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Chapter 22: Lost in Translation

The Name Game: Shirley! Shirley, Shirley Bo-ber-ley Bo-na-na fanna Fo-fer-ley Fee-fi-mo-mer-ley Shirley! Now, let's do Ashokbala!

sunny 104 °F

Chapter 22: Lost in Translation

September 22, 2022

First, we wish you Happy Saudi National Day! We missed out on Emirati Women's Day and it is too early for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 celebrations. Each of these, as you might imagine, are of critical importance to our client's marketing department from whom we heard all morning long.SaudiNationalDay.jpgEmiratiWomensDay.jpgFIFAWorldCupQatar.jpg

I would list their names here but the names here are quite difficult for us.

For every time, there is a season. And here, for every Tommy, there is a Tejashree. To our American ear, we find ourselves incapable of remembering the names of the wonderful people we meet. (That is also true of us at home, however) We know the 'hacks' such as "repeat in your head the name of the person you have just met." But saying, "Andy" over and over again in your head after you have just met Andy is not the same as saying "Ashokbala" over and over again in your head when you didn't properly hear "Ashokbala" in the first place and can't properly pronounce it anyway.

large_503b0190-3a37-11ed-bf07-5b32f2b727ee.JPGWe have met Rajnish, Pravina, Charie, Feda, Fater, Hargovindar and Nachiket. We struggle with those names because our American brains can't seem to put them in a proper cubbyhole of pronunciation as we would or could with Bobby or Sue. For every Alex, there is an Amalraj. For every Benny there is a Binod; for every John a Juzar and for every Sarah a Sarvenaz or Senthil or Shilendhar or Suchilla or Sunil or Swapna.

When we met Shakil we rejoiced because we could relate to basketball great Shaquille O'neal. But then I found out the spelling differential. When I was introduced to Souzan, it was the same once someone spelled it for me. It's not the Susan I think it ought to be.


When we met Christophe Bop, the visual merchandising guru here we knew we would love what he said if only we could get it all. The CEO here listed a group of six French nationals at work here and inquired of a meeting group which one had the most pronounced French accent. Christophe won. For us, we have to listen quite closely to Christophe or we miss something important. As he would say, "Voilà!"


We have spoken before of our struggles with miscommunication. The time we wanted to shift the bathroom scale from Kilograms to Pounds (now mysteriously accomplished during our absence) so they sent someone to help us weigh our luggage. We wanted was to weigh ourselves--in pounds. Whenever we wanted "Americano" coffee rather than syrupy Arabic coffee, we struggle to make ourselves understood. Then there was the time when we wanted to understand if the mall entrance where we were being dropped off was the same as the mall entrance where we would be picked back up. The several times we tried to explain just how we would like our morning eggs cooked or how to describe the pastry variety we had so enjoyed the day before that was missing today. These are the hallmarks of international travel and for one to assume that a visit to the global metropolis called Dubai would alleviate such confusion would be nothing more than confusion itself. Unless you want to play Scrabble and the only board they have is in Arabic.

This is a place in the U.A.E.--the United Arab Emirates--that, for us at least, seems devoid of Arabs or Emiratis. We have had no contact with a true "local." They are elsewhere, in enclaves, in neighborhoods reserved for only them. We are among Indians or Brits or Pakistanis or French or Filipinos or Belgians or Seychellois or even Ugandans. We're not from here and neither is anybody else that we encounter. Maybe the reason for that is that Dubai is so close to everywhere. If you have an interest in traveling to a place, there is a good chance that Emirates Airlines has a non-stop that goes there.


One of our favorite acquaintances is Muddassar, an accomplished trainer, who hails from Pakistan. His accent is minimal. Others, particularly Christophe and Nicholas and May (French and Arab) are more difficult for our ears to follow. B4 said it to me just now: "Anyone who has a problem with diversity had better not come here." We cannot imagine a more diverse population anywhere. We are reveling in the same thing that causes others to recoil. But, it can be difficult to understand each other.


