Abu Dhabi: Where Everything is a Little Different, Including Me

I haven’t written a blog post in what feels like almost a year, so I’m admittedly rusty and also feeling a bit scattered with all the change that’s happened in my life over the past two months. In July, I packed up my things, sublet my beloved apartment in Brooklyn, and moved halfway across the world to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

It’s interesting for me to write this post and look back at the transition with hindsight. The truth is I didn’t handle the move well. I was imploding for months before, stressed out by not knowing when I would actually leave, wondering if time would be on my side and make it possible for my love and I to go together (it wasn’t), and basically avoiding any emotions I had with leaving everything (and everyone) behind. To numb myself against any and all feelings, I drank too much and did awful things like pick fights with the most important person to me outside of my immediate family. He deserves a medal for sticking with me. I was on a war path of emotional yo-yoing and self-destruction. At one point, I contemplated not going at all.

MANY things did not go as planned and, after eight months apart, I was only able to spend four days with my boyfriend in Trinidad as my ticket came several weeks earlier than expected. But now as I’m here, and settling into my first month abroad, I’m learning how to come to peace with everything, accepting that things happen when they’re supposed to, if at all, and (I say this lovingly) the Universe gives zero fucks about whatever timeline I had envisioned in my mind.

So how am I doing? Welp, despite living in a country where ladies can drink free virtually every night of the week (even though alcohol is technically a no-no here), I haven’t been doing much imbibing – maybe once or twice per week tops. I’ve been much more content to take it all in, relax, and learn to navigate a new country that has a lot quirks and perks. And I don’t need to be shit faced to do it. Bonus! I still stress, and I still miss the hell out of my man, but I’m learning how to enjoy my life as it is right now.

I’ve got a long ways to go in terms of getting where I want to be and living a lifestyle that is healthy, body/self/soul loving, but I’m letting that go too. The truth is I’m taking small steps and trusting, as best I can, that things will fall into place. It’s easy in the world of Instagram and Facebook, to look at people who’ve spent years building towards an end goal that you desperately want to achieve and being completely unrealistic about how to get there yourself. Comparison is a cruel little demon and I’ve been tearing myself down over failed attempt after failed attempt to transform overnight into a fitness loving, healthy lifestyle junky. My entry into this new life and world has been fueled by a steady crawl towards self-forgiveness and transformation, one that I am going to chronicle as best as possible via this site. I definitely left the States (and Trinidad) feeling like I was going to step off the plane a new woman, leaving all vices behind, but it’s just not the case. Some things I’ve improved upon and other things are still a work in progress.

And guess what? I’m okay with that.

So what has Abu Dhabi been like? I’ll do a brief list and hopefully this might help anyone who is contemplating a move to this tiny, desert country.

The Good

  • You get to meet so many different people from all over the world, in ways I never did even living in New York City. I’m loving the people I’ve met and have formed fast friendships here.
  • Gas is ridiculously cheap. I spent $15 USD filling up my tank.
  • Ladies Night. Ladies drink free. Enough said.
  • I got placed in Abu Dhabi City on Reem Island. This is EXACTLY where I wanted to be. My apartment has three pools and fitness centers so my weekends can be spent working out and getting some much needed vitamin D.
This is actually where I live. Can you believe it?

This is actually where I live. Can you believe it?

  • Local (or anything from Asia and Africa) produce is pretty inexpensive compared to what I would pay in the States. Yes, if you want the imported stuff, you’re going to pay an arm and a leg, but it is possible to enjoy a relatively low cost of living. A bag of avocados for $3 USD? Yes, please.
  • The architecture here is so innovative and unique. I’ve had many a breathtaking car ride. It also helps that the majority of the clubs and bars are attached to beautiful hotels so you are never at a loss for ambiance.
  • People are generally very helpful and friendly here, which I have both needed and appreciated.
  • I LOVE my students. Yes, we are honeymooning and they will start to act out a bit more as the months go by. I came to this country hearing horror story after horror story, but my 7th grade girls are so sweet. I could not feel more blessed in that regard.

