Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reflections on World AIDS Day: Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember. ~Seneca

I wrote this on the 1st, but somehow never published it.  Forgive the almost six month delay. . .

Each World AIDS Day is a sort of Memorial Day for me.  Remembering those I've lost and watching those I know continue the fight (either for their health, neutral status rights, anti-discrimination, and frequently all of the above), and respecting those in health care meeting the daily challenges of conscientious care and life (and sometimes death) with dignity.

Although he's been dead for almost 15 years, one person is a constant companion.  I met him when I was a senior in high school and it was one of those rare relationships that you know each other when you meet.  Actually, when I walked into his hospital room, we stopped talking to the people we were with and just stared at each other.  It is a moment I will always hold with clarity.  From that moment, we were fast friends and almost constant companions.

He was the first person that "got" me, somehow understood me, and didn't judge me.  And he told me, I was the first person who saw through the status and saw the person.  Actually, the status never really mattered to me.  I mean, of course it mattered.  In that it was the early 90s, and people with HIV didn't have the life expectancy they have now.  HIV/AIDS was still a death sentence then.  And for him, he'd been diagnosed years prior in the mid 80s, so there was limited time.  But, it was never an identifying factor.  We were committed to making the best of the time we were given.  And, in the end, the status, was only a very small issue.

As is common in those relationships with limited time, you find ways to overlook the "normal" things that would bother you.  It doesn't seem worth it to argue over the dishes left in the sink when you're just grateful to share a meal.  And you find that holding hands and talking can be the most intimate of moments.

We had a very limited time together.  Only three years.  But in that three years, we learned, laughed, and loved in a way that I've never recaptured.  I miss him.  Everyday.  But, on World AIDS Day, I reflect on him, us, and what we learned:

1.  Appreciate every single moment you have with the people you love.

2.  Be happy in what you're doing.  If you're not, try to change it.  If you can't change it, float through, until you can.

3.  Find your peace.  And take a minute to enjoy that everyday.

4.  Look outward with love.  What you put out is what you get back.

From the outside, reading this list. . .it sounds pithy.  But, the older I get, the truer I find it.  Of all the people I've lost, this was the most devastating.  But, it was also the most peaceful loss in that we loved what we had, shared what we could, and became better people because of each other.

Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. ~Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time is the fire in which we burn. ~Delmore Schwartz

It’s been two months since my last post.  And since I’ve received a complaint from a follower that he’s tired of rereading my September 17th post, I’m motivated to write a new one.  My first thought is, Where have the last two months gone?  And for most people, the same answer applies:  just day to day “stuff.”  The daily (sometimes mind numbingly boring) details of running a household and parenting four children.  A few points of excitement:  Lucas broke his arm jumping from the playground equipment at school, Thomas enrolled in judo, and I took a girls’ Eid holiday to Istanbul (which ranks as one of my new favorite cities—blog to follow on the trip soon).
I follow a friend’s blog on Facebook and he’s an unofficial accountability person, of sorts.  I’ve known him for 15 years (that in itself is an appalling fact), but he’s one of the two people I go to for advice.  He’ll happily throw the “bullshit” flag.  Think about it, how many friends will give you the benefit of total honesty?  Support you--yes, but not let you wallow in self-pity when you’re fully capable of pulling yourself out of the mud.  This much wiser friend writes an incredible blog on happiness and inner truth.  The Ministry of Happiness page on Facebook:!/pages/Ministry-of-Happiness/155023134520961.  Quite often, I use it as a guide when I need a little help figuring out what I want, what I can change, what I can live with, and what will ultimately bring me the most happiness and allow me to be most at peace.  There’s a reason almost every culture has the adage, “If mama’s not happy. . .”
And as I review my last post, I'm slightly more encouraged.  I took some time to look at the issues I was unhappy with and tried to determine whether: a) I could change them b) if I couldn’t change them immediately, when would I be able to change them (as with most things, I find I work best with a timeline—perhaps the OCD in me just likes to check off things?).  Regardless, I’ve made a plan.
For starters, I’ve enrolled in a distance learning program at the University of Georgia in a reading education program.  This will fulfill the credit hours I need to reinstate my teaching license. 
But most importantly, I’ve taken some steps toward my goal of obtaining a doctorate in gender studies (the application’s finished, the GRE is scheduled for December 5th).  One of the main benefits presented in moving to Abu Dhabi was the suggestion that I would finally have the opportunity to go back to school.  Although, the idea has been met with a lukewarm reception.  I would have to take partial blame for that.  I work incredibly hard to make sure my family is comfortable.  And understandably, while I pursued a degree (and afterward, a career—hopefully, in six years, the job market will experience an upswing); this comfort level would inevitably change.  Perhaps that is for the best.  Millions of women have returned to the work force (or never left), and the family unit continues.  The family is forced to take on more responsibility (or rather divide it equally), the children become more independent, and hopefully everyone is happier, simply because “Mom” has a fulfilling career that involves something outside the home.
I’ve come to realize my children will not necessarily appreciate I’ve put off goals for parenthood.  Maybe they will as they age and maybe it won’t happen until after they become parents and realize how much is required to keep everything afloat, while madly treading water to prevent your own drowning.  My hope is: they’ll appreciate the independence they developed, they will admire the strength it took to start something new and only slightly terrifying, and finally will emulate the perseverance it takes to finish a task, while having to temporarily compromise other aspects of your identity.  Yes, my time as an active mother will decrease for a while, but ultimately, my goals will be met and I’ll have something that I can be excited to wake up to every morning.  To close, I read this quote and realized, this is what I want—respect for mad courage.  Mad courage is what it’s going to take to keep all these things afloat.
One of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was thirteen was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands - bare hands - and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage. To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon. Bare hands - a kind of mad courage. ~Robert Fulghum

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. ~Boris Pasternak

This is an incredibly difficult post to write and touches on two main subjects: homesickness and happiness. However, anytime I take a moment of reflection, it is extraordinarily difficult to look at myself with the same kindness as I do others. This is not a phenomenon. We are all kinder to others than ourselves.

