My Farewell Tour

Years ago, sitting in class, didn't you wonder why you had to learn where Mesopotamia was? Why learn about the places so far away? What was the point of knowing about some huge desert in a place it was unlikely I would ever visit. Well, now I know why. One never knows in life what sort of interesting things will come about. And my life has certainly been interesting. But, now it's time to learn about another part of the world and depart from my safe haven of New Hampshire and head out to parts unknown in a place called Abu Dhabi.
I am calling this part of my journey, before I leave, my "Farewell Tour" because haven't you ever noticed that when a cool rock band is going to change members or break up, they have a Farewell Tour that lasts about a year? Well, I began my "Farewell Tour" at the Thanksgiving dinner table last November as I sat and looked around at my family, my cousins, aunts and uncles and I asked my mother what she would think if I decided to teach overseas. My mother responded favorably and I thought, well, then, this is it. This could be my last Thanksgiving dinner with the family in New England, for a couple of years. I mentally looked around at the family as if to impress their faces and that moment on my mind. At that point, my mother was the only one who knew that I was planning such a crazy, wild journey of my heart. I applaud her for being open to such an idea. Now that I am further along in my journey, she is still so very supportive. What more can one ask from her parents?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Today's episode in Abu Dhabi was a trip to the mall for internet wifi use. I do this almost every day with several teaching colleagues. Today, the bus dropped us opposite the Khalidiya mall. There used to be a broken fence that we could sneak through, but the good maintenance folks of the Abu Dhabi highway system have fixed it. So getting to the mall, now requires a long walk around the fence and crossing two 3 lane highways. I stand perched behind three Pakistani men who are going to the mall for the same purpose I am...laptop bags dangling from their shoulders. I see a break in the traffic and one person runs. He makes it. The next two wait for a break in the traffic. I prepare to run with them. I check to see if my colleagues have made it across. Tim is in the middle of the median strip, waiting for his wife Cindy to venture across. 
Let's pause for a moment to consider the drivers of Abu Dhabi. These brave souls man the driving wheel attempting to avoid cabs, motor bikes and the occasional pedestrian. They peer ahead into the traffic and see a hapless soul about to step off the curb...they speed up, in an attempt to splat him or her over the front of their grill. I have seen them grinning and even laughing as they bear down in their expensive cars. They get big points for catching one of us, and particularly huge points for catching an American over 50 ... I am a prime target. However, I have seen 60+ year old Asian women who qualify as prey, as well. Asian women can run particularly fast. 
I step off into the morass of traffic, wait for the opening between cars and run as fast as I can for the median strip. I pause, breathing hard, looking down the street for the next break in traffic. I see Tim and Cindy have made it safely. I watch the young men run and I follow in their stead. I reach the safety of the opposite curb. Today, I have negotiated the traffic, safely. I'm pretty sure the game designers of Frogger spent a lot of time in Abu Dhabi.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning...

Early one September morn…

Week one of my new job in my new school has come and gone. I not only love this job, but I am finding that I am at peace, here in the desert. Oh, it’s certainly not a bed of roses. There are many things I would change about this job, if I could. However, the overwhelming sense of peace descends at the end of the day. There are many imperfections…the day I was moved from my delightful job at the boys’ school to the girls’ campus was particularly difficult, and getting to the girls’ campus to find that no one in administration had thought that pens, pencils, paper or other supplies were essential to the running of the school was a particular jolt. However, we were given a stipend to go buy supplies at the store. And a few days later, copy paper made its way to our campus, as well as staplers, tape and paper clips. There are just certain things that make you feel that you are a teacher. Obviously, I can teach with merely a stick in sand, and I was fully prepared to do so, but the pens were a nice touch. We are still lacking internet and our overhead LCD projectors are still on the ceiling without a remote to run them. But, those are mere technicalities, and I expect with a little more patience, those things too, shall be ironed out. Strangely enough, last Thursday a brand new, automated (and free) vending machine for coffee, mochaccino, cappuccino, and cardamom tea appeared in the faculty lounge. One can certainly understand where Arab priorities lie. I didn’t think I would like cardamom tea, but am finding it particularly delightful. I’m thinking I will become addicted to mochaccino and cappuccino with this fantastic addition to our teacher lounge. (I do dislike coffee unless it is really flavored up) Of course, I can still enjoy my first love, Earl Grey tea with a bit of milk and sugar, but let’s face it, on my half hour morning break, it will be so much easier to just push a button. Oh, yes. Break in the morning is 25 minutes long, versus the hectic, stateside jam-your-worksheets through the copier, spend 5 minutes swearing at it and another 4 minutes trying to remove the jam and by that time you realize that you have to run to the rest room before heading back to class.  Abu Dhabi culture does have its advantages for the older bladder.