 

The Bad (or Just Weird)

  • People drive so dangerously here. They speed and tailgate and it makes for stress inducing commutes.
  • Toilet paper is somewhat optional. In the city, in areas where expats and particularly Westerners are known to frequent, you’re okay. But otherwise, the preferred method of “cleansing” is a hose that is attached to the toilet. Let’s just say, that gets messy.
  • This isn’t “bad” per se, but it has been interesting. Technically there is not supposed to be drinking and women are to dress conservatively (skirts, long sleeves, collarbone covered). However, it’s not actually practiced everywhere or in all circumstances. There are bars and unlimited cocktail brunches all over the place. Women go to clubs wearing things I would never wear even in the States. You have to learn to navigate the spaces. I’ve seen women in spaghetti strap tops and shorts in the mall, but I also know that sometimes local men will demand that they leave if dressed that way. Oh, and if you get into a cab wasted, you will be going to jail…for a while.
  • People answer their phones no matter what. In the middle of teaching a class? Answer the phone. Middle of a meeting? Answer the phone. It’s rude not to answer here, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that interrupting a meeting with me to answer your phone is not also rude. Meh. (shrugs shoulders)

The Ugly

  • I won’t name names, but let’s just say that getting things delivered, set up, or installed can be a complete nightmare here. Take deep, deep breaths.

So there you have it. I apologize for the long-winded post, but it’s been a crazy month filled with lots of things to talk about. Let’s see what the next month brings! Inshallah, it will be good.

 

Corniche

10 Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Things Insecure People Do

The other day I was reading an article about the habits of happy people and thought, “Man! I wish I could write an amazing piece like that and live those habits on the reg.” Then I thought about the reasons I haven’t become a happy, balanced superhero and hosted a tiny pity party for myself from the comfort of my living room. Then I got inspired.

The only way out is through, so I decided to stare down one of my demons. And then I made a list.

I bring you the “10 Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Things Insecure People Do” as told from the vantage point of a woman determined to stop being one.

1. They use.

Sometimes it’s drugs. Sometimes it’s people. Usually, it’s a little of both. I’d elaborate, but it might turn into a diatribe and the only real point is that we are users. Proceed with caution.

2. They dwell.

Oh boy do we dwell. What past? I’m living the drama right now baby. We cannot get over even the smallest of insults. Break ups? Total devastation and we will relive the tough moments for many, many, many months after, even after we’ve found someone else. (P.S. Facebook, you make dwelling far too easy.) Honestly, we’ll probably project those horrible moments onto our new boos so we can keep the misery going. We like to pay it forward that way.

3. They quit.

Not good stuff you’re supposed to quit like cigarettes.  We quit on important stuff like writing a book or loving someone. When we get inspired to embark on a new journey, we tend to fail the resiliency test and give up the moment the going gets tough. After which, we will resort to #2. Because of #3, we aren’t very good at getting promoted or, in some cases, keeping jobs. And let’s be honest – nowadays, who can afford that?

4. They make it all about them… like ALL the time.

Insecure people are shitty listeners. Empathy? Girl, bye. We can’t hear anything but our own thoughts and opinions. Because we constantly seek validation from others, we feel a need to make every conversation about us. You’re having trouble with your significant other? Let me tell you for 45 minutes what I would do and about what happened to me that one time way back when. You got time, right?

5. They Judge.

Some of us are good at it because we mask it in hilarious sarcasm. Others are just bitchy and quicker to turn people off. Either way, it’s the same symptom. Those wealthy chicks in the Village sipping a $12 bottle of green juice after yoga class? Hate ‘em and I’m gonna let you know about it if you’re walking with me. That girl at the bar who squeezed herself into those shorts (and probably does not give a damn what you think about it)? Let’s crack some jokes on her. Everybody is ridiculous. But let’s not forget the biggest target of them all: ourselves Yes, us. Insecure people judge themselves all the time. It’s exhausting. We’re never pretty enough, skinny, enough, smart enough, or successful enough to eek out even the tiniest sliver of gratitude or joy. I assure you that whatever snarky thing we say about others, we are one hundred times harder on ourselves.

6. They hide.

Some of us turn into social recluses, content in the security of our apartments, Netflix, and a sixer. Others hide behind images we’ve created to mask the broken human beneath. We find ways to bury the ugly instead of healing it, whether it be avoiding social interaction or gussying ourselves up in the latest trends and partaking of #5 with our equally insecure homies.

