Monday, December 12, 2011

My Mother's Hands

“Your hands are like your mother’s” he says.  This man who adored my mother, who has missed her every day for the last almost nineteen years since she left this earth, says this to me and I know it is my father’s awkward way of telling me that he adores me too. 

 My hands are like my mother's.  I remember the first time I looked down at them and saw my mother’s hands at the ends of my arms.  It took my breath away.  She was there, right in front of me.  Right on me.  But she wasn’t.  It was disorienting.  Sometimes it still catches me by surprise as a sweet reminder of who’s I am.  Today I have acrylic French nails on them, something my mother never had, and something I probably won’t have for long after I return to my home country.  But the hands, the size, the veins, the quality and quantity of the wrinkles: they are my mother’s. 

When you lose a beloved parent you fear you will never, ever be able to adjust to that void.  And then, before very long at all, you tell yourself you do not want to ever adjust to that void.  Because you fear that adjusting means forgetting and though the memories are meshed with the pain of loss, they are something to hang on to when you don’t want to let go.  Give me pain over void any day.  I cannot bear the weight of emptiness.

I got her hands.  This gift is there to surprise me on occasion as I look down at my working hands.  Nineteen years and I have not forgotten the squint of her eye nor the lines of her smile.  She was only seven years older than I am now when we lost her.  She fought back two times before: cheated death in her forties when breast cancer tried to claim her.  Postponed death in her mid-fifties when her heart failed her.  And then left at 59.  An angel, under whose wings and within whose hands I live.  An angel with my hands. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dance Dance Dance

The night we first noticed each other you walked me home from a crowded party.  We saw lights on in the field house and followed the sound of a square dance caller.  Old couples (old like the age I am now or so) swirled around us.  We laughed and dosi-doed.  Neither of us were dancers alone.  Together we were.  We were good.  We knew nothing.  The thought crossed my mind we might be together at the age of those square dancing foggies in the swirly skirts and bolo ties.

We danced so well together. Under the stars in the small apple orchard at the edge of campus. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida thumping from your truck speakers as the stars spun above us. We were a center of a universe. Who can dance to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida? We could. And very well.

Later that summer I brought you to the family cabin up north.  In a tavern in the woods we joined our friends on the beer stuck floor.  Oblivious to our dancing inadequacies we clicked.  On a plane parallel to that beer stuck floor we moved instinctively like real dancers.  You led.  I followed.  You tossed.  I was caught.  There was no-one else on that floor.  It didn't even surprise us when we were one of three couples selected for the dance off. 

The magic was broken in that dance-off as self consciously we tried to recreate what we did so easily moments before.  You turned into a dork: clicking your heels and shimmying.  I could only find a two-step shuffle.  We took third.  We enjoyed that prize case of Schmit beer cans with pheasants as the label.  We never danced like that again.

A year later we were with other partners.  You lost yours tragically the following summer.  I lost mine tragically over the next twenty-five years.  But I'm dancing again and I thank you for a memory of what it's like to share a good dance and know it's possible to move as one in some universe somewhere.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not "Nakusa" (Unwanted)

The more I know of this world the more grateful I am for who I am: specifically for which country I was born in and to which parents I was born.  I never got around to finishing and posting my draft of “be thankful you are not an (East) Indian brother.”  It related recent interactions I have had with young East Indian males who are organizing their lives around the large donations and sacrifices they must make to their families in order to wed off their sisters.  Wedding off a sister requires the family to fork over many years worth of salaries to pay for the lengthy, ornate ceremonies (clothes, jewels, priests, musicians, rental of community hall, meals for all the guests, paying off the roaming transvestites who visit the ceremony and demand payment in lieu of disruption, a dowry). 

It is interesting to hear this side of the story after having the grand honor of attending a Hindi wedding in Delhi last fall, as a guest of the bride’s family.  It seemed at the time an extensive investment for the observable lack of wealth of her family.  Yet I so enjoyed every aspect of the wedding and the ceremonies leading up to the wedding itself that I did not dwell on that inconsistency too much at the time. What a unique cultural opportunity to spend the days before the wedding in the bride’s family’s modest two room apartment, bathing the bride in turmeric, getting our wrists banded in red twine by the local priestess, dancing for ceremonial money offerings from the uncles, cooking flat bread with the aunts on the two burner hot plate that was the kitchen, receiving toothless grins from the matriarchal grandmother on the living room couch.  Blissfully naive of the financial setback the traditions in progress were creating.

 I work with a young man who had to borrow large sums of money to front even larger loans required to pay for his sister’s wedding.  Another young Indian male I recently met noted that when he told his father of a trip he wanted to take his father said “you shouldn’t be wasting your money on such things but instead be saving it for your sister’s wedding.” 

