Saturday, December 28, 2013

No One Sends Postcards from Limbo

Mesa Arizona, October 2013 -- In limbo and happy about it (Miranda mores than anyone)

About three weeks ago I exhaled for what felt like the first time in over six months. I know that in the grand scheme of things, six months is not a particularly long time, but holding your breath for half a year feels like an eternity. In late fall of 2012 we decided that our time in Abu Dhabi was coming to an end. This was not an easy decision. We had many friends in the city and had grown to love the region in a way that is hard to express. Our three years in Abu Dhabi changed us and brought us closer together as a family in a way that no other place could have. Every time I see someone in a head covering or hear something in the news about the Middle East, I ache a little. However, it was important for our children to have a sense of their own culture and family was just too far away. I still hope to go back one day, but so little of my life has actually gone the way that I planned it that I can’t cling to much to my intentions.
One of our last family shots in Abu Dhabi.
Too many friends left behind to count.
            In May, Julie and the kids left me to sort out our worldly possessions and returned to the US to spend time with her family. It was a long six weeks apart, but we were both busy and, in the end, came away from our time apart with a better understanding of how poorly we do apart. It’s an important understanding to have.
            After a few delays, we were together again by the end of June.  For the first week or so we basked in the bliss of togetherness. We traveled from Rexburg to Seattle seeing friends along the way from Abu Dhabi and from our time in Moscow. We also were able to spend a great few days with my sister and her family on idyllic Whidby Island. Driving through the mountains and valleys, America had become new again to us and everything was right in the world. Then we stopped moving. When you’re on the move, you only really think about the next stop. Anything beyond the next city is too far in the future to really consider. When you stop moving, that’s when you take inventory.
            My Mom and Step-Dad had volunteered their home in Arizona for us to use while we sorted through things like immigration, re-culturization and figuring out what to do with the rest of our lives. It was that last part that was probably the most problematic. There was so much for us to do to close the chapter on our Abu Dhabi experience that what thought we gave to the future was fairly abstract. I had applied for a few jobs, but was unable to pursue anything aggressively because I had let my green card lapse many years before. So, soon after we settled into Arizona, we sent in the necessary paperwork after wrestling with what forms went where. After getting our paperwork in, we were told that we’d have a few weeks to wait for my work authorization. I believe the immigration officer’s exact words were, “Enjoy the next twelve weeks off.”
            One of the best things I did was enroll in a couple of extra classes for my doctorate. It kept me busy and, more importantly, when people asked me what it was I did, I could reply ‘Full time student’ instead of ‘full time schlub.’ It’s the little things that keep us sane. There was also a pool in my mother’s community that kept the kids active and a fantastic martial arts school that allowed us to find a little bit of exercise and routine in our lives. Liam enrolled in early morning seminary which at least got us out of bed every morning and we were welcomed by the ward even though we could be gone at any moment. Julie was called to the nursery, Liam became one of the ward organists and I tried to help out as a ward missionary. We did our best to dig in as much as you can while living out of suitcases in someone else’s home. 
One of the things that kept us sane was Tae Kwon Do a couple of times a week.

The summer was hot (though we had experienced hotter) and we were busy enough to not focus solely on the waiting. Our purgatory was broken up for me by a short trip to Florida for a job interview where I also got to see my brother and his family along with my mom and stepdad who happened to be there at the same time (not as much of a coincidence you might think given their travel habits). We also took a trip to Utah to welcome Julie’s nephew home from his mission and to spend some time with my cousin Liz and the rest of the Lambert clan.  Towards the end there was a great visit from our friends the Kirchners, a wonderful trip to Sedona with Mom and Mike and then a last minute trip to visit Julie’s cousin Katie and her family in Yuma.
Even though I feel like we made the most of our time in Arizona, the one constant of that experience was the feeling of waiting for our lives to begin. It was difficult to commit to anything more than a week or two in the future because so much was dependent on what came down from the folks at immigration. So, while we were in Sedona I finally got notice that my work authorization had been approved and that when we went from our personal form of suspended animation to having our lives shift into high gear. It was a whiplash inducing change. Only by listing the specifics of that last week in Arizona will you begin to appreciate just how quickly our entire lives were changed. On November 19th, I found out my work authorization was approved. On Monday the 25th,  I received a job offer from Santa Fe College as an instructional designer. That afternoon I rented a Uhaul trailer and by 6:00 am Tuesday morning we were on the road to Gainesville. It was a relatively unremarkable trip. We pulled into Gainesville Friday afternoon and signed a short-term lease by midday. By Saturday we had most of our furniture in place (some might think it a blessing to be shopping for housewares on Black Friday weekend—it wasn’t). Monday, I started work and we all started the business of settling in.
I know I’m still in the honeymoon phase of things, and coming off a relatively long stint of unemployment may also color my view, but so far I’m pretty excited to be where I am doing what I’m doing. Although I’ve appreciated many of the jobs I’ve had over the years, I can’t remember the last time I anticipated going in to work.

