Not a Country of Immigrants

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats (and non-citizen residents who are the descendants of expats). The 20% who are citizens benefit from a wide variety of benefits involving land, housing, healthcare, and education, among other things. They run the country.

The UAE is a modern nation, newly built out of an almost uninhabited desert. Over the past sixty years, oil wealth and air conditioning have allowed thriving cities to spring up where only a few thousand people once huddled along the coast.

Visitors can’t help but be impressed with how clean and safe Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. Everything seems new and shiny, and helpful people abound.

Yet, if you begin to ask questions (something I have a habit of doing) you will find that most if not all of the friendly people serving your coffee and carting your luggage are not Emiratis. They are from Indonesia and the Philippines, or from India or Pakistan. Most (but not all) are Muslim, and they are in the UAE seeking a better life, just like your Uber driver in most US cities. The big difference for them is that they know they and their children will never belong.

So, why do they come to an Arab nation that is so determined not to be a country of immigrants? Well, the UAE is arguably the richest land of opportunity near their original homes. They appreciate the clean and safe environment, too. For many, the common religion is a big factor. They like the lack of income tax on money made here. In short, it is the best alternative for them.

Expats are held to a high standard of good behavior, here, and if deported they can never come back. Our guide brags about how the UAE led the development of retina scanning. Ours have been scanned and recorded when we entered the country, we are told. I find the fact chilling. They have the right to do this? I guess they do.

The point of the retina scanning is that no fake passports will work for those who are not welcome to come back. The UAE makes sure all expats know this.

I’m from a nation that has a horrible history of having overrun those who originally lived there. It’s something to be ashamed of, but after its ignoble start, the USA did become a land of welcoming opportunity to many and I was raised to be proud of that. So, I find the clearly articulated nativism of the UAE disconcerting.

I remind myself that one travels to learn about other lands, and other lands do not have to have the same philosophy as my own homeland.  Of course they don’t.

I look up the definition of “nativism” to make sure I am using it correctly. It is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Yup, I’m using it right.

The UAE is full of wonderful sights and wonderful people. I’m so glad I visited, and I’d recommend the trip to others. However, I prefer the messy but welcoming enthusiasm with which my own homeland once greeted others seeking a better life, and I look forward to the day when the USA returns to being that sort of country.

 

Forward into the Past

Of course a science fiction convention is going to be partly about time travel.

Back to the Future got a nod at the 2019 Worldcon last week with a display of the DeLorean, but part of the convention also did some going forward into the past.

The most involved piece in the masquerade ball (which is more of a series of promenades onto a stage than a ball) consisted of costumed rogues and misfits from the future entering a gazebo-like time portal to go back into the Pliocene.

Meanwhile, fans of epic fantasy, and those aspiring to write it, were treated to historians and authors talking about the middle ages on several panels.

There was a discussion of alternatives to monarchies that authors could turn to to add some variety to their stories, and another giving advice on how feudalism worked in reality and how rare it actually was. There was even a panel about a list of misconceptions about medieval times, brought to life with Medieval Myths Bingo.

My personal favorite was a presentation involving weapons often featured in fantasy novels. Because both presenters were swordsmen, they focused on writing about swordplay while demonstrating specifics with each other and willing audience participants.

It was great fun, but I would also have enjoyed learning more about daggers, spears, battle axes and crossbows. Given the enthusiasm of the crowd, these two instructors could probably have conducted a full day seminar on weapons from the past and it would have been well attended. As it was, they invited participants to join them in the hallway after the talk to handle the weapons themselves and many of us took them up on the offer.

Time itself becomes a little fuzzy at an event like this, you know,  as the real world fades away and the surreal world of of nonstop fan activities takes over. One tends to forget if it is day or night, much less what day it is.

Most of us had to laugh when we saw signs like this pop up a couple of days in, but honestly it was helpful.

The past was also present in references to beloved science fiction from long ago. Dublin’s convention center peppered the areas around the escalators with warning messages like the one to the right. It was advice no fan could ignore.

