Thursday, June 2, 2011

I hope you had the time of your life...

Well it's time. Mike took me aside and in the too-gentle voice one would use with an unbalanced and fragile or potentially dangerous individual told me that it's time.

Time to end the blog.

I knew he was right, of course, but that didn't keep me from bawling like a wounded donkey, which dwindled down into largely incoherent whimpers.

Time passed, and eventually I extracted myself from the floor where I'd been rocking back and forth and after a few more weeks, so there was no misunderstanding that it was my idea, I sat down and began work on the very last blog entry.

And even then it took me forever.

Saying good-bye is hard. We had a lot of them to say when we left Dubai. And I need to say good-bye, and thank you to you as well. Thank you for going on this journey with us. It's been quite the trip. We've braved an awful lot together, and I've enjoyed sharing it all; from camel burgers to washing elephants to exotic potties, the crazy running, the tears, the laughter, and the general inanity of our family fumbling though 10 countries the best we could.

Here is the last story. It is small, but it's meaningful to me.

There are many, many traffic circles in Dubai, and innumerable construction sites. Reportedly, a million Indian men worked those sites while we were in Dubai, not to mention the many other nationalities also employed. These fellows made an average of a dollar an hour, and there was one job that Mike and I always wondered about: the waver of the orange flag.

The flag waver sits or stands along construction entrances, limply moving his flag back and forth as that indescribable heat radiates from both the sun and up from the sand and pavement. The air conditioned cars speed past, neither noticing nor caring about the request to go a bit more slowly, a bit more cautiously. The flag waver has no company to make the time pass a bit more quickly during his 10 or 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week.

This seems a soul-killing sort of enterprise to undertake.

Now, the comparably lucky flag-wavers have a bit of shade from an umbrella, quickly faded by the desert sun, or even a wooden shack of sorts. It was one of these shacks that made me happy literally every time we drove past it.

You see, it was decorated. The only one we ever saw that was. And was it ever.

Festoons of cheap silk flowers, mostly red, and ribbons, bits that shined and bobbed from the motion of cars zooming past, and on holidays, spray painted greetings in uncertain English but certain pizazz on the wall of the shack where drivers could see them.

No one could argue that this fellow has a lousy job. Away from his family, his friends, and yet he made made the best of it, turning his little corner of the earth into something lovely. The embodiment of the sweetness that turns lemons into lemonade.

So, Mike said he thought I was crazy and a silly softie, but I drove out there one last time anyway, determined to thank my unknown friend.

When I pulled off the main road onto the sand he came confusedly out of the shack, looking uncertain but friendly nonetheless. Why ever would this white woman stop her car, was she lost, angry? Would this cause trouble for him?

He was an utterly unremarkable looking fellow, round faced beneath his hard hat, wearing blue coveralls like all the other workers, the same dark skin and eyes. I had never gotten more than half a glimpse of him while driving by, usually hidden in shadow, but this man had made me happy. Happy every. single. day.

I had no trouble smiling at him. In fact, it nearly cracked my face. Someone once said that smiling is the best way to connect with people from anywhere and everywhere, and it worked here. I didn't ask his name, since it might have made him nervous. Instead, I asked him, pointing to the shack where pinwheels were jauntily spinning, some better than others, "did you do this?"

Yes, madam, yes yes, my work madam.

"You have made me so happy!" I exclaimed, and, there's no other way of describing this, his face blossomed into joy. I told him, though whether he had any idea of what I was saying, that he and his beauty had made me smile every single time we drove past him, and that I had thought good things about him each time, too, and that now we were leaving and I couldn't go without saying thank you for his gift.

I said shukriyaa and dhanyavad and patted his arm and said namaste and bowed with my palms together and, hoping and praying that I had covered all possible bases, handed him a 100 dirham bill. My new-old friend was both astonished and pleased, though whether he knew what I was thanking him for, I shall never know. And that didn't matter.

I had brought my camera to take a photo of him, and his cheerful shack. But I left it in my purse. This was not a time to be a tourist. I would hold the memory instead.

And I have.

I expected to cry, driving away from him, to cry at the airport, leaving this place that had had such an impact on me, on all our lives, but I didn't.

Instead, I thought about how that ordinary, supremely wonderful person had frantically motioned for me to wait after he had seen me back to my car. He ran back to his shack to get his flag, and with great pride and dignity, stopped the traffic so that I could go safely on my way.

He waved and waved and waved until I couldn't see him in the mirror anymore.