Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Dubai – The Emerald City of the Middle East

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The Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel

I’ve been away for the better part of the last two weeks on a trip to the other side of the world. My business partner lives in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. It’s on the coast of the Persian Gulf, tucked in between the capital, Abu Dhabi, and some lesser-known emirates. The UAE itself is bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Iran (f/k/a Persia) is just across the gulf.

Here’s a link to a good map. Go ahead and take a look; I’ll wait.

Yes, it’s a very small country. You can drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in an hour (traffic permitting). Dubai itself is long and skinny; most of it hugs the coastline. That makes sense because you don’t have to drive far in the other direction until you’re in the desert. Way out in the desert.

I went to Dubai to get some face time with my partner and friend; it had been at least 2 ½ years since we’d seen each other. We’d done all of the foundation work for the business mostly over Skype. We’d accomplished a lot, but we’d reached a point where we really needed to spend some time in the same room. So, armed with a pile of airline miles, I made my way to the Middle East.

To say I didn’t know what to expect is an understatement. My friend has lived there for the past ten years; she’s British, and has always said that, for the most part, she likes it. I was curious and a little nervous about going to an Arab country for the first time. I’m aware that Americans aren’t wildly popular in a lot of places in the world, and I always feel as if I have to be on my best behavior, just in case I have the opportunity to change somebody’s mind about us. And I was really not looking forward to the heat.

My first impression of Dubai was that the parts I saw, which initially were the downtown area and the marina, don’t look entirely real. It looked to me like some futuristic version of what somebody thought a city should look like. As we were driving into downtown one afternoon it struck me that if you bunched up the buildings a little more and painted them green, it would look a lot like the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz”. See for yourself.

Dubai skyline Wizard 6 Emerald City

Ok, well, maybe that’s just my fancy getting the better of me, but I did feel like Dorothy come to Oz. Everything was new, and fantastical. But also unsettling in a way I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t identify at first.

It took me days to figure out what was really bothering me about the city, but I finally realized it’s because everything is new. Nothing I was seeing was more than 15 years old. Not one skyscraper in the marina area had been there only twelve years before. This is the skyline I mean:

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Let that sink in a moment. Not one of those buildings was there in the year 2000. I don’t know why, but that thought gives me shivers.

The other thing that made me feel off balance is the sheer wealth of the place. There is crazy money there, so much money you can almost see it floating on the gulf breeze, or hanging in the shimmering heat. Or being sucked into the air conditioning vents (which is where a lot of it must go – keeping the denizens of Dubai cool is a colossal undertaking). I don’t live in that world of luxury high rises and expensive cars and marathon shopping. It was hard for me to not feel self-conscious about my modest means when surrounded by so much opulence.

My friend, thankfully, lives in the real world, so staying in her home was a welcome refuge from the overwhelming excess I saw every time we went out. Her house is lovely; it’s in one of the “older” neighborhoods, which means she’s only minutes away from anywhere. Her villa is surrounded by a high white wall (as is everyone’s) which encloses the house, the drive, and the yard. In front of the house is a beautiful tree that is full of birds; you can hear them singing even through the sliding glass door. One evening as I stood looking out at the tree, the sound of the birds chattering underscored the call to prayer from a nearby mosque, and the mingling of those songs gave me an unexpected moment of joy. After that I started to feel friendlier towards the place.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Dubai, it’s just that I couldn’t relate to it. Until I got into the old part of the city.

Dubai was originally the home of fishermen and pearl divers. The oldest sections surround what the locals call the “Creek”, which makes that body of water sound much more modest than it really is. Here’s a picture so you know what I mean:

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Finally, I found something that looks like what I you’d think a Middle Eastern city should look like. I was so relieved! Here are some images of the city I could finally relate to:

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Dubai has a lot of history if you go looking. The culture is deep and strong and beautiful. It is truly a melting pot; different people began coming to Dubai long before they found oil under the sand. There is a lot to recommend it, truly. And don’t let me fool you, I did get a kick out of some of the crazy new stuff, like the indoor ski slope (“Ski Dubai”), and I was completely obsessed by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I couldn’t quit gawking at it. It’s amazing, an incredible achievement in design and engineering, and worth the trip just to see it towering above the downtown skyline.

But being totally honest, I can’t say I loved Dubai. I liked it, and I’d like to go back, but I didn’t fall in love the way I love other places. London is my home away from home. New Orleans is my favorite city in the U.S. I left a piece of my heart in Venice. I’ve been so blessed to have been many places and to have had so many experiences, and I am constantly grateful for them. I find I’m intrigued by Dubai, but I’ll never be more than a tourist there. Or that’s how it feels to me.

