After two weeks in this foreign land, I find myself nibbling at the edges of relaxation. I’m rediscovering that it’s the ordinary things that matter. A couch, stove, and clothes hangers make the difference between comfort and discomfort; between anxious and relaxed; between harmony and disharmony.
We take the ordinary for granted. Have no appreciation for the chair unless it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or painted by Gauguin. Even though we may fall in love with our barcaloungers, we don’t really appreciate them until a spouse threatens to trash it.
The most ordinary thing I miss is color. I am astounded by how much I miss color. I know that sounds odd, but when you live in the eastern part of the United States with an abundance of color (except for winter) and are suddenly transported to the desert of the UAE, the absence of color is shocking. It is impossible to express the feeling. Everything is tan. The sand is tan. The distant mountains are tan. Our building is tan and the interiors are painted tan. Then I looked around and discovered that I have fallen under the “tan spell” and have purchased tan curtains, and tan carpet though it does have burgundy flourishes. I also purchased tan lamps with silver bases. Now I am on a mission to buy very, very bright colors for the wall décor and other decorative items.
So, I had to travel more than eight thousand miles to discover that ordinary things can be extraordinary. Imagine how much more I have to discover.
Till next time…
|Note: For those of you who have been following my journey…. I apologize that this posting is out of synch. I forgot I had written it and should have posted a few weeks ago.
At the age of 22, I traveled 3000 miles to attend school at UCLA. No family, no friends, no acquaintances. So what. So long ago I can’t remember what it felt like, but it couldn’t have been like this. I was fearless and lived in the world of “why not”. Now I reside in the world of caution that comes from experiencing all the answers to “why not”.
Awoke on move day with butterflies in my stomach. Probably because I haven’t done anything butterfly inducing in a very long time. When living a cautionary life, everything is carefully planned and scoped out. All I’s dotted and t’s crossed. All the if’s, than’s, and else’s have been carefully considered and contingency plans put in place. Put half of my money in purse and other half in suitcase. Was sure to split underwear between two bags in case one got loss. But the land of Why Not is full of uncertainty inducing butterflies.
Haven’t felt such an adrenaline rush since I went rock climbing and that was on a cruise ship with a safety harness. That little adventure was prompted by a conversation with an 80-year old couple but that’s another story. In other words, rock climbing was a lot safer than my current adventure moving half way round the world. In this case, my husband is my safety harness, but we are both untethered. Kinda like free floating in outer space and hoping for a gravitational draw into a safe planet.
The adventure begins.
I ran into a new neighbor and his wife in hallway as they were returning from shopping trip. After a brief conversation in 90 degree hallway, he gifted me with the sweetest mango I had ever tasted. That gift was a reminder that it is not really about where but about who. I have questioned others who came before me to this place in the UAE desert town of Ras Al Khaimah about why they chose to come here and why they stay. The consistent answer is the community of people. A few days ago, I would have said the community of expats, but it is so much bigger than that. It’s the Indian “gate guy” who does not speak English but is helpful in so many ways. It’s the Arab “cell phone” guy who added to my education in Middle Eastern culture by explaining why Arabs would take advantage of a “no return” policy. It’s the bus driver and the tour guide. The community is so broad and the longer I stay here, the larger my community will become.
My old community of friends and family are like comfort food for the soul, and I miss them mightily. But, now I have an incredible opportunity to expand my circle of friends and extended family. Now, my community will be enriched by new relationships, and my understanding of the world will change in more ways than I can even imagine.
Most recently the Ugly American in me came out as I complained about why the Indian taxi drivers smell. One of my colleagues who spent the last seventeen years in Japan patiently explained that it could be cultural or it could be as simple as not having money to buy deodorant. The very next day, I experienced a day of shopping in the heat and realized that I too needed a shower. In other words, anyone who works in the UAE summer heat (110 degrees in the shade) is going to smell.
The next time I meet a taxi driver; I will give him a mango and make a new friend.
