the Lebanese bakery. Hussein, our driver, is in front visiting with someone. I am glad to see he at least has gotten some breakfast from a bakery of his country of origin and has found someone he knows to talk to. We nod at each other and I enter in. I take my place in line behind a father holding his daughter and a woman with head covering on. The men behind the counter are so friendly and smile as I say "Salam Allecoom" (Good morning). I practice my Arabic "Min Fadlak. Bidee itned manakeesh cheese, olive and vegetable" (please. I want two flatbreads with cheese olive and vegetables....obviously I haven't learned cheese olives and vegetables yet). They would understand me in English, no problem. But they like that I am practicing my Arabic. I wait as I see them take the bread that has just freshly come out of the big open oven, put cheese and some olives on it and slide it back into the oven. In just a few moments they pull it out of the oven and place cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh basil onto the warm treat. They are placed onto paper and folded in half. Securely wrapped and placed into a paper bag that is put then into a plastic bag with handles. I hand them a 20 dirham note. He asks if I have a 1 dirham coin as the total is 11 dirhams for the two ($3.00). As I am getting out the change the other guy behind the counter waves me off and tells the other to just give me 10 dirhams back. They want to give me a discount. So I have procured breakfast for Melissa and me for a total of $2.72 US. It is fresh and delicious and made with kindness. "Shokran" (Thank you) I say. "Masalama" as I walk out the door.

As I walk back to our flat I duck inside the small little everything shop to see if they have some onions for the soup we will make tonight. I find some decent ones and a nice melon of some sort. The total is 9 dirhams ($2.45). I wait in line. Some passing man (Pakistani?) says "Hello. How are you madam?" as another man grabs my vegetables to weigh them. He comes back and says the cost. I hand him my money and he gives me my change. I do not have to wait in line with the others. They are doing some kind of other business at the counter that has to do with receipts and forms and something complicated that my limited Arabic can't understand.

On the homestretch, I walk back along the row of buildings leading to my flat. The carpenter is busy in his tiny shop, sawing away at a board. I look in and see that he is barefoot in his carpentry shop. He also has no safety goggles on. The dress shop has the usual five or six men crammed into the tiny air-conditioned space. The laundry shop is full of steam as they press the sheets and shirts that are dropped off. The three cell phone shops are open for business (seems every block has multitudes of cell phone shops). The waterpipe store is buzzing with the tobacco sales. I arrive and the Chinese doorman says "welcome Ma'am sir". On the 13th floor the smell of fish curry (at 9 AM) comes from a neighbor's flat. I am home. Ready to start the weekend day.

Homemade latte in my commuter mug in hand, Satchmo on leash, I head out my door. I imagine I am assaulted by a chill in the air as I leave my heated house, reminding me it is fall. I go out my gate and down the hill. My neighbor Ron is out washing his car and greets me. The air smells like wood burning stoves and rotting leaves. Satchmo tries to lunge after birds and rabbits as we head out along the road, devoid of cars and traffic this time on a weekend morning. I walk past the treed protected area, but disgusted with the piles of fast food wrappers, empty beer cans and plastic bottles that people have tossed out the window of their moving cars. I tell myself I should come back and pick up the garbage but I never do. I may cross paths with a few runners and bikers and others out walking dogs. Maybe a car or two will drive by. There are no shops within walking distance to buy breakfast. No assaults to my nose. No sounds of chatter. Just the sound of my iPod playing an episode of "This American Life" or "Radiolab" for my entertainment. As we near home Satchmo pulls me up the hill. I enter my cottage. I am home. Ready to start my weekend day.


Angela said...

I am fairly new to your blog, but just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your descriptions of life in (what to me is) a completely other world. Enjoy your coffee!

KelleyM said...

Nice writing - and you're very close on this morning's feel. I was at your cottage this a.m., raking leaves and cutting back the yellowing hostas. It was 46 degrees with intermittent rain. Weather has definitely taken a cold turn. The view out onto the lake was a steely gray - sky, water, and mist, all gray. I imagined Satchmo running your garden paths...

Anonymous said...

lAbolition is the ending of slavery. I think you ment ablution which matches your definition. But it did give me a big laugh!

Lou Woods said...

Anonymous, I am a terrible speller but I'll blame it on phoentic spelling which is how we translate Arab to English? Does that work. yeah, probably not. Glad I could amuse though.