(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

No Complaints — بلا شكوى

When life gives you pillows, you chaperone them.

Hi, my name is Adam, and I am a pillow chaperone.

Last week, among my many programs to coordinate sat eight large decorative pillows that needed supervised transportation from one part of campus to another. Unfortunately, I was not the supervisor. I was assistant to the supervising advisor of the facilities manager who facilitates (and manages) such transportation. And I was totally useless.

But I’m not complaining. I’m learning.

The Gulf and its multilingual office environments offer teachable moments (as my dad would say) in frustration — moments waiting to become the kind of life lessons a shrink might bleed you through the nose for. I don’t think I got that saying right. (Gross.)

A delinquent vendor tried to offer me the olive branch of his email address, assuring me he would respond with a list of delivery dates for our purchasing department. But his clearly articulated Urdu accent was much worse than unintelligible — it was misleading.

“C,” he started, then “yaych.” That wasn’t a letter, so I went with H. “A” was pronounced “eeyay,” so I wrote every subsequent A as “E-A.”

“T,” He went on. I wrote.

“‘T’ as in ‘dental’.” I erased.

By the end I had “Thentreaeh” instead of what I later figured to be “Chandrah.” I told him to just call back.

But I’m not complaining about this either. The only thing I know how to say in his language is “the food is delicious,” and that’s with (I’ve been told) the accent of a racist (I assume) colonial occupier.

Other phone calls with Abu Dhabi vendors — who merit their own anthropological dissertation or a National Geographic special — surpass the misleading for the surreal. On one day, I received a call from Muhammad, whose business had already been sorted out earlier that morning.

Me: Hello? This is Adam.
Muhammad: Yes hi, this is Muhammad. Sorry for calling.
Me: That’s no problem.
Muhammad: Ok. Well, since you called, let me ask you a question.

In that moment, an alarm went off in my mind: something is wrong with this. So I said “no” and hung up.

In telling me I had called him, Muhammad gave me the idea that I should know why this call was taking place. And just as they said in the movie Inception, you can always trace the source of an idea. He said me, I saw him, and the dream (phone call) collapsed with my mind attacking on all sides like a suspicious samurai.

Once I realized I shouldn’t have any idea why I was talking to him, I called back — on my terms. Understanding that I shouldn’t understand, I took control by letting go of control, and allowed myself to wade freely into an uncharted land (line).

If we cede the reins of our own comprehension, we can learn more than we let ourselves. We can wax poetic without demanding meaning. And we can find out what happened to the storage cabinets from mid-August.

1 Comment»

  your aunt wrote @

i love you to pieces and i enjoy every little tidbit of brilliant and pithy prose that spills onto my screen every time i remember to click on the little ingulfed icon up at the top. i think u are having an amazingly humbling, as well as eye-opening experience in every way. indeed there is something to learn every second you are there. and i don’t just mean language. i have a b.a. in anthropology after all. always dying to hear more. we are all alive and well. don’t know how much i am ‘allowed’ to write you.
tons of love

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