I wrote this three days ago, at Jeddah Airport, waiting for the connecting flight to Chennai. Half awake and half asleep, I am conscious of the hundreds of people around me – possibly thousands, who are anxiously waiting to leave the Airport and reach their destination. I see a fleet of Saudi Arabian Aircraft waiting to be air bound outside, with just one thought – I want some coffee to wake me up. But the 27 Moroccan Dirhams in my pocket cannot save me from myself, in this particular situation.
I went up to the local Traveler’s Corner restaurant in the waiting lounge and the South Asian man at the counter announces that Moroccan Dirhams are not acceptable currency, which means I have to go to the ATM located outside of the Duty Free Shop, that is about 500 yards away. Not sure of the ATM there and the effects of using my card on it – I resist. In the past few days, I have read far too many articles about card fraud and internet theft to actually walk into some random ATM and try transacting anything. I just want to have coffee, with my cash or the credit cards in my pocket – I have two of them. “No sir! Cash only,” announces the man. “But I have cash, here you go” I say, handing him the Dirhams”.
“Moroccan money, not acceptable sir”, he declares and I curse under my breath. A halal curse. I am in the holy land, after all. I consider using the ATM, but don’t want to risk losing my card or three dollars as service fee for getting four dollars out of the damn machine, I stop myself. This seems to be such a wasted effort. And I am not any wiser, post the struggle to inject some coffee into my sleep-deprived system. God! Grant me some coffee. This is the prayer escaping my lips right now.
On another note, I think Tom Friedman and others like him, who extol the ‘flat world’ are so wrong. I wonder if they have tried having coffee or chai at this chai shop in Jeddah. Why, if this ‘flat, inter-connected world’ is a reality, am I struggling to use cash that I have , or cards that are sitting in my pocket – to buy something as simple as a coffee? Why are Moroccan Dirhams not acceptable currency – a Muslim currency in a Muslim world, when Dollars are welcome, while Dirhams are not. Is it the dollar’s hegemony, yet again? My brain is too tired to think about all of this. But I cannot resist. Reading all that macro-economic theories in class – years ago has had some side-effects. Those lectures from my former IMF economist professor come flashing back, in such moments.
May be their theories emerge from drinking too much coffee at JFK or Dulles Airports. Or the well connected and integrated Dubai or Qatar International airports. For some dose of ‘reality’ I think Friedman and his gang need to head over to Jeddah. More when I am awake. Right now, I am sedated with the smells of Oudh wafting through the air, the sounds of Qur’an recitation and blaring screens, announcing destinations around the world – all in Green, the Saudi national color. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed. A little bit of coffee would help, but I will have to wait. The global chai shop is out of currency, it seems.