Whenever we ventured out from the convention center, a lovely harp-shaped bridge greeted us. It was a fine reminder of the two prongs of this literature we came to celebrate: the sleek beauty of tomorrow and the magic we so often associate with yesterday.

Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here! at An New Irish Experience,and at Feeling at home.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

We have Groucho Marx to thank for this witty line. It pops into my head every time I think about how time flies.

Most of my life I’ve considered time, not money, to be my most valuable resource. Maybe I should have put it second to love, or joy, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t. Maybe I always thought I was going to die young. Lucky for me, I’m getting a little too old to do that ….

If you cherish your minutes like I do, you tend to be busy, focused and impatient. Friends marvel at how much you get done. They also wish you’d learn to relax more.

This last year has been more intense than most, as I seized the day, the week, and the months to re-release new versions of my six novels.  I was often up at dawn (not my normal), driven to get through one more chapter. I had to make these perfect. I had to get them done.

Then, I did. And, I was exhausted.

I had expected to finish a month sooner, and had scheduled some travel to unwind after my big push. Instead, I ended up rushing off on my trip, finally catching my breath on a five-hour cross country flight that was running over three hours late. Sort of like me. I woke up somewhere on the Pacific coast and thought now what?

Now what, indeed. I ate lunch at the beach. Put my feet in the ocean. Went to a party, saw a live show and a movie, and went wine tasting. I even tried my hand at some virtual reality game involving light sabers and music.

There was pizza and french fries for dinner, lots of ice cream, and plenty of wine. Sometimes that wine was drunk in the middle of the day.

I relaxed. I enjoyed myself. I had fun.

Wow.

Should I have wasted all that time?? You bet. You see, time flies like an arrow. Best use some of it to recharge your batteries and enjoy this wonderful gift of getting to exist. As the fruit flies will tell you, there’s no reason part of it shouldn’t be fun.

One Thing a Day

I promised myself I’d find one thing a day I’d learned while I enjoyed a four-week trip around the USA. I called it my rules of the road, and it kept me paying attention to the important things, and sometimes the little things, that shaped my days.

I’m not sure there are any profound revelations on the list, but in aggregate, I get a few messages.

Curious? Here’s the list.

Rules of the Road (Daily learnings from a 28 day road trip)

#1. Make sure everything is well organized so you don’t have to look for things and can see if you are leaving something behind.
#2. Forgive yourself when you break rule number one and leave something important behind.
#3. If it doesn’t sound good to you, don’t order it. Don’t eat it. Don’t drink it. No matter how much your sister likes it, or how much you like your sister. Just don’t.
#4. Bloom where you are planted, even if it’s only for a day.
#5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
#6. No saying I should have. You didn’t.
#7. It’s okay if some travels make you sad. Cry.
#8: Get off the road once in awhile.
#9. When all else fails, turn to another human for help.
#10. Always bring an onion.
#11. Avoid unnecessary trouble, no matter how much that asshole deserves it.
#12. When you’re cranky, focus on something else.
#13. Don’t let a little dust stop you from doing what you want to do.
#14. Don’t let a day determine how your evening will go.
#15. Stop pretending to be meaner or more miserable than you are, just to make meaner and more miserable people like you.
#16. What rules? What road?
#17. If you get interrupted by a parade, laugh.
#18. It doesn’t have to make sense, at least not if you’re a human being.
#19. When you cross the border into another reality, cross it.
#20. Pee when you have to, you don’t know what’s around the next bend.
#21. Allow way more time than you think you need.
#22. Stop when you’re exhausted. Treat this like it’s Rule #1.
#23. They live in their reality and you live in yours. Remember this insight.
#24. When something makes no sense at all, go ahead and read the directions.
#25. Never back up more than you have to.
#26. Avoid extremely difficult days. If you can’t, do your best to see there is comfort waiting for you at the end of that day.
#27. If you didn’t learn anything special today, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.
#28. Be grateful to have made the journey. Be grateful to have made it home.

