Sharing Holidays in the Emirates
I absolutely love living in Abu Dhabi during this time of year. The weather is perfect (daily highs around 75 degrees Fahrenheit), soccer season has started (my kid's favorite sport to play and mine to watch), and the holiday season is in full swing. After Thanksgiving and National Day, we start to prepare for Christmas. Now, many of you may be thinking..."Really? Christmas in the desert? It can't really be that Christmasy, right?"
Now, I'll admit. It doesn't feel quite the same. There is no hoping for snow or extended family to stop by. The malls aren't any more crowded than usual and there's no Target to run to for last minute gifts. But, the Emirates do a bang up job of making sure Christmas doesn't get overlooked. Every hotel has a Christmas market during the month of December. There are Santas at all the malls. The grocery stores are filled with frozen turkeys, candy canes and garland for the tree. (Most trees, of course, are fake...you can get a real one, but it's going to cost you a pretty penny - or dirham, in this case.)
Here's a photo of one of the local grocery stores "Christmas Aisles"...
(I love the camel theme, don't you?)
Yes, Abu Dhabi certainly has its fill of the "commercial" side of Christmas. But there's definitely the spiritual side as well. Many churches hold caroling events during the month, where large groups of people caravan out to the desert, drink cocoa and sing everything from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to "Silent Night" around camp fires. Many of my friends attend midnight mass. To Muslims, Jesus is a very important figure. In Islam, it is believed that Jesus was a prophet and will come back to Earth. There is even a mosque down the road from my apartment that is named the "Mary, Mother of Jesus" mosque. Over and over again, I am amazed at how much this country focuses on the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and not the differences.
I recently had lunch with a Muslim friend of mine who was getting ready to take her five children to see Santa. We joked about juggling that many wee ones and whether or not anyone would break out in tears this year.
Then, on a more serious note, I asked her what Christmas really meant to her and her family. Her answer?
"As a Muslim, I don't celebrate Christmas. But I celebrate the fact that in this country, we are all allowed not only to participate, but actually encouraged, to be a part of each other's holidays. My family enjoys them and I hope that with each exposure, they learn something new about the world."
Well, there you have it. I couldn't have said it better myself...
After a long break from blogging, I'm back at it again! I spent the summer visiting with friends and family back in the States, and have spent the last few months working on (yet another!) revision of my newest work-in-progress. My agent sent me some super helpful notes and words of encouragement and I promised myself I'd have some new material to her before the holiday season. Crossing my fingers that is going to happen!
Speaking of holidays...today is a big one here in my host country. The United Arab Emirates is turning 46 today! Here are some photos from the airshow that kicked off the celebrations:
It's really amazing to think that an entire country is only 46 years old. I mean, that may sound old to some of you, but that's four year younger than I am! Up until the point that the UAE was formed, there were seven separate emirates, called Trucial States, which were each ruled by a different family and had all signed different agreements with Britain. Britain was in charge of their land, and in return would protect them from outside aggressors. But in 1966, Britain announced they would no longer be able to provide the protection the emirates needed. Shaikh Zayed, who was the well-respected and beloved ruler of Abu Dhabi, knew it was time for all the emirates to come together and the UAE was born.
Pretty cool, huh?
This is my 6th National Day in Abu Dhabi and everyone of them is better than the last. It is so amazing to see the pride the Emiratis have for their country and how quickly the rest of us embrace the holiday as well. And it makes sense why. This country has afforded alot of people some awesome opportunities: to work, learn, travel and make friends from all over the world. It's also given many expats the chance to be able to support family members back in their own countries. The growth of the UAE has happened in large part because of the talents of the outside world coming in, but has given us all something enormous in return.
It's been a beautiful partnership, at least for my family. I am excited to be celebrating another birthday with this amazing country!
For those of the Muslim faith, it is currently Ramadan. By Wikipedia's definition, Ramadan is: "The ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief." I have lived in Abu Dhabi now for 5 years. For a few of those years, Ramadan fell in the middle of summer, so my family and I were not here. This year, though, it's falling at a time when we are able to experience it at it's fullest and I've had a chance to think about it more and the meanings behind it.
Perhaps one of the things about Ramadan that I find to be the most interesting and weird and humbling is that it is a holiday that is not one that I grew up with, but is now the "status quo" in the place I currently call home. Despite the fact that my kids go to an "American" school, they will not eat, drink, or even chew gum on campus, out of respect for their Muslim friends who are fasting. We will all be more conservative in how we dress, we will be aware of those less fortunate than us and do what we can to help them and we will be cognizant of the the language we use when speaking to others. Above all else, we will remember that this is a time to re-connect - with family, with friends, and with God.
I wish all my Muslim friends Ramadan Mubarak. And to my non-Muslim peeps out there - I hope we can all find something that resonates with us, something that brings us closer to our hearts and our faiths, no matter who we are or what journey we follow to get there.
(Doesn't sound much different than other holidays we celebrate, does it?)
