November 12, 2012
Sometimes the five of us talk about places we have been together, marvelling that such things could have happened to us: London and living right at Oxford and Regent Street, or spending five days together in Venice. We were thinking about that because Greg reported the news as saying the water is waist high in St. Mark’s Square. “It was up to our knees three weeks ago,” the others remembered.
Some day we will look back on this trip, still astonished that today could have happened to us. A little over a year ago, Jay Johnson told us that his son, Jay Jr. was working in Dubai and that we should look him up if we should ever get there. Moiya took Jay Sr at his word, and arranged for Jay to meet us this morning at the ship cruise terminal. I was already dazzled when I got there and saw an overwhelmingly large group of Arabs, all dressed in immaculate white, the black rope around their head pieces, their skirts swishing as they walked along the marble floors, milling around in the foyer. Then Moiya brought over Jay, dressed in his work uniform, which seems to look like a captains outfit to me – striped epaulets on the shoulders of his white shirt, for he is the airplane engineer that works on and flies with the 737 and the helicopters that one of the shieks uses as a commuter plane. The 737 is modified, used to carry the race horses and the race camels. He has been living in Dubai for four years and took some time off work to put us in his Nissan SUV and take us around the streets of Dubai. David Wood wants everyone to know that there are no old vehicles in town – the police drive BMW’s.
We enjoyed the hour and a half drive, up and down the sheik’s highway, under the tunnel to some of the islands, and filling the car with laughter. A long history – maybe not in length of time together, but in years connects us. Jay spent his honeymoon at the lake. “How was that?” said Wyona.
Well, there was two feet of snow, said Jay, and we had to walk down from the highway. And it was March so I had to connect the water up. A memorable honeymoon, he laughed. Jay and Greg talked at length about the politics of oil. Jay and David talked about the vagaries of keeping private planes afloat. All of us enjoyed Jay’s monologue about the buildings, the roads, his pleasure that a church is being built nearby, and his adventures with Nancy, his wife, for they try to personally visit every woman in the congregation during the year – I salute them for that task. Jay sees the underside of what seems like the perfect city – the buildings are new, stunning in their sleep beauty, none of them the same. But Nancy and he find people who have come only with the hope of finding a good job. When that doesn’t materialize, find themselves trapped in menial labour, unable to get out. I salute Nancy and Jay.
Wyona had brought along her small carry on from the terminal, hoping for a quick stop at a market to buy enough Coke to get her through the next 12 cruise. We didn’t have time to stop at one, but she spotted a Mini Mart right on the cruise terminal compound. Trying to stop there, Jay may have made me laugh the loudest when he said, “You know how you can go into a parking lot in North America and drive right through the middle of it. Just look at the lot we are in now. Every corner is controlled. I have drive up and down all of these isles before I can get out, even though there is no one else in the parking lot. This high level of control is what I find the hardest to adjust to in Dubai.”
I couldn’t have had a better hour and a half looking at the same buildings that I had seen the day before on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus. Jay drove us up and down the brand new highways and told stories of how different his life is, working for someone who is so rich. I loved the beauty of seeing Dubai a second time, a chance to see it through the eyes of someone who loves the city and lives here.
So nice to have the driver have stripes on his uniform.
On that point of drivers, last night we spent too much time in the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk and found ourselves needing to get home, but having missed the last shuttle bus to the boat. Greg negotiated a price with the driver, we hopped into the cab, telling him – no meter, we just will pay the price negotiated before we stepped in his taxi. The driver talked non-stop, telling how cheaters are everywhere, how someone had paid $40 to be driven from the boat to the centre of town when the price is no where near that, and how that gives taxi drivers and Dubai a bad name, and so the conversation went, mostly one-way from the driver. When we hopped out, the man said he wanted the price on the meter, but Wyona gave him the negotiated price instead. As we all stood on the sidewalk and the tali drove away Greg said, “Wyona, do you realize you gave him $10 more than he was asking for? He just wanted the amount on his meter.”
Now that was a fantastic way to end the day.