By Kleo Hernandez Kannangara
WHEN we were little, the worst insult my brother Jojo and I could hurl at each other would have been, “Dumdum” or “Dummy”. I don’t hear these much anymore, not from my “contrapelo” (someone who’s eternally against you) sibling or from our younger versions in the family. The world’s present generation, I suppose coined new words much cruel and a lot more derogatory; invented new ways of belittling with a twitch of an eye, raised eyebrow or a flick of the hand or a finger.
The first time I used the word dummies after a long time, and mind you, the word in its truest sense was when I met Misters Asbury, Butti, Sheetin and their fellows on my way to a dinner party at a hotel in UAE’s Eastern Region.
They reminded me of the time when Shaikh Khalifa Freeway’s construction was underway in 2010/2011, one side of the road (being jacked through the mountains) would be open for motorists, the other side closed due to, well, yes, road works.
Road construction workers from different countries dominated the 40km stretch through the mountains. It wouldn’t have been the first, had you seen cars stopping to give these workers refreshments ranging from bottles of water to fried snacks and sandwiches bought from cafes in the lower Maleha Road which was still a long way from the construction sites for the workers to access during break periods.
A lot of travellers and drivers at the time would toot or honk to acknowledge the workers and sort of thank them for working whether under the heat of the Middle East sun or the freezing winds from the sea, the deserts and beyond.
It became a habit for me to smile (“Mom, they can’t see you from outside, your car is tinted”) or to put a wave when an opportunity presents itself. Especially to the workers assigned to waving red flags as warning to drivers for ditches and sudden barriers or turns along the road works.
That was in 2011. It is 2018, and things have changed, apparently. Someone from the United Arab Emirates Road Authorities or their contractors (perhaps the road workers themselves?) came up with a creative and functional idea of relieving “Red Flag Bearers” of the job warning drivers of possible dangers on the roads under construction and re-assigning them to other (safer?) posts and responsibilities within the road projects.
Enter, Messrs. Asbury, Butti and Sheetin (as they’re fondly called by, uhm… yours truly and my usual passengers in the car). They are these “Special Men”- road construction workers you see in most road development projects here.
Clad in their regular orange or blue cover-alls, green or orange reflectorized vests, hard hats, metal-toe boots and shades!!! They wear shades even in the night! Because they stand and work hard all through the day and night waving red flags or holding up those warning lamps for all to see.
For lack of better term and thinking of the demeaning word my brother and I used against each other, I wish there was something else, really, that I could refer to them, for they are the dummies on the roads; they replace the real Baba’s (respectful term used for fathers or an elderly man whose name one does not know) on the road construction sites.
The dummies are now the ones that serve the purpose of alerting us (like the flag bearers of the not so distant past) minus, quite frankly, the guilt of seeing another individual you hope is getting paid well enough for standing and waving us to safety in whatever condition nature sends: in humidity, chills or blistering mirage of a desert mountain day. On top of that, we get to have fun guessing what the brand of their sunglasses are!
As old habits die hard, on some occasions, I get caught “actually” waving at Misters Asbury, Butti and Sheetin and their fellow dummies on the road!