 Just when I was thinking how sad it must be to be born an East Indian boy I read here about a girl’s renaming ceremony in India.  In a school ceremony almost three hundred girls who had been given the name “Nakusa” (or variations thereof) at birth got to change their name.  Nakusa means “unwanted” in Hindi.  Can you imagine growing up being called to your face “Unwanted.” [Please just pause and think about that: almost three hundred girls in one school sharing the same name and the name they share is "unwanted."]   I am guessing that part of the unwantedness comes from the future burden of having to pay to marry you off.  It is the daughters of families that have too many daughters and not enough access to cash to pay for their weddings that end up being sold into child labor, the sex trade or matched pre-pubescently with dirty old men. 

 Many of us name ourselves Nakusa in our heads from time to time.  Imagine being given that name for others to call you as well.  The same article talks about the discrepancies in Indian population where, as the result of abortions of female fetuses, or sheer neglect of baby girls, the population numbers tip to the male side.   Something about that level of social engineering scares the begeezus out of me. 

 In this highly multi-cultural setting I live in I interact with families from so many cultures, even if at a very superficial level.  In Lulu’s grocery store the little girls are usually dressed in pretty dresses, their hair cut in yummy thick bobs, with a small tilak (like a bindi) in the middle of their forehead.  The fathers usually patient and adoring in their interactions.  Nothing looks Nakusa about the child.  In Hindi, the tilak symbolizes the third eye, or mind’s eye representing spiritual enlightenment.  It makes me sad to think about what that enlightenment will tell them when they are old enough to understand how their culture has declared so many unwanted.  “Nakusa.”  I don’t get it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Next Chapter

Funny how your whole perspective on a place changes when you realize you can't take it for granted anymore.  The end of my long-term Abu Dhabi assignment is in reach.  I'll be returning home in 58 days.  Not that I'm counting or anything. (Post edit: um, guess it's more like 68 days.  I got ahead of myself)  My step is lighter, my mood has lifted.  I sing in the shower again (quietly of course).  And I am more purposeful about actually doing things than thinking "someday I should.,,."  I really hold out hope that I will get to come back for some shorter term assignments down the road: I have great friends here; know how to get around; understand how to cope with hot weather, and; am (finally) over the culture shock of living in this country. 

It's hard to imagine getting settled back into my home, with my friends and family nearer.  Having my dog back by my side.  And Buttercup to take me places.  As hard as the relocation has been, it has provided me with incredible opportunities to travel and put some wonderful new people in my life.  Arriving in a new life kicks the shit out of you as you have to relearn how to do everything and surrender to the unfamiliar.  Separated from friends and family by space and time (in A.D. we are 11 hours ahead and have different weekend days as well) forced me to deal with myself and God more directly.  That's not all a bad thing. 

Tonight we are having friends and co-workers over for a game night.  Melissa is whipping up good smelling things in the kitchen.  I am making appointments for pedicures and trying to decide on the timing of my nap and shower :)   It's a slow pace here with no garden to tend, no house cleaning or home repairs to do.  No blocks of time set aside for a hike or bike ride as during the day it is still too hot to do aerobic adventuring outdoors.  I know when I return there will be a part of me that will miss this lifestyle too.  Life's my novel and it's time to plan the next chapter. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Next?

“What next?” my restless soul moans.  Not in a “what will be dumped on me next” way, but in a “What is my next chapter going to be?” way.  At a major crossroads where some decisions may or may not be mine to make.  Wanting so not to be anxious or afraid but open to the adventure.  The world is full of possibilities.  All over the range, though, after some of the living situations I’ve seen in the world, I am well aware that my range does not likely go as low as the Kibera slum in Kenya, nor as high as the gold laden lattes at the Emirates Palace. 
Kibera Slums
Nairobi, Kenya
24k Gold Floating on Latte
Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Having been the sole supporter of my soul and physical needs for, well, for a long time, part of me is very tired.  Weary of having to be the one to worry about the next chapter.  I wake up with a start from dreams of falling out of planes, of waking up in unknown alleys, of being so far underwater my lungs are bursting.  And yet if I wrote you my life it would contain chapters of adventure and life sustaining connections and being provided with more than I could ever imagine.  Even in the darkest chapters there have always been souls to enter along side with me and walk me through to the light.  When threat of losing it all (and I don’t just mean my house and income and dear friends and mother…I also mean my mind and my will to live) was at my doorstep, the largest presence both of and not of this earth held me in His hands and here I am.

Finding so much joy in a sexily posed naked chicken that it makes me want to quit it all and go arrange food in erotic positions just to get enough money to squeek by.  Wanting to hire one of my most admired photographers to teach me how to capture the things that nobody else sees.  Dreaming of finding a way to swap my cottage/house in the northwest with a footloose soul in Vicenza so that I can just live fully and deeply for a year in that mental zone where everything is fresh and nothing is for granted.  Dreaming of roaming the States in a travel trailer gathering stories for fodder. 
Vicenza, Italy
And then I land back in me.  The me who obsesses over Facebook chatter, caring sometimes more about how a post will be perceived than what I wanted to say.  The me who is so easily hurt by things not meant to hurt at all but still feed on my leftover teenage awkwardness, embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy.  Gnawed at by questions around whether people are just nice to me because they actually like me or because they pity me.  Then I remember, I am still in His hands.  The one who planted the seed of curiosity and quirkiness that makes me fantasize about posing naked chickens.  The One who placed for me to discover a potato shaped like a bird.  I’m tentatively raising my hand “Hey God.  What next?  I’m ready. I think.”

