Monday, March 11, 2013

An Encounter - at my little beach in Abu Dhabi

Adopted beach
It just might be the littlest beach in Abu Dhabi.

A few days ago, I rode my regular Zayed Grand Mosque bicycle route. It was breezy, due to the shamal, a northwesterly wind that blows over Iraq and across the Gulf, bringing airborne sand, reducing visibility and breathability, and lifting plastic bags and other trash into the air. So I elected to make it a relatively short 45-minute ride.

The workers' standard greeting is not "Hello."
It's "How are you?"
Maybe it was the effect of the shamal, or maybe they are getting used to seeing me out there, but right from the beginning, something was different about that morning. All of the workers tending the landscaping were especially friendly, pausing and waving to me as I passed, calling “How are you?” One even hailed me to come talk to him. “Where are you from?” He attempted to chat me up a bit, and I was friendly but didn't stop long, not wanting to get him into trouble for taking time off from planting petunias. No doubt there are cameras all along the route, because I ride past the Abu Dhabi Police Officers Club, under the Zayed and Maqtaa bridges, and past the Armed Forces Headquarters.

On the way back after the turnaround, I decided to stop at the Maqtaa Bridge, drink some water, and observe the current running under the bridges – where I was swirling around on my SUP in last year’s blog story, Caught at Maqtaa Bridge. As I sat there looking at the little beach before me, I couldn't help but notice the trash. Water bottles, food containers, and plastic bags, all left by workers who come there to relax, eat, and fish. And birds, picking their way around. Much of the trash had been blown up against the fence by the shamal, so that the end of the little beach was acting like a sink, collecting refuse.
Biking 035
Maqtaa Tower and Zayed Bridge. A great place to contemplate life, gazing at old and new.
Well, I thought. I can reach that bag floating in the water; it looks somewhat like a jellyfish and needs to come out. So I got up, fished the bag out of the water and began collecting trash to fill it. It’s such a small beach that it didn't take long for me to collect pretty much all the trash into two bags, which made a huge aesthetic difference. I decided not to venture around the other side of the dilapidated barbed wire fence, even though I could have easily gotten past it. I sat with my bike, sipping my water and contemplating the view.

Apparently I was being watched.

Paddle under bridges 012
A view from the water, on my board. The little beach is on the right.
Just a few moments passed, and then a vehicle pulled up and stopped. The door opened, and a soldier in a black jumpsuit and cap – Emirates Special Forces – got out and came over to me. I thought it best to let him speak first.

He picked up my two bags of trash. “Thank you," he said. "Thank you." I had been planning to take the trash with me on my bicycle to the next debris box along the route. “Where are you from?” he asked. “USA,” I said, “and, you're welcome. And thank you for taking the trash.” I pointed at the beach. “What a mess!” He nodded, then shook his head. What can they do? He thanked me again and drove off, circling around and honking and waving as he passed by again.

As I got on my bike to ride home, I felt great. A few moments later, I saw something I had never seen before – about a hundred guys exercising on steps. I was in such a good mood that I waved and called out the Arabic greeting, “Salaam alaikum!” (Peace to you.) And they called back, with a chorus of “Alaikum salaam!” And there was a lot of surprised laughter.

It felt good to tell the soldier that I’m American, and I think my little cleanup gesture made a good impression on him. It helps to be on good terms when you cruise their neighborhood regularly. So I've decided to adopt that little beach, and every time I ride there, I'll check for trash to pick up. I’m doing it for myself, because I miss working in my yard in Nevada, and for the birds and the fish. And I’m doing it so that I can feel like I’m giving something, however small, back to Abu Dhabi.

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