It’s All About the Journey…..

We have to really educate ourselves in a way about who we are, what our real identity is.

Deepak Chopra

            It’s funny. I’m sitting here, in an airport, reflecting on these past two years as I prepare to make this journey for the last time. Two years ago, I remember arriving in this very airport quite terrified and intimidated. Now I sit here, feeling quite relaxed (and quite tired, as it’s the middle of the night because that is the ONLY time flights seem to leave here) waiting for the flight that finally takes me home for good.

         Two years ago before I began this journey, I wrote myself a letter in one of my very first posts. (see original post here) As I await this much anticipated, and looooong flight home, I want to take a moment to write this girl back. The one that sat home day, after day, waiting for the flight that would bring her here to start this crazy and fascinating chapter in her life.

 

 

Dear Future Ali…..or Dear Ali in the year 2014….عزيزعلي (just in case I am now fluent in Arabic)

 Nope- not fluent. You learned about 20-30 basic words, but your students liked to giggle at you when you tried to pronounce them correctly. You tried, however, and they appreciated you for it.

 You are a week out of leaving the continent. You are heading to a place actually hotter than Phoenix. You are leaving your husband, family, and friends here. Scared now? DUH. But are you scared in 2014? OR are you sad to be moving back to the U.S.? Here are things I am scared about now. First off, let’s address the whole, “getting arrested” issue. Really? However, it is the Middle East. Hm, I know not to eat or drink in public during Ramadan. I know not to kiss, hug, hold hands, or even bat my eyelashes with my husband when he visits. I know not to discuss politics or religion…..I don’t even do that here! So aside from racking up a bunch of debt- I think I’m good? (ok, so in case I could get arrested for even joking about that last statement, let’s be clear- the only debt I’m racking up is here in the states….which brings me to my next fear……)

First of all, no- you aren’t scared anymore. You have frustrations with language barriers occasionally and the very different way things work here, but scared? No. And yes, you are a bit sad to leave. But only because you really like the person you have become here, and don’t want to lose that feeling. Oh, yeah- and you didn’t get arrested!

I’m BROKE! Not having any income for a 6 week summer is one thing. But now, I have a 3 MONTH summer. My Bill Me Later and credit card company LOVE me at the moment. I’m hoping that I will start crawling out of debt once the first couple of paychecks hit my bank account and then perhaps I can start *gasp* saving money????

Ok, who were you kidding with the whole “saving money” thing? Some things never change! However, you always paid your bills back home, and still had money left over to enjoy your life here. You were also quite indulgent at times (don’t get me started on the whole “brunching” phenomenon!). And you traveled! You went to places like the Black Forest in Germany, went on a safari in Kenya, rode an elephant in Sri Lanka and watched the sunrise over the Himalayas. No worries…..you can deal with that credit card when you get home. OOPS!

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In Darjeeling, in front of the Himalayas

What about the actual job??? I have no idea if and how the students there will be completely different than the students here. I’m sure some things are universal. Right??

Your students were actually quite similar to your students back home. They came with a slightly different set of challenges, but they were still children. And you loved them………..even when they made you insane.

Then there’s that whole living alone situation. Let’s face it- I’m 40 years old and live within 3 miles of where I grew up. I have never lived on my own. I break out into hives just having my husband do a practice run on how to set up my Internet once there. Let’s not even mention what to do when the first creepy-crawly shows up in my apartment. I’m not sure calling the husband to fly 14+ hours to fulfill his bug catching marital vow will fall under the term “practical.” (Yes, that was a vow. Mine was to clean the litter box.) Ok-joking aside, this will be the hardest part of this journey. I love my family and friends and am scared to be so far away for what seems like such a long time.

Yeah, this was difficult. The night the car park collapsed in your apartment complex and they evacuated you all to a hotel was pretty traumatic. You were pretty scared, but you survived it. You learned how to trust your instincts more and figure things out on your own. You learned how to be a problem solver. Um- you still hate bugs. Fortunately, you lived on the 18th floor, so they left you alone!

So, I looked up the stages for what a person will go through whilst working abroad:

1. Honeymoon Stage (aka- vacation time!)

This really didn’t hit until about a month in. Once Ramadan was over, and the place started to come to life, you perked up and ventured out to see more.