Ramblings courtesy of encouragement from:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Just Write - Sept 20

Doing time at a desk, writing technical for a living.  Living technicalities. Hate it.  Soul pushes at the skin and rebels at the desk.  Give me a window.  With a lake view.  How I miss my home.  Miss my dog, my so called Muse who would force me out into the fresh air.  Outside my head and my bed to see what God has put in front of me.  I need to write and read surely as I need to breathe.  I need to do the things that rob my soul so that I can afford to nurture a soul that has been robbed.  Vicious cycle. 

Here I am a fish out of water.  A fish in the desert.  So obviously different from those around me and if God, this is to teach me a lesson, then I am now knowledgeable (and will spell check that one Sistah before I print).  Holly says these trials are an invitation from God and sometimes when she says that I just want to say “Well I’m not in a partying mood, God.  Invite someone else.”  Though I know she’s right and I have grown something awesome that I don’t know what to do with.  Some sort of empathy for those who are fish out of water.  But I miss my nest.  I miss my tribe.  I miss growing gracefully in a place where I can contribute and give. 

“Of all the things I lost, I miss my mind the most.” Was my favorite bumper sticker.  And is it freakin’ silly to be missing my dishes?  Because what I want to unpack first when I get home is my plates and bowls and mugs and set a gorgeous table.  With candles and wine glasses and bacon and friends.  When I cook here, often sharing with a grateful flatmate, it isn’t the same as dinner parties with my tribe.  And while the masses around me eat out of discount market plastic plates, if they are lucky, or ornate gold leafed French china (is it French or is it Chinese?) at the other end of the spectrum,  I am an ungrateful child for my Ikea plates.  Ikea everything in a flat that is temporary and thrown together but fine.  I want my white stoneware.  My lettuce leaf salad plates.  My Swiss dot bowls gleaned from a sweet beach town shoppe (spelled shoppe of course).  As long as I am missing, I miss my Eiffel Tower Lamp, my pink leather armchair and my lemon boxes. 

 Now back to the tables and statistics and links to Appendices and Figures and reports that nobody will read as here they are all about the weight of the document and the graphics and the bulk of material that says so much but means so little and in the end won’t really mean much as they’ll do what they were planning on doing all along. 

For Heather @ the Extraordinary Ordinary

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Passing 9/11 in the Middle East

The alert from the Embassy notes to use caution
Heightened Alert Status they call it
And somehow I feel safer here than I might at home 

The Middle Easterners whom I know,
And  whose paths I cross, are not a threat
At worst a recoiling (as when forced to stand too close in an elevator)
Typically an indifference (no eye contact)
Often casual conversation (about the hot weather)

Sometimes real relating conversation (rarely, but some treasured sometimes)
Only occasionally a mean taxi driver from Afghanistan or thereabouts
But mostly the drivers are friendly once I show my friendly cards in hand 

I do not like living here
It is not home
It is a sentence that needs an ending.
It is sometimes anxiety, sometimes frustration
Often surreal
An opportunity.  A blessing if I look hard enough. 

I know I have not done enough personally to heal the wound
Only the little things to indicate there is not hate
There are only people: me and them
Side by side
Hopefully enough

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One Girl's So Called Life

I work with a brilliant young engineer recently graduated from the University in the most conservative Emirate (think State) of the United Arab Emirates.  She is sharp, optimistic, and charming.  Hiring her was one of the first things I accomplished in my assignment here and I attended her wedding just within weeks of my arrival, before she had actually started working for us.  Though she holds a Jordanian passport, she was born and raised here in the UAE.  Though her hair is always covered with a scarf, she does not wear the full abaya that indigenous gulf women wear.  She dresses quite modernly, though arms and legs always fully covered.

Yesterday she told me of a panicked call she had gotten from a college peer of hers.  This young woman had called my friend because of a dire family situation.  Seems she had just recently gotten hired by a company here in Abu Dhabi.  Her home is in Sharjah (the most conservative Emirate, about two hours drive from here) and her family very, very conservative.  She had had to get permission from her father to take this job: in this country, if you are not a UAE citizen (we call them “locals”) you must either have a company sponsor or be sponsored by a father or husband.  The sponsor must show proof of employment and therefore indirectly have a local sponsor.  Though her father had originally signed the official documents agreeing to let his daughter take employment with this company, after two days of her commuting to Abu Dhabi, and starting the process of finding housing here, they had changed their mind.  They did not want to allow their daughter the freedom to be out in the world, so far from home (about a two hour’s drive away).  After three days on the job her mother informed her “if you go to work you will be disowned from this family.”

