Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dubai... Eight Years Later

“And you Americans elected Trump,” she says with a sneer.

It’s the moment I realize we’ve actually left the country.

The flight attendant continues with a smile: “Wouldn’t it be great if we land in Dubai and he’s been assassinated?” 

It’s a jarring statement, especially coming from a woman whose headband sprouts two bouncy Christmas reindeers popping forward on springs.

“I’m hoping for a heart attack,” I say meekly.

“Yah, I hear he has McDonalds twice a day.”  And with that, she pushes her beverage cart down the aisle.

We are sitting in coach on our flight from London to Dubai.  How did she know we weren’t Trump supporters?

I can only assume that the international contempt for our president is so far-reaching, it wouldn’t even occur to her that I’d be offended by the remarks.

It’s been almost eight years since I’ve taken this flight. On our plane from Los Angeles to London, PopPop and I were in business class, and the upper level of the enormous aircraft had been largely empty, it being Christmas eve and all.  The most prominent passengers were two well-dressed and obviously-well traveled gay men, who knew precisely when in the flight to change into their night clothes for sleeping, and precisely when to change into their smartly accessorized day outfits and shiny shoes before landing.

Down on this lower level, it’s a whole other universe.  Turbans, headscarves, face veils, crying children (one of whom I think just threw up in the seat in front of me), every shade of skin color.  This is part of what makes me feel so emotional about Dubai: I love its universal appeal, and how a group like this one puts our full humanity on display.  Back in southern California it’s so easy to become comfortably numb amongst the homogeneity; on this plane, by contrast, it’s impossible to ignore our different customs, languages, and styles of dress.  All of us in coach are suffering through each wailing baby and moment of turbulence together, and I feel like we are bonded together somehow.  If a dramatic flight event took place like it does in the movies, I have no doubt that we would coalesce immediately into a functional and effective team, all superficial distinctions erased.

On this trip, I hope to revisit the sites of my Dubai past—the supermarket, the mall, the gated neighborhood—to see if the reality matches my memories.  And of course, to be reunited with my best Dubai friend, a.k.a. the Australian, and our driver, a.k.a. the Z-Man!

I can’t make sense of the in-flight map because right now it’s in Arabic, but I think in about four hours, I will be reunited with Dubai.  I can’t believe it.


It’s 4am.  I’ve been awake since 1:45am.  Because jet lag.

Our arrival into Dubai was exhilarating. It was 11:45pm when we landed, and I immediately switched from worrying about whether we’d get held up in immigration due to the one Xanax pill I had in my wallet to worrying about how the Z-Man was going to find us and whether my dad would be surprised.  I also didn’t know if I was supposed to have some visa paperwork or if we’d be asked a lot of questions about our travel plans (would we omit the part about our plan to swing through Israel?), so it was a relief to be greeted by an immigration officer (dressed in the traditional white Arab robe and headscarf, naturally) who was smiling and friendly and let us right through.  We were passing by the long line of Indian drivers when I heard my name called—and there was the Z-Man, beaming, jolly, beelining towards us—and thankfully I had phone in hand and was able to record my dad and the Z-Man’s joyous reunion (the Z-Man had tears on his cheeks!).

Stepping outside for the first time in 24 hours, the air felt heavy and warm (the Z-Man’s protestations that it was cold notwithstanding) (it was around 70 degrees; everything is relative!).  The Z-Man drove us to our hotel, chatting the whole way about the city’s new developments in that broken English way that both charms and confounds me (hence my famous misunderstanding of his pronunciation of the word “government,” which led to a thousand family “Gorman” jokes).  We said goodbye to him at the curb with such gusto and hugs that the Filipino bellmen exchanged glances.

The hotel (Emirates Jumeira Towers) was gorgeous and decadent and all the other things you’d expect from one of the world’s great tourist destinations, even at 1am.  Pop and I said goodnight and tried to get some sleep, but the 12-hour time difference and the excitement kept us both awake.

After reveling from our respective windows at the foggy spectacle taking place outside our 43rd floor hotel rooms, we met for breakfast in the fancy club lounge, saying “I still can’t believe we’re here!” over and over again. 

Morning view from the 43rd floor

I didn’t think I’d cry but of course I did when the Australian arrived to pick us up; it had only been 3 years since our last visit (she’d traveled to the US for my 40th birthday party!) but even 3 years is a long time between close friends.

She took us on a tour of some of our favorite spots: first our old house (it looked the same, albeit with a Rolls Royce now in the driveway), then the neighborhood clubhouse where Pop had transformed himself from round to ripped in the gym (not one but TWO of the gym trainers recognized Pop—by name!), then the shopping plaza where the girls had taken ballet classes, then the beachfront where Pop used to take his daily walks, and finally one of my favorite malls, Ibn Battuta.  At each stop, I began by saying, “I don’t remember any of this!” but then, a muscle memory would reliably kick in, and I’d think aloud, “I feel like there’s something over here…” and follow some internal GPS and sure enough, there would be the cat food aisle or the playground or the Starbucks of my past. 