When I was visiting, a friend told me much she enjoyed my blog and how positive she couldn’t believe I was and how she’d never have been able to do it. Which I doubt—you do what you have to do and I have been blessed with strong people in my life (there are no doubts she could handle anything thrown at her).

But, truthfully, I’ve had a horrible time adjusting. Sam went from a job in the States to a job here; the children went from a school in the States to a school here, and me. Well . . . that’s a different story. I went from a place where I had great friends and family and activities that I enjoyed to nothing.

That’s not to say there are not enjoyable things here (the earlier posts explore that). I’ve made friends (some of which have become close friendships) in the expat community and I am struck by the fact that moving to such a strange world for the purpose of having a completely different life experience—what you end up truly wanting is “home.” Think about anytime you’ve traveled overseas and how you’re more than a little excited when you find an American.

I was told by many people that going back to the States would assuage that homesickness and I’d be so glad to be back in the UAE. But, driving through the Smoky Mountains, I had to fight back the tears just a bit. Then, I found an intense irony in how I’d worked all my life to get out of the sleepy town I grew up in to find myself desperately wanting to be back. I miss the South with an intensity I didn’t know possible. At the heart of it all, we crave understanding and people who know us. There is a comfort in being around those who have known us since early childhood. The friendship that Edith Wharton describes as, “There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one's self, the very meaning of one's soul.”

Those are the people we miss most when we’re gone. Everyone has that friend that despite them being apart for years, always seems like no time has passed when you see each other.

Ultimately, I’m a fake. I’ve put on a marvelous show of keeping my head high and maintaining my positive attitude, hoping it would be enough to dislodge this perpetual lump in my stomach. There are certain things here that I find mortifying as an American woman: in order to go back to school, I have to submit Sam’s financial documents. And I can’t even open my own checking account without actual employment. Finding a teaching job has been a nightmare. These are all things outside my control.

Although, the most aggravating factors are those that were within my control: allowing my teaching license to expire, not going back to work when I truly wanted to do so, allowing myself to be persuaded that unless a career made a lot of money, it really wasn’t worth doing, allowing important issues to fall by the wayside for fear of “rocking the boat.” These are my fault, but fortunately, not irreparable. With time, they will be remedied. It’s not to say I’ve regretted the use of my time—I stayed home with the children. I’m a good parent, an excellent wife, and I maintained a comfortable life for my family. A certain amount of this was at expense to me, but the sacrifice was usually made willingly. But, I’ve reached a point where the resources have been depleted and I’m ready to find something that makes me hop out of bed in the morning.

Despite the incredible changes the last year have brought, I find myself the same. And I’m tired. I’m ready to do more and be more, and over time I’m ready to take back the things I’ve given up and choose to make myself happy. The children don’t want a miserable mom any more than I wish to be one.

For now, my friends are my buoy. My new friends here, my friends back home: thanks for keeping me centered and encouraging me. Change is a good thing.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. ~Ellen Glasgow

Monday, September 12, 2011

There is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear. ~George S. Patton

As I look back on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I (as I'm sure many) have very complex feelings. This is somewhat compounded by the fact that I live in a Muslim country. And I continue to realize how much of our fear is motivated by misunderstanding, which quite often turns into prejudice. I've had an opportunity to have many conversations with people regarding this issue (American and otherwise). Certain things I heard growing up from teachers, parents, religious leaders I have found to be only slight shades of truth, if not complete and total falsehoods. But, I’ll leave that for another post as there are more pressing issues. . .
While I have grieved for the people killed, their families, and our nation and world, my thoughts often turned to those intimately involved with 9/11. For those interviewed in positions of responsibility and power in the wake of 9/11, there have been determinations there was “nothing” they could have done. They did their jobs and when they realized the magnitude of terror, they continued to do their jobs (oftentimes putting aside their own fear and concern, and sometimes lives, for themselves and families) in the hopes that as many people could be saved as possible.
9/11 forever changed the scope of our world. While it happened on American soil, there were victims from over 90 nationalities. We were united as a world: disbelief, horror, grief, compassion, sincerity. We were brought together by horrific circumstances and over time as our collective psyche healed, we resolved ourselves to the idea “There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them (Andre Gide).”
Some have continued their lives by simply putting one foot in front of the other, realizing “today is the worst day you’ll ever have. Tomorrow will be a little better and each day will continue to improve.” This is not to discount the horror, but to simply understand how grief and disbelief are intertwined. Some continue to seek help for stress. Some have never been able to return to their jobs.
As I continue my introspection, I am choosing to keep an open mind. That is not to say I don’t experience fear, uncertainty, hesitancy as these are quite often useful emotions that will protect you at a primal level. But, I will travel, I will meet people, I will experience the world. Living in fear is simply no way to live. And I can’t be held hostage by the possibility of what might happen.
To close, I’ll continue to steal from another wise person; I’ve copied and pasted TG’s status update from September 11th:
“Today is not a day for memory. Everyday is.
Remember to not be filled with hate.
Remember to not treat people like things.
Remember that it is the collective sum of all of our choices that create the world we live in. Your choices are important. Even the small ones.
Namaste'. I honor that part of you that is also in me."