As we wrote only a couple of chapters ago, Russian nationals, solely due to global politics, are problematic for us. But "the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming" is more than a 1966 movie title here. The New York Time reports this morning: Tickets to visa-free destinations such as... Dubai...were either sold out for the next several days or their prices had skyrocketed. There were no one-way tickets out of Moscow to...Dubai for yesterday on an airline ticket aggregator that is popular in Russia. This uptick is being credited to Vladimir Putin's order to call up 300,000 Russian military reservists to active duty for the fight in Ukraine.

There is skepticism that all those aircraft seats are filled with tourists. Several months ago, Russia banned citizens from leaving the country with more than $10,000 in foreign currency. Locals report that Russians are asking how to incorporate in the UAE, obtain business licenses and open bank accounts, get their children into schools and find a place to live. One real estate agent, when asked by a Russian prospect what homes are available to buy, he first asks, "Where is your money?" If it is Russia, he says, "It's too late."

Of course, it isn't just thick Russian accents one hears. Clearly, the UAE is Russia's largest economic partner in the Gulf Cooperation Council, often referred to here as the GCC. But wealthy families and business owners escaping regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon often opt to come here as well. For the past several morning our concierge lounge breakfast venue has been visited by an Indian lady or a certain age. Finally, today we spoke. She is relocating here from Mumbai. "It's safe," she said. "And not expensive."

It's too early to credit this year's World Cup, which is being hosted by nearby Qatar beginning in November, for the influx of tourists and other visitors.


Even so, hotel occupancy here was up more than 40 percent in comparison with the first half of 2021 but such comparisons must take COVID travel restrictions into account. Even I was not traveling internationally much during that time frame, unable to get to Sri Lanka until August. There are so many reasons to come here. French daily Le Monde, reported a year ago that prostitution, banned but tolerated, has turned Dubai into a favored destination for sex tourism in the Gulf. When walking in old town a couple of weeks ago, we did spot hundreds of cards like this on the sidewalk. In keeping with other discriminatory social mores here, reports say, "Chinese, Filipino or Indian prostitutes are of lesser value than their Central Asian counterparts, who are still less appreciated than European women, whether Russian, Ukrainian or Western." I would be shocked to be told that there was a prostitute here (and certainly not one of Arab heritage) but I have been shocked before.

We have seen no evidence of anything of the sort but we are also not out and about in the evening in areas of Dubai where that sort of thing is likely to be witnessed. Other than our encounters after dinner one evening with provocatively dressed females heading into one mall-based entertainment area and these cards on the street, the idea that this is a sex tourism destination escapes us.


The happiest local news story of the day is this: Dubai: The life of Bharat BK, a 31-year old Nepalese father of two, who works as a car washman and earns Dh1,300 monthly ($354 U.S. Dollars), has drastically changed overnight after he bagged the top prize of Dh10 million during the 94th Mahzooz weekly raffle draw. Bharat, the top prize winner, said he does not even have a bank account to his name and the massive prize amount he won is equivalent to over 345 million Nepalese rupees. FYI: That amount is $2,722,559 USD. That is, for a Nepalese, a fortune beyond imagination. I pray the financial vultures of the world don't wrangle it away from him and that he can return to his native Nepal (if he so chooses) financially intact. "Bharat arrived in Dubai three years ago with a goal to make enough money to help him continue the treatment of his 25-year-old younger brother, who suffers from a brain tumour. His father works as a driver in India, and the father-son duo have been contributing to the medical expenses."

FYI: a ticket to the Mahzooz weekly raffle draw costs 35 AED: $9.35 U.S. To win the big prize, he had to match five out of five numbers. One wonders how a guy who earns $354 a month can afford to lay down almost ten bucks for a lottery ticket. The Mahzooz lottery web site reported it this way: Although he will receive an incredible amount of money, Bharat remains extremely humble, insisting that all he wants is to provide his family with a good life. “I am looking forward to paying off my mortgages and other bills as soon as possible”, he said. “It's important for me to set up the future of my two children aged 5 and 3 years old. This would be an incredible thing to be able to accomplish. This prize will enable me to achieve so much. It will change the lives of so many people!". Since Mahzooz started two years ago, Bharat has participated fervently without giving up hope that he would win one day.

Posted by paulej4 19:20 Archived in United Arab Emirates

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