We’re going to be here a while. It’s nice to know that there’s not another move on the horizon. One of the best things about going to church is being able to tell people that we’re not going anywhere soon. I can’t say that I know exactly what tomorrow holds, but I can say that I no longer fret about the future in the ways that I’ve fretted about the future in the past.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Divided but not conquered

A view of Al Ain
It is possible to have too much space.
Well, this picture basically sums up how I feel. Although I admit to having a bit of an ego, there's simply not enough of me to fill this place up especially now that the furniture's all gone. I've got about two weeks before I leave Abu Dhabi and I am a mess of conflicted feelings. On the one hand, I'm really looking forward to getting back to North America. I miss green...a lot, and the pictures that Julie's been posting on facebook have only served to stir that longing even more. I miss friends and family. I miss seasons that change with the year. On the other hand, I am really going to miss a lot about Abu Dhabi. I feel that our family has grown in ways that we simply couldn't have anywhere else in the world. What I'll miss most is the people. It's been wonderful to work with and meet people from all corners of the world here and I'm grateful for the ways that has broadened my perspective and helped me to redefine my place in the world. I'll miss the generosity with which my family has been treated by too many people to name and I'll miss being a witness to a country that continues to grow and contribute. In the short time we've been here, I feel like I've seen changes both in the country and in the students I teach and I am humbled by their ambition to make a difference in the world.

Yesterday, I taught my last class and I really feel like I'm going out on a high note. I have really enjoyed working with the students here and their consideration for me and my family has had a real impact on me. When my students learned that my family would be leaving six weeks ahead of me, some of them got together to get me some new ties to wear to work. It was a much appreciated gesture.

We're going on just over three weeks apart now. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and modern communication, we rarely go a day without speaking. It's not perfect, but it helps. Julie has been a real marvel getting the whole crew from one side of the world to the other with missed flights and sick kids. Everyone's in Idaho right now and they've been taking full advantage of the weather and the beautiful outdoors. I'm so glad that they've had the chance to spend this time with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Three years is a long time to go between visits.

Miranda making the most of the outdoors

My kids missed the snow. It's a point of disagreement for us.

With family
See what I mean about the green?
I've been kept pretty busy with work, sorting out the selling of our stuff and plugging away at my studies. Right now, we've only got a few odds and ends to part with and then I'll be on a plane to Gainesville for a week of study. Then I'm on to Idaho and after that, who knows? I'm sure my kids would like a little more definition about our future, but really, wouldn't that just make things boring and predictable. What some people might call precariousness, I choose to think of as suspense, and who couldn't use a little bit of suspense every now and again.

There are a few pics below of what we've been up to the last few months. It's flown by.

Yas Waterworld

The Al Ain Zoo
Miranda and some Meerkats

Lucy and Liam at the Middle East Comic Con

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Amazing what a deadline can do to motivate you!

This is the way real men wash windows.
it's been quite the month for us. In addition to regular holiday obligations, we've been busy doing our best to see and do all those things we've always meant to see and do. Without doubt, one of the real highlights of the month for us was being able to attend Liam's black belt awarding ceremony. Liam achieved a black belt in both Karate and Kobudo in December. He has worked extremely hard these last two years and a bit and has had some great senseis guiding him along the way. It's been fun to see him grow and learn this new art form and I get the impression that he'll be continuing his studies for some time yet. You can watch highlights from the ceremony below.

Karate Black Belt
Kobudo Black Belt

Family celebrations on Yas Island
Christmas in the UAE continues to get more Christmas-y every year. It seems like the displays in the store are getting more and more elaborate and you hear 'Merry Christmas' almost more than you'd hear in North America. Santa's got a shop at the mall around the corner and Christmas carols have been playing in the background of almost every store we visit. Liam and Lucy performed in a Christmas program at one of the local malls along with other students from their music school. It was exactly like any Christmas program you might experience at any mall in the Western world except for the moment when they halted the carol singing for the call to prayer.

An art display at an off island gallery.

