Friday, June 23, 2006

Dinner with Faisal

I once met a lady (named Sarah) who told me she had been a vegetarian in England, but found there was no way to be a vegetarian in the Orient. Having found a large number of vegetarian restaurants in the Orient, I didn't believe her at first. (I later found out she had a habit of fictionalizing, but her stories were usually based on actual events: she'd make herself the heroine of a true story in which she'd actually had no part.)

Then I went to Pakistan.

I went as a monotheistic non-Muslim who was very interested in learning about Islam as one of the world's great religions (having slept through Islam in my obligatory 'Overview of World Religions' class). My interest was mistaken as a desire to convert. My Imam took me to a madrassa and to visit a 'saint'. (Which provokes my usual disdain of Orientalists, who translated a Sufi word as 'saint'; whatever the correct English translation of the word, it certainly isn't 'saint.' It also provokes my intense disdain of the post-9/11 US, which now considers visits to Pakistani madrassas as being worth a one-way ticket to Gitmo.)

In Pakistan, refusal to eat meat is considered tantamount to polytheism. So, being more coward than vegetarian, I found myself cowered into eating a rather large quantity of goat, which is a rather strong-flavoured meat which I quite dislike (but dislike rather less than facing the apparently imminent alternative).

I am vegetarian partly as a 'green' measure: it takes far less resources to feed a person a vegetarian diet than a meat-based diet, enabling this world to adequately feed a far larger number of its inhabitants than it currently does. I am also vegetarian partly because my parents could afford the more expensive cuts of meat (mostly beef), and my own budget does not allow me to eat any of the meats I enjoy. So I try to avoid meat, if possible.

On Thursday, Faisal called to say he was outside my flat, and wanted me to join him for dinner. I went down, and he took me to his house, where he cooked me a beef steak. Under the circumstances, I felt I could not refuse, so I ate it. Before going to Faisal's house, I had asked if I would have to take a taxi home (about €10, which is currently a rather large sum in my budget), or if he would be able to give me a lift home. 'No problem, I'll take you home. You'll be home before 10:00 p.m.'

At midnight, I said I'd have to leave, and asked if I should take a taxi. 'No, I'll drive you home. My wife and kid will go with us.'

Faisal's mobile rang, and Faisal said, 'Wait inside, I'll be back in a minute.' I waited a minute, then followed Faisal outside. His wife followed his orders and stayed inside with his son.

When I got outside, Faisal was screaming at and shoving a man wearing the outfit normally worn by Citizens. (The outfit is called a kandoura; the local translation is 'dish-dash;' the standard English is 'tunic.' The man was actually an Arab ex-pat, not a Citizen.) The man was shouting, 'GIVE ME THE KEYS, OR I CALL POLICE.'

As is quite common here, the kandoura-clad Arab ex-pat assumed all other ex-pats would immediately capitulate, since a real Citizen can (often) have any ex-pat arrested and deported, for any reason or for no reason. And that's if the Citizen doesn't hold grudges: the penalties a Citizen with connections can impose on ex-pats may go far beyond mere arrest and deportation. However, Faisal knew the man wasn't a Citizen, and had no more influence on the authorities than Faisal himself.

I could hear Faisal's child screaming from the balcony of their flat. Everyone in Faisal's Emirate could hear Faisal. Finally, the Arab ex-pat drove off, Faisal went back to his flat, and I followed. Faisal told his wife to wait for him while he drove me home. His kid screamed as we left (the kid is quite attached to his father). We went back down to the car park.

'WHERE'S MY F8(*I&(^ CAR?'

Faisal's car was nowhere to be seen. It seems the Arab ex-pat had demanded Faisal's key as insurance, though he had another key to the car. I have no idea who is the lawful owner of the vehicle, but if possession is 9/10 of the law, I'd say the Arab ex-pat is currently 90% ahead. In any case, I had no choice but to take a taxi home. Faisal negotiated an €8 fare (rather than the usual €10 fare) with an Egyptian who had no idea how to get to Dubai. The driver picked up another passenger who directed him to Sharjah, and, from Sharjah, I was able to direct him to my flat in Dubai. At 2:00 a.m. Rather later than I'd planned, but it was Thursday night, which is like Saturday night in the West, so it wasn't too bad.

Tonight, Faisal hasn't a car, so I dined alone. Strictly lacto-vegetarian, I might add.


Blogger CG said...

Crikey...I don't think I would trust Faisal again. Going over the 'border' past Sharjah is also risky after midnight. Once there was an attempted coup in Sharjah and they closed the borders down. I had a friend who was stuck in Sharjah, well for the day at least.

I like a nice steak, but it really has to be worth it. I cannot tolerate poor quality cuts.

12:39 pm  

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