Last year, on the night before this run, I was a tangle of conflicting thoughts. Profoundly exhausted from work in the previous weeks and still remembering my difficult post-Delhi 10 mile run a few weeks before, the idea of having to get up at the crack of dawn for a 13+ mile run had me feeling anxious. I was not psyched. But the thought of not showing up for the run was also something that I was not psyched about, because I've never NOT shown up for a run. It felt wimpy. But I was thrashed. We had just gotten home from a Christmas party that night and it was late, and so I opted out and instead went for a good run after sleeping through to a normal hour the next day. And it was okay, I didn't beat myself up about it and was glad to give myself the rest I needed.
This year, on the night before this run, I was pumped. I'd trained well, performed well in the same 10 mile run a few weeks ago, eaten a good energizing diet all week and had no anxiousness about getting up at the crack of dawn. I was showing up for this one!
But this was an interesting experience for me, just as last year's decision not to run was interesting. I started slowly and steadily, running over the Garhoud Bridge and watching the cricketers in the parking lot below. At the Maktoum Bridge, I ran past the men fishing underneath the bridge. On the other side of the creek, we passed dhow crews who had stopped loading cargo or eating breakfast so that they could stare at the crazy runners going by. All the way up to the Shindagha Tunnel where I found myself running the uphills where all of the other people in my zone were walking the inclines. But my slow and steady pace never really picked up, and my energy level stayed in the low zone most of the way. I was plodding, feeling it in my legs and hips, and it was a trudge.
After the tunnel, the sun was in my face the whole way and the air was humid. I continued to run, I continued to plod. I fantasized about jumping into a swimming pool, or booking a massive massage when I got home. Back at the Maktoum Bridge, running past the same gang of fishermen, I rounded a corner and grabbed a water from the volunteers, but struggled to peel the carton open, and as I hit the steep ramp up to the bridge, still futzing around with the water, my sore muscles, tired rhythm and dull trudge all combined into one wall-hitting combo of frustration. I was at the 19k mark, and I was tired. So I walked. I walked across the bridge. I walked a bit more more after the bridge. And then I walked until I decided I was ready to go again. I jogged the last mile, plodded into the finish, waving to James who had been waiting to see me, and found a fence to lean against while I waited for him to meet me. I felt disappointed, and I also felt totally bagged. "That was hard work!" I told him.
We were talking about it afterwards, how running is so unpredictable - I've had runs in the last few years where I have been happily surprised by how good I felt and how good my time was (for me); and I've had runs like these where I just haven't found the energy reserves or spring in my step. I run every day because it makes me feel great, but I'm not actually that good at it. I'm not fast, I'm not graceful, but I like how strong it makes me feel. In an event, I never know what's going to go down until I'm actually out there. So that's what happened on this run, where all of the early indicators were telling me I'd have a good time, but the run itself wasn't as great and I hit the wall. But hey I still did it, and it makes me appreciate when I do have a good time out there.
Afterwards, I scarfed down one of the free ice cream sandwiches that they were handing out in the finish area, changed into my clean, dry clothes & sandals, and started to feel better.
James had a work event this month where they did a really interesting icebreaker, wherein people had to name three things about themselves, and many folks used it as a chance to show some interesting elements of their background or non-work lives that folks might not otherwise know, e.g., James said he is a big baseball fan. It's a fun thing to consider, what your own three things would be. I'm not totally sure how I would narrow things down, but I like it as a theme for this post - a bunch of random experiences and stories from the month.
Like, we tried Armenian food this month. Had you asked me about this cuisine before, I wouldn't have known what to describe - would it be Russian-style? Turkish? And it ended up being a lot like Lebanese but with its own distinctive elements. Like hummus with shredded smoked sausage. Or these bite-sized crisp pastry dumplings filled with meat that arrived in a pan that was then filled with tomato sauce and a layer of yogurt. Or the classic kebab with a thick sauce of sour cherries.
I had to apply for an Indian visa for our upcoming Mumbai weekend and it was my second time there after our Delhi trip and related visa last year, so I knew the drill. Like, where the fill-in form asks for name and surname, you have to put your first AND middle name in the first slot, something I learned after not doing so last year and they made me come back the next day with the corrected form. This time, my form was all set. Photos, money, hotel confirmation, all ready to submit. I had also given myself a few weeks, so it was just a matter of sitting and waiting for my number to be called. And this took a while because there were a bunch of folks ahead of me who were going through various ordeals, complaining about how India is the only country that makes them get a visa (we Westerners are SO lucky, I have some South African and Lebanese friends who stress until the day of their departure while they wait for consulates to approve their visa requests). Many folks were outright trying to offer bribes to expedite things, "so is there ANYTHING I can do to get it sooner? it will take how long? one week? I need it in two days, how can you help me with that? is there ANYTHING I can do to get it faster?"
