Tag Archives | expat

At Home (or not) In the World

In July 2004, when I was about five thousand weeks pregnant, I told my midwife that I was about to fly to Northern Michigan for summer vacation. She looked at me and shook her head at my delusional self. Slowly, as if to a not-too-bright-child, she explained that after one preemie and one miscarriage, there was no way in hell that my high-risk belly was going on an airplane ride (followed by a six-hour car ride).  “Stay close to home,” she said. “Really close.”

Super-pregnant and just a tad emotional, I waddled through the steamy stinky streets of New York wondering how I was going to survive until I birthed this small elephant inside me. A friend suggested a nearby escape hatch: Long Beach Island, in New Jersey. “Down the shore,” to be exact.

My response was something along the lines of “euuuuwww, New Jersey?”  But the twin engines of time (less than a two hour drive) and money (nowhere near as much as it would cost to spend even an hour in the Hamptons) made LBI seem like a reasonable thing to do, a friend had a brother-in-law with a house for rent, and before you could say Snooki, there we were, on the shores of LBI.

LBI Beach

LBI Beach

Reader? I loved it. Loved its flipflop-and-shorts sensibility, loved its not-Hamptons aesthetic, loved the twisted beach pines and loved the old lighthouse at the norther tip.

We’ve been coming back ever since, so much so that the baby who was born shortly after our vacation ended, now considers LBI to be “our family place.” And even though we don’t own a place down here, we’ve been lucky enough to rent the same house now for a bunch of years in a row; it’s an anchor point in our summer and as much as I would like to do more exploring of the US itself, every summer, when I crest the dune for the first time I think, “nah, why go anywhere else?”

Every four years, however, we have to turn a blind eye to the politics of the place. Last year I saw a “Coulter/Palin 2016” bumper sticker, and it was clearly aspirational, not ironic. This year… Trump.

We’ve been keeping count and our utterly unscientific poll shows Trump leading Hilary by a slight margin. That’s what I wrote about in last week’s National: the two visions of the world that are at stake in this year’s election. I love LBI … but I want HRC’s cosmopolitan vision to carry the day.

Continue Reading · on August 6, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, family, Politics

How do we raise “global citizens” ?

“Global citizen” is a phrase I’m hearing a lot lately. That’s what we’re all supposed to be aiming towards–at least, those of us who didn’t vote for “Brexit” or aren’t in favor of the Trumpian wall.  It’s what is supposed to happen when you move to another country and raise your kids outside their “own” culture (whatever that means); it’s supposed to be what happens to the so-called “third culture kids.”

I have my doubts, sometimes, about whether this global citizenship thing is really possible. That’s what I’m writing out this week in the World Moms Network and you can check it out here. Let me know what you think: is global citizenship possible? And if so, how do we create that mindset?

Continue Reading · on July 6, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, growing up, Kids, World Moms Blog

Halloween, or, sometimes nostalgia looks like Boba Fett

It starts in September, when I get the late August issues of The New Yorker.  I’m always a few weeks behind because I like to read the actual magazine, not the digital one. Usually I don’t mind reading about current events from a month or so ago…until September.

In early fall, the magazine becomes a sort of arcade of impossibility: the new theater productions I won’t see; the restaurants I won’t eat at; the movies that (maybe) I’ll get to when they come out on DVD…the list seems endless.  Husband reminds me that when we actually lived in Manhattan we didn’t get out much, unless you want to count standing by the sidelines of a soccer game in the cold as “getting out.” He’s right, but somehow, when we lived in New York, all those things listed in the magazine seemed at least theoretically possible. Now, given that I live in a city where there is one theater (reserved mostly for state celebrations or the occasional children’s musical), only one museum, and where all the restaurants have too many forks for comfort–now, none of it is possible.

Following hard on the heels of the culture-vulture issues of The New Yorker come the facebook posts of friends’ kids off to school in sweaters and new shoes, and then there are the photos of leaves turning, until I can almost smell the seasonal crisp in the air and I long for the crunch of just-picked apples on sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. True, I could just turn off facebook but then there’s that whole I-might-wither-up-and-die thing.  Turn off Facebook? I shudder to think.