2. Culture Shock: (aka- the Rejection Period!)

Oh yeah- there were many times like this throughout the 2 years. What changed over that time was learning who to align yourself with that helped you understand the culture here instead of making you feel bad for not knowing. There was one person who in particular that was amazingly open in answering questions you had about the religious practices and beliefs of this country. She became a very good friend to you, and she has a very special place in our heart.

3. Initial Adjustment Stage (aka- everything I know is wrong)

Yeah, yeah- see above.

4. Mental Isolation (aka- watching sad movies in Arabic and not leaving apartment)

You had some feel-sorry-for-yourself days. There were days that the thought of staying two years seemed quite unbearable.  It became a lot easier as you developed a strong circle of friends that got you out of your own head and out of your apartment. It’s ok to have days when you when you are feeling low. What’s important to remember is that those days don’t define you. It’s how you pull yourself up that does.

My circle of friends in the "sandbox"

My circle of friends in the “sandbox”

 

5. Acceptance and Integration (aka- this is pretty amazing)

Yeah. By the end of the first year, you were really enjoying the benefits of living here! By the second year, most things were quite familiar. It was really great to have family come out to see you so you could play tour-guide!

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Ok, 5 stages. I can do this. Only, can I do all the stages in one month??????

Haha! Insha’allah!

As for fear, dear future self, remember what you learned in your martial arts training? Courage isn’t about NOT having fear, but doing something in spite of it.

SO THERE. I’ll bet you are doing well in Stage 5. I will look forward to meeting you there. Until now, I will look forward to taking my fear on and knocking it down.

Sincerely, Me…..the one that is patiently waiting to travel out there

Hey-you’re a lot tougher of a broad than you thought. The lessons you learned here will follow you throughout your life. Lessons like learning that relationships are more important than business. It is really the M.O. of this country, and when you stopped being so impatient, you saw the benefits of this and began making more friends with the people around you that came from all over the world. The perspectives you gain from this is a very powerful thing. Also, it is imperative you keep a positive attitude. If you look for the good in situations and people- you will find them. If you look for the faults – you will also find them. That thought kept you afloat these two years.

You also got a small idea of what it feels like to be the minority in the room and felt the injustice of being treated differently due to your background, religion or language. I hope you hold on to how this feels, and become an advocate for the individuals that may feel this same way when they are in America.

These two years were difficult at times….many times….yet, ultimately rewarding. You leave this country a little wiser, a little stronger, and a little OLDER!

You did good, kid.

Now- go home.

Very sincerely,

Me

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Moving…..Again

It’s weird how inanimate objects can stir up emotions.  They are just things.  They don’t feel.  They can’t offer us words of comfort.  They can’t love us.  Yet, their presence, or absence, can sometimes hold power over us.

When I first moved here, one thing I was really excited about was decorating my very own place.  I had never lived on my own before, so it was a little added bonus to taking on this adventure.  On one of my first souk shopping trips, I found these two little table lamps that I just fell in love with.  They were completely impractical and didn’t even give off that much light.  I just loved them because they were pretty.  (Don’t judge)  We were still living in a hotel at the time, so it was even more silly to buy them on the spot.  But I did, and most nights, they are the only lights I turn on.

So here we are- nearly two years later.  And now it’s time to start that process of moving back home to the states.  This week, I started selling off my decorative items, leaving only the furniture for the last week here.  Today I sold those two little lights that I loved so much.  I sold them to someone who “likes pretty things.”  A kindred spirit!  🙂  I suppose I could take them back home with me, but I feel they somehow don’t belong there.  They represented something very unique to my own experience here.  And it’s time to let them go.  All of the wonderful experiences I have had here and all the wonderful people I have met here will always be a part of my life.  I have pictures, OH so many pictures, along with a very good memory and a very broadened outlook on this world.  You can’t sell those or give those away.  My little lights will, hopefully, now brighten someone else’s little apartment overlooking this strange and beautiful city.

