Authors: Kay Tejani
Tags: #love, #friendship, #adventure, #family, #contemporary, #american, #dubai, #graduate, #middleeast, #diverse characters
"No but, my dear." Joan laughed lightly.
"That's the message, full stop. I think your idea is solid and
viable. Your task then is to find a way to bring it to fruition.
The first thing I suggest is creating a written proposal with some
very solid facts and figures: estimates of costs involved, how many
people you would need, how many hours in total the planning and
execution stages would take. Any and every detail you can relate to
show it is a plan that can work."
"Planning and execution stages," Sara
repeated as if she were writing down notes on what Joan had said.
"I've never written anything like that before. I mean I run events
for the organization, but they pretty much run themselves. SO
already had relationships with our vendors when I started here, and
there are procedures in place for just about everything I do." She
paused. "Perhaps that's part of the issue here. This gala would be
quite out of the ordinary. And people fear what they do not know,
isn't that the saying?"
"It is," Joan replied. "And that could
certainly be part of it. Many companies, when they find a formula
that works, dislike veering away from it. And who can blame them?
There's another saying—if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"Yes, that's probably a more accurate
reason. All of us at SO do a lot of good work. It's just that I
feel I should do more. I
to do more."
Joan smiled. "I can understand that. And I
know Special Olympics is an amazing organization. I don't mean to
put them down at all."
"Oh, I totally agree," Sara was quick to
reply. "I love this company and all we do. I would never say a bad
word about it. I am just looking for a way to get this project done
because I believe it can really help SO, not because I disagree
with the way their business works. I just know if I can take
something more substantial than my original idea to management,
they will be supportive "
"Good, good," Joan said, nodding her head as
she took a small sip of wine. "It's so important to believe in the
organization you work for and in what you do. You must have a
passion for it. Without that there would be no success."
"I couldn't agree with you more," Sara said.
"And I assure you SO's wellbeing is at the forefront of my mind."
She paused. "So, Joan, can I ask you…would you be willing to help
me on this?"
Joan shifted in her seat, fluffing up a
pillow to lean on next to her. "How so?" she asked, not wanting to
jump to any conclusions.
"Well…" it was obvious that Sara was afraid
to ask. "I can do the proposal on my own. It will be a lot of
legwork that I would have to do on my own time, but I could manage
it. However, if the plan is approved—"
Joan sighed, though she was careful not to
do it into the phone. She didn't want to discourage Sara, but at
the same time, she did not want to lead her on. Joan would have
loved to jump right in, to take charge of the gala and really make
it happen. She could do it in a heartbeat too—she had the
expertise, and she could simply snap her fingers and vendors would
be lining up to get involved. She had that sort of power there
given the high-profile work she did.
However, as always, time was an issue for
her. Hearts and Minds had three different major initiatives set to
launch that quarter. First there would be a "Workout for Cancer"
campaign at gyms and health clubs in the area, where group exercise
sessions would raise funds for cancer research and awareness, then
"Golf for Good" to raise funds at golf tournaments and driving
ranges. Finally "Partner to Beat Cancer" would pair up interested
organizations with local hospitals and clinics to provide free
information about cancer and to subsidize the costs of tests and
examinations, partially paid for by the other two programs.
There was still so much work to do, and Joan
had to be involved in every stage. These were her pet projects,
something new and innovative in that part of the world. A normal
cancer awareness event in Dubai consisted of a fashion show with
information given out, which had worked very well for a while, but
now it was time to step up the game. Joan wanted more people to get
actively involved, and it was so important that these programs
launched without a hitch. So that would eat up much of her time for
the next few months. If she took on this pro bono job too…well, she
might never see her husband again. And she missed David. They
already had such precious little time together.
"I could find a way to pay you for your
time," Sara offered meekly, as if almost embarrassed to say it.
Joan felt a little awkward, too, just hearing it. For people like
her and Sara, it was all about the work, not the money. That was
for sure. Even for Sara to offer to pay her was a sign of how
desperately the young woman needed help.
"Oh, nonsense," Joan replied. "I wouldn't
ask for a penny from you." Then she paused and looked out the
window again. Set almost at the top floor of one of the city's high
rises, her apartment offered an amazing view of Dubai in all its
stone and metal glory, the skyscrapers and hotels and long
freeways. Out beyond was the gulf, its water a shocking teal in the
evening light. "But I do have to think about it, all right? I wish
I could say yes right away. I just have to consider what else is on
"Oh, that is all right," Sara replied,
keeping a note of positivity in her voice. Joan liked it that Sara
would not let herself sound defeated in this moment, even though it
had not gone how she had hoped. "You take your time, Joan. Just let
me know whatever you decide. In the meantime I thank you so much
for all the advice you've given me."
"No problem at all." Joan smiled at David,
who had come back into the room. "I will give you a call, okay? You
have a good night now."
"And you as well."
The two women said their goodbyes and hung
up the phone.
"So?" David asked, settling himself on the
couch again. He smelled like cooking, like oil and herbs and fresh
bread, the aromas he had brought back in from the kitchen with him.
A dish towel was draped over his shoulder.
"So that was an old acquaintance." Joan sat
back again and laughed. "Well, actually a
acquaintance. A woman named Sara I met at an event maybe a year and
a half ago. Works for the Special Olympics."
