26 February 2009

Fade in

Ok. I’m here. A 48-hour impression:

Haven’t seen a single bike, but the piles of shiny cars are nauseating.
Yes, a land of sky scrapers and shopping malls. And sand. It feels empty.

But Abu Dhabi is also surprisingly mixed. Ethiopians, Jordanians, Indians, Pakistanis, Philippinos, Palestines, Europeans, and all sorts mingle in every place. It’s quite extraordinary. I don’t stick out at all, which is wonderful, and there’s a quiet sense of wonder, sort of like I’ve wandered into a Star Wars world full of people and cultures I’ve never encountered up close before.

Clothing ranges from jeans and t-shirts to traditional dishdasha. I think the strangest combination I’ve seen is a dishdasha with a baseball cap, which is actually pretty common. Women range from tank tops to veils, scarves, and coverings of all sorts. I try not to stare at the women with complete face veils that only reveal their eyes. These women are so elegant, mysterious, and striking it makes me think that they seem like much more of a temptation than if they were wearing mini-skirts.

Women wearing niqabs in photographs can look stifled, but to me, they look powerful when they move, when they walk.

Last night, I was at the grocery store in the pads aisle (I accidentally left my cup in the states…grrr…) and one of those elegant women with a niqab rolled her shopping cart up, grabbed a package of pads and rolled away again. It was a very “I guess we’re all human” moment. I’m sorry, I know it’s not that extraordinary, but what do I know, I’m just a boorish American…

Random fact: The Arabic weekend is Friday-Saturday, so the workweek here is Sun-Thurs.

Right, so I’m here for Masdar, and while they build the university, we’re ironically housed at the Petroleum Institute. All the Masdar folk have their own corner in one of the buildings. But when we go to the cafeteria for lunch and walk through other Petroleum Institute buildings bustling with PI students and faculty, I really feel like we should start snapping and break into a West Side Story scuffle complete with singing and dancing.

11 February 2009

Alien Orphan

When I returned from Zambia--worn out, exhausted, but content--I crawled to my bike to ride home, and found that Woon had transformed it into a beastly fixed gear while I was away. I was so excited I got stuck somewhere between crying and laughing. Best gift I've ever received.

So...I had this master plan to quietly wrap up my business in Boston and then clandestinely steal away to the UAE. And, then, last week (oh man, I can't believe this) Amy Smith and Ben Linder (and other suspect folk) organized a suprise going away party. It was TRIPLE BACKFLIP FANTASTIC. Using all sorts of very clever deception, Amy managed to take me (completely unsuspecting) to the Museum of Bad Art where dozens of my favorite people lay stealthily in wait to shock the buhjeezus out of me. There were so many awesome people there, I nearly exploded and imploded at the same time (good thing F=0...you know, the forces balanced out?) A ton of good food, ten megatons of good company, it was glorious. When I set out to work for Amy Smith a couple years ago, I never in my wildest dreams imagined she'd eventually throw a surprise party for me. I'm still pretty stunned. And glowing. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who made it possible.

But the happiness in general isn't really the super sweet jagged roller coaster kind that pops up for a few moments. No, this happiness is the sustained, quiet kind that sloshes contentedly inside my ribcage. I don't recall ever being this content before. Life is very good.