Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy anniversary to me!

Six months ago today, I boarded a plane in Atlanta, bound for JFK and then Abu Dhabi, excited and scared and curious about what awaited me on the other side of the world. This wasn't turning a page or starting a new chapter; this was a new book. Maybe a whole new library.

I'm happy to report that half a year in, it has been an unforgettable and rewarding experience, one I will never regret, easier than I ever dreamed at times, and much harder than I imagined at others.

It has made me appreciate my family and my friends and even my country more than ever. The feelings for the people I left behind are difficult to deal with sometimes, but not unexpected – you are the best family and friends a man could have, so of course I miss you terribly.

It has been a bit of a surprise, though, to miss not just the people but the place. We take a lot for granted in America. We bicker about our politicians and whine about our taxes and fret about our future, but I can tell you, I meet people everyday who would move to the U.S. tomorrow if they had the opportunity. I'm not overly patriotic, and certainly not political, but being here has made me grateful to be an American. Enough said.

The biggest surprises, after six months? The oppressive heat of summer (I knew it would be hot, but 115 degrees with 80 percent humidity? C'mon!). The high cost of living (rent). The affordability (food, taxis). The crazy-quilt opulence of Dubai. The beauty of the desert, and the beach. The tolerance for western values in some regards, the unwillingness to accept them in others. How much I really do like falafel. The mystery of Emiratis. The dichotomy of downtown Abu Dhabi, where you can walk down one street and feel like you're in L.A., then turn a corner and be in Karachi.

Surprising and impressive, too, is the friendliness of the people from around the world who come here to make this place work and grow. I am especially in awe of taxi drivers, as you can probably tell from earlier posts, perhaps because I meet a new one almost every day, and because the sacrifices they make for their families is humbling. Many work 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, sending home every dirham they can to support their families and stoke their dream to return one day to Pakistan or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

The things I miss the most, after six months? Family and friends, of course. Watching American sports at normal hours. Shady, tree-lined streets. Atlanta's restaurants. A bartender who cares who's playing right field for the Braves. Florida, all of it. A newspaper that writes about things I care about. A crisp fall day. Sibling summits. American-style crossword puzzles in the newspaper. Live music. Rain, and weather in general. (It has been said that Abu Dhabi doesn't have weather, just climate. There's a big difference between summer and winter, but the change is so gradual you don't notice it. Each day is pretty much like the one before.)

So there it is, six months under my belt, with who knows how many more to go, nothing but blue skies and sunshine and good times ahead. I must be the luckiest man alive.

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