A lot was unchanged—the green park in front of our house, the ornate tiles decorating the vaulted cathedral-like ceilings at the mall, the children’s nursery school entrance; a lot was renovated and more spacious—the supermarket and Dubai’s answer to Target, Carrefour!, had both been remodeled to give them a more open, fluorescent-lit feel; and some were absolutely unrecognizable—the beach at JBR, which had once been an untouched expanse of sand, was now crowded to near overflow with pop-up shops, craft markets, and new hotels.  There was even a new ISLAND right off the shoreline (man-made, of course), sporting an absolutely MASSIVE ferris wheel that’s still under construction (Dubai’s answer to the London Eye, the Australian says).

housemaid advertisement


McDonalds innovation!


the beach is now a shopping center!

Five Guys in Dubai

fanciest Starbucks I've ever seen

When I’m home in the US, the dismal state of American politics is always at the forefront of my mind (maybe because I can’t look away from the train wreck of the 24-hour cable news cycle).  But here in Dubai, the political undercurrent is still the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  The Australian told us that in her daughter’s homework assignments, Israel is referred to by an “I” with a line crossed through it (!!!), and at the craft market, we saw t-shirts with images like, “My heart beats for Palestine” and an outline of the state of Israel with a huge Arabic word written though it (“I don’t know what that says, but I KNOW what that says,” remarked Pop). My senses were heightened by the fact that I’d just watched Season 4 of Transparent on the plane ride over, not knowing in advance that most of the episodes chronicle the family’s tour through Israel, and I was weighed down by the character Allie’s crisis of conscience at having befriended a bunch of politically active Palestinians who recommended a complete boycott of all Israeli goods.  I was looking for a newspaper but no luck; I’d wanted to see if there were still references to “Occupied Jerusalem” as I recalled.

We returned to the hotel without having bought much—a belt for Pop, a Muslim-garbed Barbie for me—fully feeling the jetlag and wondering if 3pm was too early for bed.  I ended up turning in at 7:30pm, but Pop was the ultimate good sport and rallied for dinner with the Z-Man that got him home at 8pm.  I hope he is sleeping now!

Today we plan on visiting Karama, the market of knockoff everything, and Mall of the Emirates.  I am already getting nervous about our adventure to Israel early tomorrow—please, universe, don’t let the letlag and lack of proper meals slow us down!  And now, another attempt at sleep…


3:39 am. We need to leave for the airport at 5:30am so I think the sleeping portion of my evening is over.

Perusing a newspaper yesterday at breakfast, I discovered that yes, articles about Israel still state that the events are taking place in “Occupied Jerusalem,” so apparently that situation hasn’t evolved.  While I have been making a concerted effort to avoid watching the news while we’re here, for fear of finding out something that will make me anxious during our travels, it was a relief to see that the front page news stories were about medical tourism and Dubai’s architectural achievements as opposed to some pending international crisis.

"Occupied Jerusalem"

After breakfast I headed with the Australian to Mall of the Emirates because I wanted to see the ski slope again.  To my delight, I learned that the attraction now has penguins (which the Australian tells me were shipped in from TEXAS, of all places!).  The penguins were sleeping but I was at least able to watch an adorable video of their antics on a huge jumbotron over the snow play area.

The mall—just like the city itself—seemed so much BIGGER than I remembered.  And unlike our first days in Dubai back in 2008, when my skin prickled every time we walked passed a fully veiled woman or a man in traditional Arab dress, yesterday they hardly even registered in my consciousness.  And when the call to prayer was played over the mall loudspeaker at lunchtime, I could barely hear it over the din, and I did not notice anyone making any movements in response.  It was just background noise.

We stopped by the pharmacy because, on principle, I wanted to buy a medicine that is prescription-only in the US (cheap thrill!).  So I picked up a 6-day supply of Zithromax which I can pretty much guarantee will now sit in my medicine cabinet forever as a souvenir.

After spending some time at the Australian’s house with her family (where her daughter explained to me that kids at school use the word “transgender” as a slur, and they are taught in their classes that Israelis are terrorists) (yikes), I came back to the hotel to pack up my bags.  Even though traffic lights have replaced many of the roundabouts, plenty of them still remain, as do the maddening speed bumps.  Between that and the heat (it was only 77 degrees but for some reason felt oppressive), I was glad to take a rest.

