I am going to get better at this

It’s Ramadan; I’m anything but busy, but at the same time the days have become regimented and brittle. I switch something up and the next thing I know, skewers of meat are on fire and a pot of soup has developed a stinking black glop of burnt on the bottom. And I’ve written a few things. They’re right there–in the Draft folder. Because you don’t need to hear my decaffeinated, overheated, pulpy, sweaty opinions about why my hair is falling out, why everyone in a car seems to think he’s late for something very important, or why I prefer lavender-scented floor cleaner over rose.

We’re still running on a primarily nocturnal schedule, but I have managed to get up more than one time before noon. We’ve had a couple of days with significantly lower humidity, and the feeling of a hot wind actually drying the sweat off my forehead feels, yes, refreshing. I discover this while hanging laundry on the lines in my little back “garden,” which is paved in patio blocks because the previous tenant had a kid who liked to dribble a basketball. For a couple hundred bucks, we can have it removed, and then for several hundred more, planted with a variety of green things. Then, for about $60 a month, we could pay a guy, an Afghan, to water and rake and sweep and trim it for us. But because it’s so painfully, sweltering, blistering hot outside now, we have no inclination to pay anyone anything to make it look nice somewhere we can’t sit. Perhaps in October, our minds will change.

The children have their uniforms and their school shoes and backpacks, and have been registered for the bus–with its GPS and CCTV and bar-coded, RFID badges that the kids must have in order to be allowed to ride. I’m eyeing extra-curricular activities for them, thinking about gymnastics and horseback and dance, karate and rock climbing and soccer. The children have atrophied. They are visibly thinner and weaker in their arms and legs from all the nothing we’ve been doing. I just yesterday resurrected the basic math facts for their review. Sometimes I think I should care more about setting them up for success. Other times, I think it’s all right as is. I don’t need to be a pushy mom, the kids are certainly not stupid or behind, and when they study subjects they’re interested in, they are reliably internally motivated. So I should probably relax.

Ramadan has been a test of my patience this year. In other years, in the US, it has been a test of other things: my willingness to entertain big groups of people and cook for crowds while fasting; my ability to unload and stack a mow of hay while fasting; my readiness to cooperate in the weekend group-cook Iftars at Fox Valley Islamic Society. Here, it is a test of our ability to be with ourselves; we know almost no one here. M’barek shares a workplace with just a couple other people. It’s summer, so many (most?) Dubai residents are on vacation. We live next door to a mosque, where we attend for prayers, but it’s not a social occasion here, it’s purely religious observance. I don’t even see the neighborhood women socializing before or after prayers, so I don’t think it’s me. So, we have broken fast alone, as a family, every single night since we returned from Morocco. Once, at a lavish–ostentatious, really–Iftar buffet at Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel. And another night at a restaurant. But always the same four faces around the table.

Not that I am complaining. We eat lovely, simple food at our table. Moroccan harira, dates, boiled eggs, fruit, grilled meat, olives, tea, coffee, milk and fresh bread. Then we relax a little, the kids help clear the table, and we spend the evening reading, exercising, playing and praying, and talking with loved ones at home (it’s morning for them!). This is not a terrible way to pass time. These are four very nice people.

But now we’re three months into this adventure and we’re beginning to second-guess our choices. Could we have chosen a more appropriate school for the kids? Should we have enrolled them in some sort of time-killing camp thing for a month, just to be around other children? (Anyone who has seen many children in public in Dubai would question whether they’d want their down-home farm kids “socialized” to fit into that mess.) Should I have been dragging them to the library activities, even though they don’t speak enough Arabic to follow simple instructions?

And then, ourselves: Should I be trying harder to get out and meet people? Should I have business cards printed? What would they say, besides “Now I Know What Desperate Housewife Really Means?” When do I out myself as a writer? And the real kicker, now that I’m 80 pages into a manuscript: Should I really be writing short fiction?

In a few more weeks, most of those questions will be answered, and with a resounding Doesn’t Matter. The kids will slide and settle, as they always do, into small circles of weird little friends. They will take up with homework and projects and packing their own lunchboxes and feeling silly in their school uniforms. M’barek will begin scheduling trips here and there all over the region, meeting with customers and solving service issues and making people happy. I will finish reading The Crimson Petal and The White, and join my fellow women book junkies for a discussion of it, and perhaps I will really like a few of them. My Arabic tutor will return from vacation and I’ll jump back into lists of nouns and verbs, reading, writing, thinking in Arabic. I will continue to write, both for the magazine and for the characters of my own story, and the pace of life will pick up. Temperatures will begin to come down, first at night, and then the lows will last a little longer in the morning, until at some point only midday will be unbearably hot. And then, not even noon will be painful. And when everyone back home is stuffing a blanket under the door to stop the draft, adding a second pair of socks and turning up the heat, I will be walking along a beach and taking my coffee on those patio blocks that today feel like my own personal tandoori.

But for now, it is eight-thirty at night, 35 degrees and 56% humidity, so it’s best if we get out there and have our swim in the dark, catching the twinkle of the Burj Khalifa every half hour.

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3 responses to “I am going to get better at this

  • bcastleton

    Dear Jo,

    My heart goes out to you. Your observations are so much a part of the “adaptation” experience, so much of it exacerbated by the reality of Ramadan where you are. Yesterday evening, I had “iftar” with some newly met colleagues from the university. We chatted through the evening and into the night, finally heading for home after 11. Driving back through the center of Ifrane, we saw hundreds of people enjoying the evening air and all the family oriented activities for post-iftar. It reminded me of Settat during Ramadan. Now, another instructor and I are determined to join the throng at least once during the last weeks of Ramadan. Wish you had that available to you.

  • Mollie Michie-Lepp

    thank you, for that little gem. as polar opposite as our lives are right now, one thing remains constant. the ‘for now’. I’ll think of you as I’m winterproofing my windows, wishing I was walking along a beach barefoot, sipping coffee and trying to count to 5 in Arabic.

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