After living and working in the Middle East as an American expatriate for nearly four decades the time came to follow the setting sun back to my country of record.
It’s been an incredible run for my career in aviation and for my wife, Emily, in her career as a professional artist. We went to Abu Dhabi on a three-month contract with two suitcases each. Decade’s later, Emily thought it appropriate for us to leave the same way; two suitcases each. I convinced her that we should be a bit more flexible and take our golf clubs as well. We both learned how to play golf on sand and made the inevitable transition to grass as the new golf courses came on line. It takes far too long to gather the “perfect” set of clubs and neither of us wanted to start that process again. Emily was easy to convince based on the fact she’d made a hole-in-one with her set. There was no way they were going to be sold or left behind.
Our move out of Abu Dhabi was quiet. We didn’t want to do the good-bye parties so left on little cat’s paws in the middle of the night. A few close friends dropped by and there were a few tears shed. Especially by me as I left my two, young, Australian, golfing partners behind. One last visit to my friend’s majlis and it was over.
We chose the Etihad flight direct to New York and cleared customs at the Abu Dhabi International Airport. How strange it was to be interviewed by an American Customs Agent in the U.A.E. His only question was why we had lived there for so long. That was easy to answer. Because we loved living there. Even stranger, when we finished the interview he said: “Welcome home”. Right there in the Abu Dhabi airport.
The Etihad flight? It was magnificent. I highly recommend it. On landing in New York you just walk through the terminal to your connecting flight or your ground transportation. Not the slightest delay, or even question, on arrival.
Emily sold nearly everything but my socks before we left our villa and we’ve moved into a new and empty home on Amelia Island, Florida. I am getting so comfortable, living in echoes in these empty rooms, that I might miss them, miss them, miss them when the furniture arrives.
Now the truly complex transition begins.
Having been gone for so long we’ve lost track of the American way of life. A new friend here on the island commented on our daily discoveries by saying, “My God. It’s like you’ve just been released from thirty years in prison”.
Emily had never in her life pumped gas into her own car. We both qualified as “old folks” when self-service began in the U.A.E. She grew up in the state of Oregon where it’s still mandated that gas stations have attendants. We’ve had to learn how to check ourselves out at the grocery store and even drive in a country where there is, basically, one driving culture. In the U.A.E. there are scores, if not a hundred, different driving cultures. Defensive driving, of course, is highly recommended anywhere, but driving in this atmosphere of politeness is weird. What few pedestrians there are, they actually use the crosswalks. Drivers even stop for them. Maybe because it’s Florida and “old” rules.
Over the years we tried to stay in touch with the home front by watching MSNBC and FOX news and then roughly dividing their opinions by two. From half a world away we tried to determine the width of the ever-increasing void developing between Democrats and Republicans, and the Left from the Right.
This country has dramatically changed since we last lived here. In order to keep the voracious 24-hour news channels fed it seems that relatively minor issues are blown out of proportion in an effort to attract and keep viewers glued to their television sets. Every few minutes there is “Breaking News”. Opinions are formed and immediately presented as fact and it’s rare when corrections are made when those opinions are determined to be unproven.
Both extremes are doing a respectable job of exposing how the rich and influential are lying and cheating to get their offspring into esteemed universities. The media coverage will not only expose the wealthy cheaters, now estimated to involve nearly 800 families, but will also expose the questionable value of a “university education for all”. How corrupt and involved are the universities themselves? The next step will be to see if the students who were allowed entry to the universities through bribery, cheating and lying will be allowed to stay. Executives and even workers are frequently terminated if they are found to have falsified their records. Why not these students?
In a nutshell? It was wonderful to be gone, but it’s nice to be back. It will be an interesting experience to hang on to the pendulum as America makes it wild cycle of democratic life from one extreme to another.
Please stay with me as I now have more time than ever to write and I’ll let you know what it’s like to be home again. The author Thomas Wolfe said, “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Let’s see if he’s write, I mean right.
My very best wishes to my fly buddies and keep the blue side up!