We had one more item on our Dubai checklist: karama, the knockoff market typically frequented by low-income housekeepers and wayward tourists.  It was a virtual ghost town at 7pm on a weeknight, so at the sight of Pop and the Z-Man and me, every vendor leapt out of his folding chair and began aggressively badgering us: “Rolex watch.” “Handbags.” “T-shirts.” “Good price!”  Pop and I— in what must be somehow American social conditioning—could not help ourselves from politely responding with, “No thank you,” and, in Pop’s case, “I don’t need a watch, I have nowhere I need to be.”  But of course, engaging only encouraged the vendors more.  I wished I could follow the Z-Man’s lead: he just kept his head down as he walked and ignored them altogether.  I tried that but I couldn’t do it, perhaps because I felt that ignoring them would have angered or provoked them, and there were just so many of them.

I ended up buying a soap made with camel’s milk (?) just because of the adorable cartoon characters on the front of the canvas pouch, and didn’t bother negotiating the price because, again, Americans!, the process made me uncomfortable and it was only about $6.  In light of the #metoo movement, I wonder if I didn’t want to bargain because bargaining feels inherently confrontational, and why would I want to confront a group of four Arab men when I’m alone in their shop in a largely deserted marketplace?  Of course Pop and the Z-Man were in a nearby shop so it wasn't a logical fear… but it directed my behavior nonetheless.

We headed back to the hotel and I already had a lump in my throat at the prospect of Pop and the Z-Man’s goodbye.  The Z-Man will probably never be able to get a visa to visit us in the US, and I have no idea when we will be back in Dubai next.  The Z-Man had tears in his eyes before he even got out of the car, and I fell apart myself when Pop offered the Z-Man some money as a thank you gift, and the Z-Man stepped back in horror.  There was a sad exchange where the Z-Man, tears on his face, was saying, “No, no,” and Pop was trying to put the money in his hand, saying, “Don’t insult me, my brother, this is for your kids, I love you.”  Lord, I'm getting emotional just writing about it!  The Z-Man eventually accepted the money and we all rushed away after a hug because it was all just too much.

The only thing I wasn’t able to do during our visit was check in on our housekeeper, Alice… neither the Z-Man nor the Australian had any information on her whereabouts. I wanted to see her not because it would have been at ALL like our reunion with the Z-Man (my interaction with her was always markedly uncomfortable, presumably because my distinctly American social style was so different from how she was used to being treated by her employers), but because my heart still hurts for her two sons growing up without their mother in the Philippines, and I wanted to give her some Christmas money (or, as Daddy calls it, her 401K installment). 

Other than that, we accomplished everything we wanted to in Dubai, and I was able to take many, many postcard-esque photographs from the window of the 43rd floor.  Dubai is as shiny, dusty, crowded, deserted, smooth, jagged, and mysterious as I remember it… Pop even said, “I think maybe Dubai saved my life.”  I think he’s right.

goodbye, skyline
So for that, if for no other reason, I will always hold a place in my heart for Dubai.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today the kids were upstairs playing school. Sushi descended the stairs in full travel regalia: hat, sunglasses, high heels, backpack. "Where are you going, Teacher?" I asked. "Africa," she replied. "Oh yeah? Do you know anyone there?" I inquired. The six-year-old benignly rolled her eyes at me. "Um, yes. [S] from my class. And [J] our old housekeeper..."

For what must be the millionth time, I was struck with a pang of loss. How many children of Sushi's age have legitimate connections to several countries outside of her own? And what wouldn't I give to go back to Dubai and make more?

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of our return to the United States. On July 1 of last year, we thought we had arrived here for a summer visit, not knowing at the time that our family would not be going back to the UAE in the fall. We had said hasty goodbyes to friends and the kids' classmates, not infusing the departure with extraordinary significance. We had driven mindlessly past the schools and the mosques and the shopping malls, not bothering to memorize the details or take note of the architecture. We had absent-mindedly closed the door to our magnificent three-story mansion, not taking the kids on one last lap of the playroom or the roofdeck or the grassy field in front of the house.

And then suddenly it was all gone.

One year later, our unexpected departure from Dubai evokes in me a visceral response not unlike my feelings surrounding the loss of my mother in 2007-- a surge of sadness, a sharp awareness of something taken away, and a knee-jerk repression of any further thoughts on the subject. It's not as profound a devastation as losing a parent, of course; but it still hurts.

You may be reading this with incredulity: surely I am being melodramatic if not downright maudlin about the whole thing. It was just a relocation after all. And perhaps I am suffering from some misplaced nostalgia which puts my Dubai memories under a fuzzy lens. But I think I speak for PopPop, too, when I say that both of us are missing Dubai more, instead of less, as time goes by.

Perhaps that's because little reminders of our time there abound: the wax paper in the kitchen drawer with the Arabic script on its box, the bathroom cabinet's stockpile of antibiotics purchased at the Dubai drugstore without a prescription, the Emirates luggage tags and Dubai immigration stickers wallpapering our suitcases (causing one of my bags to be seized by security after I accidentally left it in an airport gift shop; could have done without the quarantined area and the sniffer dogs that day). We are still frequently introduced to new people as "the ones who lived in Dubai," and our fantastically supportive rabbi can't seem to make it through a Friday night service without gesturing playfully to us and announcing to the congregation, "You can't get this in Abu Dhabi!"

