Tag Archives | moving

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.


I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, 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

There’s a Foosball Table in My Living Room

Foosball. The only people I knew who had a foosball table were Chandler and Joey on “Friends.”

Oh, okay, I didn’t really know them know them.  But they did have a foosball table.

And now I have a foosball table too.

About two months ago, before we knew we were moving, we re-arranged the boys’ shared bedroom, a shift that included moving Caleb’s legos from one side of the room to the other.  His response to this shift was something like HOW CAN YOU MOVE THINGS IT’S PERFECT THE WAY IT IS NOOOOO PLEASE NO CHANGES NOOOOO PLEASE DONNNNNNNT.

You would’ve thought we were asking him to take up residence in the cupboard under the stairs but without the consolation of magic or Quidditch.

So as you might imagine, I felt a tad anxious about how our change-averse eight-year old would handle the news that we were moving.

Then in a sporting goods store, where we were buying one of the boys new soccer shoes football boots, I had a revelation. While I was paying, I saw Caleb and Liam playing with the foosball table that the store had on display. Or rather, the boys saw “foosball” but I saw a bribe an incentive: announce the move and then tell them that the new house would have room for a foosball table.

Worked like a charm. We explained that we were moving, Caleb immediately began to angle for livestock–bunnies, gerbils, guinea pigs, dogs–then we countered with the foosball table and he was sold. Wondered why we weren’t moving RIGHT AWAY.

I found a foosball table for sale on dubizzle, the UAE equivalent of Craigslist, and voila: here it is, wedged into the living room behind the couch:


Do you suppose that either Chandler or Joey ever played foosball in his underpants? That’s Caleb’s preferred uniform.

True, my living room now feels a bit like a frat boy lounge, but you know what? Foosball is wicked fun and I’m thinking that spinning all these knobs is probably good for my triceps.  I do slap the ball into my own goal with alarming regularity, unfortunately, which means that I’m at the bottom of the family foosball tournament ladder.

Heh. But I practiced this week while the boys were at school and I’ve developed a little whizbang shot that works like a charm.  So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go kick some eight-year old ass.



Continue Reading · on June 14, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, Parenting

if privacy is a myth, why do we need all these keys?

We’re moving at the end of the month to what in Abu Dhabi gets called a “villa,” but by villa I don’t mean a small 18th century castle perched on the edge of a Tuscan hilltop.  Instead it’s a townhouse, the second in a row of four, on a small street. Across the street? An identical row of four houses. Next street over? More identical rows of houses. It’s a bit pod-like, I have to say–and I’m sure that at some point I will walk into someone else’s house by mistake.

Although I probably wouldn’t be able to get in to my neighbor’s pod house villa because it will be locked. And by locked I mean seriously, totally locked:


I mean a whole lotta locks. These keys are the keys we received for our villapod — not the keys for the entire complex.

In our current apartment, there are doors to the living room, doors to all the bathrooms, doors to all the bedrooms, a door to the little hall that leads to the bedrooms, a door to the kitchen, a door to the little hallway that leads to the kitchen, a door to the “maid’s room” (where we keep the washing machine), and a door to the tiny bathroom connected to the maid’s room.  All of those doors have locks and keys, which when we moved in, we removed and put somewhere safe. And by safe I mean I don’t know where they are.

Now we’re moving into a bigger space. More space, more doors. More doors, more locks. More locks, more keys.

I don’t know how to explain this architectural fascination with doors: why a lock on hallway doors? why a locking door on the kitchen? Am I supposed to A) have a live-in housekeeper; and B) lock her in the kitchen until dinner is ready?  I don’t know how to break it to the designers, but we’re living in an era where actual privacy is impossible–and by impossible, I mean everything from the NSA kefuffle (really? The Patriot Act enabled violations of civil liberties? I’m shocked, shocked) to the fact that your most embarrassing high school moments can surface at any moment on facebook, courtesy of old enemies friends with scanners.  Given that any actual privacy these days is pretty much a myth, all these keys and locks seem… quaint. Positively twentieth-century.

We will do with these keys what we did with all the keys we pulled out of the doors in this apartment: pile them in a box and put them somewhere safe. And by safe, I mean nowhere within reach of Liam, who would like nothing more than to lock his brother in some small enclosure for a month or two.

Of course, before we do anything, we have to find the key to the front door.



Continue Reading · on June 10, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, UAE

Moving! Or, why I wish I knew how pinterest worked

We’re moving out of the furnished apartment we’ve lived in for the past two years to an unfurnished, brand-new house in a brand-new housing “compound.” Abu Dhabi and Dubai are dotted with compounds, which are the equivalent of planned housing communities in the States: they’re little mini-suburbs, basically, even though the word “compound” to me conjures up images of armed guards, checkpoints, and barbed wire fences.