7. They get around.

This manifests in a few different ways, sometimes all at once. Insecure people are certainly not a monolith. Some people indulge in sex with multiple partners so they don’t have to get close to or rejected by anyone. Some are serial monogamists and have never been single for longer than a month or two (alone = scary). For others, it manifests socially. We don’t keep the same circle of friends for longer than a year at a time, or, at best we’ve only managed to attach ourselves to frenemies who support us in our endeavor to hide effectively. The central theme here is a lack of fulfilling relationships, which is likely caused by any combination of #1-6.

8. They care what other people think.

Although I alluded to this in #4, I think it’s worth noting separately that insecure people really, really, really care what everybody thinks. Even the people who are constantly saying, “I don’t give a [expletive] what anybody thinks!” probably care the most. It’s bravado. I find it difficult to make any remotely difficult decision without getting input from other people. This includes seemingly minor things like whether or not a pair of shoes is ever worth spending more than $100 on and if I can actually pull off patterned skinny jeans at my age. I’ve even written off potential love interests in the past only to become utterly smitten the second I realized other chicks were into them. We get easily embarrassed by the company we keep (see #5) and seek to pull otherwise confident people into our web by making them question themselves as well (again… #5). It’s brutal.

9. They are storytellers.

Not in the liar, liar pants on fire sense – though some are. Insecure people are great at creating stories in their head about what’s going on. Oh, your boo hasn’t texted you today and it’s almost 4:30 in the afternoon? He’s cheating/mad/goingtobreakupwithyouanysecondnow. Time to do #2. Those girls giggling in the corner over there? Totally hating on you. Bitches (see #5). Everything is a potential assault or disaster. This leads to some very unhealthy mind wandering and build up of emotional sludge in the soul.

10. They play it safe.

Insecure people are not risk takers. We’d much rather live vicariously through the exploits of others via Instagram or Facebook. It’s not that we’re afraid so much as that we don’t believe we could ever do something that incredibly rad and awesome. This results in a host of missed opportunities, regrets, and woulda coulda shoulda’s. Once I hit my 30’s, #10 barreled into me at full force. Words like “can’t” become commonplace. It’s perhaps the biggest tragedy of the list.

 

So here’s the thing…

When I wrote this list, I worried that it would come off bitchy or whiny (see #8) and honestly was not sure why I was writing it other than I felt inspired to do so. I do not have the magical follow up article that tells you how to stop doing all these things to yourself and those you love. What I do know is that every habit and negative story looping through your brain can be changed.

Here are two books I’ve read that gives guidance in that pursuit: Mindsight and The Power of Habit.

I’ll end with literature, light, and of course, Rumi:

Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
no light and no land anywhere,
cloudcover thick, I try to stay
just above the surface, yet I’m already under
and living within the ocean.

Does sunset sometimes look like the sun’s coming up?
Do you know what a faithful love is like?

You’re crying.  You say you’ve burned yourself.
But can you think of anyone who’s not
hazy with smoke?                                       

life coaching image

How to Meal Plan Like a Boss

In New York City, it’s easy to become beholden to the gods of delivery and take out (thank you, Seamless!). It’s also incredibly expensive, and despite our best efforts, mostly unhealthy. Much to the surprise of my friends and colleagues, I actually cook about 90% of the food I eat and do so at a cost of about $4-$6 per meal.

I’ve had discussions about how I manage a busy schedule, long commute, and yet always seem to have home-cooked meals on hand for lunch and dinner.  Whereas I don’t have it down to an exact science, I do have some easy-to-implement tips to help you get off the Seamless train and back into your impractical, tiny New York kitchen. Teasing (but I know it’s often true). J

whats for dinner

Tip #1: Cook BIG on the Weekend

On the weekends, I cook approximately two big meals which will last me anywhere from 8-10 meals (essentially all of my lunches and dinners). Now, this method has not always worked out for me in the past because by Wednesday, I’m really sick of these two meals and food often goes to waste, replaced by falafel from Zaytoon’s.