So what is it that I miss so desperately? Well not the oppressive heat, of course... or the dusty unfinished roads rife with nausea-inducing speed bumps... or the often-futile search for familiar brands in the grocery stores... or the outrageously high prices on imports and child-related items... or my neurotic obsession with the fact that we were Jews in an Arab country... or the vague discomfort I continued to experience while walking side-by-side with fully-veiled, seemingly faceless Muslim women in the decadent shopping malls.

No, what I miss is vastly more "meta" than those day-to-day details. I miss the sense of *adventure* that infused our lives in Dubai. Meeting people of countless ethnicities and cultures and languages. Being forced out of our comfort zones and becoming more worldly, more tolerant, more compassionate as a result. Exposing our children to the GLOBE and not just the very narrow American take on it. Coming to understand opposing viewpoints on international conflict and the extent to which our respective media controls us all. And feeling so proud of us for getting out of our own way, abandoning our myriad misconceptions about what life in the UAE would be like, and allowing ourselves to fall in love with life abroad.

I especially miss the microcosm of the world that existed inside our Dubai house. I could not have been happier with PopPop living with us and yet having his own private apartment on the third floor. I loved the way that Alice, our devoted Filipino nanny, treated our children like her own; and I was moved by the passion with which the Z-Man, Daddy's Pakistani driver, wanted to protect us and educate us about his part of the world. Everything about that house now seems to me so precious-- right down to the barely-functional baby monitors and wholly inept handyman service and the squeaky wooden front door that swelled so much in the heat that it would not close without a fight.

It goes without saying, I hope, that I am also heartsick about not being able to see my Dubai friends anymore. Bonnie and Clyde, who were giving me an insider's perspective into Muslim issues. The German, who, despite our falling out over neighborly boundaries, continues to send me the occasional affectionate email. Makes-My-Own-Pillows, who had her fourth baby and was counting on me to be there for her happy occasion. Mommy-of-Screamer's-Soulmate, who had invited me to go into business with her this year. And especially The Australian, who has been going through her own personal challenges, and whom I so desperately want to hug.

Facebook has eased some of the shock of the transition... I am FB friends with almost all of my Dubai gang, right down to the teachers and the babysitters... but it's not the same. Celebrating birthdays with an electronic card or getting important news via status update is a constant reminder that there are miles and miles and miles that separate you and the people you love.

Certainly there is a part of me that is happy to be home-- of course it is a relief to be reunited with my American friends and our old schools and be close to family again. Also, I'm not sure that I wouldn't have had an apoplectic fit if we HAD still been in the UAE this past year during the uprisings in Egypt and Libya... and when that American reporter was attacked amidst cries of "Jew! Jew!"... and when Bin Laden was killed. The Australian had even contacted me after the Bin Laden episode to say, "Be happy you're not here; the US Embassy has issued a warning for Americans." So yes, perhaps it was a good thing that we were sent home when we were, as I was always a tad paranoid while we were there.

But oh, my longing for Dubai is at times almost tangible. To walk through the colorful hallways of the American school... or to peer through the windows onto the ski slope at Mall of the Emirates, or admire the giant replica of the ship at Ibn Battuta Mall, or visit the world's largest fish tank at the Dubai Mall... to drop off the girls at ballet class and meet The Australian for our Saturday morning Starbucks... to go to the Marina and let the children frolic in the jumping fountains... to drive too fast down the desert-lined highway with my Adam Lambert CD defiantly playing through open windows... to pull up to the Clubhouse just in time to see PopPop emerging from the gym in his muscle shirt and Ray Bans... to hear the not-at-ALL-subtle "AHEM" of the Z-Man as he tried to get my attention away from my computer... to be greeted by Alice's never-too-friendly-but-always-sincere "Morning ma'm" in the kitchen as she was packing the kids' lunches... to have the girls stand at the bottom of the spiral staircase and ya-HOOOOOO up to PopPop to let him know they were home... to sit at the oversized dining room table and play "the letter game" over dinner... THESE are the memories that make my heart ache.


Ok, enough sentimental walking down memory lane. [pulling self together] What's been going on over the past nine months since I last wrote? Here are our updates... drumroll please!

