Thursday, September 18, 2008

At last my love has come along, my lonely days are over and life is like a song...

We're back online! (and there was much rejoicing).

So much has happened while we were offline. I'll start catching you up.

Mike and I went from sleeping on this:

2" deep amalgamation of extra kid mattresses

To sleeping on this:

Isn't it gorgeous?

Here are close-ups of the detailing on the footboard: And the headboard:

I imagine there's some wonderful story being told in these dark panels, though it will probably remain an intriguing mystery for us.

Now I must finish our story of the hotel staff. Ah, you thought it was already told? So did I, but not so. I will tell you what happened when we went back to drop off the "comments" form that I promised them, but first, I want to tell you more about Ram, Venkat, and Selvam.

One day I asked Venkat whether he has children. It turns out he has two, a 3 year old girl, Priya, and a baby boy, Ajas. (Also the name of the gardener at Gecko house.) Selvam, practically bursting, couldn't wait to tell me; Venkat's marriage is a love match, rather than the usual arranged marriage of India. Both sets of parents opposed the union, but Venkat married his love anyway, moving out of his father's home and apparently causing a huge fuss. As is the only correct ending for romantic stories, the lovers' families have come around and now accept the union. Selvam couldn't help grinning as he told me all about Venkat and his family.

In return, Venkat told me about Selvam; he is to be married next year, and is excited and a bit sheepish about it. I think he may have said he hopes to have a child like or plans to name a child after Thomas, I couldn't quite get what he was saying. Both he and Venkat were so cute, telling me about each other, being shy about being the topic of conversation, but delighting in telling about the other.

On another occasion Selvam was telling me about how, before he was "in hospitality", he didn't know much English, and if someone asked him a question he would just put his hands by his face and look away like a little kid, all embarrassed and hum. He said even now sometimes he has a hard time. I asked, innocently enough, "With the grammar?" "No Madam!" he said with unusual vim, "I know nouns and verb and past participle!" I quickly made soothing sounds to placate him and assured him that his English is probably more sound than mine.

Venkat in particular always made sure to arrange Bethy and Thomas' beds just so, the stuffed animals whimsically tucked in on the pillows, and any clothing left out carefully folded into a neat little pile that invariably embarrased me. If any dishes were left in the sink they were handwashed and put to dry, and the day I came around the corner and found Venkat picking the hair out of my hairbrush to clean it that I realised the level of care and pride these two took in their job. (Yes, I tried to tell him that it wasn't necessary, but to no avail. From that day on I made absolutely sure to always clean it after brushing).

Both Venkat and Selvam, grown men, are so childlike and delightful it was a joy to be around them. They were always smiling, working hard but having fun, their heads bobbling to the side in that distinctive Indian way, dark eyes and bright teeth.

Ram the security guard is another sort of creature altogether. Darkly humorous, passionate, proud and sensitive, even petulant, if the room guys are children, Ram is a teenager at 24. Unlike the room guys, he didn't fast for Ramadan. "I only did it when I was working the overnight shift," he said, "so then I am waking up just before Iftar (the breaking of the fast) and I sleep all the day, no problem, only fasting one or two hours."

He also told me how his uncle, who lives in the USA, wears a turban. "I do no wear the turban, my father also is not wearing the turban, but my Uncle. yes, he wears it." He often brought small gifts for Bethy, toys from Burger King kid's meals, chocolates, even once, an inexpensive Barbie-esque doll who can't seem to keep her shoes on or limbs attached for any length of time. He called Bethy his baby and cuddled and played with her, as often as Thomas, much to her delight, and he was the only one who would correct the kids when they needed correcting, patiently explaining to them why, and being completely firm, something which the indulgent room guys were never able to do.

Ram soon began following us to the car, putting Thomas carefully in his car seat, working the tricky 5-point harness until he figured it all out, and often greeting us again when we returned, carrying Thomas up to the room, shaking hands regally, even brushing out Bethy's tangled hair with infinite patience. He always wore a pink string bracelet with a few beads alongside his watch, and I asked him about it. "This is from my sister," he said, kissing it, "I will always be wearing this." His sister is getting married in October and he hopes he will not have to quit his job to go attend the wedding, as he just returned from visiting his village on vacation and has no vacation left.

He and I talked about the workers outside, the gardeners and the construction men. He said that while he cannot take the heat (the room guys also said this, that it is "too hot, too hot, we do not like to sweat so much Madam,") that talking with some friends who labor outdoors he was told that they not only get used to it, but prefer it. I cannot imagine Ram toeing the company line and giving me a good answer for the board of tourism, he's too much of his own man, so I must take this as a true story, though I cannot believe that anyone can acclimate to the heat here in July and August.

