Friday, October 29, 2010

Life with Farook, the beginnings...

I met Farook several years ago, when he was at the zenith of his second or third career. I have no idea what he did before I met him, since, although he's told me many times, the stories are all different, but when I met him he was fairly successful, with a bustling business and several employees.

I was in a part of Dubai where persons of the European ethnic group seldom go, if they know what's good for them. By which I mean, people will insist on offering generous, Islamic hospitality, and one finds one's self forced to eat foods no European ethnic has dared to taste before, with serious consequences for the digestive system, but one cannot be rude and refuse.

So Farook saw me and insisted I come up to his office for tea and sweets, and would not take 'No,' for an answer. I found the office crowded with people, but I didn't know who any of them were. Some spoke Arabic with each others, but others did not, so communication between them, the Arabs, and me, was in broken English.

As soon as I got there, he told someone who must have been one of his employees to give me tea, which she did, and, on the table in front of me was a huge tray of Arabic sweets to eat with my tea. Then he turned and spoke in Arabic with the Arabs, then turned and spoke in broken English to the non-Arabs. Finally, he got back to me, made a bit of small talk, had an employee give me Arabic coffee, and turned back to the Arabs.

After about an hour of my sipping his tea and coffee and tasting his sweets, Farook asked me if I needed a new flat. He said he could get me something cheaper and better than whatever I was staying in. I said I was sorry, but I'd just signed a year's lease, and could not move. Then he asked me if I needed an office, but I said I worked for an employer who provided me with an office. Then he asked me if I had anything I wanted to buy or sell, and said he could find me a seller or buyer who would give me the best price, but I said I was OK for now, and had to wander off to work.

I would have thought he'd have given up on me at that point, but every time I walked past his office, he'd rush out and invite me to come up for more tea, Arabic coffee, and sweets or sometimes sandwiches.

It was to prove a long-lasting relationship, one that has provided me with an insight, of sorts, into a part of the world I never imagined I'd see before I found myself living here.

Prediction, as they say, is very difficult if it's with respect to the future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Columbus Day

I hope it's still Columbus Day, the Day Christopher Columbus discovered the Indian Islands (sort of).

Almost everything I was taught in school was wrong. The story I learned in school was that everyone (except Columbus) thought the world was flat, but Columbus knew the world was round, and that one could reach India by sailing due west.

As I learned much later, most educated people in the 15th century knew the world was a globe, but sailors knew that most ships could only sail with the wind.

William of Normandy had to wait until the wind was from the east before he could sail to invade England.

Richard, Coeur de Lion, had to wait until the wind was from the west before he could sail to Palestine.

The Vikings used galleys, which meant the hold was full of rowers. Before the 11th century, they could row from Scandinavia to England, where the rowers transformed into soldiers and won battles, but by the 12th century, an army needed matériel, which a galley could not transport, so the Viking attack on Harold (transported by galleys) failed, while the French attack (transported by sailing ships) succeeded.

Before the 15th century, ships could only sail with the wind. If the wind was from the east, a ship could sail any compass point from South by Southwest by South to North by Northwest by North, but not due North or South, or any compass point with an East in it. Then the Italians figured out how to sail against the wind. But the heads of the various Italian states only wanted to dominate the Med.

Columbus approached the Spanish King and Queen, and they funded three ships that could sail against the wind, to celebrate their victory over the Muslims (a victory that moved Spain from the most advanced nation on earth to among the most backward).

Initially, the wind was an east wind, and the sailors were afraid they'd get far from Spain and would never get back, and the sailors were ready to mutiny. Then the went turned into a west wind, and the sailors knew they could get home quickly if food and water ran out. And Columbus managed to sail to the New World. Where he found huge amounts of gold.

The gold, as it turned out, caused hyperinflation in Spain, and Spain, after a brief period dominating the world, collapsed, nevermore to rise.

And, of course, Columbus brought the annihilation of many of the pre-Columbian native American tribes.