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends. ~Shirley Maclaine

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ethiopia Revisited--It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. ~Johann Schiller

It's been two years since our trip to Ethiopia to adopt Helen. Wow! Two years already.
I was eating lunch with the children a couple days ago and saw what was obviously an American adoption group at another table. Everyone knows my penchant for striking up conversations with random strangers, so I had to go over. Looking at the new families, I was struck at how I must have looked two years ago. Exhausted, wide-eyed, a little nervous of this little person with whom I was now in charge. . .families that were adding siblings (as ours was) or brand-new parents with infants who were just trying to figure out what in the heck was going on with this tiny person. It was a strange moment, remembering the past, yet living very much in the moment with my Ethiopian daughter.
Then, I realized I was a bit selfish. Thinking only of my experience, I wondered what Helen must have thought when she met us. "Two big Farenjis bringing me shoes, candy, and books" must have been at the forefront. I also thought back on the horrific afternoon when she cried for two hours straight and I could do nothing to soothe her. I have never had a more frustrating parenting experience in my life. It must have been equally horrifying for her. Strange smells, new language, strange looking people, weird food--no wonder the child was scared out of her mind. After two hours of holding and trying to soothe my child, I'm not ashamed to say I just gave up and put her down in bed. A few minutes later, she had fallen asleep, and I looked at this sweet, little pudgy cheeked face, and wondered what in the hell had I gotten myself into?! Why did I think I could do this? I began doubting myself. As a woman, as a parent, especially as a person--who could turn their back on a child, who by what little information we had, had been abandoned?
Then, I understood I needed to give myself a break. We were both way out of our comfort zones. I was reminded of Lucas and what a difficult baby he was. And how, I still didn't feel connected to him after more than six weeks. And he was my biological child. How could I expect an instantaneous bond with a child who was 2 1/2? And I realized how much unrealistic pressure I'd put on Helen and myself. Did I expect gratitude? Or love? Or all of the above? Anyone with children has experienced the egocentrism that only children have.
I saw I was selfish. I expected Helen to automatically love me. And when she favored Sam over me, I took it personally. I left it to him to provide a majority of the affection to her, while simultaneously convinced I could do it myself. Talk about shooting myself in the proverbial foot.
At some point, I realized I was losing myself with my daughter. After experiencing some anxiety issues, I asked for help. Luckily, I found a therapist who had experience with adoption.
At the session, I was surprised. I was reassured I was normal. Bonding takes time, give yourself a break. Stop trying to force a relationship and relax. It will happen.
Two years later, I'm happy to report this is true. Looking at the new families, remembering my own hesitation, looking at Helen now and seeing my amazing, bright, silly, loving daughter, I was able to assure the new families that, "Look, see, this is what happens when you open your heart."
I'm not saying everything is beautiful and wonderful, we still have our moments when Mom and Daughter are not exactly getting along and I imagine this will repeat itself over the years. But now, when we have these moments of frustration and even anger, I look at the core of myself and realize that what I feel for her is love. With that, and maybe a pedicure, we can get through anything.

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." ~Erma Bombeck

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. ~Elisabeth Foley

As usual, it's been too much time since my last entry (thanks to CC for the reminder/kick in the rear). Sam went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 11th to teach a summer course at the university. I stayed in Abu Dhabi with the children until they finished school and we've since flown to Addis as well. We will be here until July 11th, at which point we'll fly back to Abu Dhabi and I'll spend the next 10 days or so trying to strengthen my resolve for the trans-Atlantic flight with four children.
Coming to Addis was good practice for July and our trip to the States, we managed to carry only four suitcases (one of which was donations), and Jack's playpen. Also, one was a carry-on size--so, who really counts that anyway? Pretty good for five people. And, we only left one thing at the airport. So, it's getting a little easier. People who've traveled with children, please tell me I'm not the only one who's left things behind at the airport. Please?!
As I reflect on the trip back to the States, my mind can't help but turn toward relationships. The real reason we're going back to the States. Although, I jokingly claim it's for Target, Michaels, and Chick-fil-A. The real reason we're going back is for people.
The friends you make that you "click" with and feel like you've know your entire life. Those you HAVE known your entire life and still manage to like, despite knowing all there is to know. And most importantly (and sometimes overlapping), those you know you can call at 3 AM to bail you out of jail, help hide the body, etc.
The one common thing that binds these relationships is that all require nurturing in order to flourish. As a garden, friendships grow and strengthen based on the amount of time you put into it. We've all had friends who swear to KIT. And over time and circumstance, the communication fades, and the friendship follows. Occasionally, there is the rare friendship where you don't often speak, but are able to pick up where you left off (MDB, yes you).
Moving has reminded me of the value of friendships. All of them in their different intricacies have added to my life. For those of you I talk to on a daily to weekly basis, those I talk to on a monthly or longer basis, and those I rarely talk to. . .know you are a valued part of my life. There is a saying that says you can tell a person's character by the company they keep. If that is true my character is: loyal, strong (sometimes stubborn), giving, creative, oftentimes fabulous (SB, you know that's you!), and the list goes on. . .
And as we continue to get settled in Abu Dhabi, I am blessed to find comfort in new friendships. Those, especially, who have been a sounding board with the kids and with adjusting to a new culture. One, in particular, has been a constant source of support and encouragement (thanks, LS). Others have been a much needed oasis of escape for girl chat and drinks out (EB and JE, that's you).
So, to all friends, new and old, near and far, thank you for helping make me who I am. Hope to see you all soon!

