Month: September 2014

Two Sides To Every Travel Coin

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Traveling is a little piece of perfection, isn’t it?

We dream and plan and finally go.  We execute said plan and everything falls into place.  It’s memorable.  It’s moving.  We bond with our traveling companions.  We soak up each experience and document it with perfect photos.  Later we slowly flip through beautiful scrapbooks of our trips and remember those sacred glimpses of the world and reflect with gratitude.

Seriously.  I think we actually kind of hope for that.

And then, shockingly, things don’t go this way.  Ever.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Because in my experience, travel always goes a little bit awry.  If you’ve known me for any length of time, you can probably conjure up an image or two or perhaps a story of travel hilarity that didn’t seem so hilarious at the time.  Lost passports, snow storms, tow trucks, fallen trees, night time alarms, breaking into car lots, or catching some shut eye in a cemetery.  These things happen.  This is real life travel.

So we find ourselves on a new side of the world and anxious to explore.  It’s one of the rewards for the difficulties we’ve been wading through.  And I want to post pictures of our travels on this blog, partly because people have asked to see them, but mostly for my own personal benefit – a travel log of sorts.  But, if I’m going to post pictures of the beautiful places we have the privilege of visiting, I must insist on sharing the flip side of the coin.  Because one side of every travel coin is shiny and gorgeous, but the other side is not always pretty.

The flip side had mistakes and misses.  It has delays and detours.  It has miscommunication, overreaction, weariness, and low blood sugar.

burj fullThis weekend we went on our first trip to Dubai.  And it had a very shiny happy side.  We had a great time and saw amazing sites.  I will never forget stepping out the doors from the Dubai mall into the warm night air, just as the fountains started spraying and the music started playing and I looked up at the tallest building in the world lit up in it’s spectacular beauty.  Breathtaking.  Or our first swim in the hot, crystal blue waters of the gulf, staring back at the white sand of the Dubai shoreline.  I was so grateful to be right where I was in that moment.  And my personal favorite moment, sitting at the Cheesecake Factory with my little family celebrating my birthday and feeling so blessed by the three people at my table.

The trip was not without it’s flip side, of course.  It began when we couldn’t check into our hotel because we had forgotten to bring our passports with us.  If they invent a way to have your passport bar code inserted under your skin, I’m gonna be first in line, people.  Seriously!  Passports are nothing but stress in my life!  If it has to go in my groin, I’m okay with that.  If I can never be in a room with a microwave again, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.  Friggin’ passports!!  Aaaanyway, we diverted that disaster.  Deep breath.  Then Dwayne and I faced the challenge of navigating a large and busy city in our rental car with nothing but a tourist map that made every attraction cartoonishly big and left out minor details like road names.  Our marriage is already a little bruised after a month of relocation stress, so you can probably imagine how well some of that went.  In between the lines of these pretty pictures is a number of arguments, meltdowns, and dehydration headaches.

But, the dark side of our first Dubai travel coin was pretty minor.  The fleeting moments of “I want to jump off this bridge just to get away from my family” were overruled by more than a few “wow – this is beautiful” and “you guys are the best” moments.  (PS. If you don’t ever experience these kinds of terrible, fleeting thoughts about your loved ones, you’re probably not gonna appreciate this blog on a regular basis.  Just a heads up.)

So, with no further ado, for there has been much ado already, here are some photo highlights of Dubai 1.0.

The drive from Al Ain to Dubai.  Ninety minutes of smooth sailing.

drive to dubai

The pond and pool at the Courtyard Marriott, where we won a free night’s stay.

poolsidepool nightThe aquarium at the Dubai Mall.  The sharks are over, beside and under.  It’s impressive.  And distracting during photos.

outside aquarium

aquarium

You can pay to swim with and feed the fish.  That guy looked a little too smothered for my liking.

fish feedingmanta ray

Two peeks at the Burj Khalifa- through the ceiling of the Dubai Mall and through the walkway outside.

burj peekburj through

On the beach at the marina.  The water felt like a hot bath.

beachgulf stepsAtlantis Dubai on Palm Jumeirah.  Spectacular.

atlantis

There’s a little glimpse of the shiny side of the coin.  Beautiful.

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These Thorns Are Not Without Roses

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My brain is convinced that not having home internet access right now is my hugest life issue.  That a lot of these hard parts would be made easier with the salve of Skype conversations with loved ones, familiar entertainment, and a world of homeschooling resources at my fingertips.

But you know what?  It turns out my largest perceived difficulty at present is not without its advantages.

#1. Less time lost on social media

I have What’s App and Facebook on my phone, so I’m able to message family and friends, even if we can’t have actual voice-to-voice or face-to-face conversations.  (No internet also means no home phone – they come hand in hand here.)  The data plan for my mobile service only allows me to check Facebook – not to actually click on any further links that require an internet connection.  No videos.  No articles.  Even pictures are slow to load so I often don’t wait for them.  Umm, wow!  I get through checking Facebook a LOT faster!  Even if I wanted to go down a rabbit trail, I couldn’t.

