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.


Mumsey said...

Absolutely beautiful!!! I've loved every minute and this last entry (sniff) is a testament about what travel should be. It's not about seeing the places of the world so much as "Seeing" the world. You have learned about life and love in a beautiful way that has touched us all deeply and enriched our understanding of the peoples and culture of the region. Thank you Natalie.

AKBrady said...

And that, my friend, is why we travel. For the unexpectedly mundane-but-not moments that make us wonder about the lives of others. Like looking into windows of a neighborhood when driving or walking through at night.
Windows into the world. Well done.

dorothy said...

I love it! my kids love it! Auntie Natalie is real to them and so are the on...start again. Print it up as a book.

Ghost said...

Over the year, I had read your blog for your funny travels, writings and adventures. Good luck on whatever you are going to do next. It has been a blast!

Joanna said...

A fitting end to this chapter of your adventures! Many of my favorites entries over the years were the ones about the people you met and befriended along the way. I look forward to hearing about the next journeys you find. (And yes, make a book of this one!)

Mom2ABJ said...

Your farewell post has brought tears to my eyes. I am so happy that you and your family had such a profound experience. Your blog was so beautiful ... please find a way to print and/or preserve it! Look into getting it published ... ask Holly for advice ;) Love you!

Julia said...

I'm so glad you blogged about your adventures so we could share them with you. I would like to echo the others, look into publication (other bloggers have done it, some even have movies about them now!) Not for vanity, but because it's a wonderful story and should be shared.

*Paula* said...

Now I'm crying Natalie!! You made me cry! I've loved reading all you entries - thank you so much for sharing them (and for letting me know that you had a blog). Now you need a new blog :D just so I can find out what you guys are up to and leave comments. You better be turning this one into a book young lady. Do you hear?!

Lynn said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed following your family's many adventures in different cultures! I visited my brother and his family in 2007 when they lived in Dubai, and many of your pictures felt familiar. You're a great photo-journalist. God bless in this next phase of your life. I'd love to see update pictures of your beautiful children in a few years!

Jolie-Anne said...

I loved every one of your blog entries I loved following your travels with your family. When I was having a particularly hard year or two, your blog was one of my bright spots. You are a delightful writer. I hope you keep it up in some way. Please do the blog to book thing to save your posts to read in the future. Love, Jolie

hdoncaster said...

I hope you'll share more adventures with us another time when you visit another place...I've thoroughly enjoyed your posts and will miss this blog. Thank you for your insight! Take care, Heather

Natalie said...

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for taking this journey with us. I feel blessed to have had such an opportunity -it's been an amazing time. After all, what could be better than travelling with friends, making new ones along the way?

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

bristowmom said...

I don't even know you, but I'm screaming NOOOOOO! Yours is one of the best blogs I have ever read. Quite possibly THE best. Your writing is so engaging. I feel like I am losing a friend, and I hate that feeling.

Having said that, my best wishes go to you and your family.

Tami said...

I stumbled across your blog as we are researching our future move to Dubai. As an expert expat, If you have any insight to share, i would love it. You seem like someone I would enjoy getting to know.

Natalie said...

Bristomom, you really touched me, thank you and do enjoy your adventures in Taiwan! Not shabby at all. :)

Tami, of course, what do you need? I'll help you with whatever I can, and am excited and happy for you setting out on your life in Dubai. I hope you love it as much as we did.

Tami said...

Craziness! I just found the beginning of your blog and I'm laughing at our similarities! I currently run 1/2 marathons and was thinking, if I'm EVER going to do a marathon it would be the one in Dubai in Jan and would I ever wear THAT shirt proudly! So funny! We are there for a 2 year stint, 3 if we like it. We are super excited, our kids are older than yours it looks like. 6& 8 My husband is there right now on his second trip and I will go in Oct to check things out. Our move date is Jan. I would love to hear your take on schools and areas to live, basically anything and everything you want to share. Can i email you or Facebook you... ?

Natalie said...

Of course, Tami, I would be honored to help. If you're anything like me you are going to LOVE running with the Creek Striders and the Road Runners and maybe the ABRaS, (depending on your goals and running style), or all three if you are a cuckoo like most of the runners. :) January is a perfect time to go, the weather is brilliant that time of year. Lucky! I've added my email to my profile so you can get ahold of me okay? Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful time we could spend with you, this last entry makes me think of my Boss that always said , what ever job you have even sweeping the street , you should do with all of your being and then you will be happy. I would like her to read this!
S from Seattle.
Welcome to the wet!
You should have a life blog then you can keep going you could make any day look good!

Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

How did I miss this final post? It's a beautiful story of saying goodbye to a colorful time in your life.
Thank you for sharing all the stories.

charteredhousing said...
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Jean said...

I can't believe I just discovered your final post. No doubt I wasn't looking because I didn't want it to end.

You were so generous to take us along on your adventures. Your vivid photo-journalism skills made us feel as if we were standing right beside you. Your humanity and eye for small details made this blog exceptional.

It has been delightful to watch your family grow up and find new adventures since you left Dubai. Love and best wishes always.

And yes, publish!