A random morning there was a roadblock on my normal route to work, right at the entrance to the Burj Khalifa, and my cab had to U-turn and take another road. The day before, US Secretary of State John Kerry had been meeting with the rulers in Abu Dhabi, and my guess is that on this day, he had a quick visit to the Burj.
Another guy had some really amazing music on one ride and I asked what country it was from. "Ethiopia!"
I had a driver wearing his Muslim cap and he told me he was from Tunisia, which was the first time I'd met a cabbie from there. "Ah tu parles le Francais?" I asked. "Mais oui!" he replied.
A taxi raced through the tunnel to take the short-cut bypassing the mall traffic and hit an unexpected road closure right near our complex. There was a pipe being fixed so no cars could pass through. "Might be better to walk," said the taxi driver, and I hopped out from there, our favourite short-cut closed for the month.
Another night I found out why I sometimes experience this phenomenon where taxis with their lights on, i.e., free to pick up passengers, blaze right by my extended hand as I stand outside the office. When there are big conventions at the World Trade Centre, a cabbie showed me that he has to get three stamps on a paper per shift for picking up three different convention passengers. If they don't get their three stamps, they get a hefty fine of several hundreds of dollars. It's the taxi commission's way of making sure tens of thousands of people aren't left stranded, but also means you get guys desperate to get their last stamps at the end of their shift.
It has been gorgeous weather for running and walking outside. I did the Donut Run. We had our beautiful hike in Dibba. Such a lovely time of the year. There were even some rainstorms and lightning & thunder. We woke one night as a storm passed right overhead, flashing and booming, and flooding the streets.
Above: See my reflection in the mirror?
Meanwhile, at work, there were fundraisers and food drives for the victims of the storm in the Philippines. Filipinos make up a major portion of the local community, including our office receptionists. An envelope was passed around one afternoon to help a colleague get home to see her family in the devastated area.
My favourite Ugandan cleaner friends disappeared, and I didn't know if this meant their company's contract hadn't been renewed with our complex or their boss had shifted them elsewhere or they had headed home. Then one day I ran into one of the guys, Johnson, as I was out on my morning run, "hey, I haven't seen you in so long!" He told me that they've been shifted to the other side, to another tower, that all is well.
When the end of the month rolled around, the city was positively giddy with excitement over the announcement of the Expo 2020 city. I watched the local news, live from Paris where the committee was meeting, and the newscasters were breathless. Then suddenly, massive fireworks erupted from the Burj, confirming the win. Amazing photos of the ruler circulated online, showing him leaping into the arms of this colleagues and then beaming while pumping a fist. Such a win, such amazing spirit.
And then there was this funny thing that happened the next day. They had circulated an email at work that said that if Dubai won Expo 2020, the ruler had announced that it would be a public holiday of celebration, and so when the fireworks went off, I was like, "sweet, day off tomorrow." Except that I had loads of work to do, so I made plans to head into the office to get it all done while it was nice and quiet. But first that morning, I had a nice run and a leisurely breakfast, taking care of errands, etc, and hailing a taxi that dropped me off at the office at 11.
Outside the building, I saw a colleague having a smoke and jokingly asked, "Oh no holiday for you?" Then I saw a few others, but figured they just couldn't get the day off from client work with such short notice. But then when the elevator doors opened to our office, I walked in to find it "business as usual," almost every seat filled, all at work. Turns out there had been a follow-up email at 11pm the night before clarifying that the ruler ended up only declaring the holiday for schools, so work was ON, no day off, and I hadn't seen this email. Whoops.
Good places we tried in Dubai this month:
So my more-than-three things for the month: Armenian food, Indian visa, taxi chronicles, Donut Run, hiking in Dibba, and Expo 2020 (celebrations and no day off).
While living in Dubai, I have collected a series of memories of particularly poignant moments that I keep in my mind and recollect at times. These are all scenarios, encounters and stories that almost make me tear up and smile a little at the lovely human spirit.
Over the weekend, I heard a reporter on a radio show say something to the effect of, "everyone always thinks everyone else is living the same way they do," when the reality is that everyone has different circumstances and different values and different moments that make them happy or angry or proud. Someday, when we move away from Dubai, I think that this realization is one of the most valuable things that I will have taken from this experience: the evaporation of judgement, moralizing, and that "who do you think you are" mode. People aren't living by the same codes and values, and that's okay! We can still get annoyed with little things, but we can't take these things personally as the other 6+ billion people in the world don't have the exact same mindset as we do. It shifts the entire perspective from one in which you're wondering why other people aren't acting or reacting as they should, to one in which you realize you can take care of your own point of view and actions and make the best of your own world.
