INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for NYUAD

“شو بتفكّر عن ثورتنا؟” — “What do you think about our revolution?”

“What do you think about our revolution?”
“Freedom is beautiful.”
Beaming: “Yes!”

The university’s security staff is mostly Egyptian, almost exclusively supporting family back home, and quite openly champions of the overthrow of Mubarak’s autocracy. (Supporters, dejected, are less visible.) Engulfed in the politics of the Arabian peninsula, this American institution has made very evident the support for non-violent protesters, democratic ideals, and all Middle Eastern countries’ fights against their respective “the Man”.

But other than these interpersonal connections to the region’s groundswell, the UAE is barricaded in an impenetrable bubble — a piece apart from the line of dictatorial dominos that have fallen in rapid succession in recent weeks. A good reason for this: the word protest once meant, for Romans, to “assert publicly”. How could this be in the UAE when those most relegated are hardly even members of the public?

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النحام الوردية والخراء — Flamingos and Shit

Working with an American university, I am charged from time to time with the organization of a task hallowed by the wisdom of untold school teachers: the field trip. Exploring Abu Dhabi for educational purposes, we in the educational sphere seek out what has not yet been made obvious in guidebooks, not yet sacked and developed as a site just for tourists. Science classes are often particularly lucky — it’s easier to put your hands on hydroponically grown lettuce than it is on, say, Gilgamesh. One eye-opening day this term, I chaperoned students to two sites I had explored: a little-known, natural wetlands, home to thousands of birds in the middle of the desert; and, an endless, gushing river of human excrement.

At the Wathba Wetlands Reserve, I heard for the first time in the UAE frog sounds that were not the sound of someone’s iPhone ringing. Things were alive. The class gathered on a sandy promontory overlooking the vast (for the middle of a desert) network of shallow lakes and resilient shrubbery. All throughout the 5 square kilometers, birds gathered in stark contrast to the only other thing happening in the area — the Abu Dhabi–Al Ain Truck Road, where thousands of trucks chug single-file from the capital to the desert oasis. Visible from this, one of the busiest highways in the whole country, the Wathba Wetlands are still one of Abu Dhabi’s best kept secrets. It’s probably because seeing still isn’t believing; any water off the coast is usually a mirage, any lush hangout for thousands of colorful birds — that’s usually a hallucination.

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No Complaints — بلا شكوى

When life gives you pillows, you chaperone them.

Hi, my name is Adam, and I am a pillow chaperone.

Last week, among my many programs to coordinate sat eight large decorative pillows that needed supervised transportation from one part of campus to another. Unfortunately, I was not the supervisor. I was assistant to the supervising advisor of the facilities manager who facilitates (and manages) such transportation. And I was totally useless.

But I’m not complaining. I’m learning.

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اسبوع مرحبا — Marhaba Week

الجزء الثالث — Part Three

In my job, I wear many ghutra. “I’m a Program Coordinator,” I tried to explain to an Egyptian security guard, Hasan. “I… coordinate programs.”

“What kind of programs?” he asked.

Going from here to there, that’s a program. Gotta be coordinated. Setting up rooms: program. Staffing an event: program. Telling people things: program.

Just then a parent of one of the students rushed in holding empty boxed lunches, looking around for a place to throw them out.

“Where’s a trash can? I should’ve just left this on the bus.”

I told her she could just leave it with me, no worries. And there I was, business casual and holding (oddly warm) trash.

Hasan smiled. “Welcome to your new job!”

محل غترة

A store full of ghutras, as worn by many Emiratis and the mannikin on the right.

Ghutra

Known elsewhere as a keffiyeh, this plastic man is wearing a ghutra (white) and iqal (black).

اسبوع مرحبا — Marhaba Week

الجزء الاول — Part One

One bus carrying students from the airport arrived at around 8 AM. A colleague of mine (let’s call him America) decided that the best way to give out keys would be the tried and true read-names-from-a-list method, which, despite certain snags, is one of the world’s simplest ways of getting things to the right people. Bad choice, bro.

A “global university” offers two things: the first is an intellectually stimulating international crossroads that puts in conversation different perspectives, competing ideals, and opportunities for cooperation unparalleled in a more homophonic context. The second is hard to pronounce first names.

And on this bus populated entirely with students fresh from South Korea and China, we had that in spades. Usually a teacher might stumble on the pronunciation of one weirdly spelled version of “Kate,” but after a few Jihees and Haorans, America hit a Xiaomei and could tell he’d made an especially poor choice.

With a list empty of Bobs and Sams, America was stuck behind enemy alphabets without an exit strategy. And it was hilarious.

Hubcaps Don’t Make The Man – [الترجمة غير متوفرة]

After seeing Inception two nights in a row, I feel qualified to make enormous statements about the theater experience in the Gulf. The first shock to the western movie-goer is the assigned seats. While something about choosing your exact place makes going to see Leonardo more like an outing, it forces certain stressful decisions not found at American first-come first-sit Loewses or AMCs. The teller shows you the layout of the theater and asks you to pick as you force yourself to imagine,

Will that be too close?
Too far?
Next to fat people?
Behind the tallest building in the world?
(The Emirates are unpredictable.)

Turns out not that many people are out at 21:00 on a Wednesday and it doesn’t really matter. Though Midnight the next night was packed full of an even more animated crowd laden with take-in from surrounding mall restaurants, answering their cell phone calls, and yelling warnings at Leo and Ellen Paige.

Leaving the mall at 1 a.m. after Inception Night One, we found shoppers steaming in the night heat and an hour-long cab line. But a friendly enough-looking Indian man stood offering a private car (a no-no in your mother’s book of Travel Safety Rules) like a scalper offering last minute tickets to your own house. So, like any smart shoppers, we weighed our life against our patience. Read the rest of this entry »

محمد و محمد و احمد Mohammed, Mohammed, And Ahmed — “او “لن تجتاج الى هذه هنا Or, “You Won’t Need These In Here”

Sunday morning and the start of a new work week found me taking old business cards, restaurant coupons, and pharmacy memberships out of my wallet like someone checking into prison. You won’t need these in here.

I put them in a desk drawer only to be reopened upon my departure, my return to a world where “Duane Reede” and “Amtrak” actually mean something, where “Queens” is just a word for a place, and where plurals are made just by adding an “s”.

And in this new world of office hustle and bustle, I can’t help but notice that adding an “s” to deadlines makes deadliness. Having too much to do is deadly — it says so right in the English language.

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A Stopped Clock — ساعة موقوفة

Day One

Woke up in a new place. Turned out the gulf was right out my window, draped in a haze of sand that dropped like a wall a few hundred meters offshore. And holy crowned prince! — I’m already thinking in meters.

According to my schedule, my first day in the UAE and my first day at work began at 9:30. At 9, I stepped outside and the heat punched me by surprise, even though the morning was a relatively cool one. It was about 105, which in Celsius… is some other number.

My job is with the brand new New York University Abu Dhabi, located until 2014 in the Madinat Zayed neighborhood of downtown Abu Dhabi. (In February 2014, the University will move to Saadiyat Island, the site of numerous architectural and artistic endeavors, including new branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre.) And in the glistening purple and gray buildings, I kind of learned what sorts of things I will be doing for the (at the very least) next 53 weeks.

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