Somewhere along the neverending Jumeirah Beach Road in Dubai, within view of world famous sky scrapers and people enjoying themselves on the beach, you’ll find a little oasis of healthy food and unique style. The place is Comptoir 102, a concept cafe created and run by my guests on today’s podcast: Alexandra de Montaudouin and Emma Sawko. While their place may not be far from downtown, this little cafe is in a very different world from the brand name corporate culture that took root in Dubai more than a decade ago.
Ali Al Saloom, better known on the internet as Ask Ali, came on the scene in the same way many of us podcasters, bloggers, and other independent content creators did over the past 10 years; with an idea and a dream. His goal, to teach the world about his people and his culture, to dispel myths and contribute factual information about the UAE. The result: thousands of published answers to all kinds of questions about the UAE, a successful cultural consultancy service, and an internationally recognized representative of a country and a culture that until recently were little known or poorly understood
A pioneer in both new media and internet outreach, Ali can run down the list of reasons people around the world are coming to this region and he is proud of what his nation has accomplished. At the same time he sees the risks and responsibilities that come with success and wealth, as he talks about the things that concern him in the near future.
While much of my journey has been about taxi drivers and the wisdom they can share about this place and life as a whole, a conversation with Ali Al Saloom provides a rare chance to hear from a citizen of this nation and to learn from his unique experience.
Frank Edward Nora believes, as that now cliché Chinese proverb says, we actually do live in very interesting times. Part of his love and dedication to creating original audio content and preserving bits of audio from the past is because of his interest in what will be available for future generations. For over ten years he has produced the Overnightscape, a personal audio journey, a chronical of one man’s daily life and thoughts in the New York City Tri-State area.
Years ago, when I finally put my last name on the front door bell of my home in Amsterdam, I began getting visits from Jehovah’s witnesses. Not just any run-of-the-mill witness, but Portuguese and Brazilians who noticed my last name and figured – here’s a guy we can talk to!
Sure enough, each time they rang, I would come out to greet them. Usually it was the kindest elderly Portuguese couple that reminded me of all my favorite relatives. Other times I would chat with two middle aged Brazilian ladies who were always smiling and pleasant. In either case a long tradition began, the word was out: some Portuguese guy lives in that house and he’ll talk to you, he’ll even invite you in for tea sometimes.
Why would I, a person who has no religion and no desire for one, spend so much time chatting with people who are constantly asking me if I believe in all these religious names and writings? My simple answer is- I live far from the Portuguese environment I grew up in back in New Jersey, I miss the daily contact and the language that brings me right back to my childhood and my family somehow. I’ll watch a copies of the newsletter pile up in my recycling bin; I’ll never turn one down. I’ll even dodge the question of whether or not I read the last one, so as not to hurt their feelings.
There is another reason I speak with Jehovah’s witnesses- the journalist in me is fascinated by people and their life missions. I obviously have mine, right here on this website. And I know how hard it can be, to carry on, to be heard, and to keep your faith (in my case, faith in my own abilities). I imagine my gentle Portuguese couple, walking the cold streets of Amsterdam, and getting doors slammed in their face. It makes me sad and want to boost their spirits, by preparing the tea and asking questions about their home towns and their families. Sure, they can ask me a few questions about god in exchange, it is a fair trade I suppose.
People probably think Jehovah’s Witnesses are weird. Part of me does. But if I think longer about it, about all the beauty in a warm greeting and friendly conversation over tea, I’m reminded of all the other missions people have in this world that are deemed understandable. People dedicated to making money. People dedicated to their partners or children. People dedicated to their art. These things are not all the same, but I see a certain similarity between everyone and their personal missions. Even those who’s mission is religions, one of my least favorite topics.
Not surprisingly, while I was visiting New Jersey in late 2012, I answered the door at my parents’ house. There, standing before me, were two Brazilian Jehovah’s Witnesses asking for my father by name like he was an old friend. “Is your father home? We normally chat with him and he always accepts our literature.”