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies. ~Aristotle

First, my apologies to all who follow the blog in that it's been way too long.
Life is further settling into a more reliable pace. We have schooling straigthened out for next year. Lucas and Helen will attend School A, while Thomas will attend School B (where he is currently). By the beginning of the school year, we will have a car, so we can say "Goodbye" to the 5:40 AM wake-up call. Thomas seemed pleased to stay at his current school. From the covert sightings on campus from reliable sources: he fits in, has become "one of the most popular kids in his class," was spotted with a blonde at the playground and is, apparently, quite the player.
Currently, Sam is in Ethiopia. He's teaching finance at Addis Ababa University. This was another benefit for the move to Abu Dhabi. Being so close to Ethiopia, we knew we'd have a frequent opportunity to travel to Helen's homeland. Sam will be there two weeks before we get there. Actually, 11 more days, but who's counting?
The kids are very excited to visit Ethiopia. Of the three who are old enough to comprehend, Thomas is probably the most excited. The first thing he wants to buy is a traditional Ethiopian outift, so he can wear it and "look just like everyone else there." No one's going to notice the Norwegian looking blonde child with ice blue eyes. Got Farenji?
And, I have to say, I love that about the children. It's not to say they don't notice color or they're "colorblind." To raise your children in a world that's colorblind negates the unique qualities between us. However, I like that despite the fact they understand race, it just doesn't matter. Helen is "African" or "from Ethiopia" or as she calls herself, "Chocolate." It's really not an identifying factor. Especially in Abu Dhabi. Everyone is from somewhere else. Asking, "Where are you from?" does not hold the implication it often did in the States. Here, it simply means, "Where are you from?" Everyone from America is American, regardless of color. "You from America? I love America too much! Obama is too much good!"
Which might be why I'm looking forward to going back to the US. There's always something exciting about going "home." At some point, Helen will have this feeling about two places. Ethiopia is not her home country in her mind now (as she remembers very little, other than our home), but we are trying to raise her in a way that allowsher to have pride in the fact that she is of two cultures.
And, in the end, that's really all you can do. Raise them to be good people, be kind to others. . .no matter where in the world they're from.

To end, Dennis Leary said it best: Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor. ~Chinese Proverb

I'm on the road to recovery. The experience with the doctor was great. Although, hopefully one I won't have to repeat.
A few things happened that have caused some twinges of homesickness. Easter being one, of which I spoke a little about in a previous post.
Mother’s Day was a little strange. Very anticlimactic and I realized the reason for that is the lack of commercials on most of the TV channels. There are no commercials on the children’s channels (which makes holidays MUCH nicer). Also, Sunday is a workday, so no pressure for an all day celebration. The kids made cards and we went for ice cream.
But, honestly, the thing that set me back in my homesickness was a recent “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” He was competing with a guy in Raleigh making ribs and baked beans. I almost cried. Okay, not really. But, it struck me at how much food is part of our identities. And here’s where I’m going to get controversial. I like Eastern AND Western barbecue equally. Vinegar based, tomato based, just baste the hell out of it, and it’s good with me! They have pork sections in a couple of the groceries here, but it’s really not the same as what you can get back home. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make some anyway.
Which led me my next thought (I realized here I think about food way too often). Everything is becoming fusion. It’s extremely difficult to find what would be labeled as Emirati cuisine. It’s all a mishmash of grilling and spices, the Mediterranean influences washing over and combining into something particularly unique to this area, but still tasting like something you’ve had before.
Think about your own cooking style. For me, I know there’s a huge southern, soul food influence. But, I also have my mother’s German influence and my Dad’s “experimental” flair (sometimes for the worst, his pumpkin orange raisin bread is a recipe that will stay buried deeply in the recesses of trial gone wrong). New Orleans is one of my favorite American cities, so I cook a lot of Cajun and the snobbier, Creole, cuisines as well. And now, I’m finding the Middle Eastern influence creeping in. And I realize, for cooks (professional and home), we’re just one big fusion of flavors. But, doesn’t it sound fancier? Fusion cuisine. As Americans, it shouldn’t be surprising. And for Abu Dhabi, with its myriad expatriate societies, I’ve yet to find one place that was strictly one ethnicity. It’s all a hodgepodge of flavors.
Try this the next time you eat. Take a minute to really taste your food (you’ll probably eat less this way, too). See if you can taste where the cultures merge.

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire

Monday, May 2, 2011

Illness is the most heeded of doctors: to goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey. ~Marcel Proust

Those who keep up with us on Facebook know I've struggled with illness for most of April. And, I'm stubborn. Which can be advantageous in most respects, but not so much when I hold off seeing doctors.
So, the cough was getting worse. One point, I had a fever, and I thought, “Okay, this is the flu. What’s a doctor going to tell me?” Take Tylenol, get plenty of fluids, and rest.” I’m not hauling myself to the doctor for that. And, honestly, the idea of going to see a doctor in a foreign country scared me just a little bit.
After a couple more weeks of awful sleep, aching chest, and a cough that would just not give it a rest (I’ll leave out the grotesque details), I caved.
And, luckily, I did. This follows the experience:
I enter the hospital about 8:55 AM (Wow! It’s so clean and bright in here), and speak with the receptionist in GP. She asks what’s wrong and I list the maladies, she directs me to ENT. My expression must have prompted her to add, “They open at 9, but the office is probably open.” My look had nothing to do with my lack of comprehension, but the fact that I could just walk into a specialist’s office and be seen.
I take the elevator up to the second floor and gave the receptionist another run through of the ailments, and she asked me to have a seat. I waited 15 minutes before I saw the ENT. He did the typical things and recommended an x-ray and bloodwork. He told me the x-ray would be ready immediately, so return after that, but that the bloodwork “Would not be ready for some time.” Me, “When will it be ready?” Dr., “About 1 PM today.” I almost snickered, but then I realized he was serious.
After the recommended tests were completed, I met with the doctor again and he informed me I had a serious chest infection. I was almost chided for having waited so long. He wrote several prescriptions and I trudged downstairs, dreading the wait at the pharmacy. I gave the pharmacist my 8 pages of items and waited . . . about 10 minutes before they were ready.
Including the taxi ride to and from the flat, doctor visits, x-ray, lab, and pharmacy, I was gone around 90 minutes and spent about 170 dirhams for the doctor and pharmacy (which is around $45). I wasn’t charged for the bloodwork or x-ray.
I find myself comparing the States versus the UAE. It’s only natural. Sometimes, I think we get things better. Other times, they win out. This was a win on the UAE side. I understand healthcare is a sticky situation back home, but having been through a system of subsidized healthcare, I never felt I didn’t have choices. Quite the contrary, I had more. And, when things aren’t bogged down by bureaucracy, the system overall is more efficient. I go back on Friday, so I’ll let you know if it works just as well the second time around.

