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mardi 26 janvier 2010

What a Friendly welcome at AF Lounge at Dubai

In the west, Dubai is not perceived as a place of friendship. I arrived here after what seemed to be a very short flight from Paris. My connecting flight was still hours away and I had already enquired about an Air France lounge at Dubai airport, yes, we have one, said the appropriately attired man with a serious tone of voice at Lounge at Terminal 2 E.
the time was just close to 9 am, i peered into the lounge, nary a soul.. total silence. then suddenly a smiling face appears..I could immediately recognize a Burmese and a Shan at that, for he had very typical facial features of someone you would expect to meet near Taunggyi in southern part of Shan State in Myanmar. He welcomed me and waited for the AF uniform clad, attractive lady with no distinguishing national features in her face. She was also very friendly and informed me that the lounge would close at 12 noon and I can stay as long as that.
Capuccino, some fruits, two salmon finger sandwiches and i settled down to check emails and write emails.
Aung comes over, we began chatting about Burma, as is the case with burmese living overseas there is always a little reluctance to discuss their country, but he was as friendly as any burmese. i felt a nostalgia for that golden land where i had gone so many times and had made so many friends over the course of years and also all the affection and love I have gathered ..
Dubai airport is super modern, very comfortable, but it is like a skeleton with no personality, a shadow with no cultural identity. Every single person, hundreds of them milling around whether going to Quetta or coming in from Dhaka, with an occasional white skin on holidays to or from Maldives... every one was foreign. Filipinos, Subcontinentals predominated..I too became a foreigner among all these foreigners, for a moment when my foreigness beame no longer exotic.. i was in the tropical rainforest of trees and vines and i was just another leaf..
the only difference that this time tomorrow I would be giving a lecture at the University in Malaysia. No Peshawar for me, at this stage...I like this cultural chaos and enjoyed it.
Time passed by quickly, the air france announced the departure of its daily flight to Paris and then the lounge became empty and quiet, apart from the Burmese who was plying me with juice and other edible morsels ... and the lady with non descript nationality.
you can look at her photo and decide for yourself where she comes from.. the same curiosity took me to the table where she was sitting reading, dont tell me where you are from, let me guess? normally this exercise in placing people in the globe is very easy for me, but I am not an expert on this part of the world.
She turned out to be very pleasant, long chat with her, we talked about the Burqa controversy in France at the moment, that is not Islam, Koran does not say we must cover ourselves up. I knew what whatever country she came from, she has an open and liberal mind.
We played a game to guess where she came from. Truly, she had a face which did not give you a clue at all. She was from somewhere, somewhere foreign.. but that is a condescending attitude for an anthropologist.. I beg your pardon, miss.
the first clue was that her pronounciation of the letter b, was the one reminding you of a native arab speaker.. but the arab world stretches from Maghreb, meaning West to all the way to socotra! no she did not have features of somali, eritrean.. the only clue she gave me was that she was from Africa...
we are prejudiced, when someone says africa, we think of Ghana, South Africa, Zanzibar but not Libya! Do you speak Swahili, i asked her, with that answer one can rule out
all the swahili speaking countries in east africa, because she did look like a sophisticated version of Indian woman from East Africa, especially her dark straight hair.. No, i dont speak swahili. Not lebanon.. Not Palestine...
after about half an hour, she did tell me where she came from.. it was a total surprise to me.. i even asked, tell me some of the artists famous in your country, so that i could put one and one together.. she mentioned names i have never heard of ... ah well, this anthropologist was humbled .. it is almost as if the Great Spirit put her there, to teach humility to me, on this day, just before i fly off to KL to give a lecture to the faculty members of Monash University Malaysia.You can look at her face and decide for yourself where she is from..
Correct answer wins a brunch at Hotel Oriental in Kuala Lumpur, alas, airfare there not included...