New Friends Are Only 8,078 or 19 Miles Away

I had to land for a four hour layover in Dubai during my recent flights to and from South Africa. On the way to SA as soon as we landed I went to the Duty Free which actually is the entire airport area near the boarding gates in Dubai Airport now. I needed cigarettes. Wasn’t going to buy them in California at 8 dollars a pack and I was told they were 2-3 dollars a pack in SA. I didn’t figure they’d have any of the rather rare smokes I like though so I checked around the Duty Free and found cartons of Djarum Black for $13.26US and immediately bought a carton and headed to the nearest smoking lounge.

After I’d finished my first smoke another guy, middle eastern looking, walked in and sat at the next seat over around the same ashtray as me. We exchanged greetings and queries of where you going, where you from and such. The were are you coming from question for both of us had the same answer, San Francisco Bay Area. Our destinations couldn’t be much different. He was going to Afghanistan and I to South Africa.

Whiskeys of Scotland in airport of Dubai. My budget almost vomited. There are $30,000 bottles in that case.

Turns out the guy worked with our boys in brown over there during the war’s heyday and had moved at the first opportunity to California where he loves the climate and culture and clean & safe everywhere sort of feeling. The last remnants of his family, I gather, are in Afghanistan taking care of the last of their property holdings.

We chatted for a long while about religion, politics, war and sports and found that despite our mutual distaste for each other’s system of beliefs that we were perfectly happy to be in each other’s company and to talk, entertain and educate each other. After a while both of us were hungry and we retired to the nearest place where one can get shawarma. Having never really had an authentic regional copy I asked if I should get the sandwich or Arabic version (a wrap lightly grilled). He suggested the Arabic version and so we ordered. The food place had nice seating but didn’t serve alcohol so we both had what they called tea though it was doped with sweetened condensed milk and cardamom so heavily that it really resembled the taste of horchata more than tea. I was unused to the flavors but tried to enjoy them without a preconception. The tea worked to soothe and really broke the shawarma flavor up. The shawarma was, according to my companion, terrible if edible. I thought it would be spicier but was otherwise getting the distinct sensation that a Greek had introduced them to the gyro but called it shawarma so they wouldn’t get offended at it not being a local delicacy.

Arabic style shawarma. Broiled thin sliced meat, flatbread, salad, wrapped & grilled.

In the end we ate till just before my boarding time and then I ran full out to my gate to make my flight. My companion, whose name is Ghani, turned out to live not 20 minutes from my house so we traded contact info and agreed that we’d try to find a decent shawarma and continue our conversation upon our respective returns to the States.

In almost every way, the pair is incompatible. Opposites in so many ways. The salve for that problem though was to simply leave aside distaste and to engage in open and honest conversation where we didn’t bog down in the rote definitions of words. We defined the words with contentious possible meanings ourselves and left the “well that’s not what I call that” over to one side. It really made the conversation entertaining and educational.

If countries, religions, political movements and most of all groups of people could accomplish what we did there would be no international conflicts and fewer conflicts within individual nations. Live and let live gets you only so far. Sometimes you really need to deliberately set aside distrust or dislike and simply coexist.

Hi Ghani! Be safe in your travels and let me know when you’re back in the States. This time the dinner is on me.

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