First Purchase

 

Ramblings from a Weary….and Cranky Traveler

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Here we are once again- back in an airport. This time, I am stranded for the next SIX hours in Dusseldorf.  Yeah….there is one phrase I never thought I’d say, but there you go. Dusseldorf.  Not a bad airport.  I can actually walk outside and breathe fresh air……well, kind of. It tends to be the area where all the smokers go.  So I’m breathing in “fresh-ish” air.   I still have about another 22 hours of traveling until I get to Arizona. Sigh….

Living on cat naps at the moment, so not feeling very articulate for some inspiring or insightful blog.  Therefore today’s blog will be brought to you by the random thoughts that have popped into my head during this large period “leisure” time.

-Is it just me?  Or does German kind of sound like Pig Latin?

 (sorry if that offends anyone….just sayin’)

-Etihad has the best airline food.  It’s actually good.  Good enough for me to wake from a slumber to eat.

-Is having my seat in the upright position really going to protect me in case of a crash?  And while we are on that subject, what do those seatbelts really do to protect you?

-Crying babies either love me, or REALLY HATE ME. Why, oh why, is it that on every flight,  they always end up in a 10 foot radius of me?  I should thank them for killing my biological clock.

-Getting angry at airline employees for flight issues is really unnecessary.  It isn’t their fault.  I used to get REALLY upset over late flights.  However there is nothing you, or they, can do about it, so there is no reason to expend energy on anger. Enjoy the downtime. You ain’t goin’ anywhere…..may as well make the best of it.

**btw- if you handle it all with a smile, you usually can score a free meal….sometimes even an upgrade.  🙂

-Speaking of said voucher for a free meal- there is a lot of pressure in picking JUST the right place to cash it in.

-Free Internet in airports is awesome. Internet you have to pay for makes me really sad- especially during a 6 hour layover.

-Why is there a dentist office here in the airport?  Is there anyone in the world that needs an emergency teeth cleaning in between flights?

-Yeah, they are definitely speaking Pig Latin.

 

On that happy note, am now going to find a quiet-ish corner to try and sleep for the next 3 hours and 15 minutes until my flight leaves…..unless there is another delay.

Insha’allah

Happy New Year???

Traveling with my best friend.......

Airports….either the happiest place to be, or the most depressing.  I think of where I was at mentally just over two weeks ago.  Sitting in several airports on too many layovers after too many hours of flying, but so excited to go home.  Now I sit here waiting to start the long flight back to the sandbox.  (By the way….I suppose there is something quite poetic about flying on New Year’s Eve- but at the moment, I wonder what I was thinking in booking this flight?!) I reread the blog I wrote the first time I was at this airport getting ready to go to Abu Dhabi for the first time.  There was so much pain when I wrote that.  You would think after doing this several times, it would get easier to leave.  Instead, it seems to get more difficult.  There was a point this morning, just after getting my boarding pass and saying my sad good-bye to my husband that I thought, “what if I don’t get on this plane?”  In fact, I am still sitting here at my gate wondering if it’s too late to run far away from this airport and back to our home.  This airport, that held such excitement just a mere two weeks ago, now just feels cold and quiet.

I know I’m whining, and I know there is a silver lining in all of this.  But it wouldn’t be very authentic if I only wrote about the shiny happy times in this blog.  It wouldn’t be fair to omit the challenges that come with this journey.  Anyone reading this that is considering working abroad needs to know that it is NOT EASY.  Anyone reading this that is going through the same thing needs to know that they are not alone.

Now to not be a complete Debbie Downer on New Year’s Eve……

When I next land, it will be a new year.  2014.  The year that I come home for good.  Also, I am very blessed to feel so heartbroken at separation after 18 years of marriage.  This says something!  Finally, I have received such positive feedback from so many of you.  So many kind words.  You have no idea how much they fuel me through times like this.  These things are what get me back on the plane.  These things are what keep me “sane.”  These things get me through the sad airport trips.

Thank you for listening to my rants.  Have a wonderful New Year!

Hakuna Matata aka Kenya Believe It???

