How many times do we tell people in a day that what you hear and what you know are two different things? This could be a statement like “all roughnecks are a problem” if you’re in Williston, ND. But I know a bunch, and while we were all kinds of trouble back in the day, these guys basically want to work and live the life they have. Are there troublemakers in town? Yup, I see friends posting about it and read it in newspaper articles every day. But I *KNOW* that these guys, my friends, aren’t usually the cause of all of this. It’s, in many ways, propaganda. Or glamorizing things to catch attention. Or both.
So to rephrase the question: Is perception a reality, or is reality a perception?
Feel a bit like Neo in The Matrix yet? Here’s a hint: take the red pill. Wake Up.
Where is this coming from, you may ask? You see, I watch at least one hour of news every day and generally two. I don’t ONLY watch Fox News, contrary to what most of you might think given my general conservative leanings. I watch news that captures my interest. MSNBC, FNC, CNN, heck, even David Gregory and George Snuffleuffugus on Sunday Mornings… I watch them all if there’s something interesting and not really partisan. But thinking about it, they all do one thing: they paint the Middle East as a collection of people that ALL hate America. Some are more extreme than others. But they all repeatedly discuss this protest against America and its ilk.
I get it. Bad News Sells. You can’t sell news if there’s not a bad guy.
But, there is so much more than that. Making the statement “The Middle East hates America” is roughly the equivalent of saying “All Americans are in the Ku Klux Klan.” It is just not true. Don’t believe me? Here’s a story that, if I were really not welcome, if I were truly hated, would never happen. And it proves my point that reality is never what propagandists want you to believe.
In 2012, the family and I moved from our villa in Jumeriah Village Circle (JVC) in Dubai to a different Emirate. How we got there isn’t really a matter of fodder for this blog, but on May 1st 2012, we moved to our new villa in Umm al Quwain (hereafter referred to as UAQ), at a development called the Umm al Quwain Marina. It was an Emaar project that failed to get off the ground in the real estate collapse of 2008/2009. This development was to be the prototype development that all the other developments around would be based upon. The commute from UAQ to Dubai is between 65km and 90km (depending upon which part of Dubai and which route you could take) so it’s roughly the equivalent of commuting from some exurbs in major American cities into the business centers.
Basically, it was the Arabian version of Buffalo, MN. And we called it home. Just like Home
Home, as a certain 14-year-old-female-friend-of-the-family would call Buffalo, but warmer.
One of the benefits of living on the edge of the big city was the ability to quickly and easily get on my bike and ride. And, more importantly, not die while riding my bike. By June 2012, I had been riding my bike every day for a month. I was getting fit, I wasn’t getting saddle-sore any more, and I was really just enjoying my time on the bike.
One day I wanted to do a long(er) ride. I started out with 20Km rides, working my way up and it was time for a breakthrough ride. I’d been doing 40Km (25mi) rides for over a week, and wanted to push that to 80Km (that’s 50 miles for my American friends) and see how it goes. Because of where I lived, it required two things: a plan and LOTS of fluids. By the middle of June, the temps at 9a are pushing 100F, so you can imagine the amount of water on the bike.
So I put together the plan, and headed out. My ride out took me east, out past Emirates Road, past the Dubai Bypass Road, and out into the desert. And by desert, I mean DESERT. Think of things like camels walking alongside the road, djinns, wadis, and sand dunes. About 15miles out, I rode past a camel track. And stables. I got in a race with a local Emirati boy out riding a camel, and training another.
I biked out to Al Rashidiya in UAQ, about 24 miles out, and started heading back. Here’s where the ride got a bit surreal.
About 30 miles in, I flatted. And it was getting warm. In fact, I was sweating out more than I was taking in, and I felt it. If you’ve ever been riding in 100F heat, you know what happens when you stop: a flood of sweat starts coming off your head. I had sweat in eyes, stinging, everything. Plus, I had to change my tube.
So here I am, a guy who’s obviously not an Arab, riding my bicycle in the middle of nowhere in the Arabian peninsula, with nothing other than my Emirates ID and my mobile phone. Changing a flat. I got it changed, pressurized the tube (thank the Lord in Heaven for CO2 cartridges) and started riding. And about 400yds up the road, I flatted again. I swore. Lots.
Time to change the flat again and, oh, no… I’m on my last tube.
Enter, the surreal. In the form of an Emirati in a white Toyota Land Cruiser.
This gentleman, because he truly was, pulled up next to me and asked me, in VERY broken English, if he could help. In fact it was this:
“My Friend, I help!”
I thanked him, but told him that I’d be fine. I just had to change the tire. He offered a ride. I told him it was fine, that I was just changing a tire. He offered dates for a snack. I’m NEVER one to turn down dates, so yes, I’ll take some. He offered water. Knowing I had about 12 km (8mi) left, I took him up on it to refill my water bottles. He asked if I was sure if I didn’t want a ride, and I thanked him again, but said I really wanted to ride. He smiled and said to me words I’ll never forget:
“You ride safe, Insha’Allah!”
Yes, he did. I half expected based upon that phrase to get nailed by a herd of wild donkeys thanks to him going and throwing it to Allah’s will, but hey, gotta get home. So I thanked him, wished him a peaceful journey, and started pedaling away.
And then it struck me… He hadn’t driven past me. In fact, if I listened close, I could hear the Land Cruiser bumping along ON THE SHOULDER. BEHIND ME.
So, what does one do in this situation? One glances over his left shoulder. And there was a Land Cruiser, with the hazards on, travelling behind me at my pace, making sure I wasn’t going to get hit from behind.
We carried on like this for about 5k. Until just before I went past the Dubai Bypass Road, which at the time was an incredibly dangerous roundabout.
As I was biking up the hill just before the roundabout, he pulled up next to me and told me he had to go to work. He couldn’t “watch for me” anymore, and that his brother was coming to drive behind me. While I am riding.
Again, a bit surreal, but okay…
Just as I came out of the roundabout, I noticed that I had a car behind me again. This must be the Emirati’s brother. I looked back and what did I see? A UAQ Police SUV. With the lights flashing.
All the way in to the police station, which, if you are looking at the map, is at mile 45. I had a police escort through into and through town, all the time with the lights flashing and his hazards on.
It’s this memory, this incredible little slice of time, that I remember when I see the news and hear about riots or hatred of the USA. It’s there, I know it. But that’s NOT the norm. It’s not ANY experience that I ever had, and of my many Muslim acquaintances I made in my two years in the desert, I never experienced it. Not once.
And, the stuff you see on the news? On Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Tumblr or any other social media site? You have to look past it. It’s not the only thing that is there. There is an incredible capacity to care about humanity in the people.
And, God Willing, we’ll all be able to see that someday.