There are five men. It feels like a battallion.

The sounds. The tape coming off the roll makes a noise like skin being ripped from flesh. The beating of cardboard boxes as they’re set up is like drums against my bones. The drill runs constantly, pulling the screws from the walls, the artwork shunted aside.

The intricate wall hangings from Pakistan fall with silent screams. I don’t want them in boxes! It’s like shutting up a person alive in a coffin! They have souls, these tapestries, the fingers of the women who stitched them for weeks and weeks. They should never ever be in the dark.

I rescue one and sneak it into the pile for shipment to Dili.



And the books – it feels worse than burning them. For all they mean to me, and to Tom – our intellectual life, and our life together. After only a year to breathe, again they will be in storage.

A few days ago I found myself thinking that I would rather just throw it all out the window than to see my things all made prisoners once more. It seems better to have nothing than to go through this process of assembly and disassembly over and over again.

The speed at which the movers pack terrifies me. It is demonic. They work like robots – efficient, unsmiling, at a steady pace – but fast, so fast. In a little more than two days, they will take apart an apartment that took us months to get into shape Continue reading

Passing through

“A visitor is the greatest blessing.” – Proverb of the Afghans Georgians Chinese Arabs ???

I really can’t remember which country I heard that in, but it was somewhere in this part of the world. Over-the-top hospitality is considered characteristic in the Caucasus, Middle East, China, and Afghanistan (at least).

I used to puzzle over how such a tradition would evolve in these regions. When you are poor, as so many have been, why would you welcome a guest – another mouth to feed, another person consuming your scarce water, taking up one of your beds?

Then I realized that these countries are all on major trade routes – the Silk Road and the Arabian Gulf. And when you live on a trade route, you learn the value of all kinds of commodities.

In Dubai, we’ve had lots and lots of visitors. It’s one of the things Continue reading

Identity theft

I am sobbing over credit card receipts.

I am still in Dubai, so I don’t have to take such care with all those numbers that add up to some kind of identity. If anyone took the trouble to fish it out of the garbage here, and then tried to actually use the information, they’d be given 1000 lashes, jailed for 10 years, then deported.

But still. I rip those pieces of paper into bits. I separate the first three digits from the last six digits of my social security number and put the two pieces of paper into separate garbage bags. It feels like I am ripping my soul into two.

Who am I?

Am I the equal of my bank balance? In which currency?

Am I the translation of Lisa into “Liza”? Or just the SSL encryption of my father’s name?

I am having to put myself into Continue reading

Part of the scenery

Lots of people who pass through Dubai

think pregnant-and-lady.jpg it’s ugly.

All that construction, hyper-modern architecture, and crammed roads…


So I’m posting a few different angles …

From the viewpoint of a pigeon on the roof of my building —

pool-pigeon.jpg and of a worm in Dubai Creek Parkdiamons.jpg.

From inside Jumeira Mosque

— and down the road at Jumeira Beach park.




and nivea-woman.jpg

Old stuff


some real, some not


and new

some real, some not


and some who are laughing all the way to the bank.


The market drives

My friend Liz wrote a post this week about why she left Dubai, a nicely done zap: “It was an ever-present, nagging feeling of being used. There’s just so many people out to make a quick buck in the city that it’s hard to know who to trust. And after a while that feeling pervades all your interactions, thus making life a little less pleasant each day.”

I think her experience of Dubai is typical. Dubai’s population is 85 percent foreigners, and they come here to work in this booming economy. But many leave disenchanted.

Tom and I experienced Dubai differently than most, because we didn’t actually work in Dubai. We have our office at home, and we work long-distance or commute to nearby countries. We based ourselves here because we wanted Continue reading

Finding your place

When it first comes into view from space, Dili looks a bit like Dubai. It’s on a coastline, with a promontory pointing north. A mass of buildings sprawls along the land closest to the water, and gradually fades out from there.


I used Google Earth to get a view of my new home. Just by typing in “Dili” I set the world spinning and parachuted down Continue reading

The list

A working list of what I love and hate about Dubai and the UAE (which will be continually updated, so watch this space).


flower1.jpg In Creek Park

Cleanliness, quiet, safety, cosmopolitan, optimism, hub location, the Creek, the Gulf, the parks, the mosques, architecture, modesty, camels walking around, the E-gate at the airport, Arabic, professionalism of government workers, Bastakiya’s art galleries, the fabric souk, the malls, people-watching, men’s headdress, availability of products and services, low prices on food, walking in our neighborhood, going to the tailor, the anthropology of this place and time.



Ghosts of commerce yet to arise

Excessive censorship of Internet, traffic, high rents, money-grubbing attitudes, companies’ treatment of workers, developing-country service, cult-worship portraits of rulers, boring self-censoring media, sandstorms, heat, electric bills, lack of high-quality cultural events.

The backward glance

I was born and raised in Ohio, and I always say that Ohio is a good place to be from. Emphasis on the last word – the best view of Ohio was in the rearview mirror of my 1983 Honda Civic.

When you first move somewhere, you tend to romanticize it. And diss the place you left. Something like what happens with boyfriends when Continue reading

A walk in the park

Yesterday we went to Dubai Creek Park, a beautiful respite of greenery along the long and wide waterway that pushes in from the Gulf.

Going to the park on Fridays is probably our favorite way to relax here. It’s like stepping back into America of the 1950s. Extended families – 12 to 25 people – come together and feed on elaborate meals, complete with chafing dishes, tablecloths, and tents for the babies to nap in. Infants get passed from mother to aunt to grandfather to cousin and never seem to cry. Disorganized games of soccer and cricket spill over the green lawns. Gaggles of girls in hijab stroll together, pretending they don’t notice the boys showing off for them. Fathers push strollers, teenage boys play catch with their 8-year-old sisters. Laughter, singing, cheering. And there is not a single boom-box or a bottle of alcohol anywhere.


Tom and I love to just sit on a bench overlooking the creek, and watch the people go by. In 30 seconds of listening we hear a half-dozen languages: Tagalog, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Continue reading

First of the last days


In 21 days, I will leave Dubai. Maybe forever.

We’ve been here for more than two years, Tom and I, escaping to this modern, clean, ultra-safe city from two years in Kabul. And now we are moving to Dili, Timor-Leste, for something less than a year.

Our current plan is to return to Dubai by the end of 2007, but I have some doubts. The volatile situation in the region right now Continue reading