Where in the heck have you been? I am asked by friends and strangers.
Well, it’s been a difficult summer. While many of you were tubing on the river, shaking hands with Mickey in Florida, and basking in the sun in Bangkok — I was having an absolutely crappy summer. It went south during my dream vacation in the Seychelles when my Granny died. Sniffle. Sniffle. The fact that I wasn’t able to go home for the funeral escalated the downward spiral. It then continued straight south when I found out we had to relocate to a new villa — during Ramadan! This as you may not be aware, is not good because life in the Middle East comes to a near screeching halt during Ramadan. It would be the equivalent of finding a plumber on Christmas —do-able —but not easy. Unfortunately for us, the business that is conducted during Ramadan is limited due to the emotional commitment of the holiday. The work hours are cut short which is really good for the locals because fasting during 100° temps is only suitable for the camels and other nonhuman reptiles. The commitment Muslims make during Ramadan seriously puts all other religions to shame. The Hindus are in and out of fasting before you can say tandoori chicken and the Christians haven’t formally introduced fasting. In fact, they go the other way and either feed you wafers at church, cake in the basement of a church or biscuits at lunch after church. The Muslims, on the other hand, deserve some recognition because it takes some award winning who-ha’s to stick to a month-long, 12 hour-a-day fast in 100° of miserable, humidity-filled temperatures.
You must have lost some weight, didn’t you? said one of my well-intentioned girlfriends who is no longer with us. No, I did not. Since I am a nervous eater and this relocation stuff makes me extremely nervous, I succumbed to the power of the French pastries (those damn French!) which are constantly peering at me from the glass counter of all the grocery stores. Since we are not allowed to eat or drink in public for the month of Ramadan, the holiday can breed serious eating disorders such as gorging crap in the car with the window shade up and generally eating like a malnourished Ethiopian. So during the Ramadan move when I wasn’t gorging in a sweltering hot car while looking for a new villa in the confines of the Ramadan hours, I was on the phone talking with people who are in a state of Ramadan fog because they are lacking the sufficient nutrients to carry on their daily chores. It takes far more effort to get something done during Ramadan than it does on any typical business day, and since it is an honor to be named after the Prophet Muhammad, one must speak to at least fifteen different Mohammeds before reaching one that can help. On a non-Ramadan day one must only go through four or so Mohammeds before finding one that is either in the department you need or one you can understand and they can understand you. So when I found one, I quickly became best buddies with Mohammed, my local ADDC (Abu Dhabi Distribution Council) representative who was a life saver in helping me connect my utilities.
So I rushed home to somehow tell my non-English speaking Indian cleaning crew that the water and utilities will be on soon only to find them furiously cleaning the villa with the green, algae infested water from my swimming pool. Whoa! Wait! What are you doing? This isn’t the Ganga River. This isn’t okay! This isn’t acceptable! This is isn’t the way my mother would clean the house! This isn’t allowed. I am sorry. Get out! I felt like the fish in the bowl screaming at Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat in the Hat. And of course no nobody paid any attention to me because number one, they didn’t understand me; and number two, there is always a certain amount of hand waving, commotion, and chaos that occurs regularly so it takes quite a lot to alarm anyone. It’s not okay to clean with green algae water! I hand motioned to the cleaning man who lives in a human tuna can. He responded with a smile and in his version of the English language, he said he understood me — and then he furiously kept on cleaning. What you should understand about living here is that many people speak many different versions of the English language, but most are totally un-recognisable by the native English speaker. It’s like when I speak Italian, which I pretty much lift from all the Dean Martin songs I know, and what I need to say isn’t included in the lyrics of Volare such as; Penso che un sogno cosi non ritorni mai piu. Mi dipingevo le mani e la faccia di blu, I just throw in some English to top it off expecting that all Italians will understand me. I believe that I mistakenly tell people that my heart has wings for them, but I guess there’s no harm in that. So anyway, some Indians speak what I like to call Party-English. It sounds so damn happy that it makes me want to do a Bollywood dance. What are they saying? I have no idea. But there is so much head bobbing and happiness involved that whatever they are trying to say is lost in the festivity of it all.
I frantically called my maintenance man Mohammed. Hello Mohammed, we seem to have a problem at our new villa. I do not have water. Miss Gina, Mohammed says like he is going to tell me I have cancer. I am so very sorry for this inconvenience. I will send the workers over to your home inshallah. Inshallah? You might wonder, what is inshallah? Well, according to GrapeShisha it means the following:
You must have heard it multiple times daily. Inshallah literally means ‘If Allah wills it’, or generalized to ‘God-willing’, but really it is a term of fatalism, which you can’t really express in English, and it will be used to express an event in the future. This means that you could hear it peppered throughout conversations on a daily basis, since the future could mean in few minutes as well as tomorrow as well as next year. Let me give you an example: “I will see you tomorrow, Inshallah”. Or “We will work together, Inshallah”.
However, be aware, the term is not always used in this way, and in many instances when there is not a hope in hell of something happening, it is thrown in for good measure. “We will sign the contract tomorrow, Inshallah” or “Inshallah, you will get a pay rise”, implying that Allah does not want it so you don’t get it. It can even cover uncertainty – “Inshallah, the engineer will come tomorrow between 4 and 6”. That means you do not know if he will come before 4, after 6, at the allocated time or even at all! And if there is a pause between the end of the sentence and the Inshallah, it means either that the person is not so sure any more or really can’t be bothered.
So how exactly does this effect my water situation? Well, I wasn’t quite sure. I was really hoping that Allah was in my court and seriously pulling for me to have water at my house. And in the end, I guess he was because Mohammed said, We have located the problem. As if he were sharing an ancient secret that would flabbergast Indiana Jones. Your water tank is empty. Wait a minute! I have my own water tank? Where is it? It’s located on top of your villa. Like a cistern of sort? I haven’t seen a cistern since I was a kid. Oh my gosh! That should be on the PBS Antique Roadshow. I had no idea my water was on top of my villa. Yes, Miss Gina. Your water is located up THERE. Pointing upward as if my water tank is close to God in some sort of heavenly union. Maybe I am lucky and can shower in Holy Water on a daily basis? Miss Gina, we are here for you 24 hours a day. Any time you need support, please call me and we will be here. Mohammed says slowly with the intensity of a Italian mobster and the heart of a missionary.
Oh, my gosh, this place is too much sometimes!