#2. Literally no distractions

20140921_8943Almost everyone I know in the world is asleep while I go about my day.  I have a window of time when I wake up and in the evenings when I exchange live messages with people, but otherwise, no one is awake to send me messages or enticing dings and alerts.  So, we have a general plan for our day…and that is exactly what we do.  With time to spare.  We even have time to read and play and just sit with each other.  Maybe a little too much some days…but whatev.  I’ve been going through this whole “Hands Free Mama” revolution and aiming to be fully present with my children instead of constantly in and out of a digital world.  Well, my new life just kicked that whole endeavor up a notch.

#3. No guilt

My personality is such that I constantly feel like there is something else I should be doing.  I should be working on this or looking into this or planning for this or calling this family member or arranging to see this friend.  It’s all good stuff, but I am amazed at how freeing it feels to just know what I have in front of me right now is my only responsibility.  It’s literally all I can do, and maybe all along, was all I was supposed to be doing.

#4. Reliance on new friends

We’ve met some people.  Some fellow teachers and their families who we saw often in the couple of weeks we spent together in hotels.  A couple of neighbors.  Some people at our church.  And even though new friendships are hard when you’re in the process of mourning far away, dear ones, they’re necessary.  We need to put energy into forming new relationships here, both for our own enjoyment and sanity, and also because that’s why God sent us to this new land.  A woman I barely know let me hang out in her flat while she was out so I could use her internet connection for planning homeschool units and checking emails.  Another couple extended the use of their place to use their internet, and would like to have us for dinner while we’re at it.  A fellow football-loving couple has invited us over to watch the game this weekend because they also have NFL Game Pass and the blessing of home internet.  It’s forcing us out of our protective bubble of an apartment, where I might stay forever if I actually had this desired internet connection.

Hmmm.  So, lack of internet.  Difficult?  Yes.  Disadvantage?….

Adventure Is A Code Word

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Before we came to Abu Dhabi, everyone, including ourselves said, “Wow, what an adventure that will be!”

mosqueTruth: “Adventure” is code for unfamiliar and really, really challenging.  A book, a movie, an experience – these things would not be classified as adventures if everything was just exciting and easy.  My favorite series of all time is the Lord of Rings trilogy.  I’m sure that if Frodo and Sam could have known in advance the struggle they would have been facing on the edges of Mount Doom, they would not so easily have set off on their “adventure.”  We all embark on new ventures with a vague idea that there will be difficulties, but thankfully, we don’t have a freaking clue what that really entails, so off we go!

I debated whether to write about where I’m really at, because I’m feeling low and I prefer to be optimistic and positive and lean into hope and promise.  Negativity, whining, and pessimism don’t get me anywhere.  But, I also long to be authentic.  And I think people want to know how it’s really going.  And one day, when my stories are more upbeat, which I’m confident they will be, I’d rather that everyone know how it really was in the beginning, because then it will be so much richer to see how far this story has come.  Then you can really rejoice with me.  And then, maybe it will offer hope and encouragement to people in the rough spots.  So, I will tentatively let you in on my low day, but please know that I am very aware that I still abide in the hope and the promise.  That getting through these harder parts is what makes this experience truly an adventure.  That I’m currently in one small part of a much bigger story, and I will see the redemption in these difficulties.  And most of all, that this low day is not really so bad, and it will pass.

I probably shouldn’t speak too much for Dwayne, since his story is his own to share.  So, I’ll just summarize it by saying his job is rough.  And his spirits are low.  And his daily battles right now, are harder than mine.

And I won’t say much about the kids, because I recently wrote a post about my heart for what they’re going through.  Although, honestly, kids are resilient.  As I write this, they are laughing hysterically in the other room playing some game with stuffed animals and dolls.  (As a side note, Josiah is a really great big brother.)  They finished what school work we have on hand, this morning.  They are well fed and healthy.  So, really, they’re fine.

For the sake of my husband and my children, I am doing my best to create a familiar and loving home where Dwayne is embraced after a difficult day and where my children are nurtured.  But, we’ve lived in our apartment for one week, and I’m on a steep learning curve here, trying to create a home with few of the things I’m used to.  A small apartment, no dryer, no dishwasher, no oven, unusual food.  I do have a fridge, for which I’m very thankful, but we have a counter top oven and a two burner hot plate, both of which require some adjusting, on my part.  The groceries are different, even though I’ve found many familiar things.  So far, our meals at home have not exactly been delicious or familiar.

