Subject: Sad News to Share

This is a post about beginnings.  It is about a cafeteria man.  This post is about endings.

Beginnings ...

First off, this is my first "Me"-less/"ME"-less post title.  

It's why I started to blog.  Deep down, I knew the day would come when I would have that "Aha!" moment, that moment where I would just know that what I wanted to write about had so much more to do with everything else than with 'me' or the 'ME'.  And yet it has everything to do with both.  

In reality, I cannot entirely detach myself from the events around me, nor from the land around me ... to do so would make me disinterested.  But the time has come where me and the ME are just necessary background noise for this blog really.

In that sense, this post is the beginning of a new chapter.  One that has been a long time coming.  It is new, and yet it is a return to the old.  

It is the complete and utter realization that some things that would seem to have NOTHING to do with you can touch you at your core.  

Thank you <Naji>, aka 'Cafeteria Man>.  I dedicate this post to you.

The Cafeteria Man ...

This post was born after receiving an e-mail from kiddo's school.  The subject was simply:  "Sad News to Share".

It read something (very much) like this:

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of one our <school name> cafeteria workers, <we'll call him 'Naji'>, of Sri Lanka.  <He> was involved in an accident riding his bike to school early Sunday morning, April <...>.   

We can only imagine how proud <Naji's> family must have been of him.  He supported his mother, brother, and four sisters while he worked with <employer> the past seven years.  Our cafeteria manager, <name>, said <Naji> was a model employee and one of the hardest workers on <employer's> kitchen staff.  He was responsible for pasta preparation and service in the elementary school for many years and had just moved to the MS/HS cafeteria where he provided counter service as well as preparation for the chicken shawarmas we eat every day.  

<Naji's> unselfish commitment to his family serves as a model for all of us as he truly lived <school name's> values.  As a recognition of <Naji's> extended service to the <school> community, The Booster Club is directing the proceeds from the next hotdog sale on May <...> to <Naji's> family in Sri Lanka.  If you would like your child <...> to participate, please fill out the order form that will be sent home with your child this week. 

In addition to the Booster Club Hot Dog sale, <school> staff members have been making monetary contributions for <Naji's> family.  If you would like to make a contribution, please send it with your child in a sealed envelope or see any of our staff in the elementary school office.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for <Naji> and his family at this time.

Intermission ...

I can't quite find the words to express what I felt when I read the e-mail the first time.  This e-mail sent to our school community; this e-mail that conveyed such a soft-spoken profound sense of loss.  What did I feel?  Sadness?  Regret?  Shame?  Guilt?  Remorse?  Anger?

All of the above?

Sadness

at such a young, promising life lost?  at so many others in similar circumstances toiling every day in this country to provide a better life for their loved ones back home?

Regret

that I'd never met him?  that I've never met so many of these workers who come to work every day with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a smile as bright as the sun?

Shame

that I'd never really thought about the people who prepare Kiddo's pasta every Wednesday, those really special people who give her an exciting and much anticipated break from her regular everyday humdrum boxed lunch?  that I'd slip 50 QAR to the teaboy at work, but never think to pass it on to the guy who serves my daughter her lunch?

Guilt

that I'd never taken the time to send in a thank you note to this employee and to the others who work silently, unseen, in the shadows?  that I'd never actually asked Kiddo about them?

Remorse

that I'd never again have the chance to say thank you to <Naji>?  that there are so many others I may have missed along the way?

Anger

that a young man who managed to make my daughter's day ("yeahhhhh, Maman, it's ordering day" is Wednesday's wake-up call) was mowed down thoughtlessly, another casualty to road insanity in the ME?  that I can't do a darned thing other than shake my fist to stop it?

  • To one man, the 'boy' was a hit-and-run casualty.
  • To kiddo, the 'Cafeteria Man' was a weekly source of joy.
  • To his mother, <Naji> was a son ... I imagine he was her life.  
  • To his sisters, <Naji> was a brother ... I imagine he was a hero.  
  • To community - his community, our school community - he was an inspiration, an example.  Of values.  Of promise.  Of hope.

I do know that when I re-read the e-mail to Smilin' Vic and Kiddo, I cried.  I'm not sure why.  I didn't know <Naji>.  I didn't really have the right to cry for him and his family, did I?  

