Saturday, August 2, 2008

She says, let's go

Saturday morning, the last day of our weekend, I headed out to run on the beach. I almost made it to Jumirah Beach Resort, but at the last minute I somehow ended up on an overpass that I didn't see coming...

This is pretty much the story of my driving life, which is not as inconvenient as it might sound. Who wants to end up exactly where they were going every time, anyway?

I ended up running on the Umm Suqueim Beach, about a km or so away from the Burj Al Arab on it's island. Not a bad view at all, in my opinion. That and the beautiful sea, of course.

I found it interesting that on the beach no one gave me a second glance, whereas near our hotel I am the object of much curiosity. I had read that men stare at western women here, and that it makes some women very uncomfortable. I'm fine with it. Men look at women in the USA just as much, but there it's often ogling, (sorry guys!) whereas here it's genuine friendliness or, more commonly, frank curiosity, the sort of open looking that you would expect from a child; no sense of underlying motives.

This jaunt to the beach was my first "long" drive, and the most important thing I learned was not to come to a full stop at a stop sign. "STOP" actually translates to hesitate slightly or annoy other drivers. The green lights often blink before they turn yellow, and some have counters to let you know how many seconds it will be until the light changes. Though the stop signs may be taken as polite suggestions, running a red light carries heavy penalties.
The yield sign, however, translates to U-turn or traffic circle immediately ahead, go for it!

In Houston Texas, I decided that the way to survive the highways was to drive as though no one could see our car. Here it seems like the popular method is to drive like a hopped-up senior citizen who's too old to care all that much. Go as fast as you want, straddle the lanes, turn whenever you like, regardless of which lane you're in. U-turns are often the only way to get somewhere. Actually, this works really well for someone who isn't terribly familiar with how to get around! In the states I'd have been far too embarrassed to take an exit at the last possible second, crossing several lanes to do so. Here, it's the norm. It's so nice to fit in culturally.

Bethy and Thomas have learned to love waving to the laborers in buses carrying them to and from the construction sites. These men work under conditions that would be unthinkable to the rest of us, and what is truly hard to comprehend is that they have it better here in many ways than they do back in their homeland.

In case you are visualising two rich little blond kids amusing themselves at the expense of the downtrodden worker, couldn't be further from the truth. The men light up when the kids wave to them, smiling big grins, waving back enthusiastically, laughing and bringing the rest of the passengers into the fun. Bethy took these bus photos at a stoplight, and then waved some more at them. "Hi! Hiyeee!" the kids chorus.

I'm sure these men miss their families terribly. They are undoubtedly working so hard here to make their lives and their relatives' and children's lives back home bearable. So we encourage the kids to wave, and perhaps brighten up someone else's life for even a moment or two.

I was talking to our baristo, Cesar, about his family. He, like everyone else in the coffee shop, makes a big fuss over Bethy and Thomas. Back in the Philippines he has 10 children, and he gets home to visit them once a year. As gently as I could, I asked if it is difficult for him to see families like ours, together and happy. He said simply, and with dignity, "Ma'am, it is a pleasure to have you here. We are always so pleased to see you and Bethy and Thomas."

I tipped him especially well that day.


Jean said...

Your observations are so good that Charlie and I find ourselves checking your blog first thing every morning after we fire up our computers. We wish all other Yankees were so open to appreciating other cultures.

Also, I think the kids are growing right before our eyes. Keep the photos coming.

Natalie said...

Wow! Wow wow. What a lovely thing to say! Thank you Jean. Mom says I should copyright everything on here, and I think I'm going to take her up on the suggestion, because it seems for everything I post I have 4 more things I want to share. :) Mmmmm, a wealth of material...

Photos will not cease unless the camera gets dropped down a well or something.

Love to you and Charlie,