Archive | expat

Bon Voyage

Tomorrow we leave London and go to Abu Dhabi.  We’ve been talking and planning and worrying and wondering about this move for months…and now it’s finally upon us.

We left our apartment six weeks ago, almost to the day, and we’ve been floating every since.  A rather grand tour—Paris, Provence, London—but still, floating. Haven’t read a newspaper, haven’t read my New Yorkers (I’m hoping they’re stockpiled for me in AD); it’s both exhilarating and disorienting to be so out of touch with what’s happening in the world.

Six weeks of no deadlines, no appointments, no responsibilities (other than tracking down the nearest Pizza Express or noodle-selling grocery store for my kids’ dinner).  I’ve been hauling around drafts of writing projects in what I like to call the bag o’guilt (writing projects, syllabi for upcoming fall course, Important Nonfiction Book) and have done…none of it.  Made my way through most of the Jo Nesbo detective stories (brilliant! amazing! Makes you think “Stieg WHO?”), read a lot of wonderful blogs (Marinka! Kelcey! Varda! Stasha! Empress! Wendi! The Bloggess! Shari! but mostly? Floating.

The upside of this discombobulated floating is that we’re all ready to go. Ready to Get There, Be There, Get Started. Hell, we all just want to unpack.  It’s been six weeks of “oh yeah, that book/lotion/important file/power cord/folder is…well, it’s in one of the suitcases. We’ll find it in Abu Dhabi.”

Both boys have had some serious bouts of whining (okay, pretty much every day has had at least one or the other or both snarling and mewling about the hell that is his life) and there have been a few sobbing sinkers, but overall they’ve held up pretty well. Five different perches in six weeks, almost no soccer, and a LOT of walking, which Caleb claims is incredibly boring, because when you’re walking you’re not really doing anything. I guess we’re lucky they’re still speaking to us.

Tomorrow morning we head for the airport with our eighty-five thousand suitcases, carry-ons, backpacks, and shoulder bags, trailing cords and plugs and wires and chargers, like a kind of techno comet tail.

Tomorrow night we sleep in another hemisphere.

When we wake up, it will already be about 95 degrees and Ramadan fasting will have begun.

We won’t be in Kansas any more, Toto. And as for over the rainbow? Well…we’ll just have to see.


*the picture of the boys is taken at the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich. They’re straddling the Prime Meridian, which marks the divide between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.  That whole GMT, Greenwich Mean Time? That’s the line, right there.  Seems appropriate, yes?



Continue Reading · on August 11, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, family, Travel, UAE

Summer Blog Social: Waxing Philosophical

I’d rather wax philosophical than wax anything else, so I’m going to wax about where I see this blog in six months, maybe a year (prompt 10):

Well obviously, once we get to Abu Dhabi and I start blogging from there, I will become an international celebrity, perhaps get arrested for my outspoken and totally perceptive comments about women in the Middle East, my case will become a cause celebre, and I will be inundated with book and movie deals (after I get out of prison, of course, where I will be underfed just enough to finally kick that last bit of postpartum weight [um yes, my youngest child is seven, so what?]), and then Angelina Jolie will battle with Sandra Bullock to see who plays me in the movie. Viggo Mortensen or Johnny Depp (or maybe Taylor Kitsch) will play my husband and in the course of filming he (whichever one, I’m not choosy) and I will engage in a torrid affair, which I will end for the sake of our children. Bittersweet, we part, pledging our troth but knowing it’s best for our families. The movie wins all kinds of awards, makes beaucoup euros, and I retire to the south of France where I write brilliant essays in many languages for all the important journals.


Um. Sorry. Did I actually write all that down? I was just sort of daydreaming there for a minute.

Let’s try again, now that I’m done mopping up the spilled chicken noodle soup (from a can) that my squabbling children just ate for dinner.  With potato chips on the side (counts as veg, right?)

In six months, I’ll be writing this blog from Abu Dhabi. I suppose that on some level, I’ll keep writing about the same stuff I always do: education, my kids, politics, books. What I’m hoping will happen–what I will have to work to make happen–is that I use my writing to explore a part of the world that way too many people in the West (including me) don’t know anything about other than what we read in the newspapers.