And, most beautifully, it means that universal moments of poignancy emerge as really happy, sentimental memories.
Like the Indian colleague who one day wandered around the office, offering all of us a selection from a bag of fancy chocolates. When I asked him what was the occasion, he said "there's a new baby girl." Such happy news, and so pleased for him, I asked a few questions about her name, her health, her disposition. "Is fine," he said, and then clarified that she was born across the Arabian Sea in India, where his wife has been living while he works here.
There are a million stories like this, and it's just awe-inspiring to me. Men who leave their wives and kids back in their home country and come to Dubai to earn a living. And despite being relatively close to home, they get back every 18-24 months, often missing the birth and infancy of their youngest children, but proudly showing photos of the little faces on the screen of their mobile phone.
In another poignant moment, there was the story in the news of the Bangladeshi taxi driver who found an envelope stuffed with the equivalent of $25,000 in cash. He returned the cash to a very relieved businessman and was rewarded not only with a small cash gift but a ceremony from the taxi commission. The photo in the newspaper showed a small man in a pressed taxi uniform, grinning as he held a commemorative certificate. His employer acknowledged his safety record and integrity, with this envelope story having been one of many such "lost & found" moments in his cab. The news reported that his daughter in Bangladesh now brags about her father's award and honesty.
Another story. I am forever intrigued by the labourers in Dubai, these men who have a hard life of hard work on the construction sites in order to send home every last penny to their families. I like to offer a smile and wave if I see curious stares on my morning runs, and I like to participate in any sort of event that gives back to these men, giving them a glimmer of fun and humanity in their lives. Like filling the big boxes of supplies. The organizer of that charity event reported that on the night that the boxes were dropped off at the Labour Camps, a really neat scene erupted in the form of a spontaneous on-the-spot trading system between the men. Guys trading their packages of cookies for someone's razor that they didn't want. The relief of a clean pillow and towel.
Related, there is a documentary at the upcoming Dubai Film Festival called Champ of the Camp, which follows an American Idol-style singing contest in one of Dubai's Labour Camps. The preview is quite touching, as the men describe their long days and sacrifices, sweat dripping from their faces, and then transform as they start to sing, from their soul, from their heart.
In another story, the office receptionist is a dear, lovely lady who always offers a cheery "good morning" and a quick hug as greeting. She is from the Philippines and when she recently told me she was going to take a vacation, I asked if she would be going home. Actually, she said, she was going to Paris! For the first time, ever! Just with a friend, so nothing romantic, but that's okay, she said. When she returned, I had a few minutes to catch up with her and asked how she had enjoyed her trip. And her answer was just so pure, simple, lovely and unjaded, the answer of someone who had realized a longtime dream and appreciated it for everything, the answer of someone who doesn't need to make a big to-do or check off all the cool places on her travel list: "Oh Jenny, it was beautiful. I went to look at the Eiffel Tower every single day!"
A few more stories in my Poignant Collection: I will always think about the 17-year-old goatherd in Oman, tending the farm all by himself, high in the mountains, giddily talking about Pakistani cricket stars and giving a hearty yelp as we waved goodbye on the trail back down the mountain. And I will always remember the grin on the face of the abra driver when we packed a picnic for an hourlong tour and included a Rani Float and candy bar for him. And the time the office took up a collection for one of the "office boys," these guys who earn less than $1,000 per month (maybe even half that, I can't remember, it's staggeringly low, but still way more than they would earn back home...), who was going home to India to be married. He was handed a fat envelope and, as the other office boys translated before our crowd of beaming faces, he gave a shy bobble of the head in thanks.
There are a million other encounters, and I hunger for these experiences, collecting them as evidence that the world is inherently good. We may not all believe the same things or have the exact same approaches, values & morals, but at the foundation, humanity is inherently friendly and kind.
And so tonight, as I tuned into the news, I felt an eager, hopeful optimism. The city has been buzzing for weeks, having bid to host an Expo in 2020, with banners of support everywhere, and this was the final vote, choosing a winning bid out of four cities. I've never been in a city that was anticipating such an announcement; I don't remember what went down for Expo 86 and I wasn't in Vancouver when they bid for the Olympics. Maybe the closest emotional experience was the gold medal hockey game in 2010, when there was such a yearning for Canada to win and yet such an uncertainty as to the outcome. As the hour of the announcement neared, the Burj Khalifa suddenly erupted with fireworks running up its entire height, and the announcers on the TV jubilantly shouted, "WE WON!" I ran out to the deck to watch the light show, and it was amazing. So celebratory and beautiful. But what really brought a happy tear to my eye were the sounds beyond the booms of the fireworks: the happy honking of horns, the cheers from people down below, the whistles and hoots. A universal moment of celebration celebrated in the most universal way: with expressions of happiness.