I didn’t fail to see the irony as I lost the whole day of 9/11 while flying to the Middle East.
My flight from Seattle to Dubai was 14.5 hours. The only moment I remember about the flight was going to the restroom, looking at myself in the mirror, and thinking “What the hell have I done?”
Apprehension finally caught up with me as I departed the plane in Dubai. What if no one was here to pick me up? I thought back to just a month ago where I sat safely in the craft room of my friend, Karen’s, home. Craft night in our little corner of the Olympic Peninsula in Sequim, Washington was really just our monthly excuse to get together and drink wine. Only I knew that this was to be my last.
“I have something to tell you guys,” I started.
“Don’t tell us you’re moving,” Christy said.
“How’d you guess that?”
“Well, it’s pretty obvious. You’ve been gone all summer and now you’re back and not with Mark and you haven’t been looking for a place to live.”
Christy was right. My boyfriend of the past five years and I had not mended our fall out from the beginning of summer and it didn’t look promising. Our summer of “going to counseling and working things through” turned into the summer of “not talking and growing apart” and it was during this time I decided to accelerate my desire to teach overseas up a year.
“Well, you’re right. I accepted a job somewhere else.”
“What? Where?” Stephanie stopped her crafting. She was the one we all thought would be the first--and only--one to leave Sequim. She was young, single, and employed in a town that was a majority of old, married, uneducated or unemployed.
“Well, this is the crazy part. I’m moving to the Middle East. Dubai. Well, actually just north of Dubai.” I still wasn’t exactly sure where.
Karen burst into laughter, “Yeah, right.”
“No, really, I am.”
“You better not be. Do you know anything about that place?” Karen challenged.
“Well, just what I researched.”
“Oh my gawd, are you being serious?” The three of them had stopped and were all staring at me now.
“Well, yeah. It’s pretty much done.” This was the first moment I felt very alone in my decision. Karen’s question still echoed. What did I know about this place?
Karen was the first to realize this was not a joke, “Wow. You need to know what you’re getting in to. My friend, Matt, was just here visiting last night. He’s been living over there for three years.”
“What? Really? What’s he say about it?” This was the first person I knew--or that someone else knew--that had any experience or information about this.
“You know you can’t drive there, right? Or go anywhere without a male escort?”
“Wait. What? Where is it exactly that he lives?” I hadn’t learned anything about this in my extensive Google research about the UAE.
“He’s in Saudi Arabia right now. But he was in Orman, oh wait, Uman? Hang on.” Karen got up from the table and went to her computer. She returned with a book in her hand. “My Year in Oman. Yeah, Oman. That’s it. Here. Matt wrote a book all about it.”
I grabbed it. “No, way. This is crazy. And he was just here.”
“Yeah, last night. Him and his wife and she said how she wasn’t allowed to drive and how strict it is for women.”
“I don’t think it’s like that where I’m going.” I hoped it wasn’t like that where I was going.
“Maybe not. Yeah, I don’t think so. Because they met in Oman, I think, and have only been in Saudi for the last 9 months and she was saying how much her life has changed.”
Christy now pointed out the obvious, “How are you going to live anywhere that puts restrictions on women? You can’t even stand that you’re not allowed to play poker on Thursday nights with the boys.”
“Yeah, this I gotta see,” Stephanie said.
“I’m sure it’s not like that.” But I wasn’t sure at all. “So can I borrow this book for a few days?”
“Of course. I’ll see if I can get Matt together with you to talk also if he has any time. They’re only here for a few days.”
“That would be cool. Have you read this?”
“I haven’t read the whole thing. Parts. But Matt has pretty much told me all the stories in it. You are in for an experience.” Karen’s eyebrows raised on the word experience.
I spent the rest of the night trying to assure them, or myself, that things were going to be fine. It was when I mentioned the process for arriving at Dubai that Karen again started laughing.
“What? What are you laughing at?” I asked.
“Really,” I tried to convince her as well as myself, “It seems very organized. I land in Dubai and they will have a driver pick me up and drive me to Abu Dhabi for training.” I repeated what I had been told.
Karen still laughed, “Just read the book.”
Later that night, after the first chapter, I knew why Karen had been so suspicious. It seems Matt too had been told that a “driver” would meet him at the airport. No one was there when he got off the plane, he had no phone number to reach anyone and no clear directions on where the school was. He ended up having to rent a car in the middle of the night, drive across the desert where there are no street signs, miraculously find the school, and sleep in his car until someone arrived the next day. For the first few months, the locals thought he was a U.S. spy because he was even able to find the school; and in the dark, no less.
Now, a month later, here I was walking through the airport in Dubai, finding the Arrival Visa counter, gathering my two bags of luggage that contained everything I brought for my two-year stint and hoping, just hoping, that one of these drivers had a placard with my name on it.
“Oh, thank goodness. I’m Lisa.”
“Let me take your bags, Madam.”
Ha ha. Karen. Not just a driver, my own personal bag carrier.