Who talks to truckers? I mean, what all-white-western-woman talks to Pakistani truckers? What supposidly-superior white western woman with THINGS to do, and places to GO, talks to Pakistani truck drivers?
A group of them just happened to be eating lunch, amongst others praying on the verge right outside my home with their long line of trucks parked behind them.
And as much as everything in me screamed, “you’ll intrude”, “what if they ogle”, “there are too many men and no other woman and in their culture women blah blah and men blah blah cupcake” and “what if they don’t like cupcakes”?
I dunno. But I did….
Walk across the road, right outside my home, to talk to truckers, taking a tray of cupcakes with me.
As usual the conversation started with “Good afternoon, does anyone here speak English?” And as usual in these situations only one did. His name was Javud and he was sitting cross-legged on his prayer mat. Others sat on flattened cardboard boxes and most had a plastic tray with flavoured rice and a tub of yoghurt in front of them. All their shoes were off and the spiritually necessary large bottle of water used to wash before prayer and food left a wet trail along the road.
Javed looked up at me, right hand covered in food, the back of his left hand wiping the yoghurt off his chin. When he saw my camera his left hand quickly covered his face smearing white streaks across his cheeks.
“No picture please.”
“There is problem, we must move from here?” he inquired.
“No, no problem at all. Please stay seated and stay here. This is not my property, you can sit where you like and I’m so glad you’re sitting in the only tiny patch of shade on this road. It’s too hot to sit in the sun. If you not happy with pictures, no problem I’ll put my camera away but I would like to talk to you”
“No, no picture for me, for them (sweeping the yoghurt hand across to the other men) okay”
“I can take pictures of them but not of you?”
“Thank you and here are some cupcakes for you.”
At which I was suddenly surrounded with hands, many hands wanting a small bit of sweetness. I quickly went back home to get some more. And that’s when I realized there would be no names attached to pictures, if I was lucky enough to get any names at all.
But I did.
Javud, Amir, Sidali, Miraja, Saber, Ashram, Abbas, Manhoor Kashif, Mohammed and
Ali…. “ooh like me, I’m also Ali” I said, gesturing wildly. We all laughed and the bantering flowed between them. I wondered if they understood English and were just too shy to speak or if I was the new subject of an inside joke. I went back to asking questions of Javud. The usual story: In Dubai because of money. Families back home in Pakistan. Company housing with 6-8 men in a room. Around 40 children between them back home in Pakistan. A collective many years spent in Dubai. No other option. Home visits once a year for long service, once every second year if a rookie.
Nothing different, and the common look of sadness in their eyes when speaking of home and their loved ones, always there. I’ve come to recognize it. It’s a peculiar stare to nowhere that comes from the depth of their souls, buried under years of hurting and hoping and I’m-doing-this-for-my-family-so-I’ll-just-get-on-with-it-what-to-do?
And then an interesting thing happened? Javud turned the conversation to me.
You have family here? Your children small? (Oh I do love being asked that, inferring that I look young enough to have young children – well that’s what I want to think anyway) I answered that my children were neither young or small and gestured that they were both big boys with lots of muscles. Much laughter again. These men were enjoying the show. And so was I.
And then the clanger:
“You have education?” “Yes I do.”
“Your husband have education?” “Yes he does.”
“Your children have education?” “Yes they do.”
“Then you have everything. We work because we want education for children too.”