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.

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