What? Just seeing if the #dachshund fits into my new jumbo-sized #Camelbak. This is totally a normal thing normal people do. #runALLtheplaces #carryALLthethings

What? Just seeing if the #dachshund fits into my new jumbo-sized #Camelbak. This is totally a normal thing normal people do. #runALLtheplaces #carryALLthethings

On the Occasion of Six Years in Dubai (Or, I Guess I’ve Lived Here Long Enough to Stop Counting Anniversaries)

It came and it went, actually: 9 July 2013, the the six-year anniversary of my move to the desert. As it does, I guess, when you just… live somewhere.

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The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez →

Is there anything dreamier than finding a new blog you’re obsessed with and sitting down to indulgently read the entire thing, front to back, on a lazy Thursday afternoon in Ramadan when you have absolutely nothing better to do?

If you listen to This American Life you may have heard Emily’s story this weekend - do yourself a favor and get stuck into the details. 

(And yes, [whispery voice] this is making me miss blogging… maybe I’ll be back soon.)

Baby?

(OMG, calm down, despite the title this is not a post about me having a baby. Although given how sporadic my blogging is these days, and the fact that one of my last posts was about getting engaged, you could perhaps be forgiven for assuming as much. Although, in semi-related news, Alex and I recently acquired a tiny 5-pound mini-dachshund pup who is both the light of my life and the closest I will get to procreating anytime in the near future. So, in a way, I kind of almost did have a baby. BTW if you would like to be unapologetically spammed with puppy pictures for the next forever and you are not already following me on Instagram, you should - @gubbiofarabia. Hey-oh, prelude over, blog post begins!)

On Sunday evening I was on a flight back from a work trip to Jeddah, feeling like I always do when I come back from Saudi: world-weary, a little cranky, and ready to not be stared at. I had had a great day of meetings, but it was one of those typical two-steps-forward-one-step-back experiences I tend to have in the Magic Kingdom. I spent the morning presenting to some senior leaders at a big local company (Saudi men, all of them) and it went really well and I felt super competent and confident and well-respected and impactful… and then after the meeting I left the building and was walking around the back streets of this semi-dodgy part of Jeddah trying to find my driver and people were glaring and staring and cars were honking and men were yelling things out of windows and I got soooooooo flustered and was reminded once again that the bizarro challenge of being a Western woman working in Saudi is not the professional part at all, but just the “existing as a female in everyday life” part. Which I feel like is the opposite of what people might assume.

So. I’m on the plane and I’m giving a general side-eye to everyone around me, especially the Saudi couple across the aisle from me who are clutching a baby that looks suspiciously capable of dissolving into shrieks at any moment.

The mother is wearing niqab, the full-face veil that’s often erroneously referred to as a burqa in the West.

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(via)

Now, it’s super-common for women to wear niqab in Saudi - in fact, in some parts of the country it’s the norm. Women wear it in the UAE and other parts of the Gulf as well, and although it’s less prevalent than in the Kingdom, I would say in your average Dubai mall you’d find about 10-20% of local women rockin’ the niq. At any rate, the point is that I have seen a lot of munaqabat (women who wear niqab) in my day.

However, during 5+ years living in Niqabistan (ALL I DO IS WIN with the invention of that word, right? Also, I bet 95% of Americans could be convinced that’s an actual country. Somewhere in Central Asia? Yeah, the Soviets fought Muslims there or something, right? I think I saw something about it on the History Channel one time…) I’ve never really had a meaningful interaction with a stranger wearing niqab. This fact is not intentional on my part or, I assume, on theirs. It’s just that only being able to see a single square-inch of someone’s face feels like a real barrier to entry for casual chit-chat or offhanded questions. It’s also a self-selecting thing, right? You feel like if someone chooses to expose that little of themselves to the world (and more power to ‘em, if so they choose), they probably don’t want Ms. Sunshine over here to come galloping over the moat and into their drapey black fortress bearing idle chatter.

So imagine my surprise when the flight attendant came over to inform Mrs. Niqab that because she was sitting in an exit row, all her belongings (and her husband’s, and her baby’s) had to be put in the overhead compartment for landing. This was no small undertaking, as the flight attendant realized when she started to gather up their items… diaper bag, shopping bag, computer bag, purse, shopping bag… finally, just as the last item had been stowed, Mrs. Niqab lifted her kid towards the flight attendant and asked "baby?", gesturing innocently at the overhead compartment and winking in my direction. There was a super-awkward moment of silence where the flight attendant seemed to think that this crazy Saudi woman was seriously asking her to put her child in the overhead compartment, to the point where I could see the stories she would tell her cabin crew friends starting to take shape in her head: “You think that’s bad?! This one time on a flight from Jeddah, I had a passenger who wanted me to store her baby as carry-on luggage! Can you believe the parenting in this part of the world?!” And then finally the flight attendant got it and the three of us dissolved into laughter - I figured I was entitled to join, thanks to the wink and all. 

