What a luxury it is to spend a morning almost entirely in self-directed thought. No write-to-order thought-organization, no keeping mental lists of what must be done today; on my list, for this day, nothing is urgent.
I started with my usuals, waking at dawn with the adhan and fajr prayers. (You can hear what that’s like here. The one on the bottom of the Sunni list is the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.) I make my little pot of coffee and check in on Facebook while friends in the USA are still awake and posting. Make the kids’ breakfast and wake them, drink my coffee, pack their lunches and help them with backpacks, and then we’re out front to meet the bus by 6:35 A.M.
Then, I make my husband’s morning tea and cook him some eggs. He has yet to simply rise with the kids and share breakfast, which I think would be nice, but it would also require him to go to bed a lot earlier than he does, and frankly, he would likely be more a distraction, and then I’d need to wake the kids another 15 minutes earlier, so I’ve let this go. He eats his breakfast and is out the door by 7:30.
I clean up the kitchen, set the dishwasher to run, start a load of laundry, take trash–or perhaps I should call it rubbish, a new favorite word for my kids–to the dumpster a few doors down. Received a delivery of drinking water and then set off to walk. I’ve been running, but once in a while, one needs a rest from the repetitive impact, and my back and IT band have been complaining. So I walked and listened to Freakonomics Radio’s Suicide Paradox podcast.
Returned to the villa and a fresh load of whites–socks and undershirts–was waiting. I carried the basket out to the lines we tied across the back garden and took down the towels that had hung overnight, and carefully hung the socks my kids wear as part of their daily uniform as they attend their high-priced, somewhat-exclusive private academy. Every expat child here attends a private school. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but it is the rule. And I can’t tell that my kids’ school is any better than their public school back home. Oh, they have all the amenities–two covered pools on the campus (split into elementary, middle and high schools), two soccer fields, a sweet track, an amazing library, hot lunch on offer, specialized counseling options to meet the needs of expat kids, integrated and separate IT education, Islamic studies, Arabic language, really nice playground equipment, and even school supplies are more or less taken care of–but I don’t know whether my kids will advance to middle school with a quantitatively substantiated, higher-quality education than they had been receiving at the local public school back home. There, we dressed them in hand-me-downs, packed lunch because the hot lunch was appalling (in itself an education), bought our own school supplies, and paid a meager $40 book fee per year. Or some such. Field trips were out of pocket or PTA-sponsored. There was no swimming pool for lessons.
I “listen” (online, in forums) to a lot of expat parents complain, in fact, about the quality of education their kids receive, especially in view of the money that’s spent. So I suppose I’m primed to pay close attention. I’ll be watching my son’s math homework, pushing reading on my daughter, and maybe even looking for some way of introducing European and American history into their day-to-day (young adult historical fiction?), since Social Studies here focuses on Dubai (all fifty years of it), and economics (I’ll be very interested to see what that looks like), as per UAE educational standards.
Of course I think about the fact that we live here, and what that means in terms of a social and geopolitical education to my children. They are making friends with kids whose countries of origin literally span the globe: places in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and Africa for certain; I’m not sure whether there’s anyone from South America in their classrooms. And I’m sure there are no penguins in class, either. But they are meeting these children and having to navigate the waters of making acquaintances, judging character and choosing friends based on something wholly other than shared citizenship (or skin color, or language or religion). They’ll need to find other indications of shared humanity. And I have to hope that as the centuries pick up speed and continue to fly past us, this skill will help them make the world a more hospitable place.
But back to hanging socks. Because that’s where I am. As my husband puts in an eight-hour day in the free zone and my kids tumble around in the petri dish of an international academy, I’m hanging white socks in a walled garden and taking note of how the sun and humidity prickle almost magically into beads of sweat on my bare shoulders. And as I tick off the list of chores, now all complete (until dinnertime) and it’s 9:30 A.M., I realize with some relief and perhaps also a little fear that whatever meaning my life here in Dubai will have, will be brought to it by my own hands.
Just as it will not do for my children’s social studies to consist of Burj al Arab, the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa, it will not do for me to simply deliver scrambled eggs and white socks. Although it’s a start, and I may as well build on success. I’ll just try to take it from there.