But I couldn't control the lump that suddenly formed in my chest.  I couldn't contain the tears, and had to stop and take a few breaths between every few words.  But I wanted to get through that message, I wanted Kiddo to hear what an amazing, inspirational, admirable young man <Naji> was.

I really wanted to get to know 'The Cafeteria Man' through the re-reading of that e-mail.  Too late ... I wanted to get to know him.  I wanted to know <Naji>.

I am not alone.  I spoke to other moms.  They were shaken to the core.  It was just so sad.  Some knew 'The Cafeteria Man'.  Others didn't.  Yet we will all miss him.  Somehow, he was a part of our community ... and he drew us closer to one another. That happens a lot here - you realize you are a part of something special at that moment when you lose it.  

He, like so many other expatriate workers, working tirelessly to make a better life for his family back home, was the life breath of this country.  He made a difference.  Here, back home, he made a difference.

He was the Cafeteria Man.  He was <Naji>.  He will be missed ... even by those of us who did not know him.

Endings ...

<Naji's> life ended on April <...>, 2013.  We will miss him.  I have nothing else to say; this post is about him, not me.

The End

The sad fact is, it's not getting any better. &nbsp;There are so many issues to address ... but I guess road safety is a good place to start.

The sad fact is, it's not getting any better.  There are so many issues to address ... but I guess road safety is a good place to start.

Ferrar"ME" ...

It was the logical next step in the quest to capture bad guys ... you just know this all started with one female cop putting up her hand and saying "I'm not sure the Lamborghini is for me; I was thinking a different color, something that's been around a little longer, something that says fast with class."  

And when you live in a part of the world where money is absolutely not an issue, the police captain just naturally replied "Ok, we can work on that.  Let's look at the options here.  How would you feel about a Ferrari?"

It's impressive to see affirmative action at work in the ME ...

Only in the Middle East ... where else could you say you've been pulled over by a female police officer in a Ferrari? &nbsp;Doha&nbsp; Gulf Times , April 26, 2013

Only in the Middle East ... where else could you say you've been pulled over by a female police officer in a Ferrari?  Doha Gulf Times, April 26, 2013

Lamborghin"ME", Why Don't You?

Other than the sand and the heat, life in the ME can often seem quite like life in Canada. 

But once in a while, you get these reminders of exactly how different things are.  

From this ....

From this ....

Smilin' Vic recently told me that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were retiring the Crown Victoria ... don't quote me on this, but I think the RCMP have been popping into Tim Horton's in Crown Vic's since the 70's or 80's.  It truly seems like the end of an era.

But Smilin' Vic said that the RCMP's new ride, the "Inceptor" (cue 'dom dom DOM'), was a mean beast, and would outshine the Crown Vic by far.

to this ....

to this ....

I was impressed.  Super cool AWD mean machines meant to brave the harshest Canadian weather and deepest potholes in the RCMP's quest to eradicate crime for once and for all.  Real bad-ass police wheels.  Canadian cops rock!

While far, far away, in another universe ....

Lamborghin"ME", Why Don't You? &nbsp;(Doha, Gulf Times, Saturday, April 13, 2013)

Lamborghin"ME", Why Don't You?  (Doha, Gulf Times, Saturday, April 13, 2013)

All of a sudden, the RCMP's wheels don't seem quite so fierce?

Why does Canada's new cop ride suddenly look more like this?

Why does Canada's new cop ride suddenly look more like this?

Me? I Drive a Hyundai in the ME ...

One of the things that assaulted me when I first moved to Qatar was the prevalence of high-end cars.  

Granted, the majority of vehicles we saw were Toyota Landcruisers, not necessarily luxury, but a favorite amongst the locals.  And at +/- 60,000 $ Canadian they certainly don't come cheap.

But beyond that it seems I was surrounded by Range Rovers, BMW's, Mercedes, Porsche Cayenne's, Nissan Patrols, Suburbans, Lexus, Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, the occasional Ferrari or Lamborghini, and most recently, countless Rolls Royce Phantoms.

Cars are a big deal in the ME, and it's easy to get caught up in the wave of enticement that provides for interest-free car loans, 2 years no payments, and 0.33$ (CA) a liter gas prices.

Cars that your common Canadian would not dream of owning, not only because of the purchase price but also because of their gas guzzling drain on finances.  Movie cars, Hollywood cars, Joan Collins cars.  Not what you'd imagine as "get you to work and back driving through potholes in the desert"-type cars.