A privilege to be surrounded by so much beauty.
For our own celebrations, we invited a number of families we've come to know for refreshments, singing and a little reenactment of the Nativity. We probably had too many people at one time, but no one complained. We've met some great people here and, as with every place we've lived, the hardest thing to leave will be the friends we've made. On Christmas Eve, we were invited to the Koffeds, a family we've come to know pretty well over the last few years, and on Christmas day we've a couple of more families to share in the festivities. Julie cooked a pretty amazing turkey and there was more than enough food to keep everyone satisfied. The kids were all happy with what they received for Christmas, but one of the most gratifying aspects of this season was how happy they were to give. Visiting with family and reflecting on the reasons for the season, I don't know if we could have asked for more this Christmas (it was even white with a pretty thick Abu Dhabi fog).

We took a day to recuperate from our Christmas festivities and then we were off to Dubai to visit Global Village. I wasn't quite sure what to expect but imagine, if you will, a massive county fair put on by countries from all over the world. It operates about half the year because of the weather. There was much walking and considerably more shopping than I had planned on, but some of the stuff was just too cool.

It's just like a county fair, really.

We finally took the boat around Global Village for the sake of our feet.
For New Years we went desert camping with the Koffeds and the Belnaps. It was about three hours to Liwa where we camped. Liwa city is a green oasis nestled amongst some of the most spectacular sand dunes I have ever seen. We camped for two nights, and over that time we were able to play on some spectacular sand dunes. Everything you could want from a desert camping experience was ours for the taking. There were spiders, a pretty intimidating snake, a tiny scorpion, a campfire visit buy a dune buggying local and, of course, camels. We were so glad to spend the time with friends and have a truly unique experience. It's not something we're likely to every forget. Well, now it's time to get back into the routine of things. It'll be hard to come down off the high of the last couple of weeks, but you really need to pace yourself when it comes to high adventure.

The things you see on the road to Liwa.

Because it makes sense to have a playground in the middle of the desert.

Our campsite get a visitor.
Or two.

It was a hike up that dune, but it was worth it.

A view of our campsite and the morning mists from above.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's been a while, but we've actually got some adventure to share.

As you've no doubt noticed, there's been a bit of a lull in the adventuring of the Frank family. After the first year of excitement, we made finding a routine our goal for that second year. Well, it looks like we'll be ramping up the adventure over the next few months. My contract comes to an end in June and we've decided that it's time to make our way back east. The experiences we've had here have been absolutely incredible and we've grown in ways we could have never anticipated, but all adventures come to an end and we're determined to go out on a high note.

This week Liam tested for his black belt in Karate. The test started at 6 am and went until almost noon. As you can see from some of the pictures, his training has really paid off. We're going to take a little break from Karate for the remainder of our time here, but, for those keeping track Liam's at a black belt in Karate and Kobudo, Lucy has her Brown 3, Miranda has her Purple Belt and James is at Yellow and I stalled out at Green. We've really enjoyed the Karate club here and the experiences it has given to all of us.


Does my son intimidate me? A little.
It was our third National Day in Abu Dhabi and it just seems to get bigger every year. We took advantage of the four day weekend by spending some time in Fujairah camping on the beach. We travelled with a number of families and had a great time. The water was gorgeous the weather perfect. However, unbeknownst to us, the particular beach that we chose happened to be the party beach which meant a whole lot of Arabic karaoke all through the night. On the plus side, because I couldn't sleep, I was awake to watch one of the most incredible sunrises I've ever seen. The kids played, barely pausing to eat. Exotic fish were seen and a lucky few even  spotted sea turtles. The jelly fish stings were plentiful, but didn't keep people out of the water. Liam stayed a second night with friends while the rest of us hurried home to watch the fireworks. This was the first time we were able to see the National Day fireworks since we arrived. Not likely to see anything like it again. It's going to be hard to give up the apartment and its view, but we're grateful for the time we've had here. 

You're only supposed to see fish like this in an aquarium.


Our campsite.

This almost captures how pretty it was. They call it 'Snoopy Island' for obvious reasons.
Lots to explore.

It seems the only time I get in picture is when someone wants to make fun of me.

I will miss the camels.
Yup, that's a camel staring at us from that truck.
Over the next few months, we're determined to visit the rest of the Emirates and take in a few of the sites that we haven't seen yet. We'll need to pace ourselves if we want to survive these next few months. We're still not sure where we'll end up or what we'll end up doing after we leave, but where would be the fun in a certain future?