Monday, June 7, 2010

Looking for Me?

I blog here now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Passage of Time

Oh, hai.

Sooooooo... 8 months go by pretty fast, eh? Is anyone out there anymore?

I am at my desk in the Riyadh Sheraton, avoiding writing a set of implementation plans for technical and vocational education reform in the Kingdom that are due tomorrow. Mind-bogglingly, I have made about 25 trips to Saudi Arabia since April, all while working on this project.

I have a new kind-of-really-amazing boyfriend and a new flat and my very own shisha in which I concoct amazing smoky grape-mint goodness that I enjoy in my garden listening to bugs chirp. I can see the tallest building in the world and the biggest mall on the planet from my bed. I swam with dolphins at the Atlantis last weekend and when you touch them, their skin feels like plastic, which made me suspicious. I haven't really been doing enough dramatic travel recently, but I was in the US in August and sometimes, that's just good enough. I am super excited for cool (read: 90 F at 7 PM) weather and fall/winter running season, which will start with the Abu Dhabi half marathon in November and will end with the Comrades ultra in May, inshallah.

I have had some pretty big drama over the past three-quarters of a year and have drop-kicked a few things, both literally (there was a "hiya!" noise involved) and figuratively ("oh bai!"). However... I sort of feel pretty stable and content these days. Work is okay, life is good, and I just feel... settled.

When I moved to Dubai 2+ years ago, my stock line was that I planned to stay for "a year or two." And yet, having handily passed that milestone, I feel no desire to leave anytime in the foreseeable future. Sure, I've morphed into a more jaded and - if I may say so, gloriously post-colonial - expat than the wide-eyed, eager, aspirationally open-minded keener who moved here in 2007, and I don't necessarily like the implications of that. (In the words of a friend, "I don't think it's good for you to be so full of rage all the time - maybe you should move home?") But... it is what it is, and if it doesn't sound pretentious for me to say this, I think that at some point unbeknownst to me I crossed the proverbial line in the sand where it became easier and simpler and more palatable for me to stay here than to go home.

I mean, homeward-bound I will eventually be. But right now I kind of feel like... this is my life and I don't want to change it. It's not just that there's no "push" making me leave, there's also a lot of "pull" making me stay.

Especially given the new boy. Who plies me with good wine and fattening food and nice hotel getaways and ample spooning and a kind of affection and security and stability that I have never really felt before in a relationship. I find that I keep describing it as "bizarre," but I mean that in a good way.

And that's that. I have an 8 AM flight back to Dubai tomorrow AM and I am still getting emails from my team members at 2 AM Saudi time. Bleh. I will go to bed now.

If anyone is still reading, send me a smoke signal or a carrier pigeon and perhaps I will consider a resumption of this whole "blogging" thing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New

No, don't worry, I'm not still on about the New Year - I may be tardy, but as a general rule I try to avoid being a day late and a dirham short.

Rather, the shift I'm referring to is out with the old flatmate, in with the new. With the departure of Flatmate E (peace be upon him) on Sunday night, enter #4: Flatmate P, an Aussie who seems perfectly nice (yellow Porsche Carrera aside - whhhhhhhhhy?!) but is just not Eric.

Anyhoo. I'm writing this from Syria and it's kind of nice to be back to Damascus, where I've quickly re-adopted my old October-December routine: up at 9 AM, work from 10-10, gym until about midnight, then room service and iTunes-downloaded American TV until 2 AM or so. Life is so pleasantly monastic in a country where you don't have friends or drama or socializing to distract you!

And on that note... 2 AM is, in fact, approaching, so with that I bid you farewell. If anyone would like to Gchat me tomorrow to commend me for being a good blogger and posting more than once a month, you are more than welcome to distract me from my busy day of, you know, promoting market economies via elaborate PPT slides and wolfing down entire Toblerones from my minibar in 4 bites or less. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy New Year (I'm running on Arab time...)

Oh hai blogging! Yes, it has been quite a while. Let's get down to it, shall we?

