Saturday, September 17, 2011

We're still...

It's been a long week, made longer by a work conference in Dubai on Saturday. I was pretty impressed with myself, making it there without a single wrong turn along the way. I think about myself a year ago and I think about myself now, and there's nothing like experience to fuel one's confidence. When we first arrived I was terrified by the prospect of driving around the city because of the craziness of other drivers and not knowing where anything was. The drivers haven't gotten any less crazy, but I can find my way to Ikea without a map and there's no small comfort in that.
Photo booth, the real reason we needed a new Mac

Recently I bought a new computer. It's a sleek and shiny new iMac, a beautiful thing really, but purchasing it wasn't nearly as fun as it should be. It's hard to enjoy replacing things you never wanted to replace in the first place.

Karate is in full swing. James is now a proud member of the dojo and has been enjoying himself immensely. Having the karate club so close has been a godsend for us. With homeschooling, it can be very easy to go days without leaving the apartment. Once the water cools a bit, the parks and beaches will be an option for us, but for the time being if we want to get out, it means we choose one of the many malls nearby and wander its air conditioned corridors while trying to resist the pull of the surrounding sales. With Karate, they get out of the house two nights a week, get some great exercise and have someone other than their mother or father telling them what to do. There is no downside.

The heat and foreigners of cultures and languages in this place tend to foster isolation. It's very easy to get so wrapped up in the cares and concerns of one's life that you become oblivious to the wants and needs of those outside your very tight circle. It takes more effort to think outside yourself and serve others because those opportunities for service are less apparent. So, it was with some satisfaction that we received a call from some friends earlier this week at 12:30 in the morning. When you receive calls at 12:30 AM it's for one of two reasons: either the person on the other end has woefully misjudged the time difference or there's an honest to goodness emergency. Our friends had just been evacuated from their apartment because of a small fire and they needed a place for their family of six to spend the night. Within 20 minutes we had couches, cushions and sleeping bags ready to receive them. It felt really good to see a need and then be able to fulfill it. It is a real blessing to be able to serve. I'm not happy for the stress and panic our friends experienced, but I can't help but be a little grateful for it. By the way, there was no damage to their apartment and they were back into their own digs by late morning.

And, on a final note, Julie and I just finished reading Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Baumeister and Tierney. I bought it on a whim after reading a review of it in the New York Times (the irony of this is not lost on me). The book reviews, in a very accessible way, a host of studies that have been done on our ability to resist temptation and the effects of stress and decision making on our overall willpower. If you have every done anything stupid and not been able to understand why you did it, then this may be the book for you. It's forced me to think not so much about some of the decisions I've made as much as conditions and circumstances surrounding those decisions.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rediscovering Home

When did Abu Dhabi become home? There were things I really loved about our trip to Nova Scotia, but the whole time we were there, it felt like we were visiting. For obvious reasons, we weren’t able to build much of a routine into our travels. It was an adventure, but extended adventures can be a little wearing.
Perhaps the trauma of losing my computer and other stuff, heightened the impact of coming off the plane. I have to admit, that I wasn’t looking forward to the sauna like weather conditions, but stepping out of the airport into the warm night air was like being wrapped in a warm blanket
We arrived during the last week of the holy month of Ramadan which adds another dimension to life in Abu Dhabi. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sun up to sun down every day which means that there are no restaurants open during the day, and although you can buy groceries, you can really only consume those foods in the privacy of your own home. There’s a general feeling of lethargy and fatigue because people are staying up late into the evening breaking their fast with family and friends and then they usually get up extra early to eat before the sun.
The nice thing about Ramadan is that businesses tend to be open until very late at night. Because Julie’s cell phone was our main contact number, it was pretty important that we get the number transferred to a new phone as soon as possible. Lucky for me the offices of the phone company were open from 9:30 PM until 1:00, so after we got our bags up to our apartment, I was able to take care getting the number switched over to a new sim card and pick up a new phone at a nearby department store. One anxiety assuaged. It many not have been a big deal, but at the time, I took whatever comfort I could get.
It took us about a week to get somewhat readjusted to the time change. Our internal clocks seemed more resistant to change than last year, but fortunately there weren’t too many demands on our time. My work day was considerably abbreviated for Ramadan, and the kids were all done with school. The nights were a little too late for all and James in particular struggled with change. Is there a greater test of love than the four year old trying to wake up everyone in the house at three am because he doesn’t want to be alone?
After a week back at work, we were given another week off for Eid. Again, it’s a little difficult to get into the swing of things, but we made the most of our week by hanging out at the apartment and by visiting some of the beautiful air conditioned malls of the region. A new mall opened about ten minutes away from us while we were gone. Like most malls, it was quite big and rather easy to get lost in. What set this mall apart was the fact that it’s home to the region’s first Wendy’s. Now, we didn’t get to try Wendy’s because it was closed for the end of Ramadan while we were there, but it is a comfort to know that their spicy chicken sandwich is so nearby.
Last Wednesday we ventured up to Dubai for the day. I was a little nervous about the trip because I felt like I knew so little about the city. Even though we had visited Dubai a few times last year, we hadn’t spent any time actually exploring the city, and, of course, I wasn’t driving. We made it through without much difficulty. I have to admit that the most difficult aspect of driving around Dubai was navigating the parking stations of the Dubai Mall. It was Julie who compared driving around the mall to trying to find the right terminal at a major airport. It was that huge. 
I am a man who prides himself on his sense of direction, but I have never felt more lost in an enclosed space as I did in that mall. Huge doesn’t even begin to describe it. Our motivation in going there was the Dubai Aquarium which is practically in the center of the mall. It alone was worth the trip. Their is a tunnel that runs through aquarium and it was amazing to be so close to so many exotic fish, and then, above the actual aquarium there was a small zoo that we all enjoyed.

On the way back to our car we were seduced into Sega Republic by the offer of a free ride. To call Sega Republic an arcade, really doesn’t do it justice. In addition to all of the video games, there were some pretty impressive rides. We opted for the Spin Gear which reminded me a little of Space Mountain only with a lot more spinning. Miranda was a little nervous about the roller coaster, but she found the courage to go on (I don’t know if we really gave her a choice). She did scream as we spun about, but so did the rest of us.
The Dubai Mall Waterfall (I could only fit a small bit of it into the frame).
It’ll be back to work for all of us pretty soon, and I think we’re all looking forward to the routine. I never thought it would be possible to have too much time off, but I’m seriously rethinking that idea.