As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel room outside of Washington DC. I've already spent a fabulous few days visiting with my boy child at BU. I got to watch his accapella group perform, take him out to a bunch of meals he otherwise wouldn't spend his own money on, and just spend some time lurking around his campus. It doesn't matter how far away one lives, it's beyond comforting for a parent of a college kid to get a glimpse (even if it's teeny-tiny) into their lives away from - and independent - of us.
Super Proud Mama...!
My time in Boston with the boy child was most excellent. I miss him so much, but understand that this phase in his life is as necessary as him learning to tie his shoe, or ride a bike, or wake up to an alarm clock.
He loves me. But he doesn't need me. At least, not in the way he used to.
So, now I'm in DC, sucking up every moment I can with the oldest girl child. Pictures to follow!
In less than a week, my husband and our 2 younger daughters - who aren't really so young anymore - will be leaving for another adventure, this one in Kathmandu, Nepal. We will be spending 6 days at an orphanage that my kid's school has had ties to for over a decade, having sent supplies, money and able-bodied teens and teachers there for weeks of service and fun. My own family has gotten to know the place well over the years. Child #1 and #2 spent time there when they were in high school; Child #3 has been 4 times already and Child #4 is anxious to follow in her sibling's footsteps. My husband and I feel the same way.
This trip is not just about service, though. We will also be traveling with a local film crew who, after hearing about the relationship between our school and the orphanage, decided they would like to make a documentary about it. At first I was concerned. I was worried what it would be like to travel to a third-world country where people are often times exploited, and whether or not the people I would be traveling with might have a different agenda than ours. I was worried they were going to try to make a film that focused on the idea of: "Wonderful White People Spending Their Spring Break Helping Those Less Fortunate Than Them".
But after many meetings and time together, I feel differently. And when the director asked Child #3 why she keeps wanting to go back, my daughter quickly explained, "It has very little to do with the projects we do there or even handing over the money we've raised throughout the year to help them out. I mean, I know those things are important and all. But for me? I have to be honest. I go back because of the people. They're my friends. Sure, they may be growing up different from me, but we're not that different, really. I miss them. And they miss me."
So, regardless of what the film crew's agenda may be, I know my kid has her own. And this is why I'm going. This I've got to see.
Last October, I had a friend who died. Jennifer had been battling a disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is a very ugly, horrible, no good thing. Because there is no cure for PF, it only gets worse over time, and eventually makes it impossible for its victim to breath. Without a lung transplant, there is really no hope for long term survival.
But Jennifer was one of the very, very lucky ones. She got a lung transplant. She got better. And she loved those lungs so much, she even gave them names: Bob and Tom.
But then, Jennifer got sick again. And 9 months after Bob and Tom came into her life, Jennifer died.
Yesterday was Jennifer's birthday. Now let me tell you, this friend of mine, she LOVED birthdays. Well, to be honest, she just loved any excuse to get people together, laugh, eat, laugh, swap stories and have fun. Jennifer was the kind of person who did everything BIG. Her voice was big, her laugh was big, and her presence? She was not the kind of person who went unnoticed. My friend was the definition of someone who was "living life to it's fullest".
Yesterday, I felt sad when I thought about Jennifer. I felt sad that she will never have another birthday, or eat Mexican food or watch a sunset. I felt sad that she won't get to watch her son graduate from college or grow old with her husband, hold a grandchild in her arms.
But then, I started to feel something else. Thankful, maybe? Thankful that her sweet husband had reminded us that it was Jennifer's birthday. Thankful that thinking about Jennifer forced me to think about myself and my own life; like, really think about it for once. I thought about how many times, each and every day, I'm either too disappointed about something, or too worried about someone, or too annoyed at everything.
And then I thought about what Jennifer would say about all that. What she would say to me today. About disappointment and worry and being annoyed.
On this day. Her birthday.
And then I just sat and thought about Jennifer for a really long time. And I still felt sad, but there was some happy mixed in there, too.
Thanks for the birthday gift, my friend.
Last week, before my two older kids left to go back to college, we went out to the desert for some family fun. We brought a photographer along to capture the day. Even though no one (except maybe me) was super excited about getting all dolled up for an hour and a half ride out to the dunes, in the end it was so worth it!
Our photographer was a woman who's been living in Abu Dhabi for a long time and really knows how to capture the beauty of the UAE desert and a family's personality at the same time. She was very patient with us and let us run and jump and laugh and be as goofy as we wanted. Somehow, we still managed to get some decent shots....
I really like the above pictures. But the ones below? Even better...
I will treasure these photos forever. They will remind me of a time when my kids were no longer little, but still not too big. And they will remind me of a time when we lived in a place that was so foreign and so friendly at the same time.
One of the best parts about living in the Middle East is the travel that my family and I get to do. By the time my two oldest kids were finishing their first year in Abu Dhabi, they had traveled so many places - with us as well as school - that we had to get more pages put into their passports. We have been to more than 20 countries between the 6 of us. We have always appreciated this opportunity and have been blown away by some of the things we've seen, from walking through Petra in Jordan to standing beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Travel has become part of our family history, part of our blood and every trip teaches us something about ourselves.
