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Sandstorms and Dates

July 20, 2009

Here in Dubai it’s hot. Hotter than hot– and humid.

The modus operandi in the summer here is to stay indoors with A/C as much as possible. And avoid going out for errands and such during the middle of the day: wait until the evening when it’s down to around 97 degrees and humid. Summer here is like winter in the States: stay indoors as much as possible.

However, my sister-in-law and her family are moving to a bigger villa across the street. As a result, my parents-in-law are moving back into the two-bedroom villa where my wife and I are staying. Though we’ve had the help of some hired movers, much of the moving has been done by all of us. So most days have been sweaty, hot, and very sticky.

One highlight is that my sister-in-law’s new place has a date palm tree. On a date palm, the dates cluster toward the top, making it hard for the average Joe to harvest. At this time, the tree in their yard is heavy with dates.

I experienced my first sandstorm the other day! I took our dog out to use the bathroom when I noticed that the winds picked up and it looked foggy outside. However, if you looked straight up at the sky, you can see some blue of the sky peeking through. As you let your eyes then slowly drop toward the horizon a reddish-tan tinge of sand appears, showing that what looks like fog on the ground is really sand being kicked up by the winds. Also, when a burst of wind comes through you can feel the sand hit your face and get in your eyes. It was very beautiful in a dreary sort of way.

As a result of the strong winds of the sandstorm, the next day we found that many of the dates from the palm tree had been blown to the ground. My brother-in-law collected and washed the ripe ones and for first time I got to eat fresh dates, right from the tree. I have never been a big fan of dates– that is, until I had fresh ones! It was a wonderful sweet snack in the midst of a hot, humid moving day.

So, as I get ready to start my new job in Fujairah at the beginning of August, I am still thankful for so many of the things that I am experiencing here in this part of the world– my new home.



July 13, 2009

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Missing Home

April 9, 2009

Yesterday, for the first time, I missed home. The feeling rose somewhat unexpectedly– from somewhere inside of me– and caught me by surprise.

The rest of the family is gone on a two-week vacation to Goa–it is just my wife and I (and the dog, of course) here in Dubai. While sitting on the small patio area behind our villa, a ton of thoughts and emotions slowly grew: I do not know how long it will be before I get to see my parents, my brother and his family, and my friends from the US again; this is not a vacation; I am not going home, this is my new home. I cannot even call my family in the US. They are on vacation (with my brother and all his family) in China, until late this month. To make it worse, when we left my parents’ house for the flight to Dubai, it was the last time I will be able to call that house “home.” It was the home I grew up in and my parents are selling it.

Tears welled up. I knew this was not going to be easy.

Later, I searched for work online and made a few phone calls to some possible job leads. After that my wife and I drove across town to run an errand. I am slowly learning the roads here and it was nice to know I am able to get across town and back again.

On the way home we stopped at Spinneys, a chain grocery store here that carries more European and American brands than the other grocers around. What was weird was that just seeing grocery store brands that are familiar helped lessen my homesickness. Froot Loops, Ruffles, Campbell’s, Bush’s Baked Beans, Glad garbage bags, Scott paper towels, Tony’s frozen pizza…just the smallest, material, seemingly very inconsequential things helped–just because they were familiar.

I thought about all the familiar roads in Frederick and Middletown. I thought of the familiar woods behind my house. I thought of the familiar faces of the people I love.

Very little is familiar here. However, everyday that “very little” grows in small increments.

What happened to my childlike excitement of being in a new culture? It is still there and still excited. But even children can only stay excited for so long before they crash and need the familiar cradle of their mother’s cuddling.

I think I’ll go curl up on the coach and cuddle with the bag of Ruffles I just bought.

Diversity in Dubai: Random Thoughts

April 4, 2009

Yesterday was Friday. Friday is the Muslim day of corporate worship. Here in Dubai, most people have off work Fridays and Saturdays (that’s the “weekend”). Saturday is considered the first day of the week.

As a result, the Christian churches here have services on Fridays. My wife’s family drives twenty minutes to the next Emirate over, Sharjah. Their church meets in a hotel, renting a conference room on the top floor. The United Arab Emirates is an Islamic nation, however they allow other religions to worship in freedom, while regulating tightly the building of churches. The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Orthodox Church and (very recently) a large evangelical church in Dubai all have buildings. Their is also one Hindu temple and, I think, a Sikh temple. Of course, Jews are not welcome here. The UAE does not recognize Israel and forbids traveling there from here.

After our worship service in Sharjah, the whole family went to City Center, a mall in Dubai for lunch. The food court there offers a wide selection and I decided on KFC (if I dive right into local food too much too quickly, bad things happen.) A quick scan across the large food court shows an amazing variety and diversity of people: Westerns in tube tops and short shorts at one table. Arab women covered from head to toe at the next table. Asian, Indian, Arab, White, Black…it’s all here. We’re all here. Arabs eating a Big Mac, American’s eating curry, Indians eating hummus.

