David and I had a delightfully relaxing weekend with the hilarious and adorable Nourse family — Simi (the mom) Chris (the dad), Maya (the daughter), Archie and Rowan (the twin sons) — at their home in Al Ain.
A driver named Durminder, who Simi recommended (she sings his name to the sound of Goldfinger), took us there and back. The trip is 90 minutes each way through the desert. Durminder is a wonderful driver, and he told me how he was headed to his native Sri Lanka on Sunday after a two-year absence. He was over the moon at the idea of seeing his family again. I don’t even know the young man but I was caught up in his happiness too. Durminder is going home! I felt like belting out a John Denver song! Or a Simon and Garfunkle one!
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.
Upon arrival, the Nourses whisked us off to The Heritage Center cafe approximately 27 roundabouts (traffic circles) away from their house. Al Ain, which has no high-rise buildings, is home to myriad roundabouts. In the center of each roundabout is some kind of landmark and it’s the way people give directions.
Go past the roundabout with five big balls. Go to the roundabout with the zoo animal statues. Go around the roundabout with a big clock in it.
The roundabout with a big clock troubled the Nourse family for a year because 1) that particular place is an intersection not a roundabout and 2) the clock is therefore not in the roundabout.
We arrived at the heritage center located in an actual oasis. Be it known, though, that not all “oasi” come with bodies of water. They are equipped with fort-like structures and shady palm trees and donkeys. Had we seen the uninspiring handwritten sign for the restaurant beforehand, I’m not sure we would have been bold enough to enter.
But thank every deity in the world that we did enter. The restaurant was grand in space and offering. The food was some of the best I have ever ever eaten. Moroccan, Lebanese, and Italian for the kids. Simi, Chris and I had drinks of lime and mint that made me pucker up.
Indeed, I felt like kissing the whole Nourse family.
They are game for anything, and are super relaxed, warm hosts. We napped after our outing, and ate snacks for dinner while telling stories of our travels in the world. It was akin to hanging with my pals at home.
Simi and I also talked a lot about what “home” means. She is a British woman of Indian descent — with grandparents who lived in Kenya. Chris is a dapper British chap who was born in the north of Borneo, Malaysia and his dad was born in Sri Lanka. And I am an American Mermaid, not to mention a second-generation Filipino. Neither Simi, nor Chris, nor I really “belong” anywhere yet we belong everywhere.
David and I left this morning with big smiles and full bellies after a quick trip to the Starbucks in Al Ain with the Nourses. I enjoyed the dichotomy of our dining experience in that roundabout town with that delicious family.
On the way back to Abu Dhabi, the Starbucks coffee kicked in and I had to pee. I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen considering the dearth of pitstops in the desert. Fortunately, I asked Durminder to pull over at the next petrol station just 2 kilometers before one appeared.
From the start of our time together, Durminder referred to David as “baby.” So when will pulled up to the petrol station shop, I simply said “Baby Stay” to indicate that David would wait in the car. Economy of language is important in this part of the world. Adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions dilute the conversation and decrease the likelihood of understanding.
I walked into the bathroom and saw an elderly Indian woman on the phone, in the corner, on a chair. (Lots of prepositional phrases there.) She seemed upset and in an intense conversation. But I couldn’t be sure. I used the toilet and came out to wash my hands. The woman was still on the phone. I turned to use the hand drier.
The elderly Indian woman tapped me on the shoulder, still on the phone, and gave me a roll of toilet paper. A long tear was streaming down her face. She said, “Sorry.”
I realized instantly that 1) she was the bathroom attendant and was there to keep it clean and 2) something really bad was happening in her life and 3) she was handing me the paper so I could dry my hands WHILE she was in the midst of some personal crisis.
Instead of using the paper to dry my hands, I ripped off a piece and wiped away her tear. She immediately grabbed my hand. I was afraid she was angry. But instead, she held it tight and continued talking into the phone and crying. I held her hand tightly too. Her tear-stained tissue in between our palms.
When she hung up the phone, I wrapped her in my arms and held her tightly as she cried more. I said to her, “I wish I know what was happening in your life.” She had no idea what I was saying. But our embrace said everything. I knew she was in terrible pain, the kind of pain I know. Death. It had come for someone she loved. Somewhere.
I didn’t want to stop holding her. Yet I had to get back to Durminder and David. I wondered about the whereabouts of her family, her home. The location of her suffering.
We dis-embraced. Is that a word? Does it matter? I stroked her gray hair. She looked up at me with the most tender look in her eyes. I returned the gaze. I had to go, although I didn’t want to. How could help her? What could I do?
Then poof. I was back in the car en route to Abu Dhabi.
My “baby” wanted to talk and talk and talk. I told David that I had met a very sad woman in the bathroom at the petrol station and now I was sad too. I needed no more words for the time being.
I took his hand in mine, connecting our lives with hers. Giving her sadness a home with us, as well as the Nourse Family and everyone I have ever met, loved, left or lost.