Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We Are Home

We are home. Suitcases, boxes, sneakers cover every surface.

The air is cool, damp even, and I tend to move about with a sweater on my shoulders. Even so, I have just about every window in the house open at least a quarter way. The air is clear and smells so fresh I wish I could bottle it.

We had thunder and lightning the day we arrived, and then the next day too. It reminded me of the man-made thunder and rain storms at Wild Wadi in Dubai except that it was God-made, the real thing. The first day back, I stepped out of the car and into a large puddle - my foot and shoe immediately soaking - and was hit with the reality of being in New Hampshire.

I revel in the coolness and greenness of my surroundings - the grass, the trees, even the large, lettuce-like leaves on a pot of pale pink gerbera daisies that a friend brought over. Before we arrived, another friend bought us groceries and left yellow cala lilies in a pot on the kitchen counter. My tenants left two pots of African violets, too. Of course I'm delighted with all.

The shrubs I planted over the years around the house - holly, yews, rhododendrons, and azaleas - have grown so much in my absence. Like children I haven't seen for a time, they have shot up while my back was turned.

One disappointment was that two yews (evergreen trees) I'd been watching grow into tall, column-shaped shrubs on the far left corner of the house are now bare to their trunks. They've been eaten to their cores, like apples, by deer.

The natural pull towards friends and away from unpacking is taking place amongst all of us. We are still trying to find the balance.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moving, A Heart Like Stone

We are in the midst of the big move.

The men packing our stuff have raised their job to something of an art form. The box they made to wrap around a small coffee table is worthy of a picture. The camera is about the only thing not boxed...

Did a speed-viewing of the Picasso art exhibit on display at the Emirates Palace yesterday. Am amazed at the Emirati government's effort to bring education and the arts here. This is why, I believe, this country has a great future: because they invest in endeavors that enhance a civilized society.

A good friend of mine has said the thought of our departure has brought her to tears more than once. Another good friend, whom I bade farewall to today, cried as we said our goodbyes. I felt very sad too, but I was surprised how composed I was.

"I'm not crying on the outside but I'm crying on the inside," I said.

I felt then that my heart was like a stone. I don't know why I haven't cried over leaving Abu Dhabi when I love it so much, when I am so sad to leave. I think I'm operating in another mode, my brain unable to let my feelings surface. Maybe if I sat down long enough, with no interruptions, maybe I could take in the enormity of what it has meant to move here, live here and now leave here.

To anyone still reading, please forgive choppy sentences - blame it on the move.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Emirati Weddings

Emirati weddings.

You know someone whose relative is getting married, so you are welcome.

You get very dressed up. You put on a long dress, do your hair and makeup and for good measure you throw on some bling. If you have an abaya you wear it, otherwise you bring a pashmina.

You arrive at the wedding hall or hotel at 9 o'clock at night, when the ladies-only party typically starts.

You are greeted warmly at the door by 10 or so of the bride/groom's close female relatives. They are extremely dressed up, with more makeup than you've ever seen a woman wear in your life. You are surprised at the elaborate dresses they wear, which draw attention to their figures, to say the least: cleavage is really on display, and maybe a midsection on a gown or two will be see-through. Their gowns appear custom made because they fit like gloves.

Everyone says "welcome," shakes your hands, maybe kisses your cheeks. You really do feel like an honored guest. You're glad you got dressed up; you'd feel like part of the beige-colored walls in the lobby right now if you hadn't.

You walk into a lavishly-decorated ballroom: the bride's chosen colors are maroon and pale yellow or maybe mint green, and everything from the flowers to the table clothes and the chairs has these colors. There is a stage at one end of the large room, with a maroon velvet sofa-bench positioned in front of a maroon velvet backdrop, where you imagine the bride will sit when she arrives.

You find seats with your friends at a table. Arabic coffee and tea are offered, along with fruit juices and sodas.

Hummus, moutabal, fatoush, and some sweets are passed around the table. Deliciously-cooked lamb - as in most of the carcass including the head - on rice is served on a huge platter. There's also harees, a traditional lamb/wheat dish, and other foods at your table.

At 10 or 11 o'clock, the lights go out and a spotlight shines on the far end of the room. The bride appears. She is dressed in an elaborate, white wedding gown. She walks very slowly down the center aisle, pausing to pose for the cameras. She looks nervous, but her appearance is absolutely perfect. She walks up the steps of the stage and poses for more pictures. Finally she sits down on the sofa. The guests line up and greet her on the stage and lots of pictures follow.

A little later the close, young female relatives dance before the bride on and off the stage. Are they on display for mothers of potential grooms to check out?

The music is very different from western music. It is all in Arabic, and it has a fantastic rolling drum beat that makes you wish you could dance too.

Around midnight, an announcement is made in Arabic. Suddenly there is a wave of black moving over the room. Every lady in the room is covering her head with her shayla, some adding their burqa or niqab over their faces. If you don't have a shayla or even a pashmina you will want to duck under the table, so strong is this wave of covering in this room now.

Then the groom enters, wearing the formal gold-edged garment the royal family wears over their kanduras on special occasions. He is flanked by his father and brothers and uncles. Maybe there are twenty men and some boys altogether.

Now you notice the bride's face is covered with a white cloth.

The groom and his party go up to the stage and stand by the bride and many photos are taken.

The groom's party leaves the stage and they dance among themselves close to the foot of the stage. Some of them can really dance. (The groom remains with his bride on stage.) Then an older gentleman among them suddently whips his camel stick in the air several times and all at once the men turn and leave the room.

Now the bride's face is uncovered. She and the groom chat as they greet the ladies who wish them well. Cake and other sweets, as well as coffee, are served.

The newly-weds leave together. The wedding is over.

Friday, June 13, 2008

When In Abu Dhabi

Just before we moved to Abu Dhabi two years ago, I bought something I'd never owned before: a ball gown.

Having lived in New Hampshire for more than a decade, I was accustomed to donning waterproof boots, jeans, and a good wool sweater when I left the house. I wore heels only to church on Sunday - that is, if it wasn't snowing, raining, muddy, or icy.

I remember the day I bought this fancy long dress. I was in New York for the weekend, clearing out my family home after my mother died. I took a break from what was a sad task and decided to check out a nice clothing shop nearby. I spotted an elaborate silk ball gown in the "clearance" corner.

Was I crazy? I'd entered the shop in search of conservative, lightweight, cotton skirts and pants for hot weather in a Muslim country, and now I was holding a ball gown. Maybe not, I told myself. I remembered reading it was handy to have something formal in Abu Dhabi.

I nervously paid for the dress, half feeling that such things were for other ladies and not me. But as the clerk carefully pulled a garment bag over the gown, she smiled and said, "Lucky you to have somewhere to wear this." Even in this upscale New York shop, most of the apparently affluent customers were buying casual clothes.

As I pack for the move home, I see five ball gowns in my closet*, and it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

*(Now I'll see if M really reads this blog. By the way, I didn't pay very much for any one of these dresses: it's a surprising thing that you can easily find affordable ball gowns in Abu Dhabi. Really.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Me and My Abaya

I went to an Emirati wedding recently. It was a rare chance to wear my abaya, a gift from an Emirati friend last year. These pictures were taken before my two friends and I left for the ladies-only party that began around 9 p.m.

I've been to three Emirati weddings. I will write about them soon. For now I just wanted to post something on my blog to show I'm still here. Posted by Picasa