We discovered, the day before we moved in, that our building is not yet wired for internet service.  I’ve received gentle pokes of mockery for how much this has affected my psyche, considering how people have managed for millennia without the internet, but let me just say that when you’ve moved across the world, things that should be manageable, sometimes become unreasonably difficult to handle.  And in typical UAE style, it could be days, weeks or, more likely, months, until this situation is rectified.  I had mentally prepared for having some familiar comforts that we could rely on while we made new friends and hunkered down inside during the heat.  But alas, we are without NFL Game Pass which we subscribed to for Seahawks games, and without Netflix for the kids or for movie nights, and without access to the homeschool units I bookmarked online, and generally without any information about anyone and anything outside our apartment.  We are without Skype, for the love of Pete!!  The horrors!  (seriously)

(PS. I recognize these things are luxuries that many people in the world do not have, and I’m grateful just to have electricity and air conditioning.  I’m just sharing what has thrown me for a loop and is forcing me to emotionally adjust on the fly.)

For three of the last four days, we have had very little water pressure.  Like dripping.  Although, through some miracle, the toilets still flush, but water just dribbles out of the taps.  We can slowly manage to wash our hands, but not the dishes.  We can’t shower or run the washing machine.  Don’t think I haven’t briefly considered how to use the toilets for these functions…  That temptation was fleeting.  And when there is full running water, it is lukewarm at best, not hot.  Which, again, luxury.  I know.  So today I called Raheem.  His name is on the sign in the entryway of our building for plumbing problems.  I’m quite confident, after a 4 or 5 minutes conversation, that he had no idea who I was, where I was calling from, or what the problem was.  This is pretty much how every phone conversation goes here.  The language barrier is exhausting and makes me want to sleep for 12 hours every night.  Except the calls to prayer wake me up at 4:30 and 7:00am, so I don’t.

So today, I’m greasy.  There’s a pile of laundry and a pile of dirty dishes I can’t wash.  Although we only own 4 plates and 4 bowls and 6 glasses, so the pile isn’t that big, thankfully.  We can’t go outside.  We don’t have a car.  We have no internet or TV or phone.

I should work out.  I should work on the courses I enrolled in.  I should work on something healthy to make for lunch and dinner.  I should clean things that don’t require water.  I should re-read one of the books we brought.  I should play another card game with the kids.

But I just want to sit on my couch and eat cookies.

There it is folks.  The reality of our current adventure.  Super fun and exciting, right?!?  Stay tuned though…this is only the beginning.

Short-term Mother vs. Long-term Mother

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The first week here in Al Ain has been harder for me, emotionally, than I expected.  I mean, I expected to have culture shock (although I had no experience with it), but I thought I would really miss home later.  I thought I would be distracted with the newness of everything and getting set up and settled in.  I thought the sad and the ache would come later.  But it didn’t.  It came sooner.  Immediately, actually.

apartmentAnd it all really hit hard the day we received the keys to our new home.  We took a cab to our apartment, went in and looked around, and I felt such a weight of disappointment.  Not with the apartment itself, which, after mulling it over for a couple of days, is really quite lovely.  It has 3 bedrooms, is brand new, still covered in construction dust, and all the space we really need.  It was the location that was hard for me.  It was much more isolated than I expected.  Not in a villa complex, where many teachers are placed.  Just a 2 story, 8 unit, new building in an old area.  I believe an older building was torn down and this new one was put in it’s place.  The surrounding space is quite desolate and it’s about 500 degrees outside, give or take a degree.  But the thing is, it’s all quite sufficient for us.  And I’m grateful.  Truly.

I likely wouldn’t have had a hard time with our new place at all if I weren’t a mother.

Because I can handle anything for two years, really.  I can make an apartment comfortable and familiar.  I can stay in touch with my friends and family and slowly make new friends here.  I can make my peace with what we left behind for a while.  But, I mourn over what my kids have been pulled away from.  I grieve the oodles of good friends and wide open spaces they used to have access to all day, every day.  I miss the familiar streets for them to bike and scooter and the houses of friends which they ran in and out of constantly.  And while I believe they will find a new way to play here and new friend’s homes to be in and out of, I can’t help but worry that I’ve totally screwed things up for them.

My head tells me this isn’t true.  It tells me all the things I heard before we left.  “What a great experience for your children.  They will learn so much that they could never learn if they stayed put.  You’re doing your kids a great service by exposing them to other parts of the world and other cultures and other ways of living life.  It’s good for your kids to learn that hard things are possible – obstacles are surmountable.”  My head still believes all those things.  That they will be richer in many ways for this experience.  My long-term mother’s heart wants them to face challenges and deal with life outside of their comfort zone and understand what it means to trust in God.  I know these things will better prepare them for a meaningful life.

But right now, my heart grieves.  I don’t want them to be lonely.  I wish Josiah could still play baseball and street hockey.  I wish Abby could start piano lessons and play to her heart’s content on our street with a gaggle of girls.  My short-term mother’s heart wants them to have comfort and fun and security.

I guess the good news is that the long-term mother (LTM) in me made all the decisions over the last few months, so the short-term mother (STM) in me just has to suck it up, make the best of it, and trust in the God who led us here.  Deep breaths, STM.