Wednesday, June 22, 2011

*EPILOGUE*



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.

*sigh*

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.

xoxo,
Jessica




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.

J

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy New Year.


Today I celebrated the Jewish New Year. In America.

What the heck are you still doing in America??, you ask, acknowledging that the school year is starting and we live in Dubai.

Well, friends, that's a story for another day. A long story. One I don't have the energy to share now. But I will soon, I promise.

No, today I just wanted to tell you about spending Rosh Hashanah in America, after nearly two years in the UAE.

It was, in a word, wonderful.

It was wonderful because...

It was the first time that my 5-year-old daughter could follow along in the prayerbook, and participate in the responsive readings.

The melodies and songs were all familiar, and even if I didn't remember the exact words, I had the gist.

So many members of the congregation went out of their way to welcome us, knowing of our travels and appreciating that for us, this was not just another high holiday.

My 3-year-old daughter was invited by a little boy from the temple summer camp to go sit with him and his family on the other side of the room... and she happily went, without once looking back.

None of my kids cried or fussed during the service.

We got to hear the shofar being blown, which, if you ask me, is always good luck.

Afterwards, we went to the home of my oldest friend, and were treated to a delightful meal that was warm and comforting and reminiscent of everything that means "family."

None of my kids cried or fussed during the long car ride.

I was celebrating in a country where the Jewish holiday was not ignored or tolerated, but, as evidenced by the widespread school closings, respected.

I didn't feel like I was missing out.

This year, I was on the inside.

This year... I am coming home.

I wish you and yours a year of joy, possibilities, and above all, peace. Shana tova. xoxo.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Welcome Reassurance.


Thank you, Zunaid! :)

"For what it's worth I don't find your blog off-putting at all. I think it's a rather interesting perspective on life in the UAE from an outsider's viewpoint.

Just two comments from me:
1. Are you sure that is what Ameen meant? Maybe he got the word order mixed up? Easy to do if English isn't your first language for example.
2. Whatever you do, at the end of your time in the UAE don't come away assuming that Arab culture equates to Muslim culture or vice versa. If you really want a broader experience of the religion in different cultural contexts you'll need to visit other Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and even Pakistan and Iran. That should just about cover all your bases ;)

From a non-offended Muslim reader.

To paraphrase Dory from Finding Nemo: "just keep blogging, just keep blogging..." ;)"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little Miss Unpopular.


Hello. Sorry I've been quiet lately. But I just picked up a comment to my entry about the consequences of pre-marital sex for Muslims that I thought was worth sharing:

"I really don't like you, but I would like to point out something that you obviously would not know as a non-Muslim. The lashes thing, its SORT OF the girl's fault, because if she did have consensual sex, she shouldn't have made it public. In religion, it states that a man came to the Prophet PBUH and told him he had committed zinnah i.e. extramarital sex, and the Prophet PBUH HAD to have him stoned to death but the same man had gone to the Prophet's companions earlier who repeatedly told him to keep the matter private. Basically, this means that Allah hides your secrets and forgives you when and if you repent truly, so if the man had just stayed quiet and repented, he would have been granted mercy and would not have to be punished in this life. Similarly, this girl, if she had consensual sex, should've kept it to herself as well.
May Allah bless you and your family in all that you do, Ameen."

Wanted to repost this for two reasons: First, because the content is very interesting... and second, because the "I really don't like you" part has sent me reeling. (Not even "I don't really like you"!-- it's "I *really* don't like you.)

This bothers me because I have tried, when expressing my discomfort over certain Muslim traditions and rules, to be as open-minded and non-judgmental as I could possibly be. I have tried to be respectful, even when stating my Western-influenced dismay, and I have tried to educate myself a bit so that I could present a somewhat balanced description. But the above comment makes me feel like I have failed-- like I have described our experiences in the UAE in a way that has been off-putting to a Muslim reader. Which was certainly never my intent.

I have learned, the hard way through the experience of this blog, that people do not like to read about themselves in anything other than the most exemplary terms. I have probably made more enemies than friends as a result of it, in fact. And yet I keep writing, as much for myself (it helps me process our experiences in a foreign land if I can think through them in writing) as for my friends back home who have expressed an interest in our travels. And I think I will continue to be honest, because I would not be able to stand behind my efforts here if I felt like I was compromising my ideas.

But still.

I don't like the idea that I have offended anyone.

Cuz I guess that I, too, only want to be thought of in exemplary terms.

So I restate my standing invitation to the author of the above comment, or any other person of the Muslim faith who has stumbled upon my blog: I would like to be friends. I would like to learn more about you, and what you believe. I came to the UAE very willing to learn more about a culture and religion that was wholly unknown to me, and I remain committed to that end.

In other words, you don't have to like me, I guess, but I'm still open to liking you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sex and The City 2: An Insider's Take.



I am a HUGE Sex and the City (SATC) fan.

I lived and breathed that series for years. Not so much for the labels and the shoes (I can't be bothered with expensive stuff like that; would rather buy 100 pairs of $12 shoes and wear each of them one time before they fall apart), but because of the honesty. I loved the honesty of the relationships between the women, and the honesty of the relationships between the women and the men. I mean, who among us can say that she never let her heart be broken again and again and again by a Mr. Big? And who among us didn't look to an Aidan to kiss it and make the hurt go away?

So when I finally saw SATC2, after what felt like an eternity of waiting (the movie has been *banned* here in the UAE, despite the fact that it is supposed to take place here) (it was actually filmed in Morocco), my first impression was that, even with its occasionally amateurish script and somewhat unsatisfying plot, it lived up to its legacy and was... *honest*. About the UAE. From the viewpoint of a first-time American visitor.