The solution? Mix and match. Make items that can you create different meal combinations with to reduce the chance you’ll get sick of your food and let it go to waste in the fridge.

EXAMPLE: Last Sunday, I made the following:

*not the recipes I used, but I thought I’d provide links if this meal line up tickles your fancy

All in all, it took approximately 3 hours to make. That’s it. Food for the week and the ingredients for the items above cost about $65 in total.

Breakfast is very simple for me, as I typically just eat fruit, toast with almond butter, or maybe some oatmeal. This rarely costs more than $3 a day and doesn’t exactly require cooking unless you count heating up water for oatmeal or waiting on the toaster.

NOTE – I usually buy greens, onion, and tomato to prepare simple salads to go with my meals, though I also don’t consider this cooking so much as a three minute prep in the mornings before I head out for work.

Tip #2: Freeze What You Won’t Eat & Save

Now there are only so many ways you can mix and match the items above before feeling like you really hate callaloo, lentils, potato pie, veggie korma, and mushroom soup. If you don’t get “food bored”, you’re awesome. Skip this tip.

If you’re like me and can’t eat the same thing for more than a few days, then store and refrigerate enough to get you through the next few days. Place the rest in freezer safe containers and place in the freezer for a later time.

 But you said food for the week! What’s this, just having enough for a few days nonsense?

When you first start cooking this way, it generally means making a third meal around Wednesday or Thursday. However, once it becomes a habit, your freezer becomes the source of meals for Thursday-Saturday.

Thought you’d go crazy if you ate another portion of black bean soup two weeks ago? This week, it’s looking mighty tasty again. Heat it up! Still got some veggie patties left over from the day you made a whole batch (yields about 8 or so). Grab some ketchup and mustard. It’s time for burgers, girlfriend!

Your freezer will be a big reason why you’re able to cook so economically. Cook big. Save and freeze. You’ll always have something awesome to eat. If you get really good at it, you can even start taking a week off from cooking (and grocery shopping). Oh heyyyyy!

Tip #3: Remix Your Initial Dishes

You can make smaller items to go with the food you’ve already prepared without spending more than $10-$15 or spending longer than 5 minutes in the grocery store after work. It’s all about getting creative.

ADVICE: Look at what’s currently in your fridge and see what you can make work without buying a ton of new ingredients.

I had brown rice and lentils from my big cook, but I was sick of the flavor combination. I had some tortillas and salsa on hand in the fridge. I bought some lettuce, an onion, a tomato and an avocado (I MAYBE spent $5 on this). I made “tacos” by using the lentils as “taco meat”, and then adding the other ingredients in.

From there, I saved the other half of my avocado and used it to make my favorite sandwich – avocado, chopped onion, greens, tomato, and a bit of lime juice on toasted gluten free bread for my next meal.

This little anecdote is just to serve as an example of ways you can keep your BIG COOK food from going to waste without force-feeding yourself the same meal five days in a row.

YOU GOT THIS!

Getting back on the cooking wagon takes time and practice, but is so worth it at the end of the day. Once you catch your chef’s groove, you’ll immediately start to feel better. That heavy, oh my god why did I order those burritos feeling that’s been dragging you down and placing you into food comas by mid afternoon will be a thing of the past. Give it a shot! Your body (and bank account) will thank you for it.

makeyourown

My 2014

Tis the season for new beginnings, proclamations, reflection, and maybe (if we’re lucky) a little forgiveness. After a few days of clear-headedness, a state that has eluded me for several months, I’ve managed to sit down and write again.

Although many great things happened to me in 2013- I saw Rome, accepted love into my life, began a new job – when I look back on it completely and honestly, I have to admit that it was actually a pretty shitty year. I spent most of it quite unwell. I endured emotional swings both up and down, fleeting motivation, crippling fear, periods of binge smoking and drinking, loss of friends; I didn’t take care of myself, believe in myself, or trust that I had any power to authentically change. I stopped making goals. They all seemed so ridiculous and unattainable. Sadly, it was mostly a monster of my own creation. With the exception of some mishaps and let downs compliments of a very fickle and mysterious universe, I had primarily done all of these things to myself. In 2013, mine was a messy, cloudy spirit and brain.