On another subject entirely, I had a pretty good weekend. On Friday, I pulled off an afternoon tea for an assortment of new friends and colleagues. We munched on tea sandwiches, drank sun tea and laughed about life in Abu Dhabi. On Saturday, I got up quite early and attended a charity flea market at the Sheraton Inn, and came away with some amazing purchases; plates, serving dishes, towels, pillows, a duvet and a duvet cover, several lamps that match my décor,  an African ebony bowl and a framed coin collection. After that success, I wound my way over to Nefertiti furniture, a used furniture place that had been closed during my spare time during Ramadan. I purchased an IKEA chaise lounge, two large pillows, two glass-topped side tables and a kitchen bar for my kitchen supplies that are starting to overwhelm my tiny kitchen space. As I walked away from Nefertiti, in the blazing hot sun, I thought that it was the right time for my friend Michael to be returning from his morning jaunt and I hoped he would pass by me in his taxi. Instead, I baked my way to the edge of the road and waited a few minutes for a taxi. Later that afternoon, Michael mentioned that he had passed me by in the Khalidiya area carrying two pillows. My prescience is alive and well in Abu Dhabi, it just didn’t extend to “seeing” Michael stopping for me. Had a second moment in class, this morning, after class had started and we were well on our way toward 8am. I was doing a last attendance check when I mentioned to the class that I fully expected Huda to walk through the door any moment…and at that very moment, she did. I enjoy these little moments of clarity and prescience. God has put me in a good place.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Joining the Circus

Joining the Circus

As I take my turn at discovering this new country in my life, I am struck by how many things are new, and how many are exactly the same as “back home.” Shopping malls and stores all seem to be eerily similar…it isn’t unlike going to any large mall in a new city when you go into a mall in Abu Dhabi. The advertising entices you; the same mannequins beckon to you through the display windows. Some stores even ARE the same stores…American Eagle, Banana Republic, the Gap, or Carter’s. Some stores I had never been in or only took a quick glance around are now calling out to me to come and check out their goods. Other stores TRY to be like those in the states with names like. “Women’s Secret” and “The Unlimited.” But this isn’t a blog about shopping, of which I go to many malls but do not buy much. Malls right now are for e-mailing, Facebooking and surfing the net, as we have no internet at our home, right now. 

This blog is about joining the circus. Three days ago, I met Emma. She is helping her friend move into the apartment across my hallway. After two minutes of chatting with Emma, I liked her immensely. As I explained to her that I had left my family behind in the US and, in a way, ran away from home, she laughed and said, “Well, you can put a sign above your door…’Circus’…”
It took me a moment, and then I smiled and responded, “Of course, I have joined the circus!”

Remember when you were little, you thought about joining the circus? In my house, at least, there were several comments about me as I grew up that if I couldn’t find my niche in life, I could always join the circus. I think that as I graduated high school, got married, and had a child all in the same day, without benefit of pregnancy, my family did think that I had perhaps gone off to join the circus. As my husband and his son and I became a family and then I had another child, my life got busier and busier. I was a Boy Scout and Girl Scout leader, teacher’s aide, then substitute teacher, and had owned a happily thriving convenience store business with my former husband, but I still hadn’t found my niche in life. By the time my second son came into the picture, I had a family of three children ranging in ages from newborn to 19 years old. It was a busy household. I was happy in many ways, and fulfilled in others, but still missing that essential core of who I was. I found choruses to join, then directed choruses for many years. I was hired by my church, as well as other churches to lead their choirs. I played in handbell ensembles, and played in huge thousand-member bell choir concerts in Boston, Hartford, and Bristol, Rhode Island. I felt fulfilled. Or was I?

It wasn’t until I went to a Girl Scout celebration and heard Grace Corrigan speak about her daughter, Christa McAuliffe that I knew what I needed to do next. As Grace spoke about Christa’s commitment to young people, to teaching and to becoming a pioneer, I felt drawn to continue to search for that same fulfillment for myself. A short time later, for the first time in my life, I enrolled in full-time classes at Keene State College, in Keene, NH. I was 37 years young.
However, this isn’t a blog about my career as a teacher, or finding my way as an “adult learner” at Keene State College. This is a blog about joining the circus.
The day I filled out my applications for a teaching job in Abu Dhabi, I knew I was stepping off what I had heretofore known as my normal, somewhat crazy, always eclectic life as mom, sister, daughter, grammy, aunt, niece and friend. I knew when I told people of my plans, that they weren’t sure if I was kidding, or not. The most confounded looks I received were from those who had been in the service and perhaps had fought in Kuwait or Afghanistan and knew what a brutal summer in the Middle East felt like.  Some people immediately responded with positive remarks,
“Wow! What an experience you will have.” And others merely shrugged and said,
“Well, I hope you like it.”
Some folks straight out told me I was crazy and came pretty close to telling me to have my head examined, (thanks, Benny and Rocky).
But as time went by and my commitment to this journey came close, most folks resigned themselves to the fact that I was really going so far away. Some of my friends (Deb, Paula, Mary) who had said goodbyes to me, before, sang songs to me,

So far away, doesn’t anybody stay in one place, anymore?

And I responded,

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, …taxi’s waiting he’s blowing his horn, already I’m so lonesome, I could die…”

As you can see,  and to paraphrase Carole King,

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue. An everlasting vision of an ever changing view. An endless world of tapestry in bits of blue and gold; a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.

