Thursday, June 5, 2008

Portrait #14: Conniving Businessman

On my flight from Doha to Damascus, I found myself tightly sandwiched between a big middle-aged guy and a windowless wall. Fortunately, the big guy was aware of his size, and so took care not to spill over into my space too much, making the three hours spent in my tight space enjoyable enough. At first I spoke to him in English, but he only replied in Arabic. He was friendly and polite, for which I am grateful.

So it wasn't completely with displeasure that I found myself sitting next to him in the front row of the bus from the airport to Damascus. I told him that I was rather frustrated that we would pass right in front of my destination but the bus wouldn't stop to let me, or to be specific my bags, off, so I'd have to go all the way downtown then catch a taxi back out to the beginning of the airport road. Then I asked him where he lives. He said Jermana, which is right near where I wanted to be let off.

We chatted a bit and I learned that he owns a business in Qatar, but has recently handed it over to his two sons. One son has been in the business for several years, but the other son trained to be a doctor. After a few years trying to make it in medicine but unable to earn a large enough salary, he gave up on his profession and decided to join the family business. So three months ago he moved to Qatar, and now the family patriarch, my new friend, spends most of his time in Damascus and only goes to Qatar once every few months to check on things. He stays there longer in the winter when the weather's a bit better, but made a brief visit this summer, too.

After the bus was well on its way, he leaned forward and asked the driver's assistant to drop him off at Mufraq Germana (the same spot I'd been told was not going to happen). The assistant gave him the same answer he gave me: no, because he can't open the cargo hold until they pull into the bus station. Businessman insisted, assistant refused, businessman begged, assistant apologised, businessman protested, assistant said no and sat down. So businessman and I chatted for another minute or so. Then, as we were approaching the intersection in question, he called softly to the driver to pull over and let him disembark. The driver nodded and stopped the bus. My friend and I marched confidently down the stairs and the assistant had this disappointed-puppy-dog look on his face as he chastised my new friend, even while opening the cargo hold to get our bags out. Then the bus driver came out and had a full-blown shouting match with my friend, claiming that he could get a huge fine for this. Then he and his assistant got back in the bus, closed the door and drove away.

The businessman flagged me a taxi, helped me load my luggage into the taxi, and invited me to lunch. When I refused, he sent me on my way and walked the two blocks to his house.

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