I'm not much of a car person.  But I must admit I was initially impressed by the chrome and rubber.  When we first moved here, I was surprised to find myself gazing longingly at the bevy of sexy rides stationed side-by-side in the parking garage of our temporary accommodation alongside our rental vehicle.  I would watch unshaven offshore workers sidle out of their Escalade, flustered moms of four drag groceries and snotty-nosed kids out of Volvo XC90's, fresh-faced 25-year-old's hightailing it in a Camaro.  Cars are a BIG thing in Qatar.

We were driving a rental at the time.  A very discrete white Toyota Corolla.  If you are living in Qatar and not driving one of the above luxury rides, chances are you own a white Toyota Corolla.  Ours set itself apart only by the persistent smell of gasoline that pervaded every single square inch of fabric.  Obviously it had previously been driven by a refinery worker.

But otherwise it was a fine car; by Canadian standards it would be considered a perfect starter car, or a very reasonable, fairly environmentally-friendly, gas efficient city car.  But driving around in the midst of Landcruisers, Suburbans, Escalades, and Patrols, I couldn't help but feel really, really short.

Two months after we arrived, we decided it made sense to buy rather than rent.  We started looking around for the best possible buy.  After shopping around for a bit, we opted for a Hyundai Sonata.  After all, we weren't here to impress, we were here to earn a living, put away what we could, travel when the opportunity presented itself, and try as hard as possible to maintain the lifestyle that we'd enjoyed in Canada, no more, no less.  So we settled for that very reasonable, perfectly affordable, fairly environmentally-friendly Sonata.  

But I admit to occasional car envy.  I admit to feeling really short in traffic.  Try as I might, I have never managed to achieve coolness factor in that Hyundai.  I wear my shades, and turn the radio up real loud, but I have no CD player.  So at 3:00 p.m., stuck in traffic, you will hear either Edit Piaf belting it out on the QBS French hour or some Arabic rhapsody booming from my busted speakers.  

At one point I thought hanging a dice from my rear-view mirror, tinting the windows and adding some big rims and color might give me some street cred. Nothing came of it; it's still a pipe dream.  But who knows?  If I drive this car long enough, Smilin' Vic might be willing to let me paint it matte charcoal, slap on some big rims, tint those windows black as night and install a killer boom box on the rear dash in my final months in the desert.  

We've bought a second car since.  It is a decidedly cooler 4x4, but definitely not the super-butch, alpha-male, hormone-driven Ford F-150 Smilin' Vic pictures himself in.  It is a mid-sized, sedate, family-friendly, affordable 4x4.  I admit, there is some gratification in knowing that he hasn't got me totally beat on the coolness factor.

If you're thinking of moving to the ME, stay focused on your objectives.  If purchasing a super-cool, really big, or extremely expensive ride is a part of your five-year plan, you've come to the right place.  But if it's not, be wary of the temptation and desire to fit in with the big boys here.  I know more than a few expats who went out shopping for a sedan and came back home with a Hummer!  Cars are a big deal in the ME.  It's easy to get caught up in the hype.  But if you put your mind to it, it's not impossible to resist.

Me?  I still drive a 7-year-old Hyundai in the ME!

Pimp My Ride, Gypsy Style!

Pimp My Ride, Gypsy Style!

After-school run ... typical rides. &nbsp;A far cry from the battered green Ford Fairmont my mom would pick me up in on the occasional days I didn't take the old yellow school bus!

After-school run ... typical rides.  A far cry from the battered green Ford Fairmont my mom would pick me up in on the occasional days I didn't take the old yellow school bus!

The Magical ME Invisibility Cloak

I will preface this post by admitting that I Googled "driving in the Middle East" before starting to write.  Google showered me with 156,000,000 (yes, that is 156 'MILLION') hits.

There truly is THAT much to say about driving in the ME.  There truly is THAT much that has been said.

What light can I possibly shed onto a topic that has generated such an impressive commentary?  No more than has already been said.  But this is my page.  I get to rehash any subject I please.  

So bear with me.  Today, I want to introduce my readers (I think I'm up to five) to the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak.  It can be worn at all times, but is most useful when driving.