DADDY - The biggest news: Daddy has a new job! That's right, he's no longer with the company for which we packed up and moved to the other side of the planet. I can't go into too much detail, because he still has dealings with the former group... but suffice it to say that he was offered a position with a company that has a less complicated infrastructure (recall that Daddy's original company was purchased in large part by a UAE-based company, hence our relocation to set up a Middle East presence) and a seemingly more stable trajectory. And while on the one hand I regret that Daddy left the old company before he could be fully rewarded for all the sacrifices he made, on the other hand Daddy seems utterly fulfilled and appreciated at his new job, and that is, at the end of the day, all anybody can really ask for. I continue to be absolutely blown away by Daddy's brilliance and professional accomplishments, and I am reveling in the fact that the industry at large is finally beginning to publicly acknowledge what I have known all along. Daddy for the win!!

POPPOP - PopPop and I have taken our departure from Dubai the hardest-- and I think PopPop would go back there in a *heartbeat* if he could. That said, he has been the ULTIMATE good sport, never complaining about the fact that he had JUST renewed the tenants' lease on his house when we found out we were staying here, and ALWAYS showing up with a smile to cover the slack during all of Daddy's many, many business trips of late. The purple worm didn't survive the trip home, but it has been replaced with other, better, PopPop magic: pulling jelly beans out of belly buttons, trailblazing alligator hunts in our back yard, and, most recently, coming up with new and interesting proposals for extracting loose baby teeth. He continues to be the patriarch of our clan and we all, rightfully, worship him. :)

[Shout-out to TESS for continuing to put a roof over PopPop's head! We love you and love having you in the mix!!!]

SUSHI - Now a whopping 6 years old and headed into first grade in the fall. Sushi has been completely kicking ASS at her fancy private school (at which kindergarten was hardly child's play-- they covered topics ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to mathematical fractions). Straight A's both semesters-- and she even stole the show at a recent dance recital. She is both a completely mature kid (she loves nothing more than sitting at the grown-up table and participating in adult conversations) and a completely immature kid (she still throws temper tantrums when she gets tired, which aggravates me TO NO END). She has started writing her first "book" (about a child who wakes up as the President of the United States) and we are excited to see how Daddy's and my nerdy DNA will continue to propel her academic career.

SCREAMER - Now four-and-a-half. Taught herself to read. This is not a joke. With Sushi, we watched the educational videos, we sounded out the words.... With Screamer, one day she just picked up a book and started reading to us. This is both a blessing-- what smarts! what initiative!-- and a curse-- for now we have been guilted into also signing her up for the very expensive private school so that she can have a stimulating and challenging year. Screamer has additionally been excelling at gymnastics-- never before has a kid been born into such a gymnast's physique-- and we are constantly being told by the coaches that she was made for this sport. Sadly she has outgrown of a lot of the ditziness that made her our little wood nymph, oftentimes surprising us with feistiness when duking it out with her sisters; but she can play school by *herself* for hours, talking sweetly and nurturingly to her stuffed animal students. (That is, until she tosses them violently into the time out corner-- you'd think that she was breaking up a knife fight by the way they get disciplined.)

BABY - Was 6 months old when we first landed in Dubai. Is now 3 and has an opinion on everything. Was the youngest in the family to give up her pacifiers (2 and a half as compared to Screamer at nearly 4) and has an independence and fearlessness that I attribute in part to our overseas experience. She is a silly, happy kid who loves to play school with her sisters and wash ANYTHING with a spray bottle and get her nails painted. And oh-- I guess she's not a baby anymore. :)

HARRY - The old cat survived the 24-hour trip-- twice!-- and is presently napping in the sun. He sends his regards.

BABYCAT - Our adopted Dubai kitten was able to do what our Filipino housekeeper was not-- become a United States resident. Surprisingly, we were not required to quarantine either feline when we returned to the country, despite the fact that Babycat had been rescued from an abandoned construction site in the UAE, and we only needed to show (and I use that term loosely, since the airport employee could not have cared less) a certificate of health from our Dubai vet. Go figure. Babycat has adjusted quickly to American life and the other neighborhood cats have finally stopped making fun of her accent. (ba-dum-bump)

Z-MAN - Here's where the updates take a turn for the worse, as our departure has not been easy for the lovely people who lived with us at the house. The gentle giant Z-Man went back to Pakistan for his (arranged) marriage over the summer (the good news!) but has returned to the UAE to become something of a lost soul (the bad news). He has not secured permanent employment, doing odd jobs for Daddy's old company, and mostly seems to be just moping around Abu Dhabi missing *us*. He calls from a voice-over-internet phone occasionally, and goes on and on in the saddest way about how he should be happy as a newlywed but is not... how he thinks of us and the kids all the time... and how he just wants God to grace us with a happy life. I wish we could bring him here, if only for a visit... but YOU try to get an American visa for a hulking 30-something Pakistani man in this day and age. Sad face.

[Side note: PopPop and Z-Man are Facebook friends. Pause for a moment to appreciate the absurdity of that fact. Gotta hand it to Mark Zuckerberg for truly making the world a very, very small place.]

