15 March 2009

Drift would

Top 10 list of Things that are really great right now:

10. Air drying my clothes.  No more excuses.  I'm in the middle of the desert, there's no rain, it's not too cold outside, there's plenty of space, finally for the first time in my life I'm boycotting the clothes drier.  Yeah, I know, it doesn't really make a dent in the fact that I'm living in Abu Dhabi, which I'm sure has the largest carbon footprint per capita in the world, but I'll take small victories where I can find them. And enjoy simple pleasures like the massive

9. Time shift. I'm constantly eight hours ahead of everyone else in Boston and since the work week starts on Sunday, I get an extra jumpstart on the week, and the weekend starts earlier on Friday.  I never thought a time shift would make work flow better, but it sure does. It definitely gives the appealing illusion that I have extra time that other people don't, and that I should work a little harder to stay ahead because I have this advantage.  Weird, huh?  Also,

8. Music is great.  I'd forgotten how AWESOME music is.  I just read papers and listen to music all day, it's quite fantastic. I dance all the time in my office chair and grin as I comb through reports. And even more super because

7. Songbird version 1.1 is now out.  Songbird is like the Mozilla Firefox of music players, which makes me happy because I just don't like using iTunes...it feels slimy.  Speaking of spiffy computer apps, another program that is totally sweet is 

6. Zotero.  YESSSS!!! I love Zotero.  It helps me keep organize all the papers I read, takes all the work out of creating citations, and keeps track of all the random tangents and themes and ideas I'm finding.  If you are doing any sort of research at all, definitely definitely check out the powers of Zotero, because it's amazing and free.  And you know what else is amazing and free?

5. Google.  YEEEESSSSSS!!! I am a Google slave.  My Gmail account is tricked out with 13 different Google labs features, I can keep track of email from 5 different accounts and a gazillion different email lists (spam free!), as well as appointments and task items on the same simple page.  And organization effort for email is so minimal because labels and filters are great, and it's so frickin easy to find anything I need with a Gmail search.  Not to mention my copious use of Google Docs, Google Scholar, Google Books, and, of course, plain old Google searching. Yes, it's pathetic and I love it.  All of these tools, in fact items 9 through 5 plus the tabbed lightning speed internet browsing wonders of Mozilla Firefox have made my 

4. Workflow AWESOME. I've never been this productive before. I'm so excited to arrive for work every morning, it's bizarre. I've had summer research jobs before, and this work is kind of like that - lots of self-pacing, which can be tough (and was much more tough before), but thanks to free software and the power of music and time shifts, it's incredibly enjoyable.  I'm sailing through papers, learning faster than ever before.  The only problem is that I spend a ton of time sitting and staring at my laptop, so it's great that I can
3. Work out.  Never really had the time to do it regularly before. Weight training is a lot of fun. Better muscles, stronger bones, I think my body is going to be pretty happy here because I'm also

2. Eating great.  Definitely the healthiest I've ever eaten in my life.  I'm a full fledged vegan now (it's been about a year) and I'm eating tons of veggies and lentils (there's  like 14 different kinds here!) and hummus and it's all fantastically scrumptious.  I love buying tons of produce at the super market, my favorites of the moment are pomegranates and tomatoes.  But really, the number one thing that is going really really great is

1. Years of brainwashing are going down the drain. I'm one of five non-Muslim Masdar students here now, all the other students are Muslim.  I really really don't like admitting it, but when I lived in the US, the first word that came to mind when I heard "Muslim" was "terrorist."  I knew better, but I found it devilishly difficult to erase that gut reaction when the media screamed it back into place every second.  It is FANTASTIC to be here, finding so many other better words to associate, to learn first hand about so many different shades and hues of Islam.  I feel like I'm healing a huge scar on my brain. I'm pretty sad that scar has been there so long, so it feels great to stitch it back to health, one piece at a time. And if you want to cry at what a horrible place America was under the Bush Administration, just listen to Habeas Schmabeas episode of This American Life.  (It's really well done, won a Peabody award.)  Guantanamo Bay is basically another form of the Japanese Internment camps from WWII.  The USA gets scared and we torture very innocent people. Nothing has ever made me feel so ashamed to be American than Guantanamo Bay.  And I think a large reason why the public put up with it is the utter complete brainwashing that Abu Dhabi is now SAND BLASTING out of my brain. It's a wonderful wonderful wonderful feeling.   

06 March 2009

Empty Full

Abu Dhabi is very empty and very full.

Long empty 8-lane high ways lined meticulously with palm trees, filled with the shiniest fleet of cars you’ve ever seen. It’s like a car commercial.

Tall hotels and malls loom over wide empty streets teeming with traffic. People of every skin tone, face structure, height, width, wearing dishdashas, abayas,  t-shirts,  jeans  bustle through the malls, but they seem scarce outside. Engulfed, dwarfed by the looming steel glass structures.

The street where we live is empty, sandy, flat flat flat. Lots of huge, expensive-looking, multi-story residences, lots of empty skeletal construction sites that will soon be huge, expensive-looking, multi-story residences. Dust. Walls. Pavement. Dirt lots. A colony of dry mini-mansions.

My life is the same every day. Wake up at 4 or 5 am. It’s still dark. I cook breakfast. There’s a Muslim prayer chanted over loudspeakers that echoes through the streets at 5:20 am. It’s beautiful. Eat, slowly. Feed my internet cravings. Leave the villa at 8:15, step into a private mini-bus hired for Masdar students. Mousa is the morning driver, he’s from Sudan. Twenty minutes of long straight highways, lots of roundabouts. We arrive at the offices, I walk past all the other cubicles to my cubicle in the cubicle farm. Open my laptop, start reading. I’m reading everything I can find about renewable energy projects in the developing world. It’s exhilarating. One paper leads to 5 more, I’ve never been so excited about reading papers before. I’m learning so much, I’m learning so fast, I can tell because my awareness of how much I don’t know is growing exponentially. 12:15 eat lunch with the same 8 or so people, we walk over to the cafeteria at the Petroleum Institute. I usually eat hummus and baba ganoush and tons of leafy green salad and vegetables. Lunch is always amazing. Maybe we talk for an hour. Walk back to cubicle land, open laptop, commence reading. At 5:20, walk over to the gym. The women’s gym is full of shiny new machines, and usually deserted. 6:30 bus back home. Bashir is the evening driver, he’s from Kerala, India. Dinner, I’m usually asleep by 9 pm.

Empty. Full.

Strangely, I feel intensely content at the moment. There’s so much time here. Quite a contrast to Boston where there were so many options, I filled my life full full full because I couldn’t bear not to. Here, I have time, I have space. I have time to write my mom decent replies to her emails. I have time to work on my handstands, to practice capoeira. If you asked me, I would say this is not my ideal living situation. In the land of sand, oil, and malls, another variation of the isolated bubble. …but…I feel so balanced.

I know I would not feel this way if I wasn’t excited about my research. I know I don’t want to live here forever. But at the moment, everything is grand.