Not all was bad, of course. I’d hit good strides (one week, maybe three at a time) where the skies parted and sun shone down. Everything was possible and I dared to pursue lofty ideals of who I could become and what I’d be doing. You can track these moments via my blog entries when I felt creative and in total control. No matter how sporadic or short-lived, they were quite beautiful moments and I’m sorry I did not trust them more fully or be more grateful for them. Perhaps that is the great lesson of the past year.

But here we are. It’s 2014, a new year that brings with it the allure of new chances. I could continue to wax poetic on the self-inflicted clusterfuck that was the year before, draw shades on the bright moments, but I will attempt to digress. I am also tempted do the obvious which is to make RESULOTIONS! Live them, breathe them, bathe in them for the whole of January (If I’m lucky) only to see them sink once February rears its ugly, dark head. That would be, after all, my usual pattern as goals have always had a bit of a shelf life for me. Yet, despite whatever naysaying a bad attitude and articles written by super smart folks may say about the effectiveness of New Year resolutions, I’m going to give it a go.

In full transparency, I’m on day three of no smoking (my boyfriend is joining me – the couple that quits together, stays together!), there’s a mostly empty bottle of cold-pressed green juice next to my computer, and I definitely rejoined the local Crunch earlier today. I’m totally fine with that, cliché as it may be. It’s what I’m supposed to do and I am a total “new year, new me” bandwagon fan. What I’m not doing this year, however, is making huge plans and superficial promises for some completely evolved and transformed “me” that will, like many resolutions of New Years past, come crashing down in the first four week. That’s usually the point I find myself hurled quickly back to the habits of the year(s) before. “Better luck next year,” I tell myself. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Don’t get me wrong – I DO need a transformed, fabulous, beautiful, glowing skinned, toned, happy, kale-consuming NEW me. She exists and I intend to release her from the marble, chipping away slowly and dutifully like Michelangelo did for his beloved angel. But I understand that it is a slow and painstaking process and the green juice, gym junkie, nicotine-free, and sober(ish) lifestyle is just one piece of the bigger puzzle. For me, and maybe you as well, it’s not just about forming better habits. It’s about fixing what’s been broken.

I think resolutions fail because we don’t address the issues within ourselves that cause us to stay stuck on couches, become incredibly sad, succumb to loneliness and depression, lose friends, and in many ways, just plain give up. Aside from the fact that sometimes it just sucks to go to the gym and choose salad over three slices of pizza, there are deeper roots nourishing our bad choices. These are the pains, memories, and negativity remaining expertly quiet during the first week or two of a life overhaul. But they are patient little demons and they will speak up. That has typically been the point where I slip, slide, and go crashing backwards. Unless you change what’s happening in that brain of yours, recognize triggers for what they are, and heal those deep-seated wounds, you will continue to play a tug of war with yourself, your weaknesses, and your goals.

Although different for everyone, I think I have a fairly good idea, in theory, of how to tackle this. So far, I’ve lacked the courage to utilize these tools. Procrastination and apathy have been my faithful companions since November and I’ve conveniently waited for January to begin immersing myself in this work. What can I say? Change is scary, even when you know you’ll be happier for it. No matter how low you sink, at least it’s familiar. Who would you be if not this disaster?

Well, January is here now and thus it begins. This year is dedicated to the exorcism of demons: doubt, fearful living, depression, and stagnation. It is an embracing of mindfulness, an unpacking of old baggage, and the rewiring of a brain that has accumulated too many self-deprecating loops and habits.

Oh, and hopefully I go to the gym a few times a week too. I wouldn’t mind adding a six pack to a healed soul.

I Kind of Hate Yoga (and that is precisely why I should go)

This past week, for the first time in many, many moons I attended a yoga class. I took it easy and made sure to pop in for a restorative class. When I got to the studio, I met Marvin, a soft spoken, gentleman with a curious motherly nature about him. He would be leading the class. I instantly felt glad I came, which was a nice a respite from the guilt I had carried with me on the 10 minute walk over there. I mean, I had conveniently “skipped” yoga class for about five months. A part of me felt like an imposter.