ALICE - Another imperfect ending. The Australian was able to find Alice a family in Abu Dhabi to work for... but apparently the schedule is unforgiving, the family might be leaving, and she has not made many friends in her new neighborhood. Most sobering of all is the fact that she apparently keeps a photo of us by her bed (*us*-- but not her own children) and says things to the other housemaids along the lines of, "This family will come back for me." We DID explore this possibility when we first returned to the US-- not because we needed a live-in nanny here but because we couldn't bear to leave her behind-- but again, a visa is a virtual impossibility. The only way we could bring a Filipino housekeeper into the country is if we could prove that WE would only be in the USA on a temporary basis before being assigned elsewhere... and even then, she could only stay for a year. I exchange text messages with Alice very occasionally-- usually on the subject of American Idol, which is huge in the Philippines-- and while she is predictably terse she also never fails to say she misses the children.

JULIA - Ah yes, the housekeeper of the notoriously short-lived employment who ultimately accused us of firing her because she is black (good times). After we let her go because of visa problems and whatnot, we urged her to return to Nigeria and regroup. She refused and assured us that God would provide. And I guess He did, since, according to The Australian, she works for a family in Abu Dhabi now. The Australian (who also moved to Abu Dhabi) sometimes bumps in to her but avoids it if at all possible. And who could blame her. Awkwaaard.

ALICE'S SISTER-IN-LAW (ASIL) - Yikes, maybe the most dramatic story of all. Recall that ASIL had been sent to Dubai by her family when her husband (Alice's brother) lost his job. Her English was almost non-existent and she had no experience with housekeeping, so we asked her to stay with us so that Alice could show her the ropes. Well, after we left Dubai, The Australian-- bless her!-- opened up her heart and her home to ASIL so that she wouldn't be fed to the wolves of the general marketplace... only to have ASIL first brillo-pad The Australian's car in an attempt to clean it (removing much of the paint), THEN mistake Tylenol for children's treats, and THEN have something of a *nervous breakdown* and quietly demand that The Australian's husband buy her a plane ticket back to the Philippines. I still don't understand what happened to ASIL-- though her epic hysteria in the driveway when PopPop and I were saying goodbye *should* have been a red flag of instability-- but I thank The Australians for sending her back home (at quite a cost, all in) and hope that her own family could give her the peace of mind she couldn't find with borrowed ones.

Finally, ME - I'm fine. I'm good. I'm less overwhelmed than I've been in years, I suppose-- what with all three kids out of toddlerhood and in the same summer camp and on the same schedule. For the next two months I will have more extended periods of unstructured alone time than I have possibly *ever* had-- which leaves me no excuse not to do things like finish this blog and unpack the remaining Dubai boxes (Daddy bought us a GLORIOUS new home that I ADORE!!) and organize the garage and start to formulate a plan for one day going back to work. I can't help but worry about what's next-- it causes me stress that Daddy's new company is based out of California and it's only a matter of time before we're asked to move again-- but I am trying VERY hard to live in the present, and appreciate this present chapter of calm. Lord knows life can change in the blink of an eye, and these quiet, predictable days are NOT to be taken for granted. So while I absolutely, positively miss the subtle *thrill* of waking up every day in the Middle East-- whether I was in the mall or at the school or even in my own home flanked by our Filipino housekeeper and our Pakistani driver, I was always in a state of heightened awareness-- I must also concede that there is a very distinct comfort in having been returned home safe and sound.

One last heartbreak for Daddy, PopPop and me is how LITTLE the children remember of our time in Dubai, even though it ended for them barely a year ago. Understandably, Baby remembers nothing of it... but astonishingly, Screamer remembers almost as much. When asked, Screamer can't recall the name of her best friend there OR our live-in housekeeper (!!!), which for PopPop and me is like a stab to the heart. THANKFULLY, the clever, memory-like-an-elephant Sushi is our saving grace on this front: she has many vivid memories of Dubai, still includes Z-Man and Alice when listing her family members, and often asks when we can go back and visit.

Speaking of which, for a kindergarten project a few months ago, Sushi was required to design a travel brochure. During the school day and without any input at ALL from us, Sushi created this:

[Come and visit Dubi]

(Editorial note: These are construction workers.)

[You can ride the airplane.]

(Editorial note: We did NOT make her fly on FedEx.)

[Burge Kulifa is one of the tallest buildings in the world.]

[Dubi its so cool you can see all of the bildings and dirt.]

(Ed. Note: that's her drawing of the iconic Burj Al-Arab, also seen in the photo of Screamer and Supernanny at the top of this post. Not bad, huh?)

It brings me great comfort to know that, for at least *one* of our children, Dubai will be a permanent fixture in her psychological landscape just like it will be for us adults. At first I didn't want to go there... but just as Daddy predicted would happen, then I didn't want to leave.

That chapter of our lives may be over, but this story has no end. Thank you for coming along for the ride.


