Unlikely conversation

As Tara and I left the preppy London store called Jack Wills in the Dubai mall, we spotted Mark waiting for us outside a coffee shop sitting on a chair in a sofa/chair seating area. As I sat down, my eyes caught the eyes of a man dressed in a long white robe that I’m accustomed to seeing in the UAE. I said, “Marhaba” to him.

That simple greeting, translated means “hello” started a wonderful, lively and educational conversation that I am so grateful for.  See, I learned that he is from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He and his wife and two daughters were in Dubai on “holiday”, a.k.a. vacation. He has six children, all educated. He was a school superintendent for 17 years for the largest area in KSA.  I saw the ladies as I perused the Jack Wills store, but I didn’t greet them, although I really wanted to, especially the daughter carrying the lovely purple handbag.

Mark and Tara engaged them as well and we all learned so much! For example, in the UAE, the men’s national dress is called a  kandura, an ankle-length white tunic woven from wool or cotton, and most Emirati women wear an abaya, a black over-garment that covers most parts of the body. (wiki) In Saudi Arabia, the men usually wear an ankle length garment woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by an agal) worn on the head. (wiki) This man had on the thawb and only the crotched skull cap on his head, no keffiyeh.

The women were completely covered in black abaya and niqāb, only revealing their beautiful dark brown eyes.

They told us about their university experiences and their city Riyadh, the largest city with a population of well over five million people. I asked them what would happen to me if I was in Riyadh dressed in my attire of the day, shorts to my knees, t-shirt covering my shoulders and sandals. The man told me I would be escorted by police to change my clothes, no physical violence would ensue.  They pride themselves on tradition and culture.

This family enlightened us so much and were so friendly and at ease talking with us. As they left, they told us to enjoy our weekend and they enjoyed talking with us. The richness of their smiles and stories will not be forgotten.

Have you said “hello” to someone new lately?




Leave a Reply