But this isn’t a blog about how music has informed my life, made me who I am today, sustained me during the down moments and lifted me up during the inspiring moments. This is a blog about joining the circus.

When something changes your life in untold little ways, as well as big ones, when an idea comes along that seems bigger than life, bigger than fantasy, and bigger than one person can embrace: That feeling of utter awe, utter impossibility, utter phantasmagorical manifestation of light, sound and life. That is what joining the circus feels like. As I dance around my mostly empty apartment, singing my beloved folk songs, I am drawn to those with themes that lift my spirits, those that take me home for a moment in my mind, but also remind me why I am here and what I am doing.  And so I leave you with one of  Joni Mitchell’s songs, one made famous by one of my favorite musicians and good friends, Tom Rush,

We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t begin we can only look behind from where we came and go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game
                                                            ~Joni Mitchell

That’s all for today. I’m going back to Banana Republic to swing with the monkeys.
(For those of you paying careful attention, I realize that this final line does not complete the circus metaphor...but, give me a break...I'm not in Kansas, anymore)

Charlie on the MTA

As I make my way around the city, I am relieved and grateful to have three colleagues with me. Tim, Cindy and Michael have been superb travel companions and provide untold hilarity as we find our way around the city and experience new circumstances. Today, was the day we learned how to use the bus system. Up to this point, we have traveled by way of taxi or the occasional private car owned by a friend. However, on Sunday, our new school week begins and we must be in our new work environment (school) by 7AM. Since we live quite a distance from our school, and the taxis are beginning to get a tad expensive, the bus seemed like it might be a good alternative. 
We caught the Number 52 bus at the Marina Mall, where we had gone to sit around at the Caribou Café and check our e-mail and Facebook. I had messages from two of my children, so I was eager to respond to each of them. Sitting in the Caribou Café is exactly like sitting in any café in America, except for one thing…people do smoke inside of restaurants in Abu Dhabi. Today, was one of those days. My three friends sat near one of the smokers, an Emirati gentleman, so I took a seat in the corner further from the smoke.  I soon realized that the Emirati gent had taken a liking to Tim and they were carrying on a grand conversation. As their conversation came to an end, it was apparent that the wireless signal had as well and it was time to go check out the bus situation. Getting the bus was no problem. It picked us up right outside the mall. The best part about the bus was that it only cost 1 Dirham…or about 36 cents, American. This was the deal of the day, let me tell you. We are used to paying up to 13 Dirhams for a taxi ride to the Marina Mall depending on how convoluted a ride the driver takes us on. As we settled into our bus ride, we remarked that we could see much more through the large bus windows than we could from the taxi.  I remarked that I was “Through with taxis.” We knew that a taxi ride to school took about 20 minutes and by the time we got to Khalifa University, with all the stops the bus took, it was close to a            45-minute ride. I didn’t consider that too bad, considering the money we saved on taxi rides. We got out of the bus, crossed the highway and went to the bus stop on the other side of the road to make our way back. After what was exactly a 20-minute wait (the bus runs every 20 minutes) a bus pulled up. In Abu Dhabi, women sit on the front of the bus and men sit in the back. As Cindy and I entered the front of the bus, we were stopped by a crush of women jammed into the front seats and aisles of the bus. The men’s area was even worse, and Michael and Tim had no recourse but to stand in the aisle in the women’s section. We rocked back and forth as the bus moved. At the next stop, even more folks got on, with the men pushing their way through the rear door. I wasn’t sure how many people this bus could carry, but at one point, I’m sure I felt the wheels of the bus start to teeter.
Michael had decided to meet with a friend, but he was unable to make his way off the bus through the crowd. I asked him whether he knew the song, “Charlie on the MTA” and he responded “No.” The song describes the fate or rather the non-fate of poor Charlie who got on one of the MTA subways in Boston and then couldn’t figure out how or where to get off…

       And he never returned, no he never returned,
       And his fate is still unlearned
       He must ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
       He’s the man who never returned.
                             ~Irish Rovers, Kingston Trio, et al...melody by Henry Clay Work 
Please click the link for more info.
As we continued to stop and press more passengers into whatever small spaces were left, people did get understandably peeved. The Muslim woman sitting next to me suddenly felt a whoosh of cool air as the fan began to turn and pushed her naked foot between the two Indian women sitting across from me. Had they been friends, this would have been a somewhat intimate gesture; akin to draping your arms across someone’s shoulder, or pressing your cheek against another’s. These three women didn’t know each other, and spoke different languages. The elder of the two Indian women tried to explain to the Muslim woman that she needed to take her foot out. The Muslim woman did not remove her foot, however. The ride passed uncomfortably as the Indian woman decided graciously to not press the issue. The Muslim woman came to her stop and got off and Michael saw his moment at this point and escaped the bus as Tim, Cindy and I bounced our way toward our stop. Suddenly, our stop came into view and we all dropped off the bus, like lice off of fresh-washed hair. As we trudged home through the heat, we began to question the decision to use the bus as our main mode of transportation.