It’s funny.  I’m sitting here in Frankfurt, in the same airport bar that I did exactly one year ago today.  Drinking the same coffee with Bailey’s.  🙂   Heading home for the holidays.  Thinking about my how my life has changed since I made this move.   I know, I know….I haven’t written here in a while.  What can I say?  It’s my second year here, and not a lot has changed – or as they say here, “same-same.”  One thing that was a nice change of pace was having my parents come out for a visit.  It always makes things feel brand new when you get to see this crazy, amazing place through someone else’s eyes.  As I move over the hump of this crazy 2-year adventure, I think my favorite perks have been the traveling opportunities.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, the United Arab Emirates celebrated its 42nd birthday.  Think of it as 4th of July and multiply it by about a billion.  And what does one do during this extended weekend?  Travel to Africa, of course!  I mean, when will I ever have an opportunity like this again to be so close to this wonderful place.  It was time.  And I have amazing friends here that share my thirst for travel that I had with me.  I would like to share our 4-day experience.

Image I invited them to share their thoughts about the trip and we broke it down into three major components: the scenery, the people and the animals.

The Scenery

There are two very different Africas we saw.  One had poverty and slums.  Another was like a scene right out of Lion King.  (I mention this movie due to the many times I heard “Hakuna Matata” there!)  I don’t know if you could say there was any part that was unsightly.  Every scene we came across had a certain charm and personality about it.  From the streets of Nairobi, to the greenery of Lake Naivasha to the rustic Masai Mara.  There was so much to breathe in.  So much to admire.  So much to wonder about.  It is a place that seems untouched by all of the construction we have become so used to in Abu Dhabi.  There was a blessing in finding simplicity again.

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Our living accommodations at the Masai MaraImageImageImageImageImageImage

The People

Africa can seem like an intimidating place when first stepping off of the plane.  But the pleasant surprise came in the absolute friendliness and humility of nearly everyone we met.  People were so open to showing us their world and teaching us their language.  We had the added bonus of visiting the Masai village where we were invited into their homes, participated in their welcoming dances, and were encouraged to ask questions about their ways of life.  It was like nothing we have seen.  Sometimes, when you travel outside your country, there is an initial feeling of isolation as you adjust to the local culture.  We did not experience this.   We were immediately at ease and felt welcomed from start to finish.

ImageMe and Jil with a street vendor and our favorite tour guide- Steve!Image

Me showing one of the Masai tribesmen the video I took of their danceImageImageImageImage

 Animals

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this component of Africa.  I think when most people dream of visiting Africa, it is to go on a safari to see the wildlife.  We went on several and were never disappointed.  Our goal was to see “The Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes).  Not only did we see 4 of these (rhinos were being stubborn) but we saw cheetahs, zebras, giraffes and more gnus then one would EVER need to see.  ***Lion King reference- yes, we saw Pumba!***  The best part is, they were always within arm’s reach, seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, and were in their own element.  I’ve never seen such beautiful animals completely at peace in the world they know best.

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If you ever have the opportunity to visit Africa- DO IT!  It is one of those trips that change you somehow.  You walk away from it feeling more connected to the world, and less affected by the mundane daily dramas.   And if you do go, we compiled a few helpful tips and phrases to get you started:

  1. Pick travel buddies that share your wonder and zest for travel.  No drama allowed!
  2. Understand that you will be roughing it a bit.  Think outside 5-star resorts, and aim more for “glamping.”  Some places run off generators that cut electricity at certain times of the day.  Get used to bugs!  And appreciate the sounds of nature, as they will wake you up at crazy times throughout the night.
  3. If you are prone to any motion sickness, bring Dramamine or the equivalent.  Your safaris will not be on paved roads, and there is a LOT of crazy driving going on!
  4. Be prepared to pay more for a bottle of water than a good beer or glass of wine.
  5. While we chose not to take any pills or shots for Malaria, it is a real concern there.  Be sure to cover up with a good bug repellant.
  6. Be sure to get all the cash you want out before starting your adventure.  There will not be ATMs once you get out into the less developed areas, and many people will accept only cash.  Do be prepared to haggle prices.  A lot of the gift shops won’t put price tags on their merchandise, so you need to know what you are willing to spend, and be ready to walk away.

Helpful Terms in Swahili:

Jambo!  = Hello

Rafiki- friend

Asanti – Thank you

Karibu- Your welcome/welcome

Hakuna Matata- well- sing the song!  “it means no worries……”

Quahari- Good-bye

Also-

Please visit my friend, Jil’s, blog at :  http://www.aroseinconcrete.blogspot.com/

Also, if you decide to go to Africa use  HTT Holidays and Incentives  http://www.travelhtt.com

 tours and ask for Steve for you tour guide.  He was the BEST!