My co-worker told me that during college this gal’s parents were also very protective of her.  She could not openly go out places with other female students, no unchaperoned activities.  She was basically forced to be dishonest, just to have any social life, even though it did not include meeting men in any way, shape or form.  No level of trust.

This young lady decided to go on to graduate school because the only other option open to her was to stay at home and wait for a marriage to be arranged.  So she went to graduate school and got a degree.  Then she went to look for a job.  And now she is in this place: deciding on a career or being abandoned by her family.  She is truly between a rock and a hard place in the truest sense of the words.  She told my friend “it makes me just want to marry some old coot to get out from under this control.” 

I do not know this young lady, but I want to bring her home.  Give her a room and a life where she can breathe and have hope for a future.  It is hard for me not to see so much of the customs and regulations here as projection of the oppressor’s own depraved tendencies.  “You cannot be trusted to be in the presence of someone of the opposite sex because I could not be trusted in the same situation.”  It’s stories like these that bring me to my knees in thanks that I was born in the time and place and to the people I was born to.  Praying that this girl will find some light showing the way out of this tunnel.

Montestigliano Wine Tasting

(Inspire by notes in the book)

The evening that will end
With the memorable quote
"Kiss my husband again,
I didn't get a picture"
Started with the wine tasting.

Ah, the wine tasting,
In which different continents
Sat side by side
And talked of the tracking of the "tears"
Which track down the side of the stemmed glass
(Otherwise known as the wine's legs,
But here, in Tuscany, they are tears.)

My notes note the almost bitterness of the Venacia
The Refola, Chianti, the Colinesse we count
The seconds it takes each to settle down
To the bottom of the glass

My friend's notes in this little book
Get looser and loopier with each glass
As do we
"Buttery" "Spicy" "Sweet" undertones which
"rounds out the aggressiveness" of
...something illegible

"In this one,
her legs are tighter together"
"In this wine we age the juices separately before we blend"
And I look around the table at my friends
And the two couples from England
And think it is also the same

My sister
After a contemplative sip
Pronounces "I taste
A handsome Italian farm worker"
And it's up the downhill slope from there.


Inspired by the book

The borrowed four month old on my lap
On the train from Delhi to Hadiwar
Is named Rinjin which means rainfall
Her grandmother tells me

Beautiful, both of them
In a world where I am coming from the desert
It is the most beautiful name
A gift in a name called rainfall
And a borrowed four month old on my lap

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So Many Shades of Green

(inspired by the book)

"So many shades of green"
My poetic son sighs at the sight
Of the Scottish Highlands.
Today we are talking.
Yesterday we had words.

Angry words
Over my voiced sadness
At the sight of an old man
In the Edinburgh train station at 8:30 a.m.
Ordering a Scotch at 8:30 a.m.

He said it was none of my business
To be sad over early whiskey.
I rile at his notion
That my feelings over such things are not right.
Not so much over his defense of an alcoholic old man,
But his nerve to judge my feelings over such things.

But today we both see green.
So many shades - so many feelings
All green.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Riding in English

He points to my slightly filled water glass and says "push." I look to where he is pointing and return a questioning look. It is Ramadan. He is Muslim and hasn't had anything to eat or drink since before sunrise. I don't want to drink in front of him. My glass is in my office and I have been careful not to drink around my Muslim co-workers, but in this dry air-conditioning and outside hot/humid weather I can't make it through the day without generous amounts of water.

He is insistent, this driver/custodian of ours. Ahmed is Syrian, about my age, and until recently spoke no English. "Push" is a close enough word. I understand that he wants me to finish my water so he can clean my glass. I say "one minute" and make a shooing gesture with my hand. He leaves and I push my water and take the glass to him. The gesture, while it might seem disrespectful in some settings, is not meant to be, nor received as such. We are often reduced to clear sign language.

Our conversations are very limited and usually result in some stage of frustration: his or mine. The Arabic classes I took at the beginning of my assignment here are of little help in our interactions. My age (and admittedly short-timers attitude) renders my memory pretty much useless for learning Arabic, short of the short list of typical greetings, popular menu items and a few miscellaneous words.

Each day on my fifteen minute ride to and from work we exchange pleasantries and stumble through a few minutes of disjointed "conversation" before I put us both out of our mysery and go to checking work through my iPhone. He gets very enthusiastic when we talk about his home country, Syria, where he has offered to take me in a year’s time when "all to be OK." Right now there is artillery fire in his city but he is sure in a year’s time it will be safe enough for visitors like me. I don't think I will try it. He is the only brother of six sisters, all of whom he helps support from his meager salary here. One morning he was talking on his cell phone with his mother in Syria. I could hear gunfire in the background. I say "that is scary." He says "yes. We have many." Something is lost in the translation.

He likes to talk about his shisha, the water pipe for flavored tobaccos that is popular in the gulf countries. Only he "drinks shisha" and asks if I do to. Smoke is a verb he hasn't learned yet. So I admit to a fondness for drinking shisha and he is all over that. We have a long conversation about drinking shisha, only part of which I understood. I think he makes his own apple flavored mix. I think he has seven shisha pipes at home in Syria, one he keeps in the car for trips to the mountains.

We have had a few misqueues where a request for car pickup or meeting place was misunderstood. He also will never tell me if he thinks he is more than 15 minutes away from where I need to be picked up. When he says "fifteen minutes, miss Jennifer" I have to ask him where he really is so I can decide if I will take a cab instead. I learned this the hard way. Fifteen minutes is often a half hour or 45 minutes unless it really is 15 minutes.

He has started to play an English speaking radio station from Dubai in the car when I am in it, rather than the Arabic news and music that he has on when I am not in. I appreciate this gesture and try to communicate that it is not necessary but he is generous to a fault along these lines. Sometimes the music is very foulmouthed rap with lyrics that make even me uncomfortable. I am embarrassed to think that he thinks this is what I listen to until I remember that he has no idea what images the words in the "music" conjure up. He happily taps along to "I Like My Mouth Down There" as I wince at the implications. I have heard some shocking music piped through the malls in this country where men and women are separated and covered up. Music I wouldn't want in my home back home is blasted over the loud speakers of the department stores. In my prudish middle-age I am shocked to know that these songs exist, let alone are played in public in this conservative corner of the world. I hope that this is not the English that he will pick up on in his quest to learn our language. Though "push" would probably work to translate this as well. Though different gestures required.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Passion at the Airport: an X-rated Post

This is a little something inspired by the note “contrast of Madrid Airport to Abu Dhabi – couple who can’t keep their hands off each other.”

(December, 2010     Madrid)

I’m waiting in the Madrid airport for Andy, praying he is on this flight.  He missed his connecting flight in Chicago and I got word that he hopped another flight which requires a transfer in London.  London has been boxed in by snow storms off and on for the past few days.  I hope he makes it.  I am ready to start our reunion as I’ve been separated from my son for five months now: he back to University and me headed over to the Middle East for an indefinite work assignment.  I had carefully scheduled his flights so he wouldn’t have to make any connections in a non-English speaking country nor get stuck outside the US if he had any weather related delays at this time of year.  But this man-child of mine (mostly child in this instance) fell soundly asleep in Chicago O’Hare (damn those finals week sleep deprived study habits) and missed his connection. 

While slightly annoyed at my son’s irresponsible travel behavior, I am still very happy to be in the Madrid airport.  Frankly, I am very happy to be anywhere outside the UAE.  But really happy to be in Europe.  I am sitting at a café, facing the gate area that I think he should be coming through sometime in the next hour.  I am sipping on my second cappuccino, watching the romance and drama of the international arrivals gate.  I love a good reunion.  I am writing a few notes in my notebook/journal, looking busy, and eavesdropping on the conversations around me, trying to make sense of the Spanish being spoken.  At this point, newly arrived and a great many years distance since my last visit to Spain, and even farther from Middle School Spanish classes, I have only a hit rate of about 20%.  By the end of our two weeks in Spain I will be closer to a 45% hit rate.  For now I can just fill in the blanks with the passion in their voices and the tale tale body language. 

I am aware that the three also middle aged café patrons at the table next to me are also amazed at the scenario in front of me.  A young punk couple is desparately, almost violently making out against a pillar in the middle of the arrivals hall.  The passionate display is outrageously x-rated and the thought crosses my mind that I, and the other folks calmly awaiting arrivals, are the subject of some Punked type tv episode.  These two dive together with hands through hair, deep throated kisses, bum grabbing, crotch grinding urgency.  They go at it in ten second intervals (believe me, a lot of contact can be jammed into ten seconds) until they must come up for air and a rest.  And then they are back into it just as passionately as before.  At the nearby table, the one with his back to the scene, at his dining mates urging, tries to subtely turn around to see what they, like me, are taking in.  He turns back, mouth agape and catches my eye.  I smile and shrug at him, raising an eyebrow to indicate that I am shocked and amused by this extreme public display of affection. 

 The couple goes at it for quite some time.  Their crotch grinding so intense and rhythmic I have to stare until they uncouple just to make sure that they actually have their zippers up.  Remarkably they do.  OK, so I said I stared, and I did, but I tried not to be obvious about it.  I busied myself in my journal or sipping on my cappuccino, just grazing by the scene as subtely as I could because it really felt like I was watching some x-rated porno film, one that I certainly wouldn’t want strangers to know I was watching. 

