My ‘making peace’ with the Middle East has to do with everything within my head. I have no solution to the Middle East political situation and I know I am not alone.
On the way to Yas Island (which has a large upscale mall, Formula One race track and a Ferrari adventure park) from Abu Dhabi, you’ll see this construction sign to your left announcing proudly that Louvre (yes, the Louvre one normally associates with Paris and da Vinci code) Abu Dhabi is closer to reality. “What’s going on?” I wondered. Few years ago, most transatlantic flights from Dallas to India that would normally have a layover in one of the European cities were rerouted through Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha because the airlines from the Middle East bought the air space rights. I haven’t flown through Doha but both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are man-made havens of luxury in the Arabian Desert. They feel like a richer version of Vegas without the open sin. As for human rights, I do not like what I hear. None of it.
My flight from Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad had an all women crew. When my mom first flew from Dallas to Dubai, she was fearful. She told us later that on the flight, she was seated next to an Arab man dressed in a thawb. She kept thinking to herself, “He might be a terrorist. He probably has four wives… and on and on…..” So much that she didn’t make any conversation with this man for the entire 15-1/2 hours of the flight. When the plane was just about to land, she started to feel bad and decided to make small talk. “Is Dubai your home?” she turned to him and asked. “I live a little further away from Dubai”. “How is the city of Dubai?” “It’s a nice place. Lots of shopping and tall buildings.” “What’s the currency of Dubai?” “Dirham (AED).” “Oh – I love to collect coins from different parts of the world. I have some quarters. Can you give me some Dubai coins?” To this the man replied, “I don’t have change on me. This is the smallest bill I have. You can have it” and handed her a 1000 AED note. “This is too much money. I don’t have the same amount of dollars to give you.” He smiled and said “It’s ok. Consider it a gift” and it was time for their row to deplane. She doesn’t know his name or anything about him, but she found him nice and kind during their forty five second conversation. My mom wonders if he knew she was scared for the duration of the flight. He most likely did.
During my 6th-9th grade years in Nagarjuna Sagar, a place known for India’s second largest hydroelectric dam, we heard prayers over the loudspeaker from the mosque down the lane five times a day and we prayed in the school church once a week and we offered prayers to the Hindu gods every day at home. On Muslim festival days, we used to excitedly wait for our share of the yummy sheer khurma that our neighbor few houses down the lane always sent us. One year, I was taking supplemental classes in Hindi literature from a very nice tutor who happened to be a blind Muslim man. The classes were early in the morning. The early morning prayers from the mosque every day around 5 am used to serve as our alarm clock. My mom and I would wake up with the sound of the prayers and she would walk me to his house and see me off at his gate. I would walk back home alone after the class was over, have some breakfast and go to school. And then, there was this young girl in the neighborhood who used to say that she was practicing how to have a bath with one mug of water because she might work in the Middle East when she grows up like her uncles and aunts. We had no knowledge of the wars. Never thought nine eleven would happen. Whenever we hear news of Hindu-Muslim riots breaking out in Hyderabad during Ganesh Navaratri days which sometimes overlap with Muharram, it was always the work of a bad political group. Hindus and Muslims are good people by themselves.
Fast forward to 2016. It’s hard to put together all the news and all the social experiences since childhood, all in this head of mine. We meet nice people while passing through the Middle East. Some friends I grew up with work in parts of the Middle East and make a comfortable living. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are nice cities for a vacation. And then there is radical Islam and there are Syrian refugees and ………..