Quahari!

Paying it Forward

So, due to what I’m seeing on social networks and responses to my blog, there are quite a few people that are working overseas and leaving loved ones behind. Last month, I posted advice for a family member that was leaving the nest for the first time. I feel the need to do this again for those of you that might be in a similar predicament as myself and dealing with feelings of homesickness or loneliness.
So, here goes…..

– First off…make friends! They will become your lifeline as you adjust to the newness of everything.
– Put yourself on some type of regular schedule. Whether it’s working out, work, cleaning….whatever. Something that gives you a sense of “normalcy”
– Give yourself distractions. Maybe it’s shopping, sightseeing, movies….whatever. Continue your regular hobbies, but don’t be afraid to pick up a new one!
(That being said, do acknowledge your feelings and deal with them. Be PRESENT                 in your life. Emotions come in all shapes and sizes…the good, the bad, and the                   outright nasty. Just remember that the largest amount of growth comes through                   adversity.)
– If you are apart from a significant other- create a regular video chat time. Commit to it, no matter how you are feeling. If you were face to face- you would be dealing with all emotions. Don’t put on a show for the sake of distance. The more normal you can make your long distance relationship, the better!
 (BTW…there are great Countdown Apps for your next time home. During those                    sad and lonely times, it will help to see your time overseas in smaller chunks.)
– Overall- appreciate this moment in your life. Remember that it takes an adventurous soul to even attempt to take this on. If you are separated from a loved one, value the fact that you can miss them. It will make your reunion that much more special!

I write this from a moment of gratitude. I feel so blessed that I not only get to have this Great Adventure, but that I have so many people supporting my success. I know that there are people reading this that are considering taking on this type of endeavor, or enduring it right now and need to connect to something. I hope these words bring a sense of comfort and camaraderie. And above all else, take one day at a time. Find peace in your journey and carry on.

Missing Home......

Domo Arigato Gozaimasu

As I enjoy my last week home before heading back for my final round of teaching in Abu Dhabi, I find myself quite reflective.  I have learned many things about life and myself this past year, and I feel the need to give back.  I would also like to take the focus off myself this time because there is someone else I’d like to address.  Someone I have helped raise most of his 20 years of life.  He is now taking his own journey.  His own leap out into the world.  I’d like to dedicate this to him.

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As you venture out into this world and find your own path, I want to take the opportunity to throw out some advice.  Some of these are mistakes I have made in my own life, while some are just good sense.

-Always pay your bills first.  Take what’s left- save some, then allow some to be spent on silly things that make you happy.

-Respect your living accommodations. (yes, that means clean the bathroom!)  It will be someone’s home after you move on.

-Allow yourself to make mistakes- learn from them- move on.  You will always be a work in progress.

-Know that a year from now, a lot of the little things won’t matter, so don’t dwell on the negative.

-Having a roommate can be challenging.  It’s ok to ask, kindly, for a little space every once and a while.

-Know when to step into the spotlight and when to shine it on others.

-If you have wronged someone, apologize and mean it.  If they don’t accept it, learn to forgive yourself.

-EAT YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES!

– Be responsible, but allow for occasional spontaneity and adventure.

-Invest in a GOOD alarm clock

-If you find yourself in a toxic situation, or around toxic people- remove yourself from it immediately.  Afterwards- think why that was in your life, and what you learned from it, then move on.

-Don’t be afraid to come back home.  There is never failure in trying.

-When in doubt, make them all wear hats!

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It is time to let you go and do your thing in this world.  We may not always agree with how you do it, but that is ok.  You have been raised to know right from wrong, how to show empathy and kindness, and when to be gracious.

You and you alone will know when to push through the challenges and when to step back and try a different tactic.  You will know when you have made a mistake and how to proceed from there.  You will know when to take a moment or two for yourself, and when to include others.  This is your life.  Live it well.

Osu

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“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” -Alan Cohen

Wrapping Up Year One

Wow!  How quickly time flies.  My husband and I just had a fabulous 5 weeks in the Middle East, ended with a long weekend in Germany and are now back home……for a while.  My first year teaching overseas- DONE!