So basically. After last we spoke, I went to America for 23 blissful beautiful wonderful days (minus the 2 that were spent in JFK waiting for my snowed-out pre-Christmas flight to Nashville... that really destroyed my illusions about "everything runs perfectly in America" right off the bat, let me tell you). Nashville and New York were both wonderful, and if I saw you in the US (or if we talked, or if we tried to talk... so basically everyone who's reading this) please know how much I love you and how thankful I am for you. That's my holiday message, a few weeks late. ;)

Then, I came back to Dubai. A very, very different Dubai from the city I left way back in 2008. The global economic crisis has finally hit here and hit hard, most notably in the form of layoffs for my 3 best friends in Dubai. Not to mention at least a dozen other friends and several dozen ex-colleagues (thank God I switched jobs when I did). Apparently 1,500 residence visas are being canceled every day as jobless expats pack up, give up, and head home, and the city feels palpably panicky - taxis with no business honk for you anytime you step outside, popular bars and restaurants are empty, 2,000+ cars have been left at the Dubai airport by people "pulling a runner" (as the Brits say) without paying their auto loans, and silent still cranes languish, awkwardly abandoned all over the city.

As much as what has happened in New York and London is scary (and I have plenty of similarly "up a creek without a paddle" friends in those places), it somehow feels worse here because there's no substance to back it up. From everything I understand, the Western markets, ultimately, will rebound - they have the infrastructure and the history and the global interconnectedness and the longevity to bounce back. But Dubai? A pseudo-city that was built on glitz and speculation and fairy dust and leveraged within an inch of its life?! I fear that I can already see tumbleweeds rolling between the half-finished skyscrapers of my beloved desert boomtown.

It will be an interesting ride, to be sure. I have no immediate indications (knock wood, knock wood, knock wood) that I should fear for my own job, but I harbor no illusions about the demand for strategy consultants in a world where companies are struggling just to stay afloat, especially given the effect of falling oil prices (the one place in the world where that's bad news, right?!) on our clients' appetites for frivolous consulting projects. So we shall see. The tentative backup plan is (a) find an "alternate income stream" in Dubai (interpret that as you see fit) or (b) bartend in Nashville until I ride out the crisis. But let's hope and pray it doesn't come to that.

Even if things stay steady with work, though, Dubai is going to be a much sadder place than it once was. Flatmate E, one of the layoff-ees, is leaving town next week and as much as I am trying to stay in denial, I'm forced to confront the fact that not only am I losing my best Dubai friend, I'm also losing the one person with whom I have a real "history" here. Ever since the very first day of my internship back in 2006 - in fact, since before the internship, when we traded emails as strangers in New York and London about wanting to travel to Pakistan and Sudan and Afghanistan during what was meant to be a temporary summer stint in Dubai - E has been my life here.

From our heady no-rules no-responsibilities days as interns, to negotiating job offers and goading each other into moving back, to flat-hunting and car-buying and bureaucracy-tackling, to crazy euphoric spur-of-the-moment financially irresponsible travel, to "real life" (or as close as you come to that in Dubai) and all its myriad ups and downs, E has been with me through this whole crazy adventure, and as many times as he's almost gotten me arrested and/or made me die of alcohol poisoning and/or made me want to kill him for clogging the sink with bacon grease (sometimes they all go together), I can honestly say that I don't regret a moment of the craziness we've shared together.

I think it's rare to meet a person - especially a platonic relationship - who carves out a niche in your life that you know no one else can ever fill, but that's E. Every time I wake up on a Saturday morning and feel a craving to drink secret vodka-tonics out of a water bottle by the pool all day, every time I sit down at the dining room table on a Wednesday night and start clicking through non-functioning websites of obscure African or Central Asian airlines to see where I can go for the weekend, every time I come home from work brimming with gossip about random internecine Dubai political or economic drama that's just begging to be dissected and discussed, I will miss him. And let's be honest, that's about 95% of my time in Dubai. But life moves on, I suppose, as does "life" in Dubai.

In other news, I ran the Dubai Marathon last weekend. Marathon #6 for those who are counting, and it is kind of exciting that I'm now at the point where I'm like "meh... I'm doing a marathon tomorrow, whatevs." I mean, I still have the elaborate and very real wishes for death from miles 20-26, but those can be managed. I ran 3:58, which remains 20 minutes slower than my PR but is 40 minutes (!!!) faster than Dubai last year, which I ran with no training, and 16 minutes faster than Beirut 6 weeks ago. Next stop is the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon here in the UAE in February, then the Two Oceans ultra-marathon (35 miles, yahoo!) in Cape Town in April, perhaps with another full marathon sometime in between (budget and schedule permitting).

DXB was super-fun because I ran the first half with both New Blonde BFF L and Guy Friend M, and I hung tough with GFM until mile 20. GFM rowed varsity crew at Pr!ncet0n and is an amazing athlete who is very intense about self-discipline and pushing himself and being crazy, so we had a great time sharing dramatic glycogen-deprived musings about influential coaches and sports as a metaphor for life and Why We Run and The Things We Have Learned. (Heady stuff, right?!) At 20 miles he peaced out to finish in 3:48, and I popped in my headphones (for the first time ever in a race) and powered through the last 6 to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger" and "Right Now" on repeat. It was fab. Then we limped home and E made brunch back at the flat for us and a dozen of our mutual friends (see aforementioned lamenting).