Post Script. I never did make a close female Muslim friend in Dubai; was never privy to that suspenseful moment when a veiled woman, far from the prying eyes of unmarried men, removes her headscarf to reveal her precious hair underneath. For this I will always be sorry. But thanks to a terrific book, I did feel like I'd been allowed a glimpse of the unseeable. I highly recommend Dr. Quanta A. Ahmed's "In The Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom" for anyone interested in women's issues in the Middle East.

A great, compelling read told from a Western perspective.

And with that, dear friends, I bid you farewell and much love.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Searching for the Bright Side.

So here I am.

Sitting in the same old desk chair, at the same old desk, as when I wrote the very first entry of this blog a few years ago. In the good ol' USA.

It's incredible how this adventure is ending almost exactly how it began: Daddy is away for an entire month (only this time he's selling off, as opposed to buying up, the items of our Dubai world)... PopPop and I are depressed and commiserating (thank goodness we have the ever-ebullient "Tess" around to lift both of our spirits)... and none of us quite knows what's next for us. In other words, an oddly familiar cloud of uncertainty, resentment, and despair is obstructing our view.

So in a futile attempt to alleviate the I-MISS-DUBAI blues (I get all choked up whenever I think of our utopian home life, Screamer's little soulmate, or my best girls whom I had to leave behind), I have cobbled together a list of twenty things I will NOT miss about Dubai. (Avert your eyes, C, M, M, and S back in the desert, unless you want to be reminded of the occasional annoyances that Dubai living has to offer.)

Therefore I am happily saying GOOD RIDDANCE to the following trivial inconveniences of UAE life, in no particular order:

1) military time on all the digital clocks. I am not that good at math anymore.

2) electrical plugs that require adapters, even right out of the box from a UAE store. I shudder to think of the cumulative time I lost aggravatingly opening and closing drawers in an exasperating adapter search.

3) temperature measured in Centigrade, and weight measured in kilograms. See item #1 above re: my math skills.

4) a marble and stone house in which the baby monitors' reception was spotty at best. Daddy and I probably would have had a much more lively social life had I been confident that ANYONE in the 3-story estate would have heard the occasional plaintive cry for a glass of water.

5) the hugely limited grocery store options, particularly as pertained to American brands. Glorious was the day when a sole package of Eggo waffles magically appeared in our local frozen food section... and long were the months before another box would materialize.

6) the jacked up prices on said American export items. The $14 package of Oreos (which I *bought*, mind you) will live on in infamy.

7) the kajillions of speed bumps. Sure, I quietly blamed the Z-Man for my nausea, but we all knew it was the roads themselves I was mad at.

8) roundabouts where traffic lights should be. As if I wasn't nauseous enough from the speed bumps.

9) streets with either no signs, or a miniscule sign like this: "Street 2." Thanks for making a handicapped sense of direction even MORE useless, Dubai.

10) infuriatingly shaped milk containers. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to take a photo, but you have to take my word for it on this one: the plastic cartons were just elongated cubes with a hole cut through the top for your fingers to (theoretically) go through. Supposedly it was designed this way to save refrigerator space but clearly, the true purpose was to maximize spillage.

11) no cell phone reception in the house.

12) ...and the companion item to #11: a cell phone company that was lobbying to build a cell phone tower about 20 feet from our BACK YARD. Suffice it to say I had already alerted the newspapers that I was planning a splashy demonstration to protest the first sign of breaking ground.

13) the 3-day suspension of radio programming whenever an important person died. I mean no disrespect here, obviously. But as someone who does not enjoy classical music, which apparently is the only thing allowed to be broadcast during times of national mourning, I absorbed every moment of that loss.

14) no electrical outlets in the bathrooms. It seems UAE architects do not use flat irons.

15) having to pay for shopping carts. Sure, it was only 1 dirham, and ok, you could get it back when you returned the cart, but oh come on.

16) phone numbers written without spaces or hypens. YOU try to remember 0506582394.

17) salons that only offer threading, but not waxing, of eyebrows. Since I was too chicken to try the threading (it supposedly shapes better but hurts more), I was left to my own pathetic plucking devices. For about two years.

18) cars that make an annoying ding! ding! ding! whenever you go over the local limit, and continue ding!ing until you slow down. Some of us have a need... for speed.

19) internet censorship. I bid an unsentimental farewell to this message:

"We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to the content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates."

I was just trying to view people's photos on Twitter, damnit!, but what I got instead was this:

And last but not least,

20) American Idol, always broadcast 24 hours after the live show, and long after the rest of the world had already found out that Kris Allen, tragically, had won. :)

So there you are. Back in America I now have more Eggo varieties than I could ever sample; a cell phone I can use in our home office while keeping our land line as a paperweight; and American Idol-- a.k.a. The World's Most Jump-the-Shark-iest Show-- soon coming to me live and in full Seacrest definition.