Humanity, man. Here’s hoping we never lose sight of it in others.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It…

… but according to Mitt Romney, this body of water doesn’t exist:

And Syria is thus Iran’s ”only outlet to the sea.”

I don’t mean to mix my political allusions and go all Sarah Palin up on the crowd, but Mitt, I can see it from my back yard apartment window!

(PS - I’m pretty sure it’s called the “Persian Gulf" for a reason. And that the Strait of Hormuz is, in fact, pretty darn far away from Syria.)

HERE GOVERNOR ROMNEY, I HAVE PPT’ed YOU A HELPFUL INFOGRAPHIC:

While we’re at it: Mali? Really? Twice in the first five minutes? Did I miss a sudden and meteoric rise in the global strategic importance of the Touaregs?

**This post brought to you by bad geopolitics: the only campaign issue that can motivate me to write a blog rant about the election.**

Yesterday, my bank texted me an emoticon. Inapprop, unintentional, or hilarious? All of the above?!

Yesterday, my bank texted me an emoticon. Inapprop, unintentional, or hilarious? All of the above?!

That awkward moment when a mundane task forces you to commit to a major life decision. (It’s not that I plan to return anytime soon… but I found the boldness of “do *NOT* intend to return” a little aggressive. Can’t there be a write-in option for “meh, we’ll see”?)

That awkward moment when a mundane task forces you to commit to a major life decision. (It’s not that I plan to return anytime soon… but I found the boldness of “do *NOT* intend to return” a little aggressive. Can’t there be a write-in option for “meh, we’ll see”?)

An Airhead, Not A Ditz

Today a visiting colleague from one of our US offices brought a bag of AirHeads taffy for all us crazy non-Americans over here in Dubai to try.

First, I was judgmental: really, THIS is the greatest cultural export of the United States of America? THIS is what you bring to the Middle East to promote the All-American values of tolerance and democracy and… high-fructose corn syrup?

Then, I was skeptical: surely my palette had evolved in the fifteen or so years since last I consumed an AirHead, and certainly the combination of uberprocessed sugar + Yellow 5 would no longer taste like the best thing in the world. I mean, I am Fancy now - I think the most recent dessert I deigned to eat was something along the lines of artisanal extra-virgin olive oil gelato with a sprinkling offleur de sel at a poncey* hotel restaurant in Mauritius. The allure of CVS candy would be lost on me.

Then, I ate a handful couple and I was bought in: the tang! the chewiness! the mouthfeel! “NOTHING IS BETTER IN ALL THE WORLD THAN AMERICAN CANDY!” I chirped to myself as I buzzed around the office on a sugar high, surreptitiously singing the theme song to Team America: World Police (“AirHeads? Eff yeah!”) as I passed a Pakistani colleague in the hall.

Epilogue: Now I feel violently ill.

Good story.

(OH HI I’M BLOGGING. Mostly because I have recently received a variety of admonisments from friends to the effect of ”Gubbi, Instagram is not your blog” and “Gubbi, Facebook is not your blog” and “Gubbi, we really like you better when we just get to interact with your blog” so I will tell this story here and you will deal with it because guess what, MY BLOG IS MY BLOG.)

*Americans, I need you to help me make poncey happen outside the UK. Get on it.

That Time I Got Engaged

Ohhhhhh, Tumblrs. It’s been a while, eh?

So, how ‘bout I tell you a story. A story about the time Alex made an honest lady out of me this past weekend. Sound good?

Our story begins with a long, romantic walk on the beach…

(No, just kidding, this is from when we were in Santa Monica earlier this summer. A proposal story that starts with a walk on the beach sounds like something I would hear about from the girls I grew up with in Tennessee who got engaged to their high school boyfriends when they were 22. Not that there’s anything wrong with that - except, meh, there kinda is. But I needed a picture of us so here is a picture of us walking on the beach. Now simmer.)

Anyhow, our engagement story begins with something much better than a long walk on the beach: it begins with salami!

Yay, salami! And cheese! And Belgian flags!

Here’s the thing about getting engaged at the ripe old age of (almost) 31: you don’t want it to be, like, this super-cliche “that’s so two thousand and late” spectacle reminiscent of something you would have read about on The Knot back in the early ‘00s when you used to stalk your aforementioned high school peers, something redolent with personalized poetry and Bible verses and scavenger hunts and so much painful earnestness that you have to sign onto AOL Instant Messenger immediately in search of the one person you’re still friends with from high school, who is - thankfully - a snarky gay man who will understand. But perhaps I digress with this walk down memory lane…

I guess what I’m saying is – the jig is up, you know? And I think it was a challenge, given my age and life experience and general overly-self-aware judgy-pants-ness, to find a way to get engaged that was special and meaningful in an un-cringe-worthy way. (ALSO - HYPHENS!)

