Dubai Diaries: Drinking coffee and stargazing with friends

Everyone needs some time out from the routine of their daily lives, once in a while.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 1 Mar 2022, 12:56 PM

"Let’s go down for coffee, I’m feeling really sleepy.”

In the late 90s, when I was employed by an outsourcing centre in India, I encountered the night shift for the first time in my life. It was a long three months where work took place between 11pm and 7am.

The things my colleagues and I did to keep ourselves awake ranged from the ludicrous to the desperate. Gradually we grew immune to the caffeine that the small chai and coffee shop downstairs provided in abundance, but still happily ran up a huge bill each month.

We chatted animatedly at break time, hoping the constant flow of conversation would be a deterrent to the gigantic yawns that reared their heads every five minutes or so.

What I recollect most from this memorable and amusing (not to mention sleepy) experience was the time we spent at the chai shop in the thick of night, when almost the entire city must have been asleep.

Even though it was a short break of about thirty minutes, it made us feel somehow that we (twentysomething then), had all the time in the world. We sipped our coffee and looked up at the stars, surrounded by silence, or engaged in some spicy but harmless banter and gossip.

Looking back, those breaks were my time out from the world, my moments of peace for that phase of life.

When I was a kid growing up in Dubai, I would dive into books or daydreams, an often inadvertent escape from the real world. I effortlessly slipped into the realms of fantasy where authors like Enid Blyton opened up a whole new world for me. And my daydreams were the kind that could make you completely lose touch with your immediate surroundings.

A geography teacher at my school in Dubai once asked me a question in class while I was light years away in an ethereal space, dancing on clouds out of which poured torrents of rain that rattled the classroom windows with a startling force. Of course not as startling as the reprimanding I got once the daydream fizzled.

As I grew older I craved such ‘escapes’ more and more. I realised that everyone needs some ‘blank space’ — a space not occupied by the daily drill of existence.

At any age, it could be something really small and seemingly ordinary that gives you a thrill or restores your peace of mind — and makes you reconcile yourself once more to reality. That ‘blank space’ restores your strength to take on the world.

Today I often unwind by retreating into the pages of a book (old habits die hard) or watching Friends, even though I have most of the dialogues by heart.

Phoebe, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica and Ross somehow remind me of those break times in night shift, over twenty years ago, those ‘blank spaces’ that were not about accomplishing anything and didn’t necessarily have a point to them.

They were about just being.

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