My fellow practitioners were not the usual yogi bunch I’m accustomed to seeing at this place. These were not the Lululemon-clad perfect girls I silently envy from my lowly Target-brand mat. You know who I’m talking about. This girl:

i hate yoga 3

Seriously?!

No, these were regular folks, just like me. Because I’m competitive (and maybe a bit judgey) this put me at ease. I hoisted my butt onto my block, sat cross-legged, and got ready to get my “ohm” on. Yes, honey.  Even though the room was crowded, I soaked it all in: the soft lighting, the darkness, the beautiful mantras gently playing in the background. I suddenly missed the sweet sanctity of this space. Why the hell had I not been in over five months? This was awesome!

Around minute 60, I began to remember. Here’s the general list.

Reasons Why I Hate Yoga:

  1. I can’t do fancy handstands, or the splits, or hold my leg up next to my shoulder. This makes me feel awkward and unsexy.
  2. Class is 90 whole minutes long.
  3. Ninety minutes is too long because around minutes 45-50, I get squirmy. Sometimes my squirminess is physical, but almost always it is mental. I want to hurry up with the poses so I can get to shavasana and be done with it. Slow and steady is not in my yogic vocabulary.
  4. It’s quiet in there. And quiet space means thoughts, and worries, and to-do lists pop up in my little monkey brain. This makes me feel trapped in my skin. Incidentally, the yoga instructors know this, because they always remind us to drop our worries and concerns while in these ungodly poses, and this makes me feel angry. Because I can’t.
  5. While in shavasana, I want to be left alone. But I’m not left alone, because by the time shavasana rolls around, I’ve got at least 15 things on my mind that suddenly need attention this very minute and my only inclination is to run for the door as soon as that last “shanti” is hummed out. I try to manage this unsettling urgency and focus on my breathing, but that’s not always easy because there is a teacher walking around the room insisting that I instead focus on my leg and then let it melt into the floor.
  6. Just about the time I think I’ve got the monkey brain to settle down, I’m interrupted by the sound of my teacher telling me to return to my body.

All of these things happened to me during class last week, except for Number 1. I was not subjected to any stupid human tricks and thus felt good about my novice form (save that for the All Levels night). Numbers 2-6, however, were there driving me secretly crazy. It’s the reason I can’t justify the two hours of my day it takes to attend a class and why I’ve been absent for nearly half a year. It’s also precisely why I need to start a regular practice ASAP.

i hate yoga 2

A lovely article entitled The Yoga of Darkness touches on many of the issues I’ve come to know from my yoga experience. See, I want to be one of those peaceful, glowing girls with killer arms and the ability to contort into a pretzel, but I’m not. And taking a couple yoga classes per week for six weeks or so isn’t going to transform me into one. That’s about the point I quit and move on to running or couch sitting. You know what they don’t tell you when you toy with the idea of starting a yoga practice? Shit gets real.

When you start a meditation or yoga practice, at some point, you’re forced to turn inward. This is not always a pleasant task, and frequently, what we see ain’t pretty. Every single thing I hate about yoga is rooted in this. As a society, we’ve gotten very good at anesthetizing ourselves with whatever we can get our hands on: booze, sex, relationships, cigarettes, food, drugs (pick your poison). I’m no exception. Yoga directly challenges my inner escape artist, and so when I’m in class, my monkey brain turns saboteur and that ego starts in on me in a way I can’t handle. I don’t come back to class for months at a time because it is uncomfortable and dark and ugly to deal with that part of myself, so I’d rather not. And because I’ve chosen not to, very little significant change ever enters my life.

Many spiritual gurus and practitioners will tell you (and I am paraphrasing here) that you can’t circumvent your own bullshit. You gotta go straight through it. Get knee deep in it. Confront it. That’s the only way we can ever really change. So if that means I go back to holding unnatural poses and wailing against the total lack of distraction from my squirrely, monkey brain, then so be it. I’m going to enter the muck and see what happens. If I stick it out, get past the current obstacles, and realize I still don’t like yoga, then that’s just what it will be. But maybe a yoga practice, no matter how uncomfortable, will be a catalyst for change. Hell, maybe I’ll even get a six pack and killer handstand out the deal. It’s worth a shot.

Namaste.