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All photos except “The Wizard of Oz” and Dubai downtown skyline (C) 2014 Amanda Taylor Brooks

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The Good, the Annoying, and the Bad

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Mt. Hood, Oregon

Last week I flew to Portland, Oregon, for a conference. It was great to get back on the road; my work trips have been few and far between, and, let’s face it, Greensboro, North Carolina isn’t the most exciting place to visit (although they have some great barbecue).

The whole trip was a mixture of different experiences that I’ll call the Good, the Annoying, and the Bad. The Good things that happened are pretty self-explanatory – they were those little unexpected gifts you get. The Annoying are those things that happen that don’t result in any harm, they just take some of the shine off an otherwise good situation. The Bad things are those that have a lingering negative consequence. Here’s how it shook out:

The Good

  • On my way out of Atlanta I was selected for the TSA’s new “PreCheck” program, which meant that I got to go in the security line where you don’t have to take out your laptop or your 1 quart bag of liquids or take off your shoes.
  • I got to go on a sightseeing tour of the city the morning after I arrived, which was a wonderful opportunity to see much more of Portland than I otherwise would have done.
  • I got to spend time with someone I knew from college. She and I weren’t close back then, but through the magic of Facebook I’ve come to like and admire her greatly. We talked and laughed and told stories for hours, and I’m so glad we were able to meet.

The Annoying

  • I broke my sunglasses as soon as I got on the airplane.
  • On my first night, as I was getting ready for bed, I realized I left one of my small toiletries bags at home – the one with my contact case, my toothbrush, and my deodorant. I had to get dressed again and go downstairs to the 24-hour shop in the hotel lobby and buy an $8 travel-sized bottle of contact solution (which I did have) just to get the case that came with it. I begged a toothbrush from the front desk, but the next morning I had to walk three blocks to the nearest drug store for my brand of deodorant.
  • I didn’t leave the hotel in time to catch the early train to the airport on my way out, and by the time I got there the security line was way backed up. I got to the gate just after boarding had started, which didn’t leave me time for breakfast as I had hoped.

The Bad

  • On my way back from meeting my friend the first time we saw each other, I had an encounter on the light rail train. The car I was riding in was mostly empty, and at one of the stops a man got on and sat down a few seats away from me. He looked to be in his 50’s, he had long black hair, and he was wearing a hat (it looked Native American to me, which turned out to be accurate – he told me he was Navajo). The seat I was in faced into the train car so unless I turned my face completely away I couldn’t help but see him. Not long after he sat down, he gave me a little finger wave. Now, here’s the conundrum I (and all women) face in a situation like that. The guy is probably harmless, so do you do the polite thing and give him a brief (read: unencouraging) nod of the head without making eye contact, do you pretend to not see him and silently pray he gets off at the next stop, or do you get up and walk away? I chose the polite response, which was the brief head nod. Apparently it wasn’t discouraging enough because he immediately began talking to me. He started out by telling me what a beautiful smile I had. I said “thank you”, again, not meeting his eyes and hoping that was the end of it. He then starts to wax eloquent about how beautiful I am in general – so beautiful, words begin to fail him. I’m now pretty sure he’s not 100% compos mentis, and I know I’m in for it. Sure enough, he moves over to a seat next to me and starts asking questions. “Are you married?” Yes. “Do you have children?” No. “Why?” And on it goes. He finally gets around to asking me for money, which I give him. He then lifts his shirt to show me what looks like a distended belly button, which totally freaked me out. He got off at the next stop, thankfully. The two guys that got on then also felt compelled to chat me up, but at least they didn’t flirt with me. In case you’re wondering, this happens almost every single time I travel alone, as I’m sure it does to most women.
  • Two days later I was late going to the convention center, so there weren’t many people at the light rail stop near my hotel. Except this one guy, who had a conference badge like mine. So, seeing as how we were going to the same place, we exchanged greetings. I can’t remember why it came up, but I told him I had connected with an old friend from college the night before. Upon hearing this, he said “Oh you connected, huh?”, giving me a little leer. I couldn’t believe it. In an instant my whole demeanor changed, and I said to him in a flat voice “Not like that” and turned my back on him. At least he got the message – he didn’t try to talk to me again, and when the train arrived I walked through the first compartment and into the second before I sat down.