As with any move to the suburbs, this move has a lot to do with kids and wanting more space for them to run around both inside and out. Of course, after years of living in Manhattan pining for suburban peace and quiet, I am now worried about moving to a place that has nothing but peace and quiet.  How will I silence the voices in my head, if not with the din of a city burbling around me?

But you know the real source of my anxiety?


We moved into a furnished apartment when we moved to Abu Dhabi, and while the furniture was not all to my liking (hello white leather sectional!) most of it was fine. And mostly it was fine because I didn’t have to worry about it; I didn’t have to choose any of it. It was just…there.  And that’s sort of how it’s been for most of my post-college life: I lived in an array of small apartments and furniture simply accumulated.  For decades my desk was two filing cabinets and a door laid over the top, purchased right after college; I had a blue wicker chair inherited from the mother of a friend, an assortment of bookcases from god knows where, a rocking chair that “one day” I was going to strip down and repaint but which, twenty years after I bought it, still looked exactly the same. When Husband and I got married, we bought a few things — a leather couch that after ten years of kids jumping on it looks like an heirloom from an English castle; a lovely round dining table that I put a water stain on the first day we used it; a glass coffee table that got wrapped with a sort of padded girdle while the boys were small, lest the sharp glass corners de-brain them. We also had my grandmother’s ancient sleeper-sofa, which I have to say made the world’s most comfortable napping couch but was, when we inherited it, about thirty years old, and aged more in the twelve years that we had it than in all the previous thirty.

In other words, the design principle that governed our New York apartment could be best described as no-point-in-getting-something-new-because-the-kids-will-wreck-it.

When we moved to Abu Dhabi, we gave away most of the odds-and-end and put everything else in long-term storage–and none of it is worth the cost of shipping here.

Thus: I move at the end of the month, mostly furniture-less, into a house with an upstairs, with several bathrooms, with a foyer, for god’s sake. What the hell does a person do with a foyer?

And windows! For the love of all that’s holy, I need “window treatments.” Our current apartment is on the 37th floor and there aren’t any other buildings within eyeshot, so if a person wanted to walk around in her altogethers, for instance, there’s no one to see. But down on ground level, where we’re moving, there are all kinds of prying eyes–not to mention the fact that we need to be able to darken the bedrooms when we sleep.  I tried to figure out curtains the other day, with the help of the very nice Mr. Mohammed at the curtain shop near my office — and he was lovely, but mostly we talked about politics in Lebanon, which frankly was easier than sifting through all the sample books he pressed upon me.*

Linen? Cotton blend? Simple shades? Roman blinds? Sheer panels and curtains? Just curtains? And what kind of curtain rods?

I fled.

Plus I need a couch. And the couch is supposed to go with the rug, right? Which is in turn supposed to go with the curtains, which should in turn harmonize with the rug and the couch? It’s a set of aesthetic algorithms that I haven’t mastered.

I’ve never had to make these decisions before, people; and while I now have an officially grown-up car, these choices present a whole new aspect of grownup life. I suppose I could just copy precisely the layouts that Ikea suggests in their store, but then, you know, it would be nice to live in a house that has a sense of actual individuality instead of mass-produced whimsy.  If only I’d learned how to use Pinterest, then I would have an entire trove of “looks” that I could turn to in this, my hour of aesthetic need. But alas, me and the Pin? We’ve never hit it off. I’m pinterestless.

My wise sister suggested that perhaps my furniture-based anxiety in fact masks my feelings about moving away from the really lovely community that exists in our apartment building, which is where almost all the faculty and staff of the university live –it’s a bit of a hive, in that regard, an actual vertical village, where you can find someone to watch your kids at a moment’s notice, or borrow a cup of milk or wine by simply walking down the hall.  It’s been a safe space from which to negotiate the huge changes in our lives in the past few years. And of course we’ll all stay in touch, and of course we will visit and our kids will play together, and of course of course of course…but it will be different. And, my sister suggests, perhaps it’s possible that while I’m excited (a little) to go live in the Abu Dhabi equivalent of the ‘burbs, I might be sad at leaving, too.  You know: ambivalent.

Or that’s my sister’s theory, anyway.


Maybe she’s got a point…but I can’t think about that right now. I’ve got to go talk to a man about finials.


*Abu Dhabi fact:  you can’t throw a feral cat down the street without it hitting a curtain maker /upholsterer’s shop.  The shop-keeper will help you choose fabrics from a dizzying array of choices and then –even better– come and install the curtains (or shades or whatevers), all for only a tiny bit more than you’d pay for ready-made curtains, which you would then have to install yourself. And our brand-new house doesn’t even have curtain rods yet. Thus: “custom made” curtains.





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Continue Reading · on June 5, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, growing up, shopping, UAE

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