That said, it’s a challenge Alex accepted nobly and then decimated. Because, you guys, it was perfect: we went out for Belgian food and beers, and I ate salami and a lot of cheese, and although I knew a ring had been purchased and a reveal was imminent, I wasn’t reeeeeeeally expecting anything that night, certainly not after we walked in the door of our apartment and everything was normal and I shuffled off to the bedroom to put on PJs so we could lounge on the couch and watch the last half of the women’s Olympic gold medal soccer game…

… only to be met by this.

And this.

(True story: a couple of the friends who helped Alex set the scene live in the building next door - the one with the bright blue pyramids you can see in the background. After they finished their very thorough, many-candled elf-work and returned home, they realized they could see the blaze through the window… so they sat around helplessly for the next hour or so, waiting anxiously for us to return and hoping they wouldn’t see the candle-blaze become an actual blaze. Woulda been a buzzkill, no?)

Then before I knew it Alex was calling me all my nicknames (because we are a couple of many, many nicknames) and proffering some VERY SPARKLY ICE and asking me to marry him.

And I said yes and we called family in America and friends across the world (the soft launch of the engagement) and plotted our Facebook reveal (the hard launch, because relationship status change or it didn’t happen) and laughed and cried and watched the US women’s soccer team win Olympic gold!

Then in the morning I woke up and stared at fiancé – and, let’s be honest, my ring – in many different lights and angles:

Does it sparkle like this? How about like this?!

And we discovered a number of hilarious nuances that our elf-friends had left the night before, such as a strategically placed Post-It note covering the eyes of the African Barack Obama wall hanging that faces our bed:

We also received outtake footage of my two incredibly wonderful - but oh, so very blonde! - girlfriends, to whom Alex had granted artistic direction for the operation:

Thankfully, he granted proofreading and photography duties to their husbands, and hence we have frame-by-frame documentation of their “MERRY ME” blonde moment: first, such pride! Then, such shame!

And then we spent our second night as an engaged couple celebrating with some of our Dubai BFFs, drinking margaritas and eating tacos and spilling queso on the head of one slightly overweight sleeping pug.

So that is the story of how I came to be engaged to this amazing man:

It’s okay to be jealous.

No One Gives You A Cookie

Over the years, I’ve been asked a couple of times: what’s the most frustrating thing about living abroad?

Some people expect the answer to be cultural stuff - adjusting to a different way of life, a new language, foreign customs, et cetera. Others assume the challenge is distance - negotiating time zones, long-distance calls, and circuitous trips home. Those who know the region sometimes anticipate Dubai-specific gripes - the heat, the traffic, the artificiality, the incompetence.

To be honest with you, none of those things really bother me. (After nearly five years, I’ve even become pretty zen about the incompetence, which is telling given my proclivity for rage.)

To me, the most frustrating thing about living abroad is this: no one gives you a cookie for the tremendous effort you put into maintaining relationships with the friends and family you left behind. There is no medal you get for showing up faithfully at family gatherings year after year; there is no special recognition you receive for rerouting flights to visit friends that never visit you; there is no accounting for the schlepisodes you endure or the cell phone minutes you use or the other plans you cancel to try and keep those relationships alive and well.

And of course, there shouldn’t be - let me be very clear about that. My perspective on the matter has always been pretty straightforward: I am the one who chose to leave, so it is my responsibility to do everything I can do to maintain relationships while I’m gone. For the most part, I do so happily - after all, it’s far from a sacrifice to spend time with people I love, and it’s a privilege to be able to maintain my roots in the country that will always be my home.

But sometimes - just a few of the times, really - I feel a tiny wave of resentment start to creep into that sunny outlook. Times like this morning, when I found out that half of my family members are bailing on a vacation that Alex and I are traveling back to the US for next week - a trip which has been on the books for, oh, about a year. Times that make me get petty (my second-worst attribute, after rage) and start counting things - dollars spent on tickets, hours days crammed in airplanes, meetings missed at work, vacation days expended, nights of jet lag suffered through - with the goal of calling up the offender and being like, ”Seriously? I’m doing all this and you suddenly have more important plans?!”

And in those times, this is the thing I have to remember: no one gives you a cookie. No one’s life stops just because you’re flying halfway around the world to see them. No one owes you anything because you decided to move so far away and now, for one brief shining moment, you’re coming home. No one’s world revolves around you any more than it would if you lived down the street.

"But, but, but—" you want to whine… "Shouldn’t it?!”

Maybe. But that’s just not the way the cookie crumbles—I mean, if anyone had given you a cookie in the first place—I mean—OKAY, I’M MIXING METAPHORS, DEAL WITH IT.

So you shake it off, and you write what is - hopefully! - a more constructive post than the passive-aggressive email blast you were about to send your entire family, and you realize, viscerally, somewhere in the back of your mind: ohhhhhhh, this is why I have a blog.

And then you move on. Because that’s what we do as expats, as nomads, as people who live our lives on a different plane - both literally and figuratively, I suppose. We pack up our well-worn bags and our slightly bruised feelings and we move on, because this is the life we have chosen - cookie or no cookie.