If anyone has ideas about how to work this expat thing, I’d love to hear ’em.  I already got some great tips from Eli/Rose Social Media (thanks!) but I’d be delighted to hear what others have to say.

Because, you know, Angelina’s going to be calling just about any day now.


Continue Reading · on August 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, movies, NYC, Summer Blog Social, Travel, UAE, writing

Living in the Bubble

Last Friday, which is the holy day in Abu Dhabi, we spent most of the day in the lovely pool area that’s on top of the building where we’re going to live in next year.  There is a kiddie playroom inside in the air conditioning, a small fitness center with spectacular views of the gulf, a wading pool, and a larger pool just the right size for cannonballs into the deep end and infinite games of “Marco Polo.”

The boys played in the pool happily for most of the day and joined me for a little session in the health center.  They trotted on the treadmill, which cracked them up, especially when Liam turned his head to talk to me and slid right off onto the floor. He recovered and then ran an entire mile at a pace that would’ve given me a stroke, the little show-off. We tried to keep our voices down because there was a dad in the exercise room with his tiny baby, sleeping in the stroller next to the weight machines. What U.S. gym would allow such a thing ?

This rooftop—with the shaded tables and chairs, the little snack bar, and the sense of quiet that comes from being fifty stories above street level—seems to me wonderful and extremely dangerous. Wonderful because I can imagine sitting at a shady table grading student papers next year, while the boys romp around in the pool, but dangerous precisely because of its convenience.  How easy it would be to sink into the expat bubble for a year and emerge at the end of our time no wiser about this part of the world—not that in a year we can really “understand” Emirati life, but we should at least try to move off the roof, right?

How does an expat find her way out of expat-bubble land, I wonder?

We’re going to have to explore, in order to get out of the bubble, which brings us smack up against the ugly reality of my kids’ eating habits. Which is really to say their non-eating habits.

Do children in other countries insist on only white food, or only fried food, or chicken cooked only a certain way? Do little Emirati boys tell their mothers (or their household chefs, more likely) that they will only eat the chicken if there is NO SAUCE? Are sesame seeds on a hamburger bun really a crime against humanity?  Liam likes chicken with no sauce; Caleb likes hamburgers but only with ketchup. Liam likes plain noodles, Caleb likes red sauce but NOT TOO MUCH.  Neither of them likes cheese unless it’s on pizza; Liam likes chocolate, Caleb likes vanilla.

Salad? Tabbouleh? Hummus? Mint lemonade? Surely you jest.  Dates? Figs? Mangoes? AM I TRYING TO KILL THEM?

I’m going to have to ratchet down my expectations for our year away. Expat bubble be damned. All I want is to come back to the States with children whose palates have expanded beyond the global French fry.

Continue Reading · on April 26, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, food, Travel

the signs are clear…the meaning, not so much

Traveling to another country–traveling anywhere–creates the opportunity to learn new phrases and traditions. Sometimes, though, things get lost in translation.


“How come no one takes anything from those shops,” Liam asked me after we gone through customs in Abu Dhabi and were standing outside waiting for our cab into the city.

“What shops?” I wasn’t paying attention; I was too busy breathing the warm air, tangy with the smell of the ocean.

“Those duty shops, in all the airports? How come no one steals the stuff?”

Now he had my attention. “Well, all those things cost money. You have to pay the cashier and–”

“What cashier? You mean someone works there?”

I nodded. Comprehension dawned across Liam’s face. “I didn’t think anyone worked there, you know, like it wasn’t anyone’s job. Like, free of duties, right?”

Reminded me of my friend S., whose mother, a number of years ago, was extolling the delicious eggs she found at a small country market in Maryland. “They’re wonderful,” the mother said, “but what’s a range chicken, do you think?”  My friend S. stared at her and the mother explained: “They’re free range eggs, and they make great omelettes but I’ve never heard of range chickens before.”  Clearly the store needed to re-think the placement of its hyphens. S. brought her mother to the store where she paid for about a week’s worth of not-free free-range eggs.

Example II: This sign, from the mall near to where our apartment is in Abu Dhabi. The sign hangs just inside the entrance to the mall:

What do you suppose happens in the romance room? If we were in another country, I’d guess hookers, but given that we’re in the UAE, I’m thinking not. Maybe it’s the place where men and women go to hold hands?