He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everything. ~Arabic Proverb

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face. ~Nelson DeMille

Firstly, Happy Easter to all my Christian friends. And to all the others, you're probably going to Hell anyway, so what's the point? Obviously, this last statement was a joke. And if it aggravated/offended you a bit, think about why. Is it because you feel like you're being judged? Then, think about how many times we do this on a daily basis. I'm as guilty as everyone else. There's nothing like living in a different country with an entirely different culture to help wash that ethnocentricity “right out of your hair.”
I grew up in an extremely conservative southern town. Some of you are familiar with this town and while, in retrospect, I place value on some of the qualities it instilled, it did not allow for divergent theories. For instance, I was told in Sunday School one morning,”All Catholics are going to Hell.” This was quite a revelation as my father was baptized into the Catholic faith and this revelation was enough to send me to my knobby, six-year old knees on a nightly basis to pray for his salvation. Later, I converted to Catholicism, which is a perplexing sort of irony. Or, maybe not so much. . .
After 9/11, there was a uniform American pride that swelled through the country. The overwhelming majority seemed to say, “If you were American, then you were cool with me.” This was irrespective of your religion, race, creed, etc. This patriotism has dissipated over the years and there has become a thinly veiled prejudice against our Muslim brothers and sisters. Living in a southern town, with a small Muslim population, I saw people cross the street to avoid walking past a mosque, I’ve heard people mutter under their breath, and in general, exhibit great rudeness to women who wore hijab.
And, I have had several debates with people regarding the tolerance of people who are Muslim. The general stance is that “Christianity preaches love, while Islam preaches hate.” So, I knew this would be an interesting experiment that I would be allowed to live in Abu Dhabi.
So, on one of the “biggest” days in Christianity, I was curious to see how I as a minority would be treated. And, I have to say, not different. Not at all. In fact, I was told by more people who are Muslim, “Happy Easter,” than I was ever told in the States. Our neighbor even baked us a cake. Followed by “Happy Easter,” we were told, “As-Salaam-Aleichem.” Which means basically, “Peace be upon you.” Huh, this is the same greeting we use at every Catholic Mass when we tell our fellow parishioners, “Peace be with you.” And, although it’s not confirmed in the Arab world, the Jewish greeting is incredibly similar with “Shalom Aleichem.” The more I think about how different I was taught we were growing up, the more I realize in my adult life how very similar we are.
And here’s what else I’ve found: Mother Teresa was right, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them. And so was Gandhi, “A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.” And so was the Dalai Lama, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” And finally, the Prophet Mohammed was right, too, “Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.”
So, all these people from vastly different backgrounds are all stating basically the same idea. Be decent, be good, be kind. I’ve always been a believer you get out of the universe what you put in.
So, do your part. Be kind, hold a door, give a smile. Look your neighbor in the eye, even when they don’t look like you. To close, Albert Einstein said it best (leave it to a scientist), “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahlil Gibran

Well, you knew it was coming, didn't you? All these blogs and so many nice things, I was bound to snap eventually. A friend said she admired the fact that she hadn't read one word of complaint since we'd been here. Get ready, here it comes. . .
I have never been disappointed moving to Abu Dhabi. It's an excellent opportunity for our family. However, the only time I've had regret has been over Thomas' schooling. He has really struggled getting settled in his new school. Had I realized this would have been such an enormous emotional undertaking, I would have waited until the summer to move. It kills me to hear him say, “I don’t have any friends and everyone hates me.” My poor, sweet boy. He is just so sweet and tenderhearted.
Additionally, we had planned on moving the children to a school much closer to us. Due to some paperwork delays, the positions were filled by the time we arrived in January. Finally, after several inquiries, we were able to get the boys in the same school. There was some concern with Thomas’ attention and he was accepted into the school on probation. He has since proved he is able to do the work and is scheduled to enter second grade for the 2011-2012 school year.
However, after his assessment to the “new” school (Lucas and Helen have already been accepted for next year), his application was declined. They were concerned that he was unable to do the work without one-on-one assistance to help with his focus. This would not have been so unsettling had we not previously met with the administration to discuss his attention and the options available if it became an issue. I was told they were able to suggest testing centers were it required. After all this discussion prior to his assessment, we were simply told, “No.”
I was sent into a spiral of panic. I’ve not had a panic attack in years, but I came close to it last week. After much time to reflect and discuss the matter with a friend, I realized we have the option to appeal. I have reviewed the curriculum for first and second grade, and developmentally he can do the work. Every teacher has told me that while he has some focus issues, he is not a disruption to the class and is a very enjoyable pupil.
I am torn between appealing the school and homeschooling. Having been a special educator, I find it hypocritical to say, “Fairness is not everyone gets equal treatment, fairness is that a student gets what they need in order to be successful learners.” If I am not able to then offer that for my child would be hypocritical.
So, that’s where I am now, folks. Good, bad, and everything in between. I’ll keep you posted. . .

"Do not ask that your kids live up to your expectations. Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit." ~Robert Brault

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Taxi Ride to Remember

Well, it's been two weeks since my last post. I'm not sure how time passes so quickly. Although, if I think about it--I'm sure I have at least 4 good reasons.
Those who have traveled overseas (or in any large city), experience a different aspect of life when in a taxi.
A friend writes a weekly blog on personal responsibility and happiness (here’s a shameless plug to Ministry of Happiness’ Facebook page: This week, I was confronted with said responsibility and happiness in your job. As usual, I grocery shop between 1-2 times a week. And since taxis are so inexpensive (and we don’t have a car), it is our preferred mode of transportation for longer trips. I flagged down a taxi and was met by a jovial taxi driver who saluted when I opened the door (yes, he actually saluted). After closing the door, he proceeded to turn up the music (smiling, with wagging eyebrows), and sing to me. I have no idea what the lyrics were in English, only that the cabbie was enjoying himself. As a result, so was I. I’m sure being a taxi driver can be a thankless job. You get 25% of the fare, and whatever you’re given in tips. As with most public service jobs, there are those who choose to go about their days with sullen attitudes and those who make the best of difficult situations and just turn up the music and belt one out "American Idol" style. So, to the guy who drove me to the Khalidyah Mall on Tuesday, thanks for putting me in a better mood than when I got into your cab!