 I kept thinking “somebody stop them.”  “Where’s the policia when you need them.”  But nobody seemed to feel comfortable interrupting this display.  And then I remind myself that I am newly arrived from a Middle Eastern country where the only people holding hands in public are little children and grown men (I mean children holding hands with each other and grown men holding hands with each other which is totally normal and no indication of same sex sexual preference…it’s just the normal for the middle east).  Yes, the pornographic scene played out in front of me, while shocking to even the Spaniards at the adjacent table, is tolerated because passion is a component of life in Spain.  Similarly, one might find such a scene in the airports in Italy (my most favorite European country…to date).  In the Middle East: not so much. 

In Abu Dhabi, when we pick up folks at the airport, no matter how darn happy we are to be reunited with a friendly face from back home, we hold back.  A handshake and a warm smile is what we try to remember to do.  Well especially if it’s someone of the opposite sex.  A couple engaged publicly in Abu Dhabi in what I saw in the Madrid airport would be deported, if they were lucky, or, more likely, incarcerated.  There is no legal cohabitation of unmarried couples (housing or hotels).  Local ladies are covered so that only their eyes and hands show.  Many actually even have these covered with full face covering and gloves.  An American friend of mine who teaches locally was advised by her local counterpart that she should consider covering her hair as she would be safer from being raped.  We were amused by this statement as we are all so untouchable here that the danger of being raped has never crossed our minds.  But that is what the local women believe: show your hair: you are asking to be raped. 

I have more to write about modesty and fitting in yet remaining yourself and how to dress and how not to dress in the UAE.  I’ll save those for some other time.  Right now I’d like to just replay that pornographic scene from the Madrid airport and remember that there is passion, even x-rated passion, elsewhere in the world and somehow it all makes sense.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Little Book of Lists and Stuff

Sea bass – 2 kilos
Mussels – 1.5 kilos 

Canned tomatoes
Mortadella (possible? No pork)
Hazel nuts

Parsley – Italian
Salad greens – Rocket
Cherry tomatoes
Swiss chard

The list comes at me as a poem.  In this desert of writing, fumbling for entertainment as I am temporarily without my iPhone, I come across my little book.  The blank book I keep in my purse to write down lists, thoughts, impressions, phone and flight numbers.  Things I don’t want to forget.  One corner is slightly chewed by the puppy Satchmo…so I suppose I cannot forget him too, another one I left behind.  For now.

I start flipping through the book.  Filled with gems (and also some words I cannot read nor begin to decipher…written in a rush and thoughtlessly thought I could not forget the meaning nor context.) 

It begins in ’09…Scotland with Andy.  Then there are notes around the continuation of that trip, into Italy where I celebrated turning 50 with wonderful friends.  There are sermon notes from church, packing lists, thoughts and lists around the big change up: a temporary post in the Middle East.  Notes and lists from a trip to India in the fall and meeting up with Andy in Spain over Christmas.  A few self pitying dumps and yet even some joyful discoveries.  Some things that I think would be pretty profound...if I could just remember what I meant at the time.

Still waiting for a driver, still sans iPhone I begin my “Surviving Ramadan” list.  Truthfully I am worried about this next week and a half.  My flatmate is going on a well deserved escape from the heat and stifling lifestyle.  The handful of mates that are still here are all leaving save Hannah, who will also be stuck here.  At the end of Ramadan we have five days in a row off but I have no plans and no one to plan it with.  Hannah has to work.  And at the end of this “break” I dive into a few months of potential work hell: no new projects; only old ones that won’t die though the budget for them has long since dried up; continued shortness of staff and support and my unflinching desire to prepare those who are here to pull off a quality presence and reputation for work well done…but so much of what it takes completely out of our control; dealing with agencies who have agendas different from ours and hell bent on moving the target on a daily basis; the red tape and administrative BS that has been developed to a fine art of delay the likes of which I have never before encountered.

But, then this, this little notebook, with little gems to take out and unwrap and remember.  Perhaps I can start with this as a source of inspiration, if not for some things great, at least for somethings positive.  Memories which might help through hell week and beyond.

Surviving Ramadan List (not too ambitious…definitely doable) and still room for staying in pajamas a full day or two when self pity gets the most of me.


-        Paint 1 picture
-        Write 1 poem (I’ll try to do more than an Italian meal shopping list)
-        3x treadmill
-        1 day by pool (shoot for 2)
-        Talk to Julie, Melinda
-        Finish current Kindle read, start another
-        Cook healthy
-        Order out healthy J
-        Broccoli salad (get recipe from Lola)
-        Bible Study (3x+)
-        Starbucks hang/read (2x)
-        Get outside my mind

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In the Desert

I was a writer.  I want to be able to say "I am a writer."  But in this place where I am now, the channeling of the ideas, the creating something out of nothing is not there.  I am in a desert: literally and figuratively.  And I miss it so much.  In a time and a place where I should be excreting pictures with words and sweating out so very much, I find I am dry.  I think I need to unpack that. 

