Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sophomore year

Coming back for year two was harder than I expected. Having enjoyed such a seamless re-entry to the US, I figured it would be true for the return, especially because this time we wouldn’t have to deal with all of the start-up activities (shopping for furniture, getting driver’s licenses, learning the cultural ropes, etc). But the reality is the UAE hit me like a (really hot) brick. The intensity of Ramadan, the frustrating habits of other drivers, the 4:30 am daily wake-up call, and, probably most pronounced, the sudden isolation after a summer surrounded by friends and family, was harder to accept this time around. Last year we arrived in the UAE with so much adrenaline that I hardly noticed these things, or if I did notice them I found them delightful in their novelty. Without that same sense of awe and wonderment this go around, I quickly slipped into a general malaise, being unproductive at work and wanting to spend my evenings in front of the TV. Seeing my general lack of interest in things, Sam keenly decided we needed to get out of the apartment and back into society.

Very late on Thursday night Sam and I drove deep into the Dubai desert to watch the Perseid meteor shower. One of the desert resort hotels was hosting an evening under the stars, inviting guests to lie on cushions scattered across the lawn and watch the celestial show. They had invited an astronomer to narrate and provided telescopes for people to take turns getting a closer view of the action. The air was warm but not stifling as in the city, and there was a palpable energy surrounding us as hundreds of people, of all ages and nationalities, Emiratis and expats, waited in anticipation to see that first shooting star, and cheering when they finally spotted one. Each successive meteor brought the same series of responses: First, “Oooh!” Then, scattered applause. Finally, laughter (which seems is the natural reaction of adults just caught shouting “Oooh!”).

I realize that people all over the world were watching this meteor shower, but something about this activity felt distinctly Arabian. Maybe it was that when we arrived, the parking attendant asked if were there for the “star-gazing,” a term I associate with the story of the wise men searching for the Christ child. Maybe it was the way we were all reclining on cushions, or that people were eating, drinking, and smoking in merriment, the Ramadan fast having been broken at sunset. I had the distinct understanding that this was a middle-eastern experience and that I was enjoying it despite my recent crankiness. I felt a bit more like myself, and more human as I shared in the collective, childlike delight at seeing streaks of fire burst across the sky.

Had we not had a long drive back to Abu Dhabi we probably would have stayed half the night, but we reluctantly dragged ourselves back to the car and began the journey back to the main freeway through dark, sandy back roads. It was well past midnight and I was tired but feeling relieved to be on this pseudo-adventure. And then, almost like the UAE was welcoming me back, we came upon a small herd of gazelles (the animals for which Abu Dhabi was named) in the road ahead. This was our first time to spot them in the wild, so slowing to a crawl we watched these graceful creatures head back into the sand and finally run off into the darkness. Okay, I get it. We’re back.

Admittedly did not take this photo (found it on TripAdvisor) - even if we had our camera at the time of sighting, it was too dark to capture.


  1. Shannon, I'm getting caught up on your blog for the first time in a month or so. I loved this post and am glad you had a magical evening like this in the midst of a tough time. I can imagine how hard it's been for all the reasons you describe, and pray things are getting easier.


  2. The way you describe being there watching the "show" with everyone makes me think of when we have been at the beach and there is a shuttle launch. You go out and look up and down the beach (New Smyrna, in Fl) and there are people as far as you can see, from the water up to the sea wall. Everyone is looking for and waiting for the same thing; everyone is excited, and happy, and there is this unity. It's pretty neat.
    I love to read what you's always so beautiful. And I can hear you. :)

  3. Hey friends!
    I was looking on google for a picture of a gazelle (dhabi) for a presentation I was doing. I see this as one of many images that comes up when I google the term. I click on it and see this blog with a picture at the top that looks very familiar, as if I've seen this view before. Then I scroll down and see Shannon's name by the gazelle picture. How funny to google something and land on your site. You are obviously the authorities on Abu Dhabi. You ought to sell advertising space, since I got to you and could be soaking up all the good advertising on items like "sweet corn" or "Krispy Kreme's Ramadan Dozen" or "If you crave a chocolate croissant, it's gotta be Butt Sweet." Miss you guys, Gerhard and family