Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Parting Gift

I have a plant that for two years has never bloomed.

But about a week ago, a ball-like orange flower appeared atop the plant's bushy leaves. Like a spray of fireworks in the night sky.

Now there are twelve blooms on this plant.

A parting gift? This is what I'm thinking.

In late June I'll leave this place I love, Abu Dhabi, knowing full well I may never come back and that regardless, life will go on here after I'm gone. At the risk of sounding morbid, it reminds me a little of death: that's how it is for people who know they're not long for this world and are cognizant of the fact that their loved ones will get up the day after their demise. Their favorite people will move on, as they should, despite their absence.

What will happen to my flowers, I ask myself in the middle of the night. The petunias, which have outlasted most in the city, as well as the impatiens, I will toss lest they wither and become an eyesore for my neighbors. The bougainvillea and my cycads tree,"Jameel," (forgive spelling), which is Arabic for "beautiful," will go to my Emirati friend, Manaal (not her real name).

When I see Manaal lately she asks, "How is you jameel?" and I answer, "You mean how is your jameel," and we laugh. Other things, like hair dryers and kettles, I will just give away. I'm no good at garage sales and the like.

It's not all sad and bad, though. As we get closer to our leave date, my mind is full of the smells of home: the beginning of spring, with the air cool and clean and mild after a long winter, which always make me feel a surge of freedom and energy; the evergreen trees around my New Hampshire home; the dark, wet earth in my hands when I dig holes for news plants and move others around for the coming season; the fresh air coming through the window in the morning as I lay in bed or stand at the kitchen sink washing a pot.

I am distracted and unable to concentrate lately. I flit from task to task like a fly. I give away clothes the kids have outgrown, throw away unnecessary papers, and purchase things we cannot get anywhere but here. I trade recipes with ladies from other countries and try to see friends one more time before we go. I attend the children's school activities and shuttle them to social/academic events.

When I see Manaal, I say let's not talk about my imminent departure. This is chiefly because I don't know when and if I will ever see her again. (I have this feeling in general and all the time, that we don't know what tomorrow will bring and if the people we love will be with us/alive next year).

We touch on a variety of subjects, but naturally the conversation returns to my leave date. She stops talking, looks away. Her kohl-outlined eyes are full of water. I look away too, for a moment, and then one of us changes the subject.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


With all my children promising they wouldn't cook (we've had at least three near fires) and no one would do a handstand into a brother or sister's mouth (my 10-year-old nearly lost a tooth recently when his younger brother enthusiastically practiced gymnastics), I took off for Doha, Qatar last week.

I joined M in Doha for two nights at the end of his business trip there. I didn't have time to see much of the city, but what I did see I liked. Doha is smaller than Abu Dhabi and much of it is under construction, but it seemed quiet and calm. (The numerous roundabouts, I think, would make the driving difficult. But separate from that, I've heard the locals are more friendly to ex-pats than in Abu Dhabi.)

Above is the championship football game we attended on the last night of the trip. It was fun to watch the two Qatar teams, both supported by thousands of fans in the stands, play their best for first place. The tied game went into overtime three times, finally ending with a competition of penalty kicks wherein the first team to get 6 goals won.

After the orange team made the winning goal and both teams were congratulated by the emir of Qatar, huge streams of confetti flew out of "cannons" on the field, followed by magnifcent fireworks.
Qatar is a dry country, and I believe the pleasant atmosphere at the game was owing to this. There was no vulgarity or bad behavior in the stands - nice for female attendees, in particular.

The hotel we stayed at was ultra luxurious and therefore super-relaxing. I felt like a celebrity, since everywhere I went the staff knew my name. I felt so pampered that I didn't even mind that I resembled a male lion after getting my hair washed and blown dry at the hotel salon. (A few brush strokes and I was back to the real me.)

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Summer Approaches, Petunias Go

Nearly all the petunias around Abu Dhabi have been pulled up and discarded as the warm weather takes hold. The green-jumpsuited workers, their backs bent over the city's flower beds so many months this winter, now spend their days trimming lawns and squatting by sprinklers, watching to see if the water sprays the right way.

I clipped, fertlized and watered my own petunias this morning. They're definitely not ready for the trash can. I really think it's possible that my flowers can make another great showing before we leave Abu Dhabi. And tomorrow I will get someone to help me turn my incredibly heavy cycads tree - I think he's getting a little sun burn.

As I move about the city, the heat produces a thin coat of water on my face. The body's natural cooling system is amazing. Someone told me that women in the Gulf have fewer wrinkles because the perspiration on their faces prevents their skin from getting too dry. There's a silver lining to everything.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

People Are Moving Here

Lately I've been in more communication with westerners who are moving to Abu Dhabi. A lot of them say that they're excited to live here, partly because of how much I've said that I love this emirate and the UAE.

The first thing I feel is pure joy - that other westerners will experience this fascinating country.

Immediately afterwards I panic - what if they don't like it here? What if the housing search/school search/friends search turn out to be really hard for them? What if, in the middle of the night when they can't sleep, these very nice Abu Dhabi newcomers wish they'd never laid eyes on Flowers in the Sand, Abu Dhabi? What if they hate my blog for making the move sound so blissfully easy?

(I am not overestimating the importance of this blog, nor am I trying to say that it made anyone decide to move to Abu Dhabi. Rather, it's that many people have told me they feel positive about moving here and that that is because of my blog.)

The truth is, my own move to Abu Dhabi was anything but easy. About ten days after we arrived, my stomach hurt so much I was often doubled over in pain. I described this in my journal as akin to "...being fired upon at close range, with a 22-calibre handgun, about every 20 minutes - round the clock..."

The heat, the vastly different style of dress, feeling I could get absolutely nothing accomplished, and living in a hotel with six children for over a month were among many contributing factors to my new gastritis.

But, of course it all worked out. And it was definitely worth it. For me and my family.

Yesterday I met for coffee with two readers of my blog who've just moved to Abu Dhabi. While they were quite different (from each other) and are in different situations, both were so nice and so interesting I know they'll make lots of friends. And have lots of stories.

I hope they have blogs, because no doubt their stories here will be different from mine.