Its drawing towards New Year...at least for me. As time moves closer to the the stroke of midnight I am pondering the last year and how I came to be here in Dubai; the decisions I had to make that allowed for this to happen, the people I have gained and lost along the way, the social and cultural capital this job post has provided, the creativity it has inspired in me, the sacrifices I have made both personal and professional, the places it will hopefully lead me...its been a quite a year and as always, I don't regret one minute of it!
How can I regret any of it when I am able to tell you a story most people never in their lives get to share...a story that starts with taking a picture of Santa on Sheikh Zayed Rd. in Dubai's Financial District and ends with a precious family memory too good to be made up:)))
(Cavaet: I am going to discuss some funny sweet moments of the Catholic Solemn High Mass I attended in Dubai and relate a story of my young cousin Ethan and if any Catholic thinks I am less than because of it...oh well. In the words of Wanda Sykes, I'm a be me! God certainly isn't going to be mad.)
My friend and colleague Shoaib took me to a really nice Italian restaurant in the Four Points Sheraton. We enjoyed better than good Italian food, drinks and a three hour conversation about work! Yeah, on Christmas Eve I attended a work dinner:)))
No judgement please. He and I and the rest of The Little Art staff are super busy and this was a time he and I could talk frankly about where The Little Art is, where it is going and where I fit into that picture. It was good and a cathartic experience at Christmas.
Following dinner, we caught site of Santa and never missing an opportunity to 'be me' i.e. a kid at heart, I got Shoaib to take a picture of me with him. I did resist the temptation to ask Santa if he rode a magic carpet to take him round to the houses on Christmas Eve in Dubai, but it was hard. C'mon, I mean we are in the Arabian desert!
We rode out to Oud Metha on the green line and quickly realised our concerns about finding the St. Mary's Catholic Church were unfounded. Shoaib pointed out that everyone getting off the metro seemed to be going to the church. I asked how he knew and he said, "They are wearing those crosses around their necks."
Alright, I'll admit that's fair enough indication and so like sheep in the herd, we made our way with the massive crowd to the church.
At this point I gasped loudly because there was no inside of the church...the courtyard and area around the makeshift nativity and grotto were jammed with people. We learned after being guided by the 'shepherds' (ushers) into a roped off area that the church, the football pitch, the two halls and gymnasium inside were all full. I had never in my life been surrounded by so many Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Indian and Phillipinos and it was absolutely beautiful. As we made our way in slowly to our spots next to a giant lit Christmas tree, I commented to Shoaib that I felt we were going to a concert for Jesus, to which we both kinda cracked up over.
(Before I get into this next part, I want to preface Shoaib's comments regarding certain parts of the mass with the following: at dinner he asked about the whole eating and drinking bit in the middle of the mass. I tried to break down transubstantiation but how can you do that in a couple of minutes?
Now, back to the Mass we were celebrating...
After carols and endless announcements that Shoaib questioned, about the way the Eucharist would be distributed and receiving the Eucharist 'only if you truly feel compelled in your heart and soul and can respond appropriately', the Mass started with the Archbishop of Bombay as the lead celebrant, followed by nine other priests.
The Mass processional began with 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' and a brightly lit Christmas tree star topper that was suspended above the congregants heads outside on a pulley system; and joltingly dragged over the congregants to the top of the manger, just as the Star of Bethlehem came to reside over Jesus' manger so long ago. Not a bad start really. I mean I had never seen anything like this in any Christmas Mass so why not, right? Little bit of showmanship to welcome Jesus. I was really enjoying it and feeling at home in the songs and the prayers.
Then out of nowhere, mid way through the second reading, Shoaib almost fell back over a woman standing behind us. (Yeah, if you thought we were sitting you are sadly mistaken!) I asked first if the woman was ok and she said yeah and then turned to Shoaib who sheepishly (get it, sheepish:))) said he was falling asleep. After sufficiently rolling my eyes I told him that jolt was the Holy Spirit slapping him across the face for falling asleep standing up, to which he grinned. Needless to say he did not fall asleep throughout the rest of the Mass, I suppose quite certain that the Holy Spirit might do more than slap him awake the next time:)
As we neared the time of the Eucharistic offering, Shoaib looked questioningly at me. I said, 'Look, its not a problem if you go. Cross your arms over your chest and the priest will know you just want to receive a blessing; but if you intend to take the Eucharist in this way, you should understand why you are doing it....do you?'
And then he said something I will never forget as long as I live....and I will likely giggle all the way to the alter for offerings I receive in the future....he said, 'No, its ok. You go up and get the Holy biscuit and I will wait back here for you.'
Have any of you ever laughed out loud in church? I mean HOWLED? I did, in a long line up to the priest. And as I went I remembered a story of my cousin Ethan. When he was about six or seven perhaps, he had a test in Catholic school on the catechism. One question he was asked was, 'What does INRI over the head of Jesus on the crucifix mean?' He missed this question on his quiz and this alone. Now that's a big question for an adult but a kid?
Its obvious we Catholics take that learning seriously!
(Ethan all grown up)
Upon learning he missed the question, my uncle gathered Ethan to him and asked him about it; when Ethan could not respond immediately my uncle said he would leave him for a bit to think it over and then ask him again later....and when he did, out of the mouths of sweet, innocent babes came Ethan's response. 'What does INRI stand for, son?' (In Latin it means Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) but in Ethan-speak it meant, 'Please don't kill me.' Only a child could have come up with so brilliant, logical and unabashedly truthful and sincere an answer.
So what can I say about my experiences in Dubai thus far as the year closes?....they don't disappoint in the comedy department and they bring back lovely memories that I had forgotten about and remind me of the special importance of my being here.