I don’t expect you, dear readers, have felt my absence as I have. It has been a while, as so many would-be bloggers like to say when they come back to the blog after a couple months’ silence. Yes, it has, and I have approached you a few times, saved drafts and decided not to post them. So much has happened, and so much has not.
We have completed seven months in Dubai. Just days ago, we passed this milestone, putting us well over the hump. Our first chapter here, thirteen months in length, is now on its wane. As we say in Arabic, alhamdulillah.
This week is the first of a nearly three-week winter school break. I’ll understate things and say that it’s nice to let the kids sleep in and relax all day. No 6:35 A.M. bus to keep waiting, no 3:35 P.M. return. It’s been hard on the two, and emotionally tough on me, to put them through what nearly amounts to a yearlong stint on an industrial first-shift schedule. They’re good little soldiers, and they don’t complain much, carry their lunches and drag their rolling backpacks dutifully along, hit their homework on their return, usually make their bedtime (although too often begging me to read an extra chapter in our nighttime read-aloud), and don’t take it too personally that they have not found close friends at school.
The weather has shifted and is now, I suppose, exactly the kind of weather that many people of means pay money to enjoy. We can have our breakfast out on our choice of three patios–front garden, side patio, back garden. We can choose between the compound pool or the beach. Beach is more active, but (if you can believe it) it’s breezy, and light cloud cover makes it feel chilly for swimming. The pool is enclosed, mostly protected from a breeze, and reliably warm. We can ride our bikes through quieter neighborhoods, but the streets are composed in ways to prevent through-traffic, which means we can get a little lost and ride a little longer than we mean to. I’m working up to taking the kids on the bike paths of the Beach Road, but Dubai traffic doesn’t change with the season, so that remains a downright scary thing to do with/to the most precious little souls in my world.
We can now enjoy the park with its greenery, and so can everyone else, so a trip to Safa Park reminds me of vaguely of the Seurat painting. It has water features, a small pond where electric boats can be rented, and a waterfall, some hills that the kids can roll down until they’re too dizzy to walk. But there is an entrance fee, so a visit to the park is a planned event that requires the carrying of ID and extra cash to lay down for the deposit fees for rental bikes (you can’t bring your own bike into, or even on the path around, the park).
I’ve taken to walking the two-mile stretch of beach across the road from our place. It’s a long walk, and the sand is a challenge to all the muscles of the feet and legs. The waves, water, smell of sea air and flocks of sea birds are truly the only connection available to any sort of wildness, nature, life beyond human. We have, of course, the hordes of street cats that we’ve befriended, and the three we’ve given safe haven in our home and garden, but in truth the result of that is a garden that needs constant cleaning. I am also shooing stray cats out of the house, as they freely wander into the kitchen looking for breakfast or dinner, knowing we’re among the reliably kind folk, and also those who eat fish.
We’re looking forward to a little trip next week, finally taking geographical advantage of this move to explore a chunk of Holy Land along the Dead Sea. The temperatures there will be much cooler, and I am assessing our clothing, looking for things like sleeves and long pants, socks and shoes (not sandals). We brought a few things, and luckily I did have the foresight to pack things that were big on the kids when we left. They have grown, each a full size, since we came here.
Apparently the winter break brings with it winter break-ins, and we have been warned by the watchman that several villas have been robbed. Already this week. So it is up to us to lock doors and windows, pull curtains and put away electronics. Fortunately, we don’t own valuables like jewelry, art or luxury goods, and I can only hope that will help reduce the likelihood of anyone coming to take what little we do own these days.
After the holiday break, we are looking forward to the start of the Season of Visits. Already, we have two scheduled, back to back, first my parents and then a beloved friend, and I am hoping/lobbying/planning for a visit from another dearest friend before the weather begins to turn again to fire and brimstone. That will carry us, the kids and me, to spring break, when I hope we can take another short trip somewhere on this side of the globe, glean some learning and some joy from where we are. And then it will be a hectic slide toward summer break and a shift in how we do things for the second chapter here.
Right now, I am favoring pulling the kids from their current school environment and enrolling them online, for a couple of reasons. First, this would enable us to spend a longer period with friends and family in the U.S. We knew we’d miss them, but perhaps we didn’t know how very much, and more months together with cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and best friends will make the (subsequently shorter) time back abroad much more bearable. Online school would eliminate the need to leave the house at 6:30 and the nine-hour day that results (plus an hour of homework). It would present the very real challenge (at least to me) of building structure, order and discipline into our days. P.E. would consist of long jogs on the beach, riding lessons if we like, ocean swimming, and improving our urban biking skills. We would be in the U.S. long enough to enjoy the colors of fall, the orchard season, the changing light and sudden shortness of days–and we’d be there again in spring for the smell of mud and worms, the mania of May. Ramadan falls mid-summer now, and while the fasting days are shorter in the UAE than they are up in Wisconsin, they are unbearably hot and lonely, spent locked inside, curtains drawn, AC blasting, sleeping until 1 P.M. and up until nearly fajr in an effort to stay hydrated and stave off the blubbering insanity that isolation brings. We’d spend Eid with friends and family, as holidays should be spent. We would begin and end our school year in America, and spend the middle months here in the UAE.
Not to say it would be a simple transition. It is one thing to spend two months among family and friends, bouncing from one home to another as houseguests and taking occasional road trips and mini-vacations; it is entirely another to be around for five months at a time. This would necessitate my owning a car, renting and furnishing an apartment (however small and spartan), and securing storage for the months we’d once again be abroad. Not without its inevitable snags. We will also need to look for a different housing scheme here, as our current place is (frankly) more house than we need, more than I care to clean, more dust than I wish to manage. Too many toilets.
For now, I am in a holding pattern, as we have not made a final decision either way. But I am expecting that, after some visits with family and friends, some long conversations from which I can tap the insight of people not enduring the
psychotic psychological effects of culture shock and all, that I will know what to do, and will begin planning the steps toward it.
The work assignment is not one year; it is at least three, and possibly five or more years, and we need to take whatever steps necessary to build a positive life around it. This, I believe, is the plan that can get us through it, mostly intact, with an understanding and close connection to life back home, and fresh eyes every year, preventing the psychic callous I see on too many people who shrug–at the driving, the giant cars and conspicuous consumption, the overdone artifice, the mistreatment of laborers, the sudden inability to use a hammer or yard rake or mop or to carry a bag of refuse to the dustbin–and carry on as if it were normal to live in Babylon.
In the meantime, I spend at least an hour each day at the water’s edge, marveling at things so simple as the water cycle, the tides, and tiny pink clams that burrow into sand under lapping waves. If I raise my eyes from the sea-foam, I can see The World islands out there, Atlantis at the tip of the Palm, Burj Al Arab just down the coast on one side, the ever-busy loading docks of the port on my other side. I try to fix my focus on those tiny, pink clams.