Today in The National, I’m writing about the speed with which Abu Dhabi is growing: everywhere you look, there are construction sites, cranes, earthmovers. But the construction seems dedicated to malls and apartment buildings…I’m wondering whether someone couldn’t design a children’s science museum? When it’s 44C in the shade, wouldn’t it be great to take the kids “science-ing” instead of shopping? Click here to read the article–and let the newspaper hear your comments!
About two weeks ago, we got notification from the boys’ school that today, 17 June, would be a national holiday and the school would be closed.
National holidays on short notice. One of the perks of life in the U.A.E.
I’ll give you a minute to think about how parents in a large metropolitan area in the States, say New York, might react to a holiday delivered so casually. The brouhaha about banning soda would pale by comparison.
When the boys came home from school last week, excited for the long weekend, I asked them what holiday was being celebrated today.
Boys: It’s the day that Mohammed rode a unicorn to Jerusalem and met with all the prophets and they had like a prophet party.
Me: A unicorn?
Caleb, emphatic: Yes! Or maybe some other magical creature, no, no, Abdullah in my class said it was a unicorn. And that Mohammed met with God, too.
Me, again: A unicorn?
Liam, patiently, the way one speaks to the elderly: The word is buraq and that’s the word for unicorn or any magical creature.
Caleb, unconcerned about translation issues: What is a prophet, actually?
Me, realizing yet again that what my children don’t know about religion (any religion) would fill all the holy books, combined: Well, a prophet is a holy person who–
Liam: Noah was a prophet!
Me: Um…sort of, I guess, and some religions see Jesus as a prophet, but Christians see Jesus as the son of god–
Caleb: Whose idea was it to be Christians?
Me: The followers of Jesus called themselves Christians but they were originally Jewish –
Boys: JESUS WAS JEWISH?
Me: Yes but in this part of the world–
Boys: Jesus was from ABU DHABI?
Me: No, but this part of the world, the Middle East, is where Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity all began, thousands of years ago.
Boys: So is Mohammed from Abu Dhabi?
Me: He was born in a place called Mecca, which is a holy city to Muslims, but he also lived in a place called Medina.
Caleb, getting at the heart of the issue: Did Jesus ever ride a unicorn?
Me: I don’t think there are unicorns in any Jesus stories. Just donkeys.
The boys are unimpressed. Unicorns are cool. Donkeys, not so much. The boys wander out of the room to worship at the altar of “Star Wars the Old Republic,” which is our household’s primary religion. I turn to my holy book in search of answers to questions about Mohammed and the unicorns.
Wikipedia, praised be its name, says that the unicorn holiday is actually Isra and Mi’raj, which celebrates the night that Mohammed rode a magical steed to “the furthest mosque,” in what we now call Jerusalem. Apparently, at least in the realm of Wikipedia truthiness, this journey is also where Mohammed bargained with God about how often Muslims should pray. God originally asked for fifty times a day and Mohammed got him down to five.
Mohammed’s magical steed was called buraq. You can pronounce it “barack.”
And there you have it. Some Tea Bagger confused unicorns with Presidents.
(And no, I’m not saying anything about believing in unicorns being more or less ridiculous than believing that Obama was born in Kenya.)
Buraq also, according to my online holy book, can be translated as “a beautifully faced creature.”
So while it’s clear that Barack isn’t a Muslim, it seems entirely likely that he could be a buraq. After all, as I said to the boys: have you ever seen Barack and a buraq in the same place at the same time?
When you’re done reading through these various Wikipedia links, check out my review in The National of Lauren Groff’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel, Arcadia. For that matter, if you’re searching for a good book to read on vacation this summer, look over there at the Amazon box. No, not the little ordering box, but the long box, with books in it, just to the right. Lots of good reading in that box. Help yourself.
Caleb has boundless faith in my intellectual capacities. I am, in short, his google. (Momoogle?) And while I’m flattered that he thinks I have the answers to everything, you know what? If I ever knew the answers to even half these questions, by now, in my late middle age? I’ve forgotten pretty much everything.
