Archive for money
With thousands of dollars wrapped up in a paper envelope and tucked away in my backpack, I packed onto a bus for the Dubai Airport — Terminal 2, where budget flights leave daily for all the places they don’t let most of us go anymore. Kuwait isn’t one of those places. In my role as “trip leader” (I couldn’t help but think of the line in Star Wars where one of Luke’s friends radios “Roger, red leader,” before exploding into a billion pieces), my job was to keep things safe.
We launched out of Dubai and very simply left The World behind. In less time than it took to drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, we were descending over a stretch of oil-soaked desert so barren it looked like a sandbox that had engulfed some of those old spiny antennae TVs used to have.
I stepped into the elevator holding a bottle of French pastis that I hadn’t been drinking. In such cases, I expect always to run into Arab women wearing abayas and demeaning scowls. This time, it was one of my building’s non-university Emirati men, thirtyish, in a khandura.
“Thalatha w’ashriin. Twenty-three,” I slurred. I had, however, been drinking something else. I repeated my floor once again. He pressed thirty-two.
“Studying hard?” he smiled.
“Oh, I… I’m working here. I was just picking this up from a friend.” All true, but still bullshit’s doppelganger. My floor came.
An hour later I was up at the pool on our building’s glassed-in roof. Outside the gym, the sauna read 115 degrees Celsius (239 Fahrenheit) — just about hot enough to roast shawarma. So I got out, showered, and too dizzy and lightly broiled to manage a towel, just got back dripping into the elevator.
Sri Lanka Part Nine
Kandy revealed itself in the morning, pressed against a wide sunny lake invisible the night before. We left our hotel — the cheapest of a certain class in Kandy, with dark gray carpet and heavy curtains and clearly designed for vampires — for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. The entrance fee: more than 10 US dollars — a shock after driving through towns where so much could buy dinner for a week. “We’ve come from America,” we suggested, readjusting our sarongs. Half price. Is it okay to get a deal at a temple?
The temple is stunning, not for its size or for the goldenness of its Buddha statue, but for the smells of floral offerings on the second floor, and the beautiful devotion with which they are laid. Common practice is to touch the flowers with flat hands and fingers outstretched, to lean forward to touch them again further along the table, then to pray with palms pressed together above the heart, and lift them to the forehead. I stayed bent over to smell the flowers. “Wow, this American is very devoted,” they might have thought. “Mmmmmm,” I was thinking.
They all sat outside the amphitheater selling bills, most no longer worth their ink, most from a decade of a ruler demised, or a leader deposed. Saddam Hussein glared up from the street, girdled in wide greenish-blue dinar. Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and African heads of state lay side by side in neat spreads replicated near identically by each squatting vendor.
For 1 JD, about a buck-fifty, any one of them can be yours. Buy more and strike bargain territory. I took greater interest in those currencies long out of print, those minted in a day when one language was good enough and a banknote never traveled far. Just across the border from a land divided, a land that was once theirs, these money markets are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what the bill can buy now. It doesn’t matter what it ever could have bought. It doesn’t matter what it’s selling for on eBay — now it costs one Jordanian Dinar.