It’s not really that I miss seasons–because lord knows I do not miss February–it’s just that I miss fall. I miss that gathering up of breath and energy after the sprawl of summer; I miss the beauty of those last warm days in October, when the warmth feels like a gift because you know what’s coming.

And aside from that maudlin stuff, you know what else I miss? Boots. I loves me some boots and although some women wear boots in the winter months here, I just cannot bring myself to put on a pair of motorcycle boots when it’s 90F outside.

There’s a double nostalgia whammy in October and November–Halloween and Thanksgiving, neither of which, as you might imagine, are very big in the UAE.  I’ve never been one of those people who does the full Halloween costume and decorations thing, but I like the occasional witches hat and pumpkin carving and I have a serious candy corn addiction, which is really hard to feed here (I guess that’s not entirely a bad thing, at least according to my dentist. And my hips).  There are isolated tricksy-treatsy spots around town, mostly in the expat neighborhoods where lots of Americans live; and some of the shops have Halloween decorations, but mostly Halloween comes and goes with just a blip.

We bought Caleb’s costume this summer when we were in New York, where the Halloween shops are always open; Liam didn’t want to get a costume because at almost thirteen, he’s decided (sort of) that he’s just too cool for such things.

I guess because I’m missing “home” so much these days, I took a great deal of pleasure in how excited Caleb was about his costume, even though I hate store-bought costumes and am not a big “Star Wars” fan (practically heresy in my household).  He is not Boba Fett, although I kept calling him that. He is dressed as Pre Vizsla, an entirely different Mandalorian fighter. I mean duh, right? Keep it straight.

IMG_7410

There is one way in which Abu Dhabi keeps pace with New York.  The shops here also have seasonal marketing schizophrenia (SMS). SMS renders stores incapable of marketing only one holiday at a time.

IMG_7408trick or hohoho?

Continue Reading · on November 2, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, UAE

mixer, memento: finding roots in a rootless life

I have a new coffee table. Big and square, it’s exactly the right height to rest my feet on while I sit on the couch.  I have a new dining table, too, and in the kitchen cabinet there’s a new mixer—one of those fancy standing mixers with an attachment for mixing bread dough. Of course, in the two years I’ve lived in Abu Dhabi, I’ve made bread exactly three times, so I don’t know if I’ll ever use that mixer.

I bought the mixer as a memento, actually, from friends who are leaving Abu Dhabi permanently. They’re going back to the States after eight years abroad and the mixer won’t work on a US electrical current. The dining table and coffee table are also mementos, purchased from another set of friends also moving away.

Most major metropolitan areas have expat communities, whether the high-end corner office types or the unskilled workers who clean those offices, but in Abu Dhabi, the population seems more fluid than it is in other places. Sometimes, in fact, living here seems like living in Chile under Pinochet: one day you’re nodding and smiling at the nice couple with the little dog who live down the street, and then it’s two weeks gone and you realize their house has been vacant for days.

Where did they go with that little dog? Across town? Across the globe? Back “home,” wherever that might be? Did someone get sick, lose a job, get a job, have a baby, split up?  I feel like I live in a city of unfinished stories and loose ends. Sometimes you get the full story: you say good-bye and all those other farewell things that you mean when you say them: “come visit,” and “we’ll visit,” and “there’s always facebook.” But more often than not, people just disappear; we notice for  a minute and then life swirls on.

I suppose on the one hand, the optimistic view of these transient relationships would be to see a web of friendships spreading across the globe and to imagine that children who grow up in expat cultures will always have a friend’s couch to sleep on, no matter where they find themselves.

But on the pessimistic other hand, this fluid community creates a kind of tentativeness: why invest in a new friendship if that friendship will soon become long distance instead of down the street? This question seems particularly pressing at my age, which is to say no longer in the first bloom (or even the second bloom) of youth: I’m middle-aged, frequently crabby, often tired, all of which makes making friends really hard. All that small talk and getting-to-know-you chitchat? Really, who has time?

