Everyday moments.

The days pass by so quickly for me here. I can’t believe it’s already freezing back in Minnesota and that Christmas preparations are in full swing all across the US. All the sparkly lights around Abu Dhabi are for the upcoming National Day holiday this weekend, and it’s pretty rare to see a Christmas tree. Can’t say I’m missing the carols every time I walk into a store.

I feel really disjointed and out of focus right now. I’m struggling to find my old self-discipline and any sort of comfortable routine. All of my previously well-honed planning skills are useless in the new city dynamics, as is any sense of accomplishment for completing small tasks. I get tired more easily than I used to.

So here is a list of moments from the last couple of weeks:

  1. My face has been compared to both a flower and the moon. Charming.
  2. I have learned how to get out of the way of incredibly fast moving vehicles on my crowded highway commute.
  3. I helped an 8 year old with her grammar homework. According to her mother, this made me a hero.
  4. I celebrated Thanksgiving on a Saturday with my favorite American expats. I ate an entirely irresponsible amount of food.
  5. I cooked green beans that were as long as my forearm. I brought them to Thanksgiving. We forgot to eat them.
  6. It’s never quiet here in Abu Dhabi – there’s always stuff going on, traffic noises, fighting cats, and the ubiquitous horn honking. Yesterday morning at about 3:00 am, the Glorious Cat Leader of the Parking Lot Revolution smacked down at least three neighbors.
  7. I intend to learn how to cook a duck. Suggestions welcome.

Don’t have much else to share, and will hopefully start more sentences with something other than “I” in my next post. Enjoy the Billy Collins TED talk – some really great visuals to go with his poetry. My favorite poem is the one he reads at the very end of the talk: letter to a 17 year old girl.

Love letters to strangers

Hannah Brencher’s mother always wrote her letters. So when she felt herself bottom into depression after college, she did what felt natural — she wrote love letters and left them for strangers to find. The act has become a global initiative, The World Needs More Love Letters, which rushes handwritten letters to those in need of a boost.

Hannah Brencher believes in the power of pen and paper, and has started a global initiative that encourages strangers to exchange love letters.

This TED speaker is so adorable – and I am a huge fan of mail. So if you want a love letter from me, send your address! I love stories, and I will tell you one with my own hands.

Michele Campbell, PO Box 36859, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Improv saves lives: expat edition

I haven’t had a chance to perform any improv on stage for the last two years, but I wanted to share with you how much the improv I did with the Brave New Workshop Student Union and HUGE Theater changed my life path and made things imminently more awesome.

  1. Yes, and. The basic foundation of an improv scene is that one person makes a declaration and the second person builds on it. Then the first person builds on that – and off you go. As a new improvisor, I believed this meant that I should learn to stop saying, “No, that isn’t true.” As a human being, I take it now to mean this: whenever I am flexible of mind enough to understand that the perspective of my conversation partner is a valid world view, I can affirm that position even if I think s/he is wrong.
  2. Embrace a collaborative world view. In an improv scene, the world that is created is necessarily determined by the input of everyone on the stage. Just like in real life, you don’t get a say in how the story around you develops if you don’t open up your face and add something. While practicing improv, I learned to practice fearlessness and let go of self-judgement while exercising my voice. These qualities are essential to surviving as an expat: when you don’t speak up for yourself, you get steamrolled verbally and socially and live in a world that someone else created for you.
  3. Laughter is as essential as water. During my first weeks of class, I laughed harder at myself and the silly things we did and said than I’d laughed the entire previous year. Ridiculous became reality for minutes at a time and I had the chance to look at my assumptions and prejudices in a different space. I am ridiculous: my world view is limited as are the world views of everyone around me – we are shaped by our experiences, and those experiences limit our vision. You can’t see what you don’t know exists — until someone throws it in your face and you have to respond to it somehow. And then laugh because – wow. That’s there. That’s a thing that happened. As an expat, all I can do is laugh sometimes because the constrained rules of living abroad require patience and good humor unless you want the stress to kill you with an aneurism, an ulcer, or a leap from a tall bridge.
  4. Listening is more important than speaking. In all sorts of comedy, there’s this thing called a callback that’s basically remembering a small thing someone mentioned earlier in a scene and using it as a punchline again later. Here in Abu Dhabi, I’m the punchline if I don’t remember all the little details going on around me – and information about how things get done is passed on in snippets of conversations and hints from people who’ve done them before. People want to share information, but don’t explain themselves the way I’m used to. All feelers have to be out for anything to make sense.
  5. You can be scared, but there’s nothing to be scared of. Being the center of attention during a scene for the first time was kind of terrifying. I had no idea what I was going to say. Then I opened up my face and said things, then my scene partners said things, and we just kept going – and then the audience laughed. It was magic. The first time I went shopping to buy fabric for a new dress, I realized that I had to haggle with the vendor over price and quality and I had no idea how to do it. In the US, price is price and the person at the cash register has no control over it. In Abu Dhabi, the guy behind the counter can make any deal he wants and can spot a newbie walking in the door. Arabian confidence and bluster can really rattle a girl! I was raised to be polite! And even though I’m opinionated, I didn’t want to be rude and say no! But then I realized I didn’t have to give him my money if I didn’t want what he was selling – and I opened up my face and started haggling. I got what I wanted, he got what he wanted, and the floor didn’t open up and swallow me because I was doing something I’d never done before. Then I got to haggle with a tailor and get a pretty new dress. I’d call that an all around win.

So, yeah: Improv. You should try it sometime. Today, November 15th, is Give To The Max day in Minnesota – the biggest fundraising day of the year. If you’ve got a spare 10 bucks to support the people who bring these life lessons to anyone who shows up, please go see a show at the Brave New Institute or HUGE Theater. OR: click on over to these donation pages and support the venues who keep the funny performances and life changing classes happening all year round.

HUGE Theater: IMPROVATHON – 24 hours of improv. $20,000 goal.

Brave New Institute: adult classes for school teachers (like me!)

Shoot! I forgot to have something interesting to say this weekend!

Well, my NaBloPoMo streak is broken. Got distracted over the weekend by life, fun, etc. and totally blew off my blogging. Whoops!

Things I’m digging today:

  1. The idea that Third Culture Kids – children who grow up as expats, outside of their parents’ home country/countries – are “quick to think outside the box and can appreciate and reconcile different points of view.”
  2. Cute clothes from Mark’s and Spencer – a British department store that is the closest thing to Macy’s I can find here.
  3. Eight books and a handful of handwritten letters showed up in my PO box this week. If you are looking for a penpal, I’m always game for more.
  4. The Humans of New York Hurricane Sandy relief fundraiser. Photojournalism and community activism at its best. Check it out.
  5. Knowing that there is snow falling in MN and I’m not there for it.

 

*swoon*

Just saw Skyfall and I’m totally in love with Daniel Craig’s James Bond even more than I was ever in love Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. What a spectacular movie.

Someone bring the smelling salts!

I’m wishing I could get to Netflix from here, because I’m totally in the mood to do a James Bond marathon. I might actually even start digging into the Ian Fleming novels because I’m pretty sure they have a full collection of those at The Club.

That’s all I have for tonight. Stayed out way too late last night and have to catch up on the sleep that’s punching me in the back of the eyes. Bummer about blog challenges – they get me writing every day, but it’s rarely my best stuff. Don’t have time to think before it’s time to post something else… Hmm.