Now, if you've read any of the reviews, you'll know that the movie was panned not only for its content (which I didn't think was *that* bad... but then again, maybe I was just SO relieved to see my four favorite fictional girls again), but for its portrayal of Muslims. I saw the film described on more than one occasion as "offensive" and, in one instance, guilty of "lampooning" the Arab people.

Part of me thinks that this was just a knee-jerk reaction by a bunch of movie reviewers who have never even *been* to this part of the world, and don't really know anything about Muslim culture, all just mindlessly pushing and shoving to be the first in line to show how PC and forward-thinking *they* are.

And yes, there *were* moments that Michael Patrick King did go too far. Among them:

1) The four women singing "I Am Woman" at the karaoke bar. I thought this was the low point of the movie, not only because it squandered the opportunity to create a truly memorable, fun moment (my husband suggested that, if the objective was to make a statement about women, they would have been better off with something upbeat like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun")... and not just because it's a song that people of my generation don't even know... but because it was way, way too obvious in its agenda. I mean, have you ever looked at the lyrics of that song before? (Let me guess: you haven't.) Well here they are:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
'Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'Cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

Oh, yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin' arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh, yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman

We get it, uber-writer-director-producer Michael Patrick King (hereafter, MPK). You think the women of the Middle East are oppressed. They need to roar more. To be more strong and invincible. We get it. But hitting us over the head with it is beneath you.

2) The use of the abayas and the face veils as a comedic disguise for the four women on the run. Now I get that it was right there, and a hard punchline to resist... but maybe it should have been resisted anyway. Because those garments aren't a fashion statement (or lack thereof); they are pieces of clothing ostensibly worn in response to what Muslims believe is a directive from God. So to have Carrie, et al., goofing off behind veils is probably a little disrespectful.

and, last but of course not least...

3) The Samantha meltdown in the marketplace, which culminates in her thrusting her hips wildly at the agitated robed men who surround her and screaming, "Yes! I HAVE SEX!" Now here, too, you certainly get what MPK was going for-- a loud and clear message that women should be free to express themselves sexually, and that any society that prohibits women from doing so is (a) oppressive; (b) unenlightened; and (c) a fair target of ridicule.

But again, what MPK lost sight of with his script is that the Muslim prohibition on extra-marital sex is (I believe) a religious mandate. In other words, it's not some passing social convention; rather, it is an enduring religious principle that has, I assume, some express foundation in religious scripture. So to have Samantha make a scene like this is kind of like having her show up at a Hasidic Jewish household and run around pulling off all the women's wigs (if people even do this anymore, I have no idea) and telling them how much they are missing out on, while brushing her long, luxurious hair.

So okay, we can all agree that there was some religious insensitivity on display here.

However.

It is an insensitivity that is not wholly unfounded. If I can be so bold.

Rather, I think that, even in it's most cringe-worthy moments, the movie rather accurately reflects the (yes, sometimes-politically-incorrect) first impressions of a first-time American visitor to the UAE.

In truth, I didn't actually pick up on a lot of the "offensive" parts until I watched the movie a *second* time. The *first* time I saw it, I was too busy giggling at how similar *my* first impressions were during *my* first week here in the UAE.

Just like Carrie and co., I, too...

... was tickled by the Arabic script on the Pringles can;

... was grateful not to have a conspicuously Jewish last name;

... was fascinated by the abundant rhinestone embellishment sparkling on many a covered woman's veil and cuff hem;

... marveled at the process by which fully-veiled women have to painstakingly lift the veil for every bite of food; and

... chuckled at the concept of a "birkini" bathing suit.

Is this "insensitive"? Does it make me "intolerant"? Were these first impressions of mine "offensive" to Muslim people?

I hope not, and I don't think so. Rather, these first impressions were simply a product of my admitted ignorance of Arab culture, and a function of the vast cultural divide that currently exists between many Judeo-Christian Americans and the native Muslim population.

I mean, honestly, I am TRYING, every day that I live here, to silence the little voice inside of me that still gasps on the rare occasion that I see a woman who has her *entire* body cloaked in black-- not even those slits for the eyes-- just a solid black shroud walking through the mall. (She can see, I believe, through the thinner material over her face.) I try to tell myself that it is probably her CHOICE to dress this way (at least, that's what the official representative of the Center for Cultural Understanding told me), and that she probably is doing so out of a spiritual obligation to God.

But you must believe me, silencing this little voice is VERY hard. Perhaps it's just because, in America, I had never seen anything like this before... and because I was conditioned by my university women's studies classes to have a reflex-like aversion to any social classifications of people merely on the basis of their biological sex.

It is also very hard not to feel about the veils the same way that Carrie did when she likened them to the caricature with the tape over its mouth; it is *hard* not to think of those veils as a means of silencing women and trying to make them invisible. Now I *know* that the covered women don't *feel* that they are being silenced (again, this is what I've been told)... but it's hard. It's hard to see a woman whose mouth is covered by a veil, and still believe that she is free to speak.

But I am trying to see it that way. I am trying to accept unfamiliar religious traditions without applying my own Western judgments to them. We all need to try. We all need to make the effort to learn about the things we don't know, and don't yet understand.

That doesn't make those first impressions any less valid, though.

So I guess what I'm saying is that MPK wasn't wrong to have the SATC girls react the way they did when they first encountered the UAE culture: I consider myself a pretty open-minded person, and I felt much the same way when I first arrived. Perhaps his mistake was setting the movie here in the first place. Being schooled in a grand political statement on the status of Middle Eastern women, and the degree to which they need to start roaring, wasn't really what the SATC audience was coming out for. We came to see our old friends, and laugh with them, and cry with them, and leave the theater feeling warm and fuzzy and in the mood for a Cosmo.

In other words-- We love you, MPK. But next time leave the heavy-handed political commentary to someone who *doesn't* have Samantha Jones to account for. :)