Except, of course, as Simone Weil once said, “being rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Without friends and the sense of community that friends provide, can we feel rooted anywhere? Are we supposed to carry our roots with us, like trees at a garden store, each with its root-ball tenderly wrapped in burlap to make it easier to transport—and transplant?

I have just moved to a new house, with every expectation of putting down our own roots, and as if to literalize the metaphor, there’s a little garden, where come September, I’m imagining frangipangi and jasmine, maybe a pot of herbs in a shady corner.  I will cook for new friends in the neighborhood and try not to be crabby. Maybe I’ll even bake bread for these as yet unmet friends. After all, I have a mixer with just the right attachment.

 

 

 

for the first time in a long time, i’m joining the writers at yeahwrite: click the badge, read the work you’ll see on the grid: it’s good! yeah writer writers are like broccoli for your brain, but broccoli that sort of tastes like chocolate. Vote for your faves on the grid starting Thursday…


Continue Reading · on July 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, Travel

why i can’t quit facebook

The other day (okay, last month) I read this piece on the fantabulous Arnebya’s blog (she of the Chipotle story, among others) and read what she had to say about all the various ways we have to “communicate” with each other.  Think about it: we have endless iterations of social media “contact,” from tweeting and pinning to vine-ing; we can google+ (although I don’t know what that really is) and get linkedin; we can email and IM and DM and godknowswhatM. It’s stunning.

Letters, actual mail? Like with envelopes and stamps and stuff? That’s so twentieth century. I don’t write letters any more and no one writes to me, really (yes, I see the causal link there), but I remember how nice it was to open my post-office box at college and see letters. Do any of us get that same little bubbly feeling from an email inbox? Methinks not.

But I’m not going to wax nostalgic in this post. Reading Arnebya’s post made me think about why–despite annoying ads and strange video clips of cats and squirrels and the pesky and constant changes that facebook keeps imposing–I can’t quit facebook or twitter (I tried to quit last year. And it totally worked.  For like an entire hour I was tweet-free).

Here’s the thing: my job demands a lot of computer time. I write, I answer student emails, I put together lecture notes. I’m old enough to remember doing these things without a computer — when I taught high school, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was still using a DITTO MACHINE.  Brief pause here while those of you of a certain age remember the giddy inhaling of freshly dittoed worksheets.

Anyway. I spend a lot of time starting into the computer under the best of circumstances but since we’ve moved, my screen time has become something akin to an addiction. (And right there is why I don’t let my children read my blog. I spend too much time yapping at them about their own screen time to let them know about my own sickness.)

I have days where I look at the “likes” that other bloggers have on Facebook and wonder how they got so many thousands of people when I can’t even crack a second hundred; or why I too don’t have entire herds of twitter followers; or parsing the analytics on my blog like some kind of twenty-first century soothsayer, hoping that somehow overnight I’ve turned into The Bloggess. I wonder about “monetizing” and “branding” and syndication.

Yes. That would be a lesser-known use of social media: social media as self-flagellating device. How to make yourself feel bad in three easy clicks.

Sigh.

But then I realized the real reason I loves me some social media, and it goes even further back in time, earlier than the use of the ditto machine.

romperroom

Yep, that’s right: “Romper, bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play?”

That mirror she’s gazing into? That’s social media for me, over here in this half of the world. I look through my little facebook mirror and wait to see what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it’s as if I’m seeing things like those time-lapse photographs from space of the sun moving across the surface of the earth: I see the East Coast talking about their morning routines while the West Coast talks about their after-dinner drinks; the news rumbles in from points in the Mideast while the US sleeps; my brother in LA is going to the gym before work while my sister in NJ picks up her daughter after school. And my magic tweeting mirror offers the paradox of feeling utterly involved in the immediacy of people’s lives, even though I’m nowhere nearby.

There you have it. Social media may not be doing much for me professionally but I am no more capable of putting down my magic mirror of facetwitter than I am of putting my hair in that magnificent, Marie Antoinette-esque beehive.

 

 

(Of course, if you’d like to like Mannahattamamma on facebook, I’d be delighted to have you. Romper, bomper, stomper boo…)

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Continue Reading · on May 31, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, pop culture, tech life, writing

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