But nothing could have quite prepared us for Africa.
Oh, Africa! From the animals to the people to the scenery, the whole place was a magical kingdom. I'm not kidding....I mean, I've been to Disney and yeah, that place is pretty cool, but Africa? Believe me, it will blow your socks off!
We spent a total of 7 nights and 6 days in Kenya. We saw everything from zebras and elephants to hyenas and hippos. Oh, and these guys...
(How adorable is he??? And now I know why Pumba was always my favorite!)
We also had a chance to spend some time in a Masai village, learning a bit about their culture, participating in a native dance and handing out the last of our much-coveted gum to a group of very happy kids...
(A typical Masai hut.
They consist of 2 small rooms and are made out of sticks, mud and cow dung.
The Masai women are the ones who construct the homes.)
My daughters were asked to participate in a dance!
Waiting for gum...yum!
It was an amazing experience for all of us and we're already discussing going back to the village with more things in our pockets than just gum. Travel always teaches me a little more about the world and reminds me that we are all more similar than different. These people reminded me how little we all need to actually be happy. A nice lesson for the start of a new year.
Until next time, Kenya. Thanks for giving us so much more than we bargained for!
Well, I'm back! In the land of blogging, that is. I haven't posted any updates to my blog for a few months and here are my main reasons: 1. I've been busy working on (yet another!) revision for the new manuscript I finished this summer, 2. when not working on my revision, I've been back and forth to the States, visiting my two college kids on their different campuses during the fall and 3. I'm a proscrastinator.
I'll talk about #1 and #2 later. For now, let's focus on #3.
Procrastination is every writer's biggest challenge.
Have you heard of the "butt in chair" concept? Basically, it goes like this...in order to be a real writer, not just someone who likes to talk about being a writer you have to commit to the idea of taking some time every day to sit down, open your notebook or computer or whatever you use and write. Yes, actually write. Sound simple? Well, for many of us (okay, most of us) it really isn't. People who love to write also love to sleep, and eat, and spend time with friends. We like to look at social media, and play frisbee and go to the mall. There are also a whole list of things we don't like to do, but must, like laundry or school work or washing the dog. And thus, because of all these "likes" and "musts", often times our writing gets pushed waaaaaay to the bottom of the list.
Why, you ask? Why be a writer if writing is the last thing you put on your list?
Well, because...because writing is hard work. It takes alot of brain power. And self confidence. And creativity. And most days, a writer doesn't have all 3 of those things happening at the same time. And when all three things aren't happening at the same time, it's much easier to do the laundry. Or go to the mall. Or eat.
I would like to tell you that one of my new year's resolutions is going to be to blog more frequently. I know that I love getting frequent updates from the bloggers I follow and when they don't blog for awhile it's easy for me to lose interest. But, in an effort to not start out the new year being a big liar, I'm not going to tell you that I'm going to blog more frequently. I will, however, tell you I'm going to TRY and blog more frequently. And, I will also tell you that I'm going to try and sit my butt in chair more frequently. Every day, if even it's only for 10 minutes. And hopefully, that will lead to more manuscripts. And more blog posts.
Here's to a new year! Let's do this, 2017!
(Now I have to go switch the laundry...)
In my last post, I talked about my family's recent move. This time we've been "moving", as in physically around. Alot. Like, sometimes I wake up and don't know where I am, alot.
In Abu Dhabi, most of the expats (those are what we call people who are living in a country other than their own), leave the country for the summer. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it is hot. The kind of hot that means your tshirt is going to be soaked before you can get from your apartment to your car and crank on the air conditioning. The kind of hot that makes you wonder if you are actually living on Venus, not Earth. I'm not kidding, look it up. Today, for example, though the temperature in Abu Dhabi is only 113 degrees Fahrenheit, the "Real Feel" is 135. Ouch.
The other reason so many of us leave is to spend time with all those family members and friends that we don't get to see the rest of the year. Abu Dhabi is a 15 hour plane ride from the east coast of the United States. And even though we've had a few people travel half way around the world to come see us over the past 4 years, most of our visiting takes place in the summer.
And that's where the fun comes in. Over the past 8 weeks, we have spent time in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Colorado, catching up with family and friends. I have dropped one daughter off at a camp in Illinois, went to a college orientation with my son in Boston, and swung by St Louis to pick another daughter up from the airport. It's been a summer of living out of suitcases, sleeping on couches and figuring out how many times we can load back into the minivan without screaming at each other. Through it all, we've been able to reconnect with those we love, and fill our bags and bellies with things we can't get in our host country. (Target and Taco Bell...ah, how we miss you!)
It's been a great summer. Soon, we will be boarding the plane to go back to what we now call home. It will probably feel more bittersweet than usual, since I'm leaving two of my teens behind this year (more about that in another post), but my heart will be full and I will be grateful for all the memories we made together over the past few months.
Here's hoping you all had an awesome summer as well!