I look back over my posts this past year and feel like I have grown and learned so much.  I have opened my mind and heart to a culture that is so negatively portrayed in the Western world.  I have had my patience and flexibility challenged while dealing with so many changes.  My marriage has been tested through the months apart, and I feel we passed with flying colors!  (Here’s to 18 years of marriage, folks!)

So, here I sit back in my true home reflecting, knowing that in a few weeks I have to fly back and do it all again.  sigh……

I can’t say I’m looking forward to that trip to the airport.  However, when I go this time, it will be different.  I will board that plane with the confidence of knowing what I have, and will, accomplish out there.  There are still students that need me, adventures to be had, and more countries to visit!  (not to mention, there are still bills to be paid!) 

Therefore, I will enjoy my summer with my friends and family here and not say, “I have to go back at the end of August”, but “I get to go back.”

Stay tuned for more….but for now, have a fabulous summer!

(BTW….check out this little video I did of our adventure!)  Or click here……

One Key (by our Guest Blogger)

Well, school is in its last few weeks, and I’ve been really busy getting through grades, etc.  My fabulous husband just got here for the first time, last night and has agreed to do a “guest blog.”  So without further ado, I introduce to you- Gene.

For Abu Bloggie Ali – One Key

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I’m Gene. Alison’s Husband. I wear that moniker with pride. I just said goodbye to much of my family on May 29th and began a journey that took me 36 hours, spanning 5 airports and 11 time zones to get to this small but beautiful apartment in another world two days later.

And I now have One Key.

This is significant for me, as one of my missions in coming here, besides seeing my wife after weeks and since our last time together, was to take a month-or-so respite from the crazy schedule I’ve had for the last month-or-so. I have been teaching classes at ASU and an acting studio, acting and producing multiple video projects, volunteering with my Kiwanis club and others as well as taking care of our home and furry family members. The   IMG_0148 day I left I was meeting with clients and wrapping up production paperwork on a large project for a non-profit that involved 30 actors and a crew of nine. I have multiple sets of keys for our home, two offices and my school, 3 vehicles, a rental home, etc. I had them on several rings and always had to check before I left the house to ensure I had the keys I needed for my busy day.

Now it’s June, the month I spend in this faraway land. And I have one key to this apartment. Oh, sure, it sits on a key ring, ready for a partner. Maybe I’ll be trusted with a car key; I got my International Driver’s License from AAA, hanging out with my different currency and passport here.

But one key is fine right now. A symbol of this new, welcome simplicity – woo hoo!

I want to explore this place with my wonderful wife, try new food, meet her colleagues from all over the world, workout more dedicatedly, read some books, scheme some new projects, do research for my classes and dream about what happens when I have Ali back home, complete with her master’s degree, over a year from now.

There’s a much more important thing for me to explore here, however, in the Middle East. The woman nicknamed “Abu Dhabi Ali” after an earlier blog post located here.

When I married Ali, she had never been outside the U.S., other than Mexico. Since then, we’ve traveled to Europe and Japan, and seen Alaska and Hawaii together. This extended solo journey has brought her not only career opportunity and better income, but the independence and worldly perspective of a woman who has grown and matured, yet still adventurous and confident. This “other” Ali fascinates and delights me, while complimenting the other Ali I know back in the States. I’m a lucky man to have them both in my life. Some people have asked how I could “let her go” on this extended adventure away from me. Really? She said she’d stay if I asked her to, but I know it’s the right thing. If I said this was easy, I’d be lying. But supporting my wife on this assignment has given me a chance to grow, strengthen myself as well as our marriage at the same time. This month is a chance for me to understand as well as renew our life together. I definitely needed this.

After spending months admiring Ali’s blog, I’m honored to be a guest blogger here. That’s also how I feel about this trip in many ways. I’m grateful to reunite with my lovely wife, but I realize I am also a guest in her “other” world. I’m glad to meet Abu Dhabi Ali and share this time with her. I’ll be even more excited to bring her home for the summer, back to our normal lives until she returns to the other side of the world for one more year. But right now I’m enjoying filling my senses with this new place, gathering strange souvenirs and new experiences. And using my One Key.

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