And to THINK that I was actually feeling depressed a few minutes ago!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spoiler Alert! Stop Reading If You Don't Want to Know How It Ends.

Right now I’m on an airplane.

Ten hours left to go on a 15-hour flight.

And I can’t sleep.

Usually, sleeping on an airplane is no problem for me. Especially when, on occasions such as this, I gobbled up a tablet of everyone’s favorite travel sedative, Dramamine.

But here I am. Everyone around me is happily dreaming. And my bloodshot eyes won’t stay shut.

Maybe it has something to do with the ordeal I’ve just been through.

You see, today I closed the chapter on our lives in Dubai.

I don’t even know where to start. This is hardly the blog post I was expecting to be writing at the end of the summer.

Do I tell you about the New Jersey hotel room we were staying in at the end of August, where, as I was lying in bed drowsily reading my book, Daddy came in after finishing a conference call and whispered, so as not to wake the children, “Honey, there’s been a development….”?

Do I tell you about the tears that involuntarily flooded my eyes as he began to form words like “restructuring” and “reassigned” and “not sure they want us to get on the plane next week”?

Do I tell you about my heavy, heavy heart as I excused PopPop and myself from our family going-away party, because I couldn’t bear waiting one minute longer to tell him of the news that was going to rock all of our worlds?

Do I tell you about the virtual fire drill that ensued once we realized that, whereas school in the UAE had not yet begun, our kindergarten here in the States had started two weeks ago?

Do I tell you about the manic 48-hour house hunt we embarked upon in the hopes of magically and instantaneously relocating our family to the part of town districted to the most acclaimed public school? Or the literal eleventh-hour decision to sign Sushi up for one of the most reputable—and expensive—private schools in the county?

Do I tell you about the funk that both PopPop and I quickly slipped into as Daddy boarded a plane back to Dubai for a company board meeting, and the two of us were left to contemplate the realities of a sudden relocation back to the USA? One we hadn’t planned for emotionally (we’d been having the time of our lives!) or logistically (see, i.e., schools... and homeowner PopPop’s recent renewal of his tenants’ lease, leaving him essentially homeless back in the States)?

How my head hurt, all the time?

The way I was constantly falling to pieces, at even the most fleeting thought of the life in Dubai that was astonishingly no longer ours: the superlative academic programs, our devoted “staff,” the international thrills, and the irreplaceable friendships, both on the adults’ part as well as the kids’?

In other words, do I tell you of my broken heart?

Well, no.

That would be silly. You all know what a broken heart feels like.

Rather, I wanted to remind you of that trite expression, “We make plans. Life laughs.”

Cuz let me tell you, we had big plans for this next year in Dubai, having every reason to believe that it would be our last. (Daddy had originally signed on for only a two-year expat contract, which would be coming due next month; later we had—I thought—all agreed to extend it for a third and final year.) (Apparently not everyone got that memo.) We’d planned to travel more around the region, taking better advantage of the ridiculously luxurious live-in help that we might never have again. We’d planned to have more friends and family come to visit us. We’d planned to watch proudly as an excited Screamer marched off to the “big kids’ school” with her sister Sushi, seeing as our school in Dubai, unlike the schools in our home state that adhered strictly to a September 1 birthday cutoff, was willing to place her according to aptitude and bump her up to the next grade level.

Yet there I stood a few hours ago in the overheated driveway of our beloved Dubai home— a dramatically sobbing housemaid clutching my shoulder, a conspicuously sniffling driver revving the engine, and two miserable cats wailing from their crates in the back seat of the car.

At the moment it almost feels like I dreamed the whole thing.

And yet the facts remain: PopPop and I are presently heading back to the USA, having spent a mere 36 hours in Dubai grabbing our most treasured belongings and saying a few agonizing goodbyes and gathering up the reluctant felines... while Daddy stays behind (like the unflappable head of the family that he is) to pack up the house, find new jobs for the maids and the driver, sell the furniture and the cars, and turn off all the utilities. The three kids, meanwhile, have been looked after for the past couple of days by the marvelous Supernanny and the equally extraordinary Mr. Supernanny (no offense intended, A; your alternative nickname can be The Hulk, because you’re so mightily muscle-bound these days), as well as my precious, generous, ever-the-lifesaver BFF "Kate" (as in Bosworth, because of her similarly striking two-toned eyes).

And somehow life just goes on.

This is not the last I want to write to you about Dubai—I need a few days to process a jumble of extreme emotions and complicated thoughts—but I figured it was time to let you in on what’s been going on.

Because in a way, you were on this incredible adventure right along with us.

I’m just so terribly sorry that there won't be more Dubai story to tell.

Which—in light of the overwhelming fear and uncertainty that punctuated the first several entries of this blog back in September 2008—leads me to believe that Life is having a big ol’ guffaw at my expense right about now.