Every night just before bed, David and I have “a good talk.”
Lately, we’ve been discussing what we are looking forward to in the US and what we’ll miss about the UAE.
Let it hereby be known that David and I are making a beeline to Skinny Pancake, Lake Champlain and Mount Philo when we get to Burlington. Meanwhile, we’ll pine for Jones the Grocer (a restaurant here), kayaking the mangroves, and zaatar manakeesh.
Last night’s “good talk” — which wasn’t all that good since both David and I were pining over places and people, especially Allan who is already home enjoying the aforementioned things — got me thinking about the highs and lows of our time here. What were the greatest moments? And the worst? What surprised us? What scared us? What made us want to leave? What made us want to stay?
The following are my assessments sans the standard superlatives. Click on the links therein to see the original story reference.
Unexpected moving moment in the most unlikely of places: I still recall the moment when I ran into the weeping elderly Indian bathroom attendant at the rest area/petrol station between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, after spending our first weekend with the Nourse family. She was clearly getting some very bad news on her cell phone, yet she still tried to give me tissues to dry my hands. I used the tissues to wipe away her tears. We spontaneously embraced. Empathy our common language. By the way, I have tried to find her twice on subsequent trips to see the Nourses. Each time I inquire after her, the clerks at the gas station say she is in the mosque praying. We are going to Al Ain on Friday, which means I have one last chance to connect with her.
Terrible experience that was simultaneously kind of funny: Being deported from India by armed guard. I stayed calm the entire time I was treated like a criminal. I would like an Oscar for that performance. I’m not kidding. I was kind of a wreck for a few days after the experience, but I was Charlize Theron while it was happening, especially when the armed man put out his other arm to stop me from walking ahead of him. As if I were going to make a run for it?
Weirdest turn of events: After the deportation crisis, I really didn’t think I’d ever be game to go back to India. But time passes as do bad feelings. David and I wound up having the best experiences of our lives in Delhi and Agra last week. He says the trip was one of his favorites, which is amazing considering the fact that he almost refused to get on the plane. Of note, I am so glad that I didn’t try to up the ante by going to a Leprosy Colony. I am equally glad that I purchased a handmade Pashmina carpet — the finest Cashmere wool spun from the underbelly hair of goats from Kashmir. Speaking of unusual fabrics, I was quite surprised to find myself happily wearing an Abaya on National Day at my workplace. The phrase “Bercaw in a Burqa” amused many Americans and Arabs alike.
The top-notch trip: All of them: Oman; Jordan; Egypt, Seychelles, India. I pretty much spent every penny I earned at Khalifa University on these journeys, but travel was the whole point of coming here — and may be the whole point of my life. I have to say that I especially loved finding out that the ancient Egyptians put every organ of the dead in a jar — except for the brain. They believed that the center of the body and soul was the heart. (Remarkably, this is the essence of the book about my father who loved me with all his heart despite his fixation on the brain. A fact and a feeling that came to life for me again at the Taj Mahal.)
Supremely worthwhile watering hole: It’s a toss up. Either the Dive Center in Muscat, Oman or the beach at Beau Vallon in the Seychelles. The Dive Center beach earns props for hundreds of square yards of clear water in a protected and shallow bay — as well as being where our worlds first and forever collided with Abbi and Adam, Simi and Chris. The Seychelles, on the other hand, offer wild and free deep blue seas. Both bodies of water, it should be noted, are part of the Indian Ocean. On another note, I did dip into the Dead Sea in the middle of winter in Jordan and floated there while freezing in gale force winds. I do not recommend this method although I emerged feeling very alive.
A bounty of bad times: Well, there is no “winning” bad time, although there would be plenty from which to choose. Not being home for three funerals (Dolores Wallace; Dan Archdeacon; Rose Fritcke). Not being around for Everett’s birth. Being sick in this country, and watching David grapple with some really bad stomach bugs for days on end. Not to mention losing control of my bowels in a cab. (Why do people say “not to mention” before actually mentioning what they weren’t going to?) Also pretty darn scary was being across the street when an American was murdered at Boutik Mall. I must also add that it feels (to me) like the troubles of the region at large are closing in around the otherwise peaceful and safe UAE. In fact, the air space over Syria, Iraq and Yemen IS closed. The corridor out of here is narrowing.
Double-edge swords: I know for certain that my favorite thing in the world is to wake up in a foreign city and commence exploration. I love travel so much that when I’m not traveling, I’m not happy. But these days I’m also exhausted from all our trips. (And broke.) What’s more, I managed to pick a funny time to quick drinking alcohol — right in the middle of this overseas experience. I went dry in the desert. Identity inspired by landscape? Truth be told, I really despise not drinking and my identity in this post-booze milieu has been sorely challenged. But I also hated where alcohol was taking me — nowhere.
So what is the difference between being lost and found? I suspect the answer is a razor-thin line, and perhaps what I like best of all is walking right down the middle of it.