This is no joke.  There are people driving here who believe that the very fact of being seated behind the steering wheel renders them invisible.  I am witness to it every single morning as I face off in traffic on my way to work.

It starts as I try to leave my compound.  I exit onto a single lane slip road that leads to the main 4-lane thoroughfare.  In the early morning rush to work, drivers try to beat the rush on the main road by speeding down the slip road two cars deep.  Inevitably, when they reach the end of the slip road, it narrow significantly, resulting in a bottleneck as drivers try to squeeze their way back into traffic.

I cautiously nose my way out into the jam.  And then the Land Cruiser in the second imaginary lane on my left eggs forward, as if I am not there.  I raise my hands in supplication at the driver.  "Can you not see me?"  No reaction, he continues to move forward.  I start to get irate.  "Seriously, I can see you, you're headed straight for me.  I seeeeeeee you!"  No reaction.  His bumper is on my door.  He stares straight ahead, sometimes straight at me, eyes unseeing.  It's as if he thinks I cannot see him if he does not acknowledge me.  Like he thinks that magical ME invisibility cloak is working.

Traffic starts to move.  In Middle Eastern fashion, I raise my hand cup-like (hand up, thumb and fingers together) and wave it slightly at the driver in the next lane as a signal to take it slow and please let me in.  Usually four or five cars will go by before I am able to snake my way in.  The drivers are all wearing the invisibility cloak.  If they don't acknowledge me, they don't exist.  I cannot speak to them, I cannot reach them.  They are invisible.  My problem is I still DO see them.  How do I get them to understand that the invisibility cloak doesn't actually work?

Make my way into traffic.  Get to the end of the slip road.  Do my best to merge onto the thoroughfare.  This is a foreign concept in the Middle East.  I have actually never seen a merge sign in Qatar.  You either swipe or sweep your way into the lane to your left.  Or you floor it and cut in where you get the opportunity or simply move left and force the car on your left to do likewise, pushing him into the next lane.  Goodness knows what pressure I exert on my heart every morning as I squeeze my way into that madness.

Once on my way, it's usually pretty smooth sailing.  Until I reach the first light.  This is where a multitude of invisibility cloaks converge.  To my left, an invisible driver is anxiously and ambitiously picking his nose.  He can do that, you see, because in his mind I can't actually see him.  The driver on my right coming out of the next slip road has rested his bumper against my passenger side door.  I am supposed to pretend I don't notice this.  Because he's rendered invisible by the cloak, you see?

The driver behind me obviously thinks I am wearing an invisibility cloak as well, because he is honking continuously, despite the red light in front of me and the cars to my left and my right.  Obviously "invisible me" is occupying a space meant for him.  For some reason, his vehicle is unable to physically occupy the same space as mine at that precise moment, and he can't quite understand why.  So he carries on honking.

The light turns green.  The car on my right slides in behind me.  Then the car behind him exiting the slip road carries out the most amazing of all ME invisibility cloak feats.  We refer to it as the Saudi Sweep.  He starts in the slip lane, speeds up, and cuts me off to cross not one, not two, but three lanes, as if no one else were sharing the road with him this morning.  How can he manage this, you ask?  The Magical ME Invisibility Cloak of course!

This goes on all the way to work.  The fifteen minutes in my day that turn my heart muscle into the most convoluted of sailor's knots.  

A bus stops without warning in front of me to drop off passengers.  Why?  Because he's invisible.

A driver coming off a side road cuts me off without glancing or slowing down at the stop sign.  Why?  Because he's invisible.  

The next instant, an abaya-clad, veiled driver in Jackie O sunglasses is on my tail.  RIGHT ... ON ... MY ... TAIL.  I'm confused.  Am I invisible, or is she?  I actually can't see her, but her Porsche Cayenne fills my rear-view mirror.  

Almost there.  If I can make it to the office, I'll be safe from the invisible threats for eight hours at least.

I'm at the last stoplight.  Almost there.  As I'm waiting for the light to turn green, I sense movement, glance to my left.  Dude in the Mercedes is waving his phone at me, smiling, motioning to roll down my window.  

I turn away, wait for the light to turn.  In my head:  "Sorry dude, I can't see you."  I have to admit, there are times when I actually appreciate the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak.

This is where you will most likely find people wearing the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak.
This is where you will most likely find people wearing the Magical ME Invisibility Cloak.