November 16th, 2013


Postcard from Dubai 2

Coffee shop. Or here, "café," one of eleven on the ground floor of the mall, the only one with Eggs Benedict. I’ve changed tables three times to get the combination of good chair and non-wobbly table, the waitstaff urging me to move to my preferred daily place when another patron gets up and leaves. Americans tip.

There’s loud, guttural Arabic to my right, a man, probably the son, is pushing an older lady in a wheelchair. They pause at the table next to me, more strong Arabic and the sorting of shopping bags. They move on at the woman’s urging, her gestures saying to me (in the corner of my eye), she doesn’t want coffee right now and can we please move on?

I finish my breakfast and walk down the long hall to the restroom. At the second turn, the lady with the wheelchair is facing into a corner, shopping bags dangling from the handles on the back of her chair. Is this some weird time-out? But she is mumbling, and making seated half-bows, and I flash back to Nadia our stage manager and backstage harrier, brisk, no-nonsense, walkie-talkie carrying Nadia, Nadia with the spark of fun that honks the horn on the club car when we ask her to, Nadia who means to finish her degree in IT “because I started, so I should finish,” but will go into event management because “there are more chances for advancement,” Nadia coming into our dressing room, unembarrassed and unashamed, rolling out a rug and putting an abaya over her jeans and a headscarf over her ponytail, asking in the tone she’d use to ask if she could change her clothes, “Do you mind if I pray in here?”

The closest I see to this in America, in Europe, in white countries, is the genuflection of Catholics as they enter a cathedral, or, already inside, pass the Host. But here, the prayer call sounds five times a day, waking the expats before dawn and to them signaling lunchtime, dinnertime, drinking time. Not every Muslim can stop their business every time, and so later, they make up the prayers on their own time. If you’ve ever stepped into an airport’s nondenominational Room of Reflection, in one corner there is an arrow on the floor. It points to Mecca. It points to the direction of prayer, to God, to someone listening, to the mystery of Islam that, in my ignorance, I assume is certainty.