(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Food

وقت القيلولة — Nap Time

There used to be a top Swede in everything, my Swedish colleague tells me. Now all they’ve got is fish, meatballs and IKEA. And when even IKEA can’t help me out, I know I’m in trouble.

My bed is a size not recognized by the world of IKEA foam mattress pads all christened with names of nonexistent Swedish sultans — Sultan Tafjord, Sultan Tårsta… So I turn to the Middle Eastern chain “Home Centre” in the hopes that they sell padding that does not have to be removed from its packaging and cut with scissors before using. Bad move.

It’s often hard here to find exactly what you’re looking for — a positive mall attitude requires a kind of vagueness far from the model number, “compare items” culture of American shopping. So I couldn’t find a perfect 100 Watt converter and the metal box they gave me gives out serious electric shocks when touched. But hey, now my TV works.

Even getting a haircut is a total free-for-all. The South Asian coiffeur told me what I wanted, explaining that it was “style”. I tried to argue, admitting that I wanted something stupid, and finally touching on one excuse that worked: “America. I’m from America.” He gave me a look: Okay, I’ll cut it, but it’s gonna look like shit. You asked for it.

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Malik 1 — مالك ١

This border is not one-dimensional like the fine, fountain pen line between the US and Canada; the vague area between the Emirati back door and the entrance to Oman could be drawn faithfully with a Crayola marker on a globe. But after ten minutes of driving through no man’s land, we were in every man’s land.

Fiftyish men puffed fiftyish shishas, drank tea, and watched us be Western at a roadside cafe half-hour into the country. A huge projector blasted Spanish soccer to the going-out crowd of northwestern Oman. The coffee tasted dark and sweet, not like the light brew served too often in the Emirates, and the mint tea smelled like Morocco and older traditions. I went to ask for more coals for the shisha.

“You speak Arabic?” The owner asked me. Again, same words — completely different question. A minute later, he was introducing me to his favorite customers — a group of five Omani men — and we three American travelers were welcomed into their circle.

We talked about soccer, about Oman, and about finding a wife for the owner in Washington before telling them our travel plans (drawn on a napkin) and the difficulties of making reservations anywhere without phones or internet.

“Ahmed, go get a SIM from the car.”

My useless Emirati phone was taken from me, popped open, and charged with Omani hospitality (and a ton of credit). And after sitting for hours, Malik paid for everything we’d touched the entire night. No, no, a friend explained as we squirmed at the niceness, he’s the boss.

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Moving Day (Part One) — — —(يوم التنقيل (جزء الاول

I just got to play the fun game you can only play a few times in your life completely sober — the one where you pop the window open and go, “where in the world am I?”  Turns out I was in London, or over London, after having reclined into my fully flat bed/massage parlor the “night” before above the islands of northeastern Canada (read: the real New England).  It’s like I didn’t even go anywhere at all!

But no, I promised when I left America eight hours ago that I’d give up making fun of Canada.  We members of the Global Community choose respect.

I’m over Brussels now.  I remember it having smelly parts.

The day began at six AM Something Standard Time in a cove near San Diego where I surfed my last American waves for what’ll be a while to come.  Hopefully the tankers chugging through the Straight of Hormuz make swells big enough to ride, but somehow I don’t know if that’s what they’re there for.

And then a car came.  “No crying until two miles from the airport,” the driver told my mom.  I like this guy.

But just as I haven’t yet had that “Holy ****!” moment where I see a map and actually understand what moving means, I don’t think my parents quite have either.  There are a lot of parts to this that make it hard to focus, hard to figure out exactly how we feel in any given moment.

Now I’m flying over Liege.  The world’s greatest waffle people.

My mom couldn’t let me leave the country without a little nourishment, so my last moments on hard american soil were spent eating peach yogurt with a spoon she pulled from her purse.  And not finding a trashcan, I left the half eaten thing on the curb, waiting for me.

If I understand my neuroses at all, I know I’ll have a flashback the day I return to the country.  I’ll nervously look around in line at immigration.  They’re coming for me.  They know about the yogurt.

In fact, they almost didn’t let me leave.  The tickets that had been booked for me were under a slightly muddled version of my first and last names, and the guy on my passport was close to getting left stateside while my single last-named doppleganger flew to Abu Dhabi in style.

But I’d had this kind of trouble before, and I knew what to do.  I knocked over the attendant with my one 65-pound suitcase and flattened her with the other before diving down the luggage chute and rolling out onto the Tarmac.  I knew the tail number of my flight and I made a dash, scampering up the massive wheel and into the cargo bay before they knew I didn’t even pay for the overweight.

Or wait… that didn’t happen.

I’m past Frankfurt — either I write very slowly, this plane is going very fast, or Europe is tiny.  I think maybe all of the above.

Before I boarded, I listened to the San Diego loudspeakers babbling the announcements of lost items and people.  It sounded like half the passengers on my flight were saying: “Yeah, so I lost my watch and my duffel and my six year-old.  And I’d like an upgrade to business.”

Then, after a run of bottomless gin and tonics on sleeping-with-gaping-open-mouth flight number one, I shuffled into the Etihad lounge in the Chicago airport to drink Chivas Regal and make a few last domestic calls from a cushy massage chair.  You can’t be an alcoholic if you’re going to a (nearly) dry country, right?  Well, okay, maybe not after the four bottles from duty free I’ll be wetting the sand with.  That’s not supposed to sound dirty.

The flight (so far) has been everything it was cracked up to be (by many Google searches), but I keep reminding myself not to get used to the “Pearl Class” treatment.  A flock of pretty women from East and Southeast Asia (is this offensive to say/notice?) guide us all to our seats and offer beverages from a tray.

Here’s how I knew I didn’t quite belong:
Attendant: Would you like a beverage?
Me: Yes, thank you.  What’s the orange one?
Attendant: Um.  Orange juice.
Me: Oh, I mean, the other orange one.
Attendant: Ohh, I’m sorry.  That’s carrot.

Whether it’s “I’m sorry, I misheard you” or “I’m sorry that you’re a totally helpless idiot,” you know it’s good service when someone apologizes to you for nothing in particular.

And then came the food.  And drinks.  And much exploring of Seat Reclination Possibilities (or SRPs, as I called them).  I snuck into the Diamond Class compartment to find the personal suites, with their arabesque sliding doors wide open, completely empty. I guess when no one can afford something, we all know we have something left to work for.  And maybe that was the UAE’s plan for expats all along, like your parent’s rule for when your friends were over when they were out of town: let ‘em get comfy, but no one gets the master bed.

And here, between Vienna and Zagreb, I think I’ll order breakfast.

[Just moved in to apartment, escaping sweltering heat even at night.  More to follow.]

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