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By Robert Mashburn:
Abu Dhabi — Three of us were crammed into the back seat of a Toyota Yaris, grumbling good-naturedly about our discomfort as we navigated the confusing highways and dusty roads that lead to the cricket ground on the outskirts of town.
Then we saw the bicycle.
A middle-aged Pakistani man stood upright in the pedals, slowly weaving toward the bright lights of the stadium.
On the seat behind him sat one friend.
On the handlebars in front of him sat another.
Abu Dhabi — Out of the blue, my taxi driver said to me the other day, “There are no Muslims in America, right?”
Dammika asks me a lot about America. Where I live, what my house looks like, how many days a week people work, why my children don’t live at home while they’re in college, whether it’s hot or cold, how far it is from New York to Los Angeles, if the streets look the same as in Abu Dhabi … he’s a sincere and caring and curious guy.
He’s from Sri Lanka, and a Buddhist, which I could have guessed by the way he panics whenever a butterfly flits into the path of the cab. We’re going to die one of these days because he’s afraid of killing a wayward moth.
I often marveled at tales from friends who lived in faraway places like Minnesota and Wisconsin about the brutal winters and their daily battles with snow and ice – places so cold that people would often go weeks without venturing outdoors for any length of time. From heated garage to underground parking lot to skyways between buildings … if you worked at it, they said, you really could get by without coming face-to-frozen face with the arctic-like temperatures.
And from the comfort of my mild-mannered Florida or Georgia winter, I scoffed at the folly of living in such an extreme place.
Well, you know what they say about payback.
Tonight I feel like I’m 11 years old again, on a summer visit to Grandma Mashburn’s trailer in the backwoods of Baker, Florida, listening to the Braves game on the radio and thinking this is the coolest thing ever.
Instead of a tiny, battery powered transistor tucked under my pillow in the dark, picking up WJSB in Crestview, it’s a laptop on my desk at my apartment in Abu Dhabi, picking up WLJA out of Jasper, Georgia, on the internet, as clear and crisp as if I were driving north on I-575 headed for the mountains.
Last August, I boarded a plane in Atlanta, bound for JFK and then Abu Dhabi, excited and scared and curious about what awaited me on the other side of the world. This wasn’t turning a page or starting a new chapter; this was a new book. Maybe a whole new library.
After eight months in the land of sand and sheikhs, I’m happy to report that it has been an unforgettable and rewarding experience, one I will never regret, easier than I ever dreamed at times, and much harder than I imagined at others.
It has made me appreciate my family and friends more than ever.
I went to a party last night and came home with a cookbook, a DVD, a dictionary, a box of maps … and a new bed.
It was a “Take My Stuff” party, a clever and necessary concept in Abu Dhabi, where people come and go all the time and the cost of shipping your things back home, wherever that might be, is usually more than they’re worth.
Try as you might to avoid accumulating stuff while you’re here, it’s hard not to. Even if you get by with basic furniture (Ikea is one of the most popular places in town), over the course of a couple of years, stuff is going to find its way into your flat. Books, pots and pans, furniture, televisions, DVD players, candles, lamps …
The first guy approached me thirty seconds after I got out of the cab at Taksim Square, at the top of Istanbul’s famed Istiklal Caddesi. He fell in stride beside me and said something in Turkish. When I replied, “I don’t understand,” he laughed and switched easily to English.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were Turkish. You look Turkish,” he said happily.
Even a Southern boy a long way from home knows how to use the internet, and if you look online for things to do in Istanbul you’re likely to come across warnings about scam artists. The word is out:
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