Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not the How But the Why

Recently I have been in correspondence with two women who are preparing themselves to pack up their lives and begin anew here in Abu Dhabi. I had offered my advice to answer any questions they might have about living and working here. They had the typical questions: what to wear so as not to offend the locals; the availability of essential services, like how to find a good hairdresser and the cost to get manicures and pedicures; how one gets around town; access to money and paying for things; things essential to sanity like gyms and alcohol. I loved that I was able to give some advice and hopefully make their preparation a bit easier. It made me think a lot about how far I’ve come since I stepped off that plane almost eight months ago. How different things are from when every single thing I had to do was new and confusing and exhausting. And while I can give them advice (from my point of view of course) I want to somehow express to them how their own inner strength and moxie will pull them through when everything seems so foreign. So difficult. So just plain strange and weird life here is.

Even though I haven’t met them, I know that they have some character ingredient that will pull them through. I know this because something in them made them able to say “yes” to the challenge of coming here. Even though on some level they are surely scared shitless.

I can’t tell you how many people responded to my delivery of the decision I made with “you are so brave. I could NEVER do that.” For me, the decision to come here was not an exhaustive weighing of all the pros and cons. If I had started down that path I likely would not be here. Coming here required giving up of so much that was good and comfortable and known for…. what? I wasn’t sure. In fact, after I agreed to relocate “for the good of the company” is when I really started to panic. “What have I done?” “I just agreed to totally stir up my life that I worked so hard to get it as good as it is?” “Am I flippin’ crazy?” I told those people who said “you are so brave” and “I couldn’t do it,” “I told myself I can do anything for a year or two.” Inside I was saying “oh God, what have I done?” Have I really screwed up and set the course to disrupt the trajectory that was working pretty well as is? A very little morsel inside of me was glowing with the possibility “I could reinvent myself. Start over with people I don’t know in a setting I don’t know and be anything, anybody I want to be.” Just today as I am writing about that is when I am remembering that.

Since I’ve been here I’ve been so invested in just trying to figure out how to survive the everyday: learning how to do everything from making a phone call to what to wear; how to deal with the tremendous culture shock of living in a place so completely different from where I became who I am; adjusting from the closeness to friends and family, giving up the ability to spontaneously pick up the phone and invite a dear friend over or arrange a night out with comfortable friends. Yes since then I’ve been too busy to think about reinventing myself. On that front I’ve let myself down. I am still my combination of false bravery and self doubt that makes me appear confident on the outside and shaky on the inside. I still feel protected by a God that loves me and looks after me knowing all along that I am so unworthy of that care. I am scared shitless a lot of the time. I often don’t find the energy I wish I had to be a really brave, fun loving, confident, joyous person I thought I’d reinvent myself to be. Things instead are brewing at a deeper level. I have stirred things up and forced myself to live life at a deeper level. Because of the needing to learn everything anew. Because things don’t come easily. Because it is often very lonely and isolating I have to knit together parts of my soul that maybe need a little mending. I have needed to ask some deeper questions about how to do this thing called living.

What I’ve always liked about travelling to a foreign country is that it causes me to be very conscious of everything around me: the smells; the sounds; the air. I love to observe others in their lives without the emotional attachment of someone who will stay. But to take that on for a longer period, knowing that you won’t return to “normal” for a very long time is hard. Very hard. And I have this fear that when I return I won’t be able to find “normal.” In fact I so don’t want to face THAT fear that I don’t want to write about it.

I just got an email from a dear friend (one who has become dearer since I moved here: she’s faithfully followed me every step of the way with support and encouragement that has surprised the socks off of me!). She and her husband are in the early stages of exploring a similar life altering journey. She has so many questions about the practicalities of pulling off something like this. And while there are so many questions about the “hows” I read into her questions the big one. The “why?” The answer is in the response to that little ember that is glowing about the possibility of reinvention. The challenge of giving up what is comfortable and familiar in the hope that you will find something more. The something more is not about the potential to save money or make money. It’s not about the pride in having a passport with more stamps on the pages or having great stories to tell when you get back. It’s about what you find out about yourself when you don’t have the answers. It’s about the struggle and the new relationships you will form. In her case it will be about the lives she touches. But more importantly, it’s about changing her own life and touching the parts of her own soul that don’t get touched and mended in the daily grind of what is familiar. It will be an adventure she could never fully anticipate or plan for. But she would go with the same knowledge of her Father who protects her and the support of people who love her.

After I had said Yes to this and was in the panic stage my “sounding board” very wisely said “you know you don’t have to go. You could say ‘no.’ What’s the worst that could happen if you changed your mind?” Admittedly I’ve lamented that a few times since. “Why didn’t I say ‘no’?” But honestly, I know this is good. It is just for a few years. The glowing ember is being fanned. I am reinventing myself whether consciously or not. I am sure I’d be sitting at home with regret if I had turned down the opportunity.

Just last night, in the middle of watching a movie, my flat mate said “I just had that consciousness of how far we are away from everybody.” That happens. You go along for a while doing what you do to live and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere you have this flash of how very far away you physically are from your family and friends. Though you might be in touch, even on a daily basis, it would take days and miles to actually get back to them. That is a sobering thought. Can outright panic you if you let it. And then calmness arrives from out of somewhere and you are again assured that all is well. You will be fine. And you go on with the everyday practicalities of living and working in a foreign land while underneath things are mending.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Love this shot from Yas Marina Track. Drift races today. People watching was just as good as teh races.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Through the Lens Today

On the way home from work, stuck in traffic, I noticed this truck with the very fancy decorations on his side-view mirror. So I took a shot (I am in that obnoxious new camera owner stage where I am taking pictures of everything - except of course people, see previous notes).