Ram also took poorly hidden pleasure in "rescuing" me on the several occasions that I forgot the room keycard: "How will you be doing anything without me? I will not let you leave." The third time I forgot the room cardkey he went and brought me three more. "There, now you are taken care of and there can be no problem." Unable to offer him money as a thank-you for all of his help and friendship, feeling that it would be a deadly insult, I asked if we could invite him to dinner at our new home. Yes, yes, he agreed, that would do. What do you like to eat? I asked. "I am a vegetarian, only vegetarian, no eggs, no meat, milk is OK," he said. So this will be an interesting culinary challenge for me. I'm thinking something Mexican, or Caribbean, perhaps...any suggestions would be welcome!

Now, back to our return visit when I took back our customer satisfaction survey. Both the room guys and Ram had provided me with hotel stationary "In case you have other comments, Ma'am." (Ram said I could write mean things about him if I liked.) So I wrote with glad heart some of the things that I wanted to say about our stay. Surprise, surprise, it was a very favorable document. I called Ram as we approached the hotel so he could let us in to the parking garage. To my surprise he was waiting along the main road and hopped into the car to personally escort us. On either side of the parking entrace, as every day, the housekeeping staff was sitting in the heat wearing their off-duty clothes, waiting for the dusty little bus to come pick them up. I hadn't realised how good our timing was, and could never have predicted what happened next.

Essentially, we were mobbed. Like some sort of celebrities, our car was rushed, surrounded by laughing faces, and as I rolled the windows down, heads and arms came in with glad exclamations from all sides. Finally, after several minutes Ram had to raise an imperious hand and we waved goodbye to all including Selvam, and drove down into the garage.

There, more staff members from maintenance, housekeeping, and guest services, including Venkat, thronged around us in the stifling still heat of the garage, wiping sweat off their faces as they hugged the kids and clasped my hands over and over , almost singing their happiness at seeing us again. Even though it wasn't yet Iftar, apples were brought to the children, and someone gave Bethy another long-stemmed rose.

Then the day staff pelted away out to the street, apparently having spent every last possible moment with us until their bus was leaving, the few remaining staff gradually dispersing so that we could go drop off our paperwork, Ram escorting us every step of the way. He carried Thomas back to his carseat and buckled him in with his usual exaggerated care. I assured him that he was still invited for dinner, though I asserted that I wanted to have chairs and a table for him to dine at first. He countered that he would sit on the floor, but I wouldn't hear of it, of course.

Then, last night, my mobile rang. Lots of words, strung together, flowing uncomprehendingly into my ear though a staticky, cheap connection. Finally, words I recognized. Selvam, Selvam and Venkat, Madam, do you remember me, this is Selvam! He tried very hard to tell me some things, very emphatically, though I confess I understood almost none of it. The poor phone connection and lack of visuals did in our communication, and I hoped he didn't feel too dejected as he rang off. Sending text massages is very big here. Even Ram has sent me several. So I (painfully -I sweat blood and tears over the damned things) composed one to him, hoping to express my gratitude once more for his friendship, for making our first days here in a new world less lonely, less prone to homesickness, and for his painstaking care of us.

There's the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey is so fond of saying.

Begging your forgiveness on another point (she just asks and asks, doesn't she?); for some reason my spell check is in Arabic right now, so except for "A" and "I" everything else is highlighted as incorrect. Please bear with my rushed self-editing and undoubtedly Mike, the guru of computer savvy-ness for our house will have it fixed soon enough. In the meantime, here is what my Blogspot sign-in page looks like:

Remember, the log-in is on the right, and the password goes next on the left...that's Arabic for you.

By the way, wish me luck! I have my first 5K race in the UAE tonight and I'm proudly wearing the colors of the Dubai Road Runners...


sherrip said...

Those guys are the best!

Best of luck in the race--you'll do fine, I know.

Pat and Colleen said...

Hi Natalie,

Yea! You have Internet access! It is so nice to be able to read about life in Dubai again!

What a heart warming experience with the staff from your apartment stay!

I love your new bed! The carvings are beautiful!

Good luck in your 5k!

Love & Hugs
Mom & Dad V

Natalie said...

Ahh...Sherri and Colleen...some of my very favorite people in the whole world (and saying that from here really means something!) I'm so glad you guys enjoyed the stories.