Gradually, I became more comfortable greeting the visitors to our stand at Arab Health in Dubai, and it got easier to find conversation starters.
One woman, beautifully dressed in a multi-colored sari, happened to wear a pink shawl the exact color of my jacket. We had no language in common, but she understood when I pointed to her shawl and said, “Pretty,” with a big smile, then laid my arm next to hers. She understood and responded by motioning to her colleague to help with the conversation.
She is a researcher and was looking for specific pieces of equipment. I helped her navigate the complicated floor plan and find, perhaps, what she needed. She and her colleague had a short conversation I couldn’t understand, and then they asked for our brochure and about the languages we handle.
If they order from us, she will always be my pink client.
Another woman told me she is a pharmacist from Saudi Arabia and is doing master’s research. I asked about her topic and told her about my own thesis. I immediately recognized a kindred spirit and hope we can keep in touch—even if she never becomes a client.
Not all conversations were so pleasant, of course. A man introduced himself as Syrian but living in Germany. When I said that people all over the world were praying for his country, he stepped me into a corner and talked about how his family had been displaced. His father is so depressed they worry he may be suicidal. And his laboratory—“my beautiful laboratory I built with my own hands”—has been bombed out of existence. The people have had all their means of production destroyed and now are forced to import many items they had previously made themselves. He is convinced there is more underhanded politics wrapped up with commercial interests than the world knows.
I wish our peace negotiators had been at the stand with me that day.