I am enjoying some good reading and maybe through that I will find the inspiration to dance over the keys and be back in that place and space where I will be a writer again.  I did find this wonderful talk on TED by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I think I've listened to it about seven times now.  It is saying something to me. 

The mounting frustration of trying to get work done in this place is zapping.  Dealing with lack of resources and, probably more so, trying to understand and work through the decision process in the agencies we rely on to move things forward: the nuances of the Arabic business culture, is choking my soul.  At the end of the day, at the end of the work week, I feel like I have no skills to bring to the table.  If I can't do the things that are understandable and solid, how can I do the things that are ellusive and undefined?  It's the work that has become ellusive and undefined.  I hate that.  Robs a girl of her confidence.  Turns up the volume on that inner voice that says "you are too old for this!  Too old for anything of value."  It chokes the confidence and in so, smothers the deeper stuff where creativity can thrive. 

So I will keep at the reading and at least trying to enjoy and receive from the creative success of others, looking for water in this desert, until I can say again that I am a writer.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan Kareem

Tomorrow begins the thirty day holiest of seasons in the part of the world where I live.  And while the country will be in focused reflection, through fasting and gifts to charity and family gatherings, so too will I try to be focused on reflection.  I want to be more mindful of what my experience here is teaching me about myself; about where I find God; about what it means to be mortal on this earth.  Much like kicking off lent (and another season of great intentions, never fully completed), the fact that those around are focused on their heavenly father, Alah, I'll try to be just a little more cognizant of where God is in my life here. 

To be honest, the thing that us expats look forward to most about Ramadan is the shorter working days.  Because the Muslims do not eat between sunup and sundown (and that means not having anything in their mouth.  That means no water, no gum, not even a breath mint which can make working closely together even more of a challenge) their strength and stamina is lessened.  Not only do they have the not eating or drinking during the day, but it also means that they are up very late at night and have to get up early.  They are up late at night because when they finally can break their fast they are ready to feast and socialize.  They gather as families.  They go to Mosque together.  They go to the Iftar tents where there is food and shisha pipes and live music with the classic middle eastern stringed Oud.  They are big, and very late evenings.  Every evening: thirty in a row.  And they have to get up early before sunrise, to get through to the break of fast in the evening.  The fact that this hits during the hottest longest days of summer is especially taxing.  You see Ramadan follows a lunar calendar, and so every year it shifts a little bit.  This year, lucky us, it is during the hotest, longest days.  But the upside to this, as I started to say, is that the work days are shortened.  We will work from 9 AM to 3 PM.  No need for a lunch break.  There is no lunch.

So I will have a lot more free time.  I don't have to be to work until 9:00.  And I'll be back home by 3:30.  I have great intentions.  I have new Pilates and Yoga DVDs.  I have a blog that has been far too quiet.  I have new books on Kindle to read.  I also have a very comfortable bed and blackout curtains.  It will be a struggle of will. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Old Man...Still

In January 2009 my father spent a long weekend with me.  As most of our interactions are, it was bittersweet.  I posted this about our weekend. 

Another Father's Day has come and gone.  I was able to surprise him with a phone call directly from Abu Dhabi.  He was not expecting to get a phone call from me from so far away.  In fact when I greeted him with "Happy Father's Day Dad" he said "Thank you Sweety.  Where is your husband?"  (Obviously he thought I was my sister, who lives within more frequent calling distance).  I laughed and said "I'm not sure where my husband is.  I haven't found him yet."  That threw him for a little loop until he figured out that it was I who was calling. 

It was good to talk to him.  It was a short call.  Short but sweet.  As much as my conversations with my father often cause a mis-step or two, I miss being able to keep up with what he is up to, how he is doing and the chance to let him in on glimpses of my life.  In the last several years he has gone through many computers, cell phones, ipads and other electronic devices that he intends to use to keep up with his children who are out in the larger world.  After all the patient training my saintly sister and brother-in-law invest in getting him set up and understanding how things work, he loses momentum and then gets frustrated and gives up.  I need not to be frustrated with this.  He is in his eighties.  It's amazing that he even thinks he wants to be up to date on technology. 

This last fall I travelled to India and got to see the boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas that raised my father.  From the age of 5 until 16 when he graduated HS he lived in dormitories with other children, mostly children of Missionaries, while his parents were a ship ride or slowly travelling hand written post away in Burma.  How could one expect a child, raised in an institution to be able to know how to father and connect with his own children?  In fact, as I think about it, I'm actually quite proud of him that he does as well as he does.  And since my mother left this earth twenty years ago, my mother who was until that time, the nurturing and nesting parent, he's made great strides in building relationship with us. 

