Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Khaleej

3/24/09, Abu Dhabi

"Be steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity, and never let the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: (for) that is closest to piety. . .God has promised forgiveness and a great reward to those who believe and do deeds of righteousness." The Noble Quran, 5:8-9

There is so much that you can’t learn from a book or a phone conversation, so much learning and understanding that requires you to just be, be present. Although I have strongly held this belief in the past, it is nice and necessary to be reminded of this axiom in my travels. From Beirut, to Cairo, to Muscat, and finally, to Abu Dhabi; it has been the conversations in Toyota Prados, wondering looks at a coffee shop in downtown Beirut or out of a cab in Cairo, and questions posed walking through Marina Mall that have greatly enhanced my understanding of the cities I have been visiting and the people I have been meeting.

It’s interesting how Abu Dhabi, by virtue of it’s association with the yogurt cup Las Vegas of the Middle East, has garnered an international reputation that regards its accelerated expansion as indication of a diluting of culture and distancing from tradition. Some how culture has died, been cremated and had its ashes spread across the rubble that remains from skyscraper construction. Yesterday morning proved otherwise.

My aunt took me to the Mena first thing in the morning. The intention was to shop for some fresh seafood at the fish market by the bahar. Before we did this, she drove through the adjacent fruit and vegetable market, some imported, and some organically grown on neighboring farms. Next, at the fish market we selected from Sultan ahmar and shrimp, had them cleaned and left them to be grilled while we touring around the plant and flower market. Oversized Tunjaras and stirring spoons were piled on top of each other and varying spices were stuffed into label-less plastic bags on top of each other. Was this the same Emirates much derided for its “plastic-ness,” for a hollowed out soul filled with skyscappers? 

On Family

3/27/09, Abu Dhabi

Today I missed my family-not even in a collective way-but each one during separate moments. I thought about my mother as I prayed jummah at the mosque in Abu Dhabi today. What was it about the khutab about youth, the garden of heaven and the mamluks that reminded me of her? I don’t really know. Maybe it was seeing all the women there together that stirred an emotional reaction from me…probably my subconscious sneaking in a wake dream from a thought earlier in the morning. As I was getting ready for the mosque today, I thought about how khalo insisted that I say hi to mom, in the same way that my ummo, Allah yarhumwho, on his deathbed emphatically reminded dad that he had a good wife. It made me think, my mom is a good woman, and I need to honor that. She was put through hell with her extended family and her own family, her brothers and sister don’t understand her. I am very lucky to have my mother.

Hatta, I even really missed my dad last night and I can’t recall when it was, but I know it was a specific trigger that engendered a specific thought. And as I was watching home videos with ummo's family in the family room after lunch, I thought about his namesake, my brother. One of my cousins explained that when his dad even tried filming his brother back in la during the break, he wouldn’t listen as he was too distracted by the laker game. Then I said out loud, “well, yeah, they are obsessed. They watch every Laker game that is on.” That’s when I thought about the organic ritual that sprouted out from a skyview lane family room: all of the family gathered around our cloth covered leather coaching, dad on in master sofa with ottoman attachment throne, my mom’s tiny frame squeezed into any available space in one of the two couches crocheting the same sweater from last year, my brother bobbing his head and body off of the couch- slinging their amateur commentary onto the flat screen. I thought about my brother’s reaction to a missed free throw or last second 3 pointer shot. I missed him deeply. And even talking to my sister on the phone earlier today-for as much as it was too much about my brother’s dubious life choices, I missed having her there. To run to her, to find someone who understood the lunancy of the situation and also one who really knew all dimensions of it.

 I missed middle brother as I explained to one of my male cousins about his hidden talents. As I write this, I think about a mantra that I promulgated to all on my trip: that boy, man, is the kindest hearted human I have ever known. This is not said lightly, in any respect. When you are around people 24 hour/7 much is illuminated and little of their character can be cast in shadows. I say this because I have been able to see parts of people in my life that were not too obvious before this trip. So, to confidently maintain this opinion about my brother is further corroboration of his benignity.