The Gift of the Unexpected
Some days are on script. Predictable. Not this one:
In between classes, I dashed to the bathroom and, much to my consternation, found myself at the sink beside a student who'd had some serious issues with academic policy. I can't say much about it here other than that I thought the encounter might result in confrontation...or, at least, serious awkwardness. Instead, he turned to me, paused, his eyes pooling with emotion, and said, "Thank you for giving me a second chance. I'm so embarrassed . . . can I give you a hug?" Next thing I knew, I was being embraced in the men's restroom by a student who'd been quite reserved all semester.
After work, I biked home at top speed because I only had 30-minutes to get cleaned up for a fancy Iftar (daily breaking of Ramadan fast) dinner in Dubai. A university event. When I got there, Cheri was in the process of wrangling makeup kits, hair straightening irons, a pile of shoes on the bed, etc. We only ended up being twenty-minutes late picking up three friends who were riding with us.
The dinner venue sat high above the beckoning lights of Dubai and had an exotic feel. Right as folks were filing out to the elaborate buffet, the call to prayer began. My friend Sana, a Pakastani woman who was raised in Southern California, excused herself to go pray. Without premeditation, I asked her if I was allowed to join---if it would be disrespectful. She brightened, laughed, and turned to Cheri: "Watch out, they're gonna convert your husband!"
She led me to the men's prayer area and gave me a few tips on what to do. Basically, I just needed to follow the lead of those beside me. I removed my shoes, suit jacket, and entered the prayer room. As I bowed my head to the ground, following the fluid movements of Islamic prayer, I filled my heart with love for people in my life. I asked the universe for strength to be a positive force. And to be gentler on myself. An old prayer of mine; one that needs repeating. Often. I felt emotion and peace flood through me. I felt right.
Shortly after, I was eating a huge plate of food, powering through too many Turkish coffees, and schmoozing...academia is far more political than people often realize. I'm lucky because I don't actually mind doing this; I just have to find common ground with folks and ask them questions. People love to talk about themselves.
After dinner and an English department group photo, we decided to bail. The number of passengers in our car grew to 7, including an incredibly sweet couple from Egypt. Max capacity.
Ten minutes later, on a Dubai freeway, our car began to shudder and die. Out of gas. A faulty guauge that had allegedly been fixed. F. As we limped to the side of the road, I had a moment of extreme anxiety and embarrassment. Extreme.
Deep breathe in through the nose, out through mouth, softening belly.
Cheri texted a mobile gas company, but it was to be an hour wait and also required a police report. My friend Paul (also my boss! Lol) and I began walking on a little pathway toward a giant Ace Hardware and Ikea looming in the distance. We both agreed that the night air felt amazing and that this was just part of the expat adventure. Oddly enough, the walk provided a peaceful opportunity for us to process some challenging work we've been doing together.
Before we could aquire a gas can, Cheri called. A tow truck driver had stopped by the vehicle and was offering to tow us to a gas station for 50 AED (roughly $13). "Should we do it?" she asked. Um, yes! Saved.
There wasn't, of course, room for everyone in the tow truck. So, we loaded into my vehicle and were wenched up the tow ramp. Suddenly, 15 feet above the road, I felt like was driving a monster truck.
As we were towed to the station, our group laughed and traded stories. Most impressive to me was the Egyptian couple who, considering the man was still recovering from a serious cancer surgery, was incredibly accepting and warm about the experience.
We gassed up, I paid the driver double (his smile nearly making the experience worthwhile), and, twenty-minutes later, everyone was dropped off.
We picked up our kiddos Arya and Finn from our friends' house about 2 hours later than planned. When we arrived, Arya had just run through their screen door. Despite the late hour and home destruction, we were met with warmth. A theme of the night.
Back home, kids in bed, Cheri opened a bottle of champagne, and we settled into chairs on the back patio. Our outdoor kitties magically appeared and found laps. The night air was balmy and filled with the sounds of exotic, squawking birds.
We both agreed. It had been a beautiful day.
Prologue: The next morning, the Egyptian man dropped off a batch of Ramadan sweets (think homemade donut holes). I apologized again; he laughed and said, "It was a bonding experience! What fun."