Friday, March 25, 2011

He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. ~Henry David Thoreau

Wow, where does the time go? It’s already been a week and a half since the last posting.
As promised, I will devote an entire posting (although, more would be required to adequately cover this subject) to food. And, there's a lot of it here. With a country comprised almost entirely of expats, there's bound to be a variety. There’s an amazing selection of restaurants, although our favorite is Marroush. And while it’s convenient at a half block away, it’s also incredibly good. The shawarma is ready everyday at 6:30. We eat there maybe once a week. And for those who have expressed concern that Sam isn’t eating. No worries, we’ve found a pizza restaurant, and we eat there once a week as well (to prevent nutritional shock).
The produce section at the grocery store has been an education. Even for me, whom I consider to be a well-versed cook. I purchase a Middle Eastern cookbook this past weekend, and made the baki mussaka (eggplant with spaghetti). It turned out well, and since I made a little portion for Sam with only jarred spaghetti sauce, he did manage to keep from retching. As far as home cooking is concerned, that’s where the fun begins (at least for me). There are stores ranging from the hyper markets to “convenience” stores that would fit in most people’s living rooms. On Facebook, I’ve tried to update with photos with my latest “experiments.” I’ve made kofta with rice, kheer, and the aforementioned eggplant. Which, I couldn’t get the children to eat, unless I called it “aubergines.” Everything sounds fancier in French, I suppose. Not to worry, though, I’ve stayed true to my southern roots, and have made macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, and biscuits (much to the amazement of Belatu). I somehow got the impression her previous employer did not cook. And, you won’t believe it y’all! I even found buttermilk!
But back to the produce section. I cannot begin to describe how amazing it is. I never knew there were so many types of mangoes (they are just as passionate about their mangoes as we are about apples). And, I can find vegetables I’ve only seen in exotic cookbooks (although, interestingly enough, molasses is in the “ethnic food” section). We’ve had produce from across the globe (primarily Asia and Africa), and while I’ve tried to keep it local (our favorite has still been dragon fruit) —I realize that it’s really no different than purchasing strawberries from California in December when I lived in North Carolina. But, there are amazing farmers’ markets and we’re already becoming familiar faces. The kids are great at scoring free pitas right off the line.
Since I shop at least three times a week, the quality is much fresher. We are eating vegetarian meals at least twice a week. Since few preservatives are used, as well as less salt and sugar, the flavors are much clearer in the meals. Therefore, we eat less as well.
Combined with walking more, we’re becoming healthier overall. So, come visit and let us take you on a culinary adventure!

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival." ~Winston Churchill

There are a few topics I want to cover, so I’ll give you a preview for the next few blogs:
1. Food (yes, Sam is eating)
2. Enterprise
3. Observations of a Foreigner
For now, my thoughts revolve around Japan. My heart breaks for the people and their country. I am continually inspired by the footage of the indomitable human spirit, the triumph of caring for others over horrific tragedy, and moved to tears as loved ones are reunited. One particular story I will remember, a group of high schoolers in a shelter with their remaining community made banners for the gymnasium saying, “Do your best.” These students had lost everything, some were unable to locate their families, but they felt it was their duty to lift up the spirits of those around them. This is truly taking something good out of a horrendous situation. I am inspired by their bravery, selflessness, and compassion.
As we continue our new lives in the UAE, I am reminded again at how lucky I am to have my family with me.
Typically, I insert a quote that summarizes the post, this time is no different.
“That was rough.... Thing to do now is try and forget it.... I guess I don't quite mean that. It's not a thing you can forget. Maybe not even a thing you want to forget.... Life's like that sometimes... Now and then for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat, slam him agin' the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. But it's not all like that. A lot of it's mighty fine, and you can't afford to waste the good part frettin' about the bad. That makes it all bad.... Sure, I know - sayin' it's one thing and feelin' it's another. But I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help. When you start lookin' around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it.” ~From the movie Old Yeller

Friday, March 4, 2011

Family in the UAE

Many of you know I have an off-color sense of humor. Especially when it comes to my children. They do crazy things, and it's better to laugh at the situations (i.e., Thomas getting his head stuck in the cat condo), than to react in various other ways. Often, I complain. But, it is with love and sincerity. Most of my comments are meant to be funny. Those that know the children know how funny they are. Just read some of my Facebook status updates.
I was not unaware of my blessings. Before we moved, several people asked if I'd miss being in the States (of course) or couldn't understand how we'd be able to be so far from "home." My answer was always, "My home is where my family is." This brings me to my point. . .
We are incredibly lucky to be here as a family. I can't tell you the number of taxi drivers and maintenance men we've met who have family in other countries. Belatu has a 10 year old daughter in Addis. They come for a chance at a better life for their families. Wiring money on the weekends and hoping for an opportunity at a phone call. Not unlike immigrants all over the world.
Yesterday, we had a cab driver from Pakistan who asked the usual questions. "Are all those yours?" "Why such a small family (yes, we were ALL in the car)?" "Where are you from?" When we told him America, he said, "Ah, this you are very lucky." Sam agreed, discussing having a good job, being American, being educated, etc. Mr. Khan answered, "No, because you are here together." Emphasizing 'together' by clasping his hands.
As he talked about his infant daughter in Pakistan, I took a moment to look at each child and be grateful that we were all crammed into the 5-seat taxi together.
As is typical, I found a quote that sums up the post: “Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted.” ~Paul Pearshall

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Education in the UAE--Let's Get Our Learn On!