A recent walk:
Where did the earth come from? I mean, not just the earth but the stuff ON the earth?
When England and France fought each other why were they fighting? Did they burn Joan of Arc in England? Why did they burn her? Did they torture her first?
If a bomb rains fire down on you doesn’t the fire go out before it reaches the earth? Then how does the bomb kill people?
Who is the king of the Egyptian gods? Is there a king god?
So London is a city and it’s the capital of England? Is there a capital of the world? Why not? What is Abu Dhabi the capital of?
Why did money start? What started money? Why do we have it?
Do those London soldiers, the Beefer people with black hats carry real guns? Why not? If they’re not real how can they guard against thieves and bad guys? Then who is the real guard for the queen?
Why is the ocean salty? No, I mean, where did the salt COME FROM? How did it get into the ocean?
The observatory place in England said everything is stardust, so does that mean salt is stardust? Are WE stardust?
How do they get the salt out of the ocean?
How fast is the moon spinning and could it ever spin faster than the earth?
Why do people become Muslim? Why do people believe in god?
If I became a Muslim would I wear those white things on my head? I like those. Maybe I will be a Muslim and drive a big car.
See? Now you’re tired too.
Click here and read my post on Technorati Women today. Then you can consult your kids’ calendars for the week and wonder if you’ve fallen into the trap of overscheduling…
Prompt for December 5: What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?
What did I let go of? The impulse here is to write a joke: what I didn’t lose was this ten pound insulation ring I wear around my waist so that I’m always prepared for the sudden onslaught of cold weather; what I did lose was my temper, too often, with my children.
But seriously? I lost a job. Quit a job, actually, so I don’t know if that’s quite the same as “losing,” but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to say that it is. I quit the job I’d had since I got out of graduate school; a job I’d had for fifteen years. I let go of a tenured full professorship to take a non-tenured job, a decision that made a lot of people anxious on my behalf. In academic life, tenure is the Grail; it’s the thing we grind away for, accepting fairly miserable pay and wildly heavy work loads, in order for this putative “job security.”
There were some things I really liked about my old job: I worked with students who were bright and hard-working, who wanted to know more about the world beyond the boundaries of their tri-state experience. There are some good people there doing interesting, creative work and I miss our conversations. I was the director of a large program on campus and as a result I was biggish fish…and you know what? It’s kind of nice to be a biggish fish. People return your phone calls. You set the agenda for the meetings and you decide when the meetings will be held.
On the other hand, this college had an administration that based all its decisions on the bottom line: the profit margin determined curriculum, course planning, staffing, enrollments. On top of that, it’s a Catholic school, which meant that every classroom had a crucifix dangling above the chalkboard–and in the computer labs, in addition to the crucifixes, there were little signs saying “Lab Under 24 Hour Surveillance.” In all my years there, I never knew whether the sign referred to the crucifix or to the small security camera next to the door. Maybe God sits in their security booth, I’m not sure.
I’m not going to tell tales about the college, or about its emphatically anti-intellectual Provost, but I will say that recently this establishment was in the news because a nun–formerly the close assistant to the school president–was caught embezzling…about $800,000 over ten years. Guess she wasn’t under 24-hour surveillance…and we won’t say anything about the budget office (or the president) letting that kind of thing go undetected. I guess God was taking a nap in the security booth?
So yes, I was a big fish in this pond – but it was a small, brackish pond, with scurfy pockets of algae around the edges. So I left. I let it go, all that familiarity and comfort and knowing that I could do a good job without trying too hard.
Now? Now I’m a small fish in a huge pond–just another liberal middle-aged woman professor whose earrings are slightly too long for her age. I’ve worked harder this semester at my teaching than I have in years and in many ways it feels good–I can see where I’m rusty and what I need to work on. If I hadn’t let go when I did, I might never have gotten out of that small pond and I needed to; I figure I’m about half-way through life and if I don’t start swimming in new currents now, I might forget how.