I’ve told a number of people now about my trip, but pretty much all I’ve told them is the Good. Depending on who it is, I might throw in some of the Annoying. I haven’t told anyone about the Bad; I never do. I never talk about the unwanted flirting, the inappropriate remarks, the uninvited touching that happens to me frequently. I know that these things happen to most women, and, like most women, I chalk it up to “how it is” and get on with my life. But this is the lingering, negative consequence – every time it happens, my shell gets a little harder. I get less patient. I get less willing to “be polite”. I start to get angry. Since the #yesallwomen campaign started I’ve been more aware of these little incidents, and much less apt to just let it go. I don’t owe you a smile, or conversation. What is it about me, or any woman, that makes a man think it’s OK to use sexual innuendo at the slightest provocation? Who taught you that? And who taught us that it’s not OK to call them out on it? But this is what we’ve learned, and this is how we live. I’m tired of it. So I’m going to stop being so accommodating.  You’ve been warned. I might actually get up and walk away next time.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

 

 

 

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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For some reason this week I became determined to rescue the pictures I had saved on my old iPod. I say “rescue” because I had tried in the past to figure out how to get them off of it, but was unsuccessful. These are pictures that are saved nowhere else; when I loaded them onto my iPod originally I suppose I moved them instead of copying them, and they’ve been there ever since. I don’t know why I became so determined to get to them, but I was, and eventually I did it. These pictures are extremely important to me – the one at the beginning of this blog post is the only picture I have of me on the Great Wall of China, so you can see why I’d want to make sure I had it somewhere I could get to it.

I have been privileged in my life to have traveled to some amazing places. As you can see I’ve been to China; my husband and I spent ten days sightseeing before I my work thing in Beijing started, and the experience of being on that wall is something I’ll never forget. I’ve been to Hong Kong and Macau as well, which are technically in China, but are so very different from the mainland. I’ve been to Singapore and to Mumbai, India. I’ve been to Australia, where I discovered a heretofore unknown talent as a rock wallaby spotter. There’s nothing like standing in the dark silence of the desert outback, 300 miles from the light pollution of any city, looking up at the incredible field of stars and finding the Southern Cross waiting there, just like in the song.

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Rock Wallaby – do you see him?

I’ve been to Europe and to Great Britain (England and Scotland anyway). London is possibly the best city in the world. I haven’t been to all of them of course so I can’t really know for sure, but I’ll bet it’s on up there. Berlin sizzles with energy. Rome is the Eternal City – ancient and new at the same time. Venice is the most romantic place on Earth. And Jerusalem is the center of the world; if you don’t believe me, go see for yourself.

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The Old City, Jerusalem

The United States is chock-a-block with the amazing and wonderful. I adore Chicago – it’s a big city that still thinks about itself as a small town, or that’s how it felt to me. New Orleans is a treasure – totally unique and intoxicating, it seduces me every time I go. We have it all in this country – mountains, beaches, swamp, prairie, desert. The Grand Canyon is everything they say it is. Mt. Rainier looms over Seattle like an ancient god. The sound of the loons across the lake in Maine will stay with me forever.

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The Grand Canyon

For a long time after I stopped traveling I didn’t allow myself to think about my trips, for fear it would make me sad. I don’t feel that way anymore. In fact, for the past week or so I’ve been consciously conjuring up not just images, but sense memories – sound, smell, touch, taste – from the places I’ve been. I can feel the cobblestone streets of Rome under my feet. I can smell that very distinct odor that is nowhere but Mumbai – spice and sweat and poverty and new money. I can hear the afternoon call to prayer in Jerusalem. I can taste the freshest fish I’ve ever had in Hong Kong. Instead of making me think about what I’m missing, these sense memories are giving me the gift of not just remembering my trips, but reliving them.

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The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

We get told a lot that we shouldn’t look back, that we shouldn’t live in the past. I think that that’s generally true – if we look back too much we can’t see where we’re going and we tend to stop moving forward. But we shouldn’t be afraid to think back on the things in our lives that brought us pleasure, or made us happy. I am grateful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and thinking about them has added to my sense of gratitude. And, for the first time in a long time, I’m conjuring up these sense memories as a way of visualizing myself again in these places. I can see myself, not my past self, but my present self, on the escalator in the Piccadilly Circus tube station in London, headed down to the train platform. I can see myself standing in front of the Coliseum in Rome. I can see myself in a vaporetto on the Grand Canal in Venice, on my way to Murano to see the glass blowers. I can see myself in the crowd at Uluru in Australia, waiting for the setting sun to change the color of stone and sky from bright orange and blue to violet, gold, and purple.

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Uluru at sunset

I want to go back to these places and to visit so many I haven’t seen yet. I’ve never seen the emerald green of Ireland or the whitewashed houses in Greece. I’ve never seen the Pyramids of Giza or the Sphinx. But I will see them one day. I know I will. And then I’ll have those new memories of sights and sounds and smells to take me back whenever I want to go.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

All photos by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014 .

 

 

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