The mood in me, and the UAE, has been grim since the terrorist attacks in Paris — which came on the heels of a tragic targeted murder here last month, among many other incidents around the globe. During an emotional lunch break this afternoon, my Muslim workmates spent a long time talking, both loudly and ruefully, about the horrors being committed in the name of Allah. Like good people everywhere, they want it to stop.
I was moved by their heartfelt pleas for humanity, but decided to opt out of their conservation in favor of contemplating the meaning of my morning commute.
Running late, thanks to a comedy of household errors, I ran to the cab stand. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for a ride. I hopped in the back seat, sweating, and immediately asked the driver to turn on the air conditioning. He made a very LOUD hrumpfth sound. My request clearly irked him, which had the effect of irritating me.
“Please, AC,” I repeated, not to be defeated.
“You hot?” he said.
“Yes, I’m hot!”
“Cold outside,” he responded, deeply perplexed.
Dears, I’d like to interrupt right here and right now to point out that the temperature outside was roughly 75 degrees. Warmish or coolish depending where you are from — also contingent upon your age and gender. For me, a 49-year-old female wearing black pants and a long-sleeve shirt, who had just run across the street in the morning sun, it felt like 92. Sitting in a cab with no circulation exacerbated my heat index. And the conversation raised it to about 95 before my blood boiled.
“Turn it on! I am from Canada!” I shouted. I’m not actually from Canada, but Northern Vermont is close enough. Truth is, I am a Southerner by breed and a Filipino by birth.
“Why don’t you have a car?” the driver asked, probably because he wished I was in my own vehicle instead of his.
“My husband has the car today,” I answered.
“Hire someone to take you and him and children to places. Private driver.”
Okay, so basically this cab driver is suggesting ways to streamline my transport complexities and mitigate my cooling issues in order to keep his air-con requests to a minimum.
After he finally turned on the fricking air-conditioning, he proceeded to pepper me with questions about my exact salary and the number of children I had. He also wondered, out loud, whether it would be more pragmatic to opt for two separate cars instead of a hypothetical private driver for our one car. He went on to estimate the cost of a second car versus the monthly fee for a driver. All the while I kept mum, staring out the window at the hot world outside, and laughing on the inside about the absurdist play called “Nancy Bercaw in the Middle East.”
Needless to say, I was very relieved to arrive at Khalifa University, where I had recently requested that the temperature in my cubicle be reduced by two degrees. The maintenance man had fixed the issue quickly and without protest.
As a result — and despite heated concerns about the state of the world swirling around the office today — I kept calm, cool and collected.
I did have a heart-warming thought about something my wise historian cousin, the other Nancy Bercaw, once told me about how the advent of air-conditioning changed civility in the American South.
Before A/C, residents in hot and humid climates used to sit out on their front porches, sip iced tea, and talk ( or debate) with their neighbors. Once “Frigid Air” came on the scene, though, folks stopped shooting the breeze. Air-conditioning created a new wall between people. I suppose this might be true of Arab cultures, as well. Bedouin tents giving way to high-rise condos. Perhaps we’re all in the same dhow (aka boat) after all.
On my commute home this evening, I decided to roll down my cab’s window to get some fresh air.
“No air-con?” asked the new driver.
“Nope,” I smiled.
“Thank you,” he said.