My Mama always told me “Don’t talk to strangers.” So, as a child, I’ve always learned to keep my head down and my mouth shut when sitting amongst strangers. And this habit, I’ve managed to take along into adulthood. I’d manage to find ways to not speak to strangers; hence, is striking up a conversation, more so keeping up small talk, is not one of my strongest suits. But what do I do when thrown into a situation that I actually am itching to talk to more people aside from my husband, his friends and my virtual buddies and family from back home?
Sorry, Mama. I didn’t do what you’ve always asked me to. I attempted to talk to strangers.
I don’t know what was it about Dubai. Maybe, in one of our desert outings, I inhaled a grain of sand with the steroid enhanced friend making powers. Or maybe a friendliness enhancing drug was dusted on the creamy hummus I bought across the street from my new home. Or maybe the reality of being away from people I know and love set in. I was lonely and needed to expand my social circle beyond The Husband’s friends, who have embraced me as part of their little group. It just wouldn’t hurt if I found friends on my own, who enjoyed food as much as I did. I knew that I was ready to talk to strangers. Talk about my life, my home country and my Dubai experience so far. I wanted to talk and talk and talk some more.
My hands were shaking. My palms sweaty. Not that the 40 degree Celsius summer weather at six in the evening helped. This is it. No turning back as The Husband already sped off back onto Sheikh Zayed Road to get to work, while I was standing in front of Singapore Deli in the heart of Karama, one of the older, dingier neighborhoods of glitzy Dubai, where A, Dubai food blogger, said the group would be having dinner. After a deep inhale, I pushed the glass doors and was greeted with an excited shriek and a warm hug: “You made it!”
“Everyone this is Didi. She’s a blogger to and new to Dubai.” A introduced me to the rest of the group.
“Welcome to Dubai!”
Hand shaking. Hands waving. They were all smiles. It was an intimate group of six bloggers and friends and me, the Dubai newbie. I managed a tiny wave, smiled and whispered “Hello.” I couldn’t believe it. They’re not killers nor creepy people as The Husband feared them to be.
I made my way to my seat at the end of the long table as A chattered away while flipping through Singapore Deli’s menu, helping navigate the direction of the group’s meal by asking E, the resident Southeast Asian food expert, questions on what was best to eat. I was jumping inside with pride of my feat, but I kept my composure, listening in and occasionally contributing to the food knowledge transfer between the United Colors of Bloggers.
After the first bites of our Singaporean feast on the table: nasi lemak, nasi goreng, sambal tempeh and more, they started catching up on each other’s stories. This included current events, which I was oblivous to as I admittedly am not an avid follower of news. Once the conversation was overtaken by a discourse on the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal and gripes on the Dubai expat life, heads huddled closer together and voices hushed into murmurs and whisper. Why are they lowering their voices? Is there something wrong? Are we allowed to talk strangers, but not really talk talk? I was about to ask, but I retreated back into my shell, continued to listen and smile, genuinely happy to have disobeyed my Mama, talking to strangers, this time around.
Though from then on, I’ve learned another lesson: to keep my Dubai stories under lock and key, within the confines of our flat (i.e. apartment) amongst good friends, holding my tongue until it was numb to the pain; because you really never know who is eavesdropping to your conversations. But now that I’ve left that country and I’m in the land of free speech, I think that it is about time to get some of those stories out into the open.
P.S. Some news bits to enlighten you include the story of an Indian man who was arrested because he filmed a local (i.e. Emirati) beating up another Asian man and the story of the American expat who spent a year’s worth of Dubai jail time because of a satirical video he produced. Check out his satirical video here