But what I really liked about this shot was the reflection of the driver. The distance and the mirror gives it a painting like quality when zoomed in (I am liking the zooming feature :) I need to get a good photo processing program to really play around with these. Any suggestions?

Lamb Shwarma for the 2nd time this week: I'm spoiled!

"Two Star Refreshment"...let's set the bar low!

"Goodwill Fashion Garmets"...and they aren't even used.

The shot that got away: the butcher shop sign "Meat Butchery" with pictures of a goat, a sheep and a camel. No beef or chicken there. And now I know where to go when the recipe calls for camel meat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's All About Focus

Trying to focus on so many things is problematic

The background overshadows what is right in front of me

And what's right in front of me seems so big

Trying to stitch it all together....

(My apologies for the bad metaphores. I am trying to figure out the focus options on the camera and it dawned on me in this series that I am a little scattered here, with too much emphasis on the background, what I left behind, and what is in front of me seems so very big. I just have to keep reminding myself it's just a series of stitches, small ones, that make up my life here, and not to get too hung up on what is behind and will eventually be returned to, or the sometimes seemingly unsurmountable here and now right here. Strange times...)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pictures of the Day

Schwarma Shop down the street. Enjoyed a lamb Schwarma meal with a co-worker outside. Long sleeves needed though during the day it's starting to feel like winter is over.

Testing the colors capabilities of the new toy. Seems to work well.

A good camera can even make laundry drying look arty. I'm liking the shots without the flash much better than those with.

Sheesha pipes standing at attention. This didn't exactly capture the lighting as it was as this was on an outside patio at night but I like the way they are all at attention.

Dried apricots looking plump and sexy.

Handmade Turkish Delight from the Lebanese Roaster accross the street.

My purchases on the way home from dinner: lentils, pine nuts, dried apricots and Turkish Delight.
I have much to learn with the camera. Right now I just take multiple shots of the same thing that catches my eye, using different settings and composition until I find one I like. Unfortunately I have to be pretty subtle with the camera out and about: practicing Muslims do not allow their pictures to be taken and there are also many other things that are forbidden to take. I know of many folks who have had strangers scream at them or come out of nowhere and grab their cameras in anger because the cameras are out, even when the photographer is taking something seemingly innocent, like a building. So the fast lens will be nice but the size of the camera is not so subtle. In the meantime you get food shots and scenes from the apartment. At least you can see I am doing my laundry and fixing things in the kitchen. My world: welcome to it!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The View From Here

I've been running out of words lately.

So I did something I've been thinking about doing for years: invested in a quality digital camera.

A co-worker who is really good at this stuff agreed to take me out to make the decision.

So now it's learning time. He heads back to the UK in two weeks. Then I am on my own.

With my Nikon D-90 Camera Body and AF Zoom-Nikkor 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF lense (whatever that means). It does have a built in Macro feature in the lens so I don't have to get a separate one. And I should be able to take some better action shots with a faster focus and better digital quality.

For now I am just playing around with it. Humor me!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I have learned...

Not all the world lives under the direction of
Love thy neighbor as thyself
Do unto others as you would have them
Do unto you

I am uncomfortable living in a world
Where respect for another is based on
Where they are from and
What level of wealth or poverty they were born into
How much education they had the privilege to get

I do not like the part
About “owning” another person
Not even caring if they are inconvenienced
(maybe even hurt)
By my actions

I find it hard to stand by
And watch them struggle to
Carry or move or take care of something
That I am perfectly capable of doing myself
I hate it when I am stopped from doing something
Because it is beneath me
And we have others to do it for us

And I am supposed to be silent

Monday, February 7, 2011


Seems that I'd be a "maam-sir" in Saudi too. Amused by this invitation to a workshop in Saudi where I'm addressed as "Mr. Jennifer..." There are project opportunities in Saudi but I would not be going. No thank you. It's hard enough sometimes being an affective female professional here in the UAE. In Saudi it's one-thousand times more difficult. In fact they just send invites to "Mr" whether it's obviously a woman or not. Kind of drives home the point: don't even think of coming if you are a woman. OK, I get it. Not coming. Only please take me off your mailing list 'cause it just irritates the heck out of me.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I believe in every woman (well almoste every woman)
there is a gene that drives her to nest
To build a home
To make a place of peace and retreat
And a place to receive and welcome others inside

After seven months in the company flat
My nesting gene was reawakened as we move into our own place

Warmed the the thought of a gas cooktop
And homemade butternut squash soup

The City skyline stretched out before me from the kitchen pass through

The primal drive to possess the most cheerful lampshade I've ever seen
Which puts a smile on my face even with the weight of this very strange world on my shoulders

The need for storage dictates a bed with drawers underneath
White bedroom furniture is not in my blood
But options are limited
And, with the help of the aforementioned most cheerful lampshade ever
I make peace with it
I see it as haven, if not heaven

And a sunrise shows off for me every morning
At the edge of my world

I count among the blessings
A soaking tub in my private loo
And think of the nights of water dipped from an old oil drum
In the bug infested nights of Sudan
And remind myself how very fortunate I am
Even when I mostly want to leave where I am

With walls and walls of mirrors in the place
Reflection cannot be avoided
Come on in
Sit right down
Awaiting your arrival

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I wish I could...

just open this screen and have it be true. This tab is at the top of my e-mail screen.
Freeze frame
I catch myself opening it and willing for the communication to start
What would she say?
How do we finish?
I know it makes no sense at all but...
I cannot bring myself to delete the screen
Because as long as it says our communication will appear here
I cannot erase that possibility