Continue Reading · on April 21, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, lost in translation

Moving Part I

We’re moving.  Not downtown, not across town, not to another state.  No, that would be way too easy.

We’re moving to Abu Dhabi.

That’s the country in the UAE that’s not Dubai (where they arrested a blogger last week for urging government reforms). And although Abu Dhabi is supposedly the setting for SATC2, the movie was actually filmed in Morocco, so if you’re one of the twelve people in the world who saw that Carrie Bradshaw & Co. go to the desert, the desert was Moroccan, not Abu Dhabian.

The move has been brewing for a while now, ever since Husband got involved in the college that NYU has built in AD. His first trip out there was in October 2009, before NYUAD was even open, and he’s been there probably once a month ever since, working with the first class of students who are there now, and helping recruit next year’s group.

We’re planning to be there for a year—Husband and I will be teaching at NYU AD and the boys will spend a year at the sort of school that in Manhattan I can’t even afford to look at, much less send my kids to. Of course, if Sarah Palin wins the 2012 election, we may never come back: a monarchy of oil-rich patriarchs seems preferable than a Tea Bag theocracy.

The boys don’t know.

At first it seemed silly to tell them about the move when so much was up in the air; we wanted to wait and have all the details ironed out. Friends tell me that there’s no way the boys haven’t figured it out, but so far, we’ve been practicing don’t-ask-don’t-tell and it seems to have worked. Now, however, all the details have been ironed out, contracts have been signed, and in fact we’re heading out there next week for the boys’ spring break, so they can visit their new school. It’s time for The Big Conversation.  We’ve practiced our “hey guys, big news!” script, and rehearsed our list of all the perks: new culture, warm weather, school sports teams, the beach, blah blah blah…but when you’re 6 and 10, I’m not sure “cultural opportunities”  will offset “leave the soccer team.”  Will there be rending of garments and gnashing of teeth? Or will it be shrugs and nods, followed by intervals of freaking out over the next few months?  I cannot for the life of me predict.

Our plan, at the moment, will be to leave this apartment at the beginning of July, spend some time on vacation, and arrive in Abu Dhabi in early August, when the daily temperature generally hovers at about 110. And that’s not your “dry heat” 110, either, despite all that desert just beyond the city borders. Abu Dhabi is on the Persian Gulf, (which I am instructed to start calling the Arabian Gulf), so the humidity levels in the summer are epic: steam-up-the-screen-of-your-iPhone hot.  Oh, and it will be Ramadan, too. That’s the holiday where you don’t eat or put anything in your mouth from sunrise to sundown. Granted, inside, in the privacy of our own infidel apartment, we can gobble snacks, but outside in all that heat? Not even a bottle of water or a stick of gum.

Husband points out that the kids can just sit inside all day and play computer games until sunset, at which point we go out for iftar—the fast-breaking feast—and then hit the malls for the Ramadan sales. Who knew: the entire month of Ramadan, in addition to fasting and contemplating one’s life, is devoted to sales. Seems Mohammed loved a good bargain, in much the same way, apparently, that Christ did, which is why you find such great pre-Christmas bargains in Christian countries.

(Question: would this sentence get me into trouble in the UAE? Would it drive up my readership if I were to get arrested? Hmm…)

On the one hand, moving to a place where the weather screen on the iPhone is nothing but egg yolks of sunshine sounds just fine, thanks, particularly after this endless New York winter (as I write this sentence, it’s 45 degrees and pelting down a sort of rainy hail–in late April).  On the other hand, having the beach and swimming pools as a regular part of our lives means bathing suits, and that means…being bathing suit ready, which now I only have to do about four months of the year. I shaved my legs yesterday, in anticipation of our trip to AD and I think I lost about five pounds.  I don’t exactly wear a burqua all winter, but tights and wool trousers do render that whole leg-hair issue sort of moot.

This move forces me to confront the fact that as much as I might like to think of myself as an freewheeling Aquarian, I am, in fact, more of a routine-loving Capricorn (I swear all my personality difficulties come from being born on the cusp of two such dissimilar signs). I am not the risk-taker I thought I was–and yet, here I am, about to take my urban, heathen, Manhattanite children to the desert, in the heart of the Muslim world.

I think we’re about to have an adventure.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Continue Reading · on April 16, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, moving

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes