Tim, Matt, and Joe. Even as kids, the Farmer brothers were as tough as nails.
They were younger than us teenagers by several years, but we let them hang around anyway because they were so inexplicably…cool.
It was the early 1980s in Saudi Arabia, and we were living on the Bouygues-Blount Joint Venture compound. Just up the road on what was then the outskirts of Riyadh, the King Saud University was slowly rising from the desert. Our fathers were construction engineers and managers, lending their skill sets to build a state-of-the-art institution designed to modernize the Saudi higher education system.
While we were aware of the construction project, it was just something our parents did. For us, life on the compound was an endless summer of bicycle racing, swimming, and fighting with the French boys while we flirted with their sisters.
Although they were too young to get involved in most of the hijinks, the Farmer brothers were always nearby, a receptive audience for our adolescent shenanigans. In the background when Todd nearly bit his own tongue off in a bad bicycle wreck. There when my brother broke his leg in a similar fashion. Helping us hunt scorpions with a blacklight. Accompanying the entourage when we ventured out to the abandoned junkyard in the desert to break car windows with rocks.
Tim stepped in front of me just as I let a rock fly, bouncing it off his skull and causing his scalp to bleed profusely. “Rub some dirt in it!” Joe advised, his younger brother successfully forcing back the tears and already starting to laugh.
Tough, I tell you.
So it was with eager curiosity that Angela and I arrived in Dubai. The eldest of the Farmer brothers, Joe, was now living in the United Arab Emirates and working in construction management. We had connected on Facebook months prior to us setting out on this trip, and Joe had offered for us to stay with him and his wife during our time in the UAE.
Always happy to see an old friend and grateful for a way to save money while were exploring the expensive Emirates for a week, I readily accepted his generous offer. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what kind of man Joe had become. Would he be the same scrappy ten-year-old I remembered from thirty-five years ago?
I sent him a message just after we touched down. Could we pick up anything for them from duty free?
“A case of beer would be great!” he responded. “Heineken.”
As it turns out, Joe hadn’t changed one bit. A former army machine-gunner and still active rugby player. Easy to laugh. Quick to put on a wry grin and tell a story about the old days in Saudi. Some were tales I had lived through personally, but spun from Joe’s perspective. Others were brand new to me, or vague recollections of real adventures that now seemed like dreams.
We stayed up late that first night, drinking beer and whiskey, catching up on each other’s lives, and taking turns sharing the recollections of the past. Like time had never passed, and we were still kids, out of place in a foreign desert and oblivious to the absurdity of it all.
Because that’s what we were. A couple of middle-aged kids, laughing like there was no tomorrow. In the middle of another foreign desert.
Angela and I spent several days with the Farmers, hanging out with Joe, his wife, and their young daughters. We went out to dinner at a fancy Dubai restaurant. Joe cooked burgers in the backyard. We finished the beer and most of the whiskey. Angela and I went on a road trip through all seven Emirates.
But the heart of any place is always the people.
For me, Dubai will always be about catching up with my old friend, Joe. Tough as nails.