As if moving across the globe weren’t enough of an experience, transferring schools midyear has been an experience I could have done without.
Mostly due to the fact we had to wait an inordinate amount of time for the sponsorship letter proving we would, in fact, be moving (who would make THAT one up?), we were unable to enroll the children in our preferred school. And, actually, our first three choices were full by the time we arrived. Finally, we chose the American International School. And while it was our last choice, it was only last based on geography. The boys have about an hour bus ride each way. Since buses are new experiences for Thomas and Lucas, they’re more than thrilled to wake 25 minutes earlier.
The curriculum is similar to the American, as it is an accredited American school. Basically, the only difference is that it’s set in Abu Dhabi. Oh, and they teach Arabic as well. Considering the boys were learning Spanish at their former school—a foreign language class is not that . . . well, foreign. Thomas excitedly showed us his name in Arabic from his first class. Poor kid has just mastered writing left to right, now we throw in Arabic, which is written from right to left. Studies show language acquisition is much faster for children, and pronunciation without a ‘foreign’ accent is less. And, as our world becomes more connected, multilingualism will be an invaluable asset in the workplace. Indeed, one of the benefits of taking this position was the fact we could offer opportunities to travel and learn that we would not otherwise be able to offer the children. To close, Albert Einstein said it best, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness. ~Ray Bradbury

If the above quote is true, we're having a hell of a lot of fun! I remember when Sam and I moved to Greenville, we somehow got turned around on 10th St during construction and were lost for about 30 minutes before we found our way back home.
As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, thank goodness for taxi drivers and the ability to fake like we're not tourists. After about a month, we're finally starting to figure out where we are. We're lucky to live right on the Corniche. It's like Rome--all roads lead to the Corniche. Get me to the Corniche and I can find my way home. We've already been introduced to people from all over the world. Turkey, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Germany, Ireland, Egypt, Iraq, Persia, and the list goes on. . .it is truly a melting pot. Perhaps a salad is a better description: it all mixes together but manages to retain its unique flavor.
So, my first impressions:
1. The people are wonderful. Especially, with the children. Lucas, Helen, and Jack are the most frequent recipients of such affection. And Thomas is an anomaly with his blond hair and blue eyes. We were on an elevator, and a woman asked if she could take Jack's picture. He's probably still a screensaver on someone's phone.
2. I'm used to different periods of busyness. It's hopping here until at least 10 PM. But, dead in the morning. As mentioned in the previous posting, prior to 10 AM is a great time to shopping. It will take you a quarter of the time.
3. Everything is made fresh. Even fast food. There are an amazing variety of restaurants in the food court. My favorite was an Indian restaurant that gave me a huge plate of food and a salad, and something in a bowl (haha, but it was good) for about 25 dirhams (dhs) which is little over $6.
4. And my favorite thus far, the variety of produce. We've had pears from Egypt, dragon fruit from Thailand, carrots from Jordan, lettuce from Persia, and apples from France (I'm probably not doing a lot to decrease my carbon footprint, but the produce section is a field trip).
Fortunately, there’s an incredible amount produced/grown here in the UAE. My favorite being the chicken that’s slaughtered and delivered within a day (sorry to my vegetarian friends). I’m amazed at the difference in taste. Although, I’ve not made anything with lamb yet, I know it’s fresh, since it’s butchered right in the store. Really.
It’s been an eye opening experience thus far. Our ‘flat’ doesn’t feel like home yet, but it’s getting there. We’re learning our way around and we’re already becoming regulars in certain places (the Lebanese restaurant half a block away is our favorite dining spot). But, plan on taking it with you; it’s not an “eat in” kind of place. Happily, there are several playgrounds and parks where you can enjoy your meals.
There’s a lot more I’ll try to share as I remember. And now that I have computer access, it will be much easier to share those impressions on a more immediate basis.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. ~James Michener

Monday, February 21, 2011

Arrival--Part 2 OR "The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Long story short, we arrived four hours late (around midnight). By the time we got through customs, put our bags through security again, and picked up our luggage off the carousel (we only left one bag at the airport--haha), and waited for the hotel to send enough taxis for our luggage and us, we arrived to the hotel around 3 AM.
Here’s where the jetlag set in. The kids were WIRED! All of them. It was like someone had given them a hit of speed. Understandably, their bodies were telling them it was 6 PM. But, I forced them into bed to try and establish our “normal” routine.
The first day wasn’t too bad, other than a little fatigue. But, that first night. Wow. I had about 90 minutes of sleep. Between Jack teething (forgot to mention he was teething during the flight as well), and three children who couldn’t sleep, had various excuses for getting out of bed, etc., it was a rough night.
After a couple more days, though, the kids went to bed at 8 and slept through the night. During the day, we were kept busy with sightseeing, visiting our new apartment, and settling into a new city.
Setting up a new household I definitely took for granted. In the States, I took for granted how easy this would be. Sure, you buy everything. But, that means everything. From appliances to furniture, down to minor things like curtain rods, towels, and toiletries. Not a task that can be achieved quickly nor easily.
Shopping here. Hmmm, I’ve heard it described at worst as the seventh level of Hell and at best, over stimulating. And depending on the time of day, it can be anywhere in between. I quickly learned to go to the hypermarkets (super centers) before three. A couple times, we made the mistake of being there after 5, and it was all I could do to hold onto the shopping cart to keep from being run over. It’s pandemonium. Since then, I’ve discovered the best way to shop is to go before noon and to wear sunglasses inside. Initially, I thought people wore sunglasses for sun protection. No, no. It’s to protect the eyes from the 4000W light bulbs that are used in the stores. I plan on taking people to Lulu’s and Carrefour as a tourist spot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arrival--Part 1