Our table is the only one that is mixed, however. The diversity is present here, but interaction between different groups seems limited to “…and a medium french fry” when ordering from an Asian cashier or an “excuse me” to an Arab woman in an abaya and sheila who has blocked my path in the store.  So much diversity, but so little interaction. Bridging cultures and languages is really hard work. Is it worth it? I feel too tired even to try. Maybe its the jet lag. Maybe because its a reality I live everyday. Though we do not have the language barrier, my wife and her family and I are constantly bridging the cultural differences that separate us.

Unfortunately, many modern efforts to bridge differences and breed peace focus on finding “common ground” between diverse groups. While the intent is commendable, the result often is that we ask each group to be less than itself. We’ve all heard the sentiment, “Well, all religions generally teach the same thing…do unto others, kindness, help the poor, etc.” Not only does that statement reveal an ignorance of the teachings of the world’s religions, it dilutes the richness of each religion in favor of a few common denominators just to avoid conflict. Peace and unity are not real if the only thing about me that is valued is what I hold in common with someone else.

But our religious, ethical and moral differences are, by definition, those things that we cannot accept about each other. For example, the newspaper today tells a story of a 17 year-old married woman in Pakistan who was flogged for leaving her house without an appropriate male chaperon (she went out with her father-in-law, which apparently was morally repugnant enough to deserve her a public beating). I cannot accept this. Nor should I have to.

Maybe the problem arises when we begin to equate people’s actions with their worth as human beings. Though we may despise that this young woman was publicly flogged for such a thing, can we look at those who did it and still see them as beautiful human beings? Is their worth as humans determined solely by their actions?

Lord have mercy on us all if that is so.

And maybe that’s the key to bridging differences…Lord, have mercy.

A Day in Dubai

April 2, 2009

One of the great joys of these first few days in Dubai is spending time with family…especially my nieces aged 7 and 3 1/2. We’re living with family; four adults, two children and a dog all crammed into a two-bedroom apartment.

Today, my wife and I, sister-in-law and nieces all went out for South Indian breakfast this morning. We ate our fill ofPuri Aloo.  One of my favorites. We then went to pick up my mother-in-law (the nieces’ grandmother) and went to the mall. We had a blast with the children. The afternoon found my wife and I back home napping very deeply (jetlag is kicking our butts!).

We awoke and decided to go for a walk through the neighborhood in which we are living now. It is like a suburb of the city of Dubai. A quiet area populated mostly by local Arabs, who are a minority in this Emirate (making up only about 15-20% of the population). People were very interested in Saaya, our miniature Schnauzer who was walking with us. It is not common for people to own dogs and walk them here. There was a lot of staring and children barking at her but not daring to come close.

The temperature must have been around a very pleasant 70 degrees and it was wonderful to walk around such a nice community, seeing families out, children playing  and neighbors chatting. At the very end of our long walk the call to prayer began. The echo of numerous mosques bouncing of the buildings as the faithful cluster toward the entrances.

Though my faith views differ very much from Islam, it is so heartwarming to see a community come together to pray. Faith is such an open part of life here, relegated not to the list of topics never to be discussed (like religion and politics in the USA) but so much entwined in family and community that it cannot be ignored or written off as private.

My nieces just came in to kiss us goodnight. Family. Community. Living together, sharing our lives. Private, of course, has its place. It can, however, be taken too far.

Today was wonderfully not private.

48 Hours in Dubai

April 1, 2009

I am now nearing 48 hours of our “adventure” in Dubai. My wife and I decided last year to move to this small Emirate on the Persian Gulf. She grew up here. Her family is here. This is her home.

Dubai is an amazing place to visit. It is a swirling mix where the East, Middle East and West all meet. The results are often beautiful, sometimes frustrating. However, this time I am not visiting. I arrive to my new home.

Traveling the world is one of my great joys. I love being plopped right into a new culture. Sightseeing is not nearly as interesting to me as hanging out where the locals hang out, interacting with people whose life experiences vary so much from my own. My theory is that exploring and negotiating a new culture is like getting to relive our childhood; when everything is new and needs to be learned and investigated. Not only food and transportation, but language (both verbal and non-verbal) is new in an exciting, child-like way. I love it.

This trip is different, however. The emotional, relational and financial stress it takes to move over 7,000 miles away has taken its toll. My wife and I sit jetlagged, enjoying family. We decided to take this week “off” to rest, recuperate and regroup. However, still questions nag: What does the future hold? Will I find work? Will I like the work? How will I adjust to this new culture? Will I adjust to this new culture? What if this “adventure” is actually a suspense novel that ends badly?

A few days ago, when we left Maryland, driving to the airport to bring us here, we saw a rainbow. Probably the brightest one I have ever seen. And we saw all of it, the whole semi-circle, launching up off the ground bursting into the air, long-arching over spring-ready fields to land softly again back to earth far from where it started. We took it as a sign. God’s promise. Not that He necessarily is promising that everything will work out the way we want; or, at all, for that matter. But a promise that no matter what happens, He is with us and loves us.

What greater adventure could we ask for?


April 1, 2009

Welcome! This blog has a dual purpose. Primarily, I hope that by sharing my thoughts and experiences on a variety of topics, I will help myself process them thoroughly and in an honest manner. Secondarily, I hope that my sharing is of interest to others and that in sharing thoughts and experiences we can all be the better for it. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27.17).

Thanks for reading and I hope the ride is enjoyable!