Monday, February 9, 2009

Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.

Jack London

QN: This is a short vignette from Bruce. I thought you'd enjoy it as well. In case you want to know more about Fujairah, it is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, and the only one on the Gulf of Oman in the country's east instead of Persian Gulf.

A Postcard from Fujairah

I am in Fujairah, a city-state of the United Arab Emirates, and the only one on the Arabian Sea. My company is testing a new General Electric gas turbine for the local power and water company that generates electricity and makes steam to power the desalinators that provide all the potable water for this desiccated shore.

I have had the day off, and am now sitting at my usual table on the seaside dining area of the Hilton hotel where I am staying, waiting for my evening meal. My attention is drawn to an Arab man who has just walked up the stairs, trailing three small children. He is dressed in traditional garb, except for a cap of tan corduroy, very similar in shape to those Castro favored. The children, two girls and a boy, orbit about him like erratic satellites; the smallest girl is dressed in frilly shirt and pants blazoned with cartoon characters. As he seats himself on the abutment of the stairs leading to the beach, the little one sidles up to Daddy and is lifted into his lap, where shoes, socks, and pants are removed. He then takes her by the hand, and the family descends the stairs to wade in the low breakers rolling in off the Indian Ocean.

My eyes are drawn outward by movement on the water. Two juveniles of indeterminate age are racing each other on Jet-skis, water spouts rising like squirrel tails. They tear across the space between the stone piers demarking the hotel beach area and pass from view to my right. Before they clear the area another craft appears, headed in the opposite direction. It looks like a Viking longboat minus the mast. Sixteen men are seated single file, pulling on long oars alternating port, starboard; their rhythm is metronome perfect. At the stern stands a single erect figure in full white Arab regalia, complete with headdress. Swaying gracefully with each thrust of the oars, he grasps the tiller that I cannot see, but know must be there; every fourth stroke he raises an arm in exhortation. Jet skis and longboat pass each other; the Middle East in a single frame.

I look up, past the wakes of the boats, to the anchored supertankers that fill the near horizon. Beyond them, lost in haze and distance, is Iran, home of the Persians- land of Darius, and Xerxes, and Amadinijad...

I think back to when I was here a month ago; I bought some earrings for my wife from the little shop in the hotel. An Iranian woman was the clerk for the evening; she was modestly dressed in full, neck-high gown and head scarf. A filigreed necklace graced her throat, and her lips were meticulously made up, with an eye to detail that would make western models blush.

She seemed genuinely pleased to speak to an American. We are not that common here; most get no farther than Dubai. We spoke at length---not of politics or economics or wars, but of marriage and jewelry and shopping and children; human things.

The family is coming back up the stairs now. I am drawn back from Iran to a father with his little girl. The mother and her sister have arrived, and the satellites assume another orbit. Mother is stylishly dressed in denims and high-healed sandals. A bright crimson smock-like tunic completes the ensemble, with the inevitable black scarf covering what appear from the bulk to be glorious curls of dark hair. The sister is dressed more modestly, all in black, hem sweeping the floor, but with beautiful beadwork and shell arabesques marching up the sleeves of her gown to crown her shoulders.

I glance back up at the horizon and Amadinijad momentarily, but am drawn back to Daddy and daughter. How different we look but how similar we are. The current leader of Iran is like the Sun to this father’s moon; the one huge and hot, the other small and cold. Yet I am like the Indian Ocean rolling before me wave upon wave, influenced more by the near Moon than the distant Sun.

A commotion nearby; a heavyset girl, dressed bright and tight, is having an angry conversation on a cell phone. Gesturing wildly, she speaks far more than she listens. As she ends the spiel, the loudspeakers of the Mosque across the street wake with the call to evening prayer. Life goes on…

Bruce Abbott

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Harlan Ellison