Since it's been almost a month since I last posted, I decided to break the journey into pieces. Don't want to lose my faithful audience over an epic blog. :-)
Now I know why they tell you to arrive at the airport at least four hours before your flight when you're flying internationally. And honestly, there should be a caveat that if you're moving internationally, you should arrive at least six hours in advance.
While I thought we had whittled our possessions down to the bare necessities, we still had about 23 suitcases (I'm still not sure of the total) to check, and somewhere around 15 carry-ons, camera bags, diaper bags, backpacks, stroller, and purse. Yup, that's it. We were the freakin' Clampetts. All we needed was to lash a rocking chair onto the plane and we'd have been set.
Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers and sympathetic TSA officials, or we'd have been screwed. Or someone would've lost a shoe. Or, even worse, a lovey.
But, finally we were through check-in and security. I was truly impressed by how well the kids did, considering lunch was about two hours later than normal AND no one had a nap. We definitely dodged a bullet with that one. But, a good lunch and a DVD in the DVD player (that an incredibly intelligent person purchased for each child for Christmas), and we were good to go.
Some amusing things from the trip—the kids love soldiers. And there were lots coming through Atlanta-Hartsfield. Thomas asked one guy, “Are you going to Afghanistan to fly fighter jets?! Because that’s where my cousin is, his name is Curt. You should tell him 'hi' for me.”
When we took off from Atlanta to Chicago, Helen started squealing with laughter. Anyone that knows Helen knows how funny this can be. And also knows that it’s a sign of nervousness, as oppose to actually finding something funny.
We made it to Chicago. And even though our flight was early, we almost had the gates closed on us. We had to check in again to the Etihad counter, reweigh our carry-ons, and go through security yet again. Had it not been for the amazing ticket agent who let us slide on some overweight bags, then met us in security and escorted us through, we surely would have missed the flight.
And then we waited. . .
For four hours while some technical/mechanical issue was fixed. But, better to discover it on the runway, as oppose to midair.
Long story short, the flight was long, but the kids were AMAZING. We couldn’t have asked for a better flight experience.
Thanks for hanging in and the next chapter of “The Arrival” will follow our journey through the airport and to our hotel at 4 AM, Abu Dhabi time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where we love is home, Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

We are in the final stretch of the move. I am realizing how little in life is beyond my control. That is a frightening, yet liberating realization.
I have struggled the last couple days feeling like I have no place to call "home." As Sam, ever the optimist, pointed out, we have TWO residences. Although, one is an empty apt. in Abu Dhabi and the other is an empty house. Neither qualifies as "home," although, they are both residences.
Which causes me to take pause and think back fondly on Greenville. Other than the place where I grew up in TN, our home in Greenville was where I lived the longest and probably experienced my fondest memories.
We brought four children home. One when we moved there from CA, two from Pitt County Memorial Hospital, and one from farther away than I ever expected.
Before I left, I made sure to take a moment to reflect on the blessing and heartaches we had in that house.
The backyard where many an afternoon was spent in soccer tournaments, flying kites, and playing tag. The driveway where Thomas learned to ride a bike (the baseboard where he split his head open). The side plot we turned into a vegetable garden. The kitchen where we baked Christmas cookies. The light fixture over the kitchen table where we kept bumping our heads, even on the last days we lived there.
But, as with any house--it's not a home until it's lived in. We've welcomed many people into our homes, who became friends, and then family. You know who you are, and I'm grateful to have shared many a laugh with you.
So, to my Greenvillians--thank you for your love, empathy, and support. Without you, Greenville would have been just another dot on a map.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Flotsam and Jetsam of an International Move

As you would expect, the most difficult aspect of preparing for our trip has been completing paperwork. In addition to passports and visas, there has been additional paperwork for Helen's adoption and eventual passport. We suffered only small heart attacks when her paperwork was returned for her passport and there were no documents showing her name change. But, I have to give mad props to the Passport Office for helping us get it straightened out and overnight-ing her passport to us.

Immunizations were another issue. Picture me with all the children in the International Clinic. At the time, Jack was too little to receive his, but the older three required yellow fever, typhoid, and meningitis (not for the UAE, but for our trip to Ethiopia this summer). Helen volunteered to go first, although I don't think she realized what she'd signed up for when she hopped to the front of the line. She quickly did a 180, when the leggings came down and the alcohol swab came out. After three shots and some very dramatic tears, she was done. Lucas was next, and screamed through the first shot, but was a trooper through the other two. And, then there was Thomas. I had to pry him off the door frame in the clinic, while he was screaming, "NO! NO! NO!" I finally told him we were not leaving until he got his shots and he could walk over there and I would hold him on my lap, or I was going to pick him up and carry him. After the first shot, he matter of factly said, "Well, that wasn't so bad." And quietly sat there for the remainder. I think vaccines only took off a couple weeks off my life from the stress.

Prep and Move

We are down to the final couple weeks before we fly out. The last month has been a blur of: packing, donating, storing, moving, preparing the house to sell (special shout to JS and SP for having our backs), and squeezing in family visits.
Most people have been supportive of our decision to move halfway across the world. Other reactions have bordered on amazement, uncertainty, and disbelief.

For those who know little of the UAE and Abu Dhabi, here's a helpful site (the Wikipedia site's not bad, either):

After reassuring people that we've done a lot of research and: it is safe, they do speak English, and I can wear my own clothes, and not a burqa--the remainder of the people are supportive, albeit reluctantly. I doubt we would encounter the same resistance if we were moving to Europe. And, typically, the crime rate is much lower for Abu Dhabi, than anywhere else in the world.

This is an amazing opportunity for our family. We will travel together, learn about different cultures, the children will be multilingual, and we'll be very close to Ethiopia. These factors outweighed staying within driving proximity of our families. Luckily, we'll also have the ability to fly back once a year, and have already had several people promise to visit. So, keep in touch, and come out! Beach weather's from November to March.