"Special Olympics?" David lowered his brow
in thought. "You mean the one that does the games for disabled
Joan nodded. "That's the one."
"Hmm. I had no idea they have a branch here.
Well, anyway, what did she want with you?"
Joan closed her eyes for a moment. She had
finished only half her glass of wine, but it had made her a bit
sleepy. She folded her hands across her midsection. "She wanted to
know if I could help her on a project. She wants to hold a gala—a
fundraiser—for the organization, but she's getting some friction
about it." She opened her eyes and looked over at her husband. "She
figured that with my experience, I might have something to tell her
David nodded, pulling the towel from his
shoulder then taking off his glasses and giving the lenses a wipe.
Joan watched him as he carefully completed the task. He had always
been a meticulous man, methodical and purposeful about everything
he did. Just like the buildings he designed, everything about him
was minimalist: his close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, his thin
wire-rimmed glasses, even his blue shirt was of a medium color, not
too bright or too dark, and creased in all the right places. What
Joan loved most, however, was how his modest exterior hid the deep
well inside him, the one from which he drew strength and love and
hope again and again. David was the kindest, most peaceful, and
most giving man she had ever met, and age had only perfected those
qualities in him. The older they grew together, the more she
admired him day by day.
"So what did you tell her?" he asked,
replacing his glasses.
Joan sat up. "I told her I have to think
about it. You know how much I have to do and that I don't like to
take something on unless I can give it my all."
He smirked at her. "Well, couldn't you give
this one maybe just fifty percent? Meet with her once or twice?
Tell her what she needs to know?"
Joan grinned right back at him. "I
…" She sighed. "I'm just so tired right now. I can't
think about it 'till tomorrow."
David nodded. "Is it something about the
organization?" "The Special Olympics? Oh, no. Why would I have
anything against them? They do wonderful work."
"Yes, they do. And I imagine the office here
is doing some pretty thankless work. It's good to know that they
have such dedicated staff."
Joan nodded. "It's not that I don't want to
help. I just don't want to overbook myself. I'm fifty-six years
old, David. Aren't I supposed to be slowing down, not picking up
more moss as I roll on down the hill?" She looked at him for a
moment. "Why are you so interested anyway?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, standing and
holding out a hand to help her up.
Joan slipped her hand into his and got up
off the couch with a groan. "I mean why are you pushing me so hard
to do this thing?"
David paused as if waiting for her to figure
out the answer. When she gave him a little shrug, he took her by
the shoulders and turned her whole body around. Facing the sofa, he
directed her attention to the end table, which prominently
displayed a large picture in a silver frame. In it were two smiling
faces: their daughter, Erin, and her husband, Mark. In Erin's arms
was Joan and David's granddaughter, Mackenzie, who was six months
old and had been born with Down syndrome. Wispy, light-blond hair
framed her sweet, cherubic face as she stuffed her chubby fingers
in her mouth. She wore a frilly white and pink dress and looked
just like every other baby in the world: happy, healthy, and, oh,
so very loved. Looking at this picture, Joan never saw the little
girl's disability, only her beautiful grandchild, a blessing to her
parents and a joy to the entire family.
Joan glanced back at David, a hint of
moisture settling in her eyes. How could she not have thought of
that? That in helping Sara, she might, in some indirect way, also
be helping Mackenzie. Or at least children like her who might not
have the same opportunities in life. In that region those with
developmental, intellectual, or physical disabilities were not
lauded like they were back in the States; they were not treated
badly there, but they did not always receive the attention they
deserved either. Sometimes their conditions were not fully
understood by the different cultures that resided there. Sometimes
they simply lacked the support or, sadly, the funds to pursue their
"What good is my power if I don't use it to
help those who need it most?" she said quietly, grabbing on to
David's hand again. "Isn't that what I've always said?"
"Yes, it is," he replied with a squeeze of
her hand. "Now dinner is ready. If you don't want cold pasta, you'd
better hurry up and call this Sara back."
hen Sara was younger, she loved to ski.
Growing up in Canada, she'd had access to some of the best slopes
in the world, from Whistler and Blackcomb in British Columbia to
Banff in Alberta to Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, and her parents had
taken her all over to pursue her passion—and theirs. They certainly
shared a love for the sport, and when they had decided to move to
Dubai, they had lamented that this pastime might be lost to them.
Dubai was, after all, in the middle of a desert region. There was
not a snow-capped mountain anywhere in sight.
Then they found Ski Dubai one day while
meandering around the Mall of the Emirates, a premier shopping
center. As they came upon it, they could not believe their eyes:
these were actual skiing slopes: eighty-five feet high and of
varying difficulties—even the world's first indoor black run. Since
then Sara and her parents had been back many times to enjoy the
sport they had once loved, and Sara came by often with her Special
Olympics athletes as well. Ski Dubai had a wonderful program where
once a month they offered free admission for individuals with
special needs, and if Sara was not actually volunteering to help
out on the slopes, she was enjoying some cakes and coffee at the
St. Moritz Café at the entrance of the resort, which featured
panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows through which she could watch
the winter wonderland and cheer on her athletes.
On Thursday morning this was exactly where
Sara situated herself to wait for Joan Harrison to arrive. She got
a table right near the window that looked out upon the ski lift
that took people up the slopes. Sipping her coffee, she absently
watched as people jumped on and off the T-bars while she prepared
what she wanted to say to Joan. "Please help me!" was at the top of