It has been over a month and a half since I last wrote a post. This is mainly due to how busy I’ve been. In the last month, I have traveled back to Philadelphia, seen scores of friends and family, drank, napped, and ate much, as well as – oh yeah – getting ENGAGED!!! That’s fun. But I primarily had a lot of time over my three week break to relax, drink lots of good coffee and ponder the previous 4 months here in Abu Dhabi…. And, boy oh boy, did I ponder.
I thought about places and people. I thought about differences and similarities between where I lived and where I live. I thought about my preconceived ideas of what life would be like in the Emirates. I even thought about how I had so much time to think. But it wasn’t until I returned to Abu Dhabi on January 4th that my thoughts came to an understanding.
Despite my insistence that I had come to Abu Dhabi with no expectations of what life would hold, I did have expectations. They were inevitable. I might not have assumed I would receive certain amenities, and I definitely knew certain things in my life would change, I didn’t really expect much change. What I really anticipated was doing the same things I did back home, but in slightly different ways, not changing them altogether.
Here’s a small example. Back in Philadelphia I would wake up leisurely on a Saturday morning, stroll the 3 blocks to locally owned Philadelphia Java Company, where they would kindly greet me and serve me up a delicious steamy latte and cinnamon croissant. Yummmm. I would sit down with my notebook or computer and write or read for an hour or two. The whole scenario was quite pleasant.
Cut to Abu Dhabi in September.
I wake up on a Friday morning – weekends are different here – and enter into my building’s elevator, where it kindly greets me with a friendly, “Missoal ye al Adha”, which I believe means “going down”, still not sure. I arrive at my rental car with a few researched destinations in mind where I can have a nice coffee and croissant. After 15 minutes of driving around the area, the area that Google maps said the café would be, I give up and go in search of my second choice, which is… closed. Friday is a holy day here in the Middle East.
I finally settle for a small grassroots coffee shop I know will lead to success – Starbucks. After another 15 minutes of circling the block due to U-Turn Confusion Syndrome, I find parking. The familiar café setting does nothing to comfort me as I order a pastry that looks like its actually flown from Seattle and a lukewarm latte. The leather chair I sit down in has seen one too many Venti Caramel Macchiatos.
Finally ready to do a little reading on my computer, I find out I need a wi-fi password from the counter. I stalk up to the barista, budging in line, and she gives me a small piece of paper that is worth 30 minutes of FREE Wi-Fi. Whoopeee!!! 30 minutes!!! I get home 40 minutes later more worn out than pleased where I then have to reassure myself continually that the whole thing was “interesting”. Here’s the worst part: almost every weekend I would venture out and do the exact same thing again and again. Some mornings would end in success, some would end up back in that worn leather chair at Starbucks. But no matter where I went, I would still feel a sense of unknown frustration. Why? I didn’t know… until now.
I was frustrated because Abu Dhabi was not what I WANTED it to be. I wanted certain things and I was annoyed when those things weren’t available to me. I would throw out enraged phrases like “Why can’t they just be where the map says they will be?” or, “How hard is it to make a d**n croissant?” These were ramblings of a selfish boy who wasn’t getting what he wanted. These were definitely not the thoughts of a man understanding the differences of the world. I mean, when did I become so pretentious about croissants?
In the last week, I have made some adjustments, not in my actions, but in my thinking. I have changed the way I think about this “interesting” place called Abu Dhabi from what I want it to be, which is basically Philadelphia, to what it is… which is Abu Dhabi. The more I search and question within me about what I have expected, the more I am able to let go of those presumptions and allow life to be what it truly is.
I may not be able to find a coffee place that serves me up a good latte and a crisp cinnamon pastry, but that is only because what I see as good is based on what I’ve grown accustomed to. There are a lot of things about ourselves, and our values, and our character that we should NOT compromise. But there are also a lot of habits and expectations we have that we don’t compromise that we should maybe rethink – lattes and croissants being one of them. If we really think hard about what we love about those pleasantries like cozy coffee shops we will most likely find that what we really need and want is a place that makes us feel comfortable in an uncomfortable world.
Personally, I got a French Press and am learning how to bake. I will have my croissant!
Also, did I mention I got engaged… !?!?!