Expats are like cats
While visiting with my expat friends in Ras Al Khaimah they suddenly became worried because they could not find their cat. Even though I am a cat lover, I did not understand the concern because they were in a closed environment, which meant the cat could not get out and was just hiding. Another expat friend with a small child explained their little boy was having a hard time adjusting and his sleep routine was off. It was then I realized how much I had in common with the cat and the little boy. I too was having a hard time adjusting
Like the cat, I just wanted to find a safe, warm, comfortable place where I could curl up and hide. Unlike the little boy, I did not have parents to shop for furniture, make arrangements for deliveries, and decorate the house all while preparing to start a new job. Unlike the cat and the little boy, I understand I am in one of the adjustment phases while acclimating to a new environment. Just two months ago, while sitting in my very comfortable home of fifteen years, I explained to my husband that we would have a difficult time while adjusting to our new home in the UAE. But, that intellectual discussion did not begin to capture the reality.
Duck out of water is the best description of my current state. I am an urban dweller living in a suburban desert. I am a westerner living in the middle-east. I am everything opposite. A twelve hour plane ride took me light years away from my reality. The most familiar things are the local McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. Who knew that one day my heart would be soothed by the sight of the golden arches or the taste of an overly sweet donut.
Intellectually, I know I will adjust, but like the cat and the little boy.… I want to go into hiding while my parents take care of everything.
If I had a friend experiencing something uncomfortable, I would offer soothing and kind phrases like “it’s going to be alright”, “don’t worry”, or “be patient”. So, here I sit on day two of my move to Ras Al Khaimiah and I’m trying out those phrases on myself, but it’s not working. I know that it is way too soon to panic, and that it’s just nerves and that in another month, I will look back on this time with a smile. But at this moment, I am really asking myself “why did I think this was a good idea.” What was I thinking!
Having left a very comfortable home, family and friends, I now sit pondering, worrying, and journaling my feelings while knowing I will not only adjust to my new environ but will eventually begin to love it here. So my husband and I decided to jumpstart the “getting to know you” phase by taking a personalized tour with an Emirattee. Ahmed was the perfect choice for a guide because he knew the area and was very patient while answering all of our questions. He is like the Jamaican with many jobs and his phone was constantly ringing from the variety of people that he works with and for. My husband immediately launched into a political discussion with Ahmed and I suggested that he change the subject before it was too late, and we began to learn about Muslim customs around marriage, child rearing and wealth distribution among the Emirattees.
So now I am beginning to experience one of the many things I sought from this move… an expansion of my global awareness. Beginning to focus more on what I am gaining and less on what I (temporarily) gave up.
When faced with something a little out of the ordinary, my 7-year old grandson says “that’s not good” which sums up my feelings upon departing the airport in Dubai. Stepped out of the airport at night into 95 degree temperatures, 95% humidity and my glasses fogged up so heavily I had to remove them to see. Had recently read about this, but there is nothing like first-hand experience. In fact, the article I read was extolling the wonders of living in a Dubai summer after everyone else had departed to cooler climes. He was explaining how nice it was to experience the city without all the crowds. Either he had a warped sense of humor or the temperature coping mechanisms of a snake.
I now have a new understanding of the term breathtaking. The heat in Dubai is stifling. The air is heavy with moisture, and the body sweats like a prizefighter after going ten rounds with Ali. There are only two words that come to mind “air conditioning” or three words “air conditioning now”. How do people live like this or more importantly why do people live like this? An even better question is “what was I thinking” when I decided to live like this.
Will not panic yet because I wanted an adventure, and I know that it will begin to cool down to a comfortable 80 degrees in another month.
Just have to hold on until then.
Once I enjoyed my routines and patterns. It felt good knowing the shortcuts around traffic while newbies and tourists could only sit and fume. It felt good knowing just what store carries the right item at the right price and the best way to get there. I know that between 7 and 8 am the sun is in just the right position for reading my daily paper.
These are my routines. These are my life patterns that are as comfortable as a tattered robe and worn slippers. But something has begun to change. I am now discovering that what I deemed comfort has become an excuse to avoid change. For if one is comfortable, why change. Comfort can be an insidious trap. The longer one sits in an easy chair, the harder it is to get up. That is where I found myself and cobwebs were beginning to form and hold me down.
Fortunately, I discovered the trap I was in. I realized that the rut of comfort was getting deeper and deeper until I could barely see above it. The air in my rut was stale. The springs in my comfortable chair were rusting. But in 11 days, it will all change. I will be winging my way for a sojourn in the UAE. I will fly out of my rut and begin to see around me again and breathe fresh air.
Eleven days and counting.