Monday, June 05, 2006

A friend recently I'd be better off practicing my Arabic on the spot here in Dubai rather than learning to speak Italian, which is one of my recently conceived goals in life. (Yes, I am in fact taking Italian lessons.)

The thing is, this isn’t really an Arab country in any meaningful sense of the word. In fact, I don’t know how the rumor got started that people spoke Arabic in the United Arab Emirates. In most public places (McDonald’s, Starbucks, the malls, in taxis, on the national airline) not only is Arabic not spoken, but they often won’t even understand you if you try. This isn’t because of all the Western expats, but because of all the Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Bangladeshis who do all the actual work around here. Less than 20% of the population is native Emirati. (With all the expat Arabs from around the Middle East here, you do in fact here Arabic spoken around and about, and considering the number of Italians here numbers in the low thousands at the most, I’ll grant you that opportunities to practice Italian are pretty low. But you get my point)

So if you’re going to study a non-English language and practice it here, Hindi would be a better choice than Arabic, because then you could use it with the cab driver and discuss strange-looking vegetables with the market vendors. I consumed a bitter gourd, and boy, was it bitter. I haven’t yet touched the dreaded durian.

I befriended one Indian guy named Hari who works as a sub-editor at a local English-language paper. Hari’s from Bombay, or Mumbai, or whatever they call it these days. He’s a bit older and his life companion is his dog which he left back in India with some people that run a Chinese restaurant. (Really, that’s 100% true. It’s what he told me and it wasn’t a joke.) Occasionally a friend checks in on the dog to make sure it’s OK with the Chinese restaurant owners.

Hari works ten-hour shifts, six days a week. He doesn’t have much time to do anything here but work and sleep. Occasionally he’ll go out for a beer after work. That’s his whole life. He laughs loudly and often, sometimes for no apparently reason.

Earlier last month Hari and I went for a walk in the evening along Dubai Creek. Outside the Dubai Museum is a big model ship. Hari says he dreamt about that ship before he came to Dubai. He often has dreams about the future, he says. I ask him what else he dreams about. Different things, he say. His dog, for instance. He laughs.

I’ve lived here a month. I occasionally consider, in a reflective Eleanor-Rigby sort of way, what it would be like living the way Hari does for the rest of my life, as so many people do. The idea sort of makes me want to drink a liter of lead paint and chase it with a shot of mercury, yet Hari seems perfectly happy, living a solitary existence and dreaming about his dog back in India.

Seems. Actually, I recently asked Hari, after a few beers at a local subcontinental hang-out, if he was really as happy as he let on. He confessed, with a laugh of course, that it was a bit of a façade.

He then asked me if I would consider dating or marrying a woman with a child. I replied that it would depend on whether or not the kid and I got on, since I’d basically be marrying the kid, too. Hari says a fortune teller once predicted that he would one day meet his ideal companion and that she would be a single mother.

And that's about all I have to say right now about my friend Hari.


Blogger Jacques said...

Hey Scott, so you don't live Hari's, er, harried lifestyle. What does one do with one's free time in Dubai, anyway? I suspect leisure time is a bit pricier than it was in, say, 1993 Prague.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I've been asking that question a lot lately, and I don't get many good answers. Lots of people don't have free time. Those that do tend to give half-hearted answers like "go to the gym, go to the beach and go out." Recently I met a posh Emirati dude who's into diving, which is quite the doable thing here. I've never diven. Doven.

A half liter of beer is 163 Czech crowns.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I've eaten Durian (one of the varieties of) and I think it's yummy. Finished the bowlful. Didn't notice any offensive smell.

5:03 PM  

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