Dallas, Abu Dhabi
I consider several things in my life sacred: writing, teaching, my son and love. I have a bad reaction to things that endanger those things, censorship, horrible administrators, violence, addiction and hate. I recently was told that something I had written in my blog about my current living situation had offended the sensibilities of some teenagers in Dubai. This was relevant because I was speaking at their high school on the college admission essay. My response was a mixture of hurt, anger and fear. I wondered if I had really made the worst mistake of my adult life by spending this period in the Middle East working for an atrocious school, missing my dear husband and family and friends, roasting alive and being driven around by psychotic cab drivers.
Speaking of which, I was driven to Dubai by the worst I'd encountered so far. A man who not once but three times reversed down a highway at incredible speed, drove in circles, ignored my directions, was on the phone the entire way, passed my destination and when we finally arrived after a nightmarish two hours said, " you are five minutes late, no?" We'll, that was more or less true but I was due to speak in front of a 100 students and their parents and felt like I had just experienced my life flash in front of me a dozen times narrated by a Bangladeshi who would not answer my question " why are you trying to kill me?"
Anyway, it turned out the mixture of rage and adrenalin was terrific and I was greatly appreciated and no one asked why I didn't adore their fabulous country. What these people don't understand is the Dallas factor. When I was forced to live in Dallas for two years I was constantly told how wonderful Dallas was by its natives. Never mind that the average temperature was 100 plus. Even though I didn't like football or big cars or spending tons of times in malls, I was expected to say that Dallas was wonderful because they had decided to live out their lives there and god forbid I not love it. It was also viciously Christian and as I write this I realize that I have put myself back into a world very much like Dallas except this time I have an awful job teaching wonderful emirate girls English and I'm alone and most people speak Arabic and no one is dressed like a cheerleader or a slut which was common in Dallas. Here they are veiled and covered but the malls are so familiar! Also, everyone calls me "madam" here and in Dallas they called me "honey".
My parents came to visit me in Dallas and after I suggested a relaxing visit to the grassy knoll my mother turned to my then husband and hissed, "Get her out of here." My mother offered me a year’s salary not to come here but I refused. Apparently she's been plotting with my current husband to have me abducted.
So, what's the point? The point is my sojourn in Dallas was enlightening in the sense that I learned how narrow minded I was. I had never lived in a place with such bad taste in architecture and values I considered wrong and so I dismissed everything about it while there was much to value. Texas had another side, a literary tradition, people who were innovators and visionaries and kind. I didn't meet them because I was so busy panicking and getting my hair dyed blonde and trying to write and telling my mother I was fine while telling my then husband I had never hated anywhere as much as there. I learned how spoiled I was and discovered my own lack of acceptance. However, I also went on a fellowship in New Mexico to write and demanded we move. Enough was enough. If one more person said, "everything's bigger in Texas" I was going to scream.
So, what about this overheated, mall-ridden, strange place? Well, it's a lot like Dallas. My reaction to it is also a lot like my previous experience. It makes me feel so homesick I want to scream. However, I also see that I will learn patience, tolerance and to appreciate a cheap manicure by staying here. Possibly I will teach a few girls that they deserve respect. I think I will look back at this experience with amazement that I weathered so many ridiculous situations and managed to stay more or less sane. Meanwhile, my fingernails have never looked better!