As I've matured (aged, grayed, wrinkled, settled) I've finally learned that the issues I have with my father are mine not his.  And really, the things that frustrate me the most about him are traits that I see that I've inherited from him:
  • The need I have to be seen as intelligent and smart
  • My odd sense of humor that jumps out uncensored and sometimes offends without meaning to at all
  • My self absorption
  • The need to have the last word
  • Believing I always have something to add to a conversation or something interesting to contribute when really, often there's not really all that much I can add
  • Really wanting to impress the people I come across: I want people to like and respect me, sometimes at the cost of not taking the time to know and respect them first
So knowing this about him and about me, why do I feel so vulnerable to his barbs?  Why do I crave his compliments and admiration?  Why do I long for his praise and outward expressions of unconditional love?  How am I so easily put on the defensive by the things he says?  When I recall my childhood, why is it the painful interactions that are forefront in my mind, instead of the creative, foundation building efforts he made? 

I want to be different.  Soon.  While there's still time.  While he still has his mind and his health and his strong beating heart.  A heart that beats for his family and is, at the core, good and kind and human, with faults, just like his daughter's. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Amo l'Italia!

From the moment I started hearing Italian spoken at the airplane gate in Abu Dhabi my heart started singing a bit.  Like hearing a familiar song from a good chapter in my life, I noticed my load lightening perceptively.  I was coming home, in a sense.

To that perfect balance of peace and excitement.  Content in the adventure.

It's not really an obsession (but close).  Passion is the closest word that seems to fit for how I feel about Italy and everything Italian. 

The food. 

The landscape.

The people.

The language. 

The color.

Love it all.

For the fifth time I've been able to return on a two year cycle after first going with my sister and mum on a European tour when I was in my early twenties (I am ever aware that this has been an incredible blessing for which I am tremendously grateful and hardly worthy of).  Four of these trips have been with Judy (three of them also with her husband Steve).  I guess you could say I've been the beneficiary of their love for Italy.  And a convert.

These are frequent thoughts as I settle in to the vita Italiana:

I feel so alive!

I can imagine myself living happily here.

I could fall in love again.

I am so aware of all my senses: smell, sight, sound, touch, taste.  And a sixth sense I can't describe but transcends the usual.  A sense of well being.

I am truly happy here.
I need to figure out a way to live here.
I want to gather my friends here (had a pretty good go at that one in a villa near Siena to celebrate my fiftieth a few years back)

As I am breathing and moving around in my body in Italy it's like perpetually being in a state of subtle inebriation.  Like having a good drink and a half in me and staying at that place.  All the time.  You know: before finishing off that second one and then the third and fourth and feeling maybe beyond good and maybe behaving badly.  And waking up sorry.  (If I do occasionally have that extra glass or two in Italy I always still feel good and always wake up glad to be in Italy and never sorry.)

I wish everyone could experience this place.  How can I describe it to help them do so?  Where even the shadows reveal grace and hope.

In Italy the Italians humor my attempts at their lovely language.  Like the very delicious wine there, my attempts improve with age.  And with each glass of very delicious wine. The Italians typically are gracious enough not to correct my mispronunciations.  And let me live in the illusion that I am beautifully Italian as well.  When they speak, it is always with such passion.  With their hand gestures and inflections. 

"Avete un funzionamento nella vostra calza" (you have a run in your stocking)....I hear "My heart sings for your lovely face."

"Grazie.  Glie pendero la cura quando ottengo las casa" (Thank you.  I will take care of it when I get home.)...I hear "Thank you.  I think you are the cure for my broken home."

When I was in Bologna, after walking through a food market place, a lovely proprietor of a salami shop pulled me close as I neared her counter, looked deep into my eyes, cupped her hand to my ear and spoke something that sounded like "I think you should marry my son" then pointed to the area below her belt and moved her finger up and down saying something like "I'm so sorry."  and pointed at my area below my belt at which instant I realized I had been wandering around the food market with my fly wide open.  It's hard to tell but I think in retrospect that those food merchants had been particularly flirtatious.  And the women acting more jealous of me than the usual!  (yes, the Italian air does play tricks on ones sense of self esteem in which one should feel particularly ugly being around all the gorgeous tall and skinny women whose legs don't come together and their skinny tight jeans don't leave that for guessing, but for some unreasonable, unexplainable reason one feels beautiful too instead).

This trip around I had my new camera with me.  I took a few pictures.  A few too many, perhaps.  Judy and Steve humored me as I lagged behind, popping off pictures of the balconies laden with big baskets of blooming flowers;

 bicycles propped against walls;

even laundry hanging. 

I lugged that heavy camera everywhere, trying to remember to look up and back and sideways not to miss a good shot.  Which in Italy means a hell of a lot of pictures because (I speak the truth) everything in Italy makes a good picture.  Especially when you are wandering around feeling like you have a drink and a half in you (even if that drink and a half is really only a cappucino). 

Oft I'd take a big breath in (this time most of those breaths came scented with blooming jasmine) reminding myself to register consciously the entire feeling so that I could recall it and try to rechannel it as I resume my life back in polarly opposite Abu Dhabi.  "Remember this" I said to myself.  The feelings so intense, so appreciative, so abundantly full that it breaks my heart a little.  In a good way.