And that's that. The inauguration last night was amazing, and I feel a real euphoria about this new path we're embarking upon as a nation - in fact, we were all like "Wait, why don't we live in America right now? Why can't we go help?!" What was less amazing was that someone brought Hennessy (to toast the first African-American president, obvs) and I drank some and became very tipsy and was quite inauguration-hungover despite my hope to the contrary. As I've always said... it springs eternal. And it is, as President Obama so keenly tells us, audacious.

Anyhow, this weekend will be crazy as per usual: I have a family friend from TN in town as of tonight, and E's going-away party is tomorrow night, and we're all going snorkeling in Oman on Friday, and then I fly to Syria on Sunday, and then I think I am going straight from there to a ski trip in Lebanon next weekend.

Distractions = yay. Hope = audacious. Post = long. Sleep = good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pomegranate Seeds and Preity Zinta

Hi from Damascus, where I am currently idling away in my king-size hotel bed, eating pomegranate seeds and watching Mad Men only floors away from the venerable JC, perhaps my most admired ex-president. He's in town to, um, meet with Hamas leadership, and I'm in town to, you know, work, so I figure we should be friends. I've been staking out the lobby to try and bump into him, but so far have only met a few young cute very obviously American Secret Service guys... not a bad consolation prize, especially in this neck of the woods.

When I flew here on Sunday morning at o'dark hundred, I was once again amazed by the wonders of the new Emirates Terminal 3, the dreamiest airport terminal ever, both because it is brand new and supermodern and sleek, and [cough] because so far it only houses flights to North America, Europe, and the Middle East. I'm just saying... people actually wait in line, and no one sleeps sprawled out on the airport floor as though they're in a refugee camp [which, in all fairness, they may be coming from/going to]. And there's Starbucks in the terminal, red cups and all - it's like my own personal "reacculturation to the West" travel space.

Sooooo, what's been going on since last we met... basically Syria Syria Syria, eat sleep play eat run, Syria Syria. Last weekend I went to the red-carpet opening night gala of the Dubai International Film Festival, or as we affectionately call it here, "DIFF." We got to the event late which meant we "had" to sit in VIP for the screening of "W" that preceded the gala, which was fairly insanely cool because I had Danny Glover in the row behind me and Oliver Stone in the row in front of me. I had to sit in Preity Zinta's seat (I don't know who she is either, but she's big in Bollywood), which made for a semi-awkward moment when she arrived even later than us and had to sit in Ben Affleck's seat, who luckily hadn't made it to the screening, thus ending the game of musical VIP chairs. The gala afterwards involved a private beach and firedancers/stilt-walkers and lots of free champagne and prominent local men courting, ehrm, Russian women, and run-ins with many people who I didn't particularly want to see... standard Dubai fare.

Anyhow, now I have one last day in Damascus (hopefully with some time to Christmas shop in the souks... expect a lot of Hizbullah-themed Christmas presents this year), then I fly back to Dubai tomorrow morning, and then I fly to Nashville (via Doha and New York) on Friday morning! I am actually not dreading the trip this time around, as I expect Qatar Airways will be 14 hours of movie-watching, seat-reclining, wine-sipping bliss... a nice change from my usual 5-hour layover in Frankfurt/Zurich followed by a god-awful transatlantic leg on United.

Sooooooooooooo... if by the grace of God you are already in America, keep it warm for me, and see you soon!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Commercialize This

During this holiday season, when we are wont to lament the commercialization and corruption and exploitation of our Western holidays, we can all take some consolation in the fact that, as a culture, we are not alone. The other day while driving around town listening to the radio, I heard a fabulously and unintentionally hilarious ad from one of the local mobile phone networks advertising free roaming service in Saudi Arabia during hajj season. The ad ended with the super-posh British-accented commercial voice saying "May God accept your hajj!" and maybe you had to hear it to appreciate it, but... wow. The incongruity of it all made me laugh so hard I cried.

This was meant to be a longer post but it is past midnight on Friday night and I have just been summoned to go meet Flatmate E and his visiting BF in Deira to go to our favorite prostitute bar (not to HIRE the prostitutes, obvi, but to conduct our every-few-months demographic and sociocultural study of their lives). So a longer post will come later this weekend.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008