Day 28. Grateful

This last day of my journey is going to be two days, as we opt to let some of the long drive spill over into tomorrow. It’s okay, I’m going to consider this a journey of 28 days anyway.

The final stretch is a trip through the deep south; our slightly longer route determined by the need to pick up my husband’s car at an airport in South Carolina.

We end up spending the night in town in which the only open restaurant is a fast food chicken place, and the only open grocery store is whatever they sell at the bait shop attached to the local gas station. We patch together a meal from what’s in our car.

The TV at our place has no reception, but we find something to watch in the collection of old VHS movies that are provided.  (The Client, with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. It’s not bad and it speeds the evening along.)

The next day, as I finally drive up the road to my own house, my last rule of the road, #28, is clear. Be grateful to have made the journey. Be grateful to have made it home.

I’ve been listening to my playlist of “25 songs with home in the title” ever since I dropped my husband off to get his car. When the list is done, Gabrielle Aplin’s Home is the one I play twice. Make that three times.

I don’t see the video until after I’m in the house and finishing this blog. It has such a creepy start that I almost don’t post it, but I watch it a few more times and it wins me over. Besides, so much of the country she travels through looks like where I’ve just been.

I could swear I passed the guy in the yellow truck at least once in my travels. In fact, I might have stayed at his Airbnb. Or maybe I saw him at Burning Man. At any rate, the video resonates with my journey, and her song leaves me smiling … because I’m finally home.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

 

Day 23. What’s Your Reality?

I’ve spent several days at Burning Man, which I think we can all agree is a world unto itself. Now that I’m back in what burners call the default world, I seem to be hyper aware of the fact that none of us live in quite the same reality as each other.

We choose different forms of entertainment, and of news. We spend time with different sorts of people. We treat our bodies differently with our food, our rest and our recreation. Our surroundings, which we have some ability to choose, vary radically. It may be amazing that any of us agree as much as we do.

The point is really brought home today when I go visit my husband’s brother and his wife at their ranch. I admire these two a great deal. Years ago they made a choice to live off of the grid, growing or raising most of their own food, hauling in their own water, generating their own solar power. Their food is pure, their bodies work hard.

The vision has morphed somewhat, allowing more modernization and convenience, but they still live a harsh and solitary life in a stunning location. Today’s big news is that they have found a way to have hot running water. They’ve both just taken their first shower at home at the turn of a knob since they began this life about a decade ago. They are quite pleased.

For all that I find their place beautiful, and their choices admirable, I realize that I’m glad I don’t live their life. I enjoy hot showers and baths, among many other creature comforts.

Then I realize, I don’t have to be them, any more than they have to be me. I choose my reality, more or less, just as they’ve chosen theirs.

Isn’t that nice?

But as we visit with each other, it’s helpful to remember that we communicate across a membrane; they in their world and me in mine. While it may be less obvious once I’m back in the town where I live, I vow to remember this insight. Rule 23. It’s a good one for the road and off.

As to the odds of each of us getting to end up in the reality that truly suits us? I think Jimmy Cliff had it all figured out years ago …

 

Day 22. Stop, or Else …

I should have reconsidered my plan to follow-up 6 nights camping at Burning Man with two long days of driving. Last night I woke up twice in the night thinking the place was filling up with dust. An inch or more of the flaky grey coating on everything gave the room the look of something out of a horror movie, until I turned on the lights and saw there was no dust at all.

The second time it happened I knew I needed a little more decompression time.

Luckily, we are staying for three nights at this pretty Airbnb in Trinidad Colorado where we have our own 2nd floor apartment and garden below. The mountain view is more lush than Nevada, although I’m not sure what isn’t. We are not going anywhere today; relatives will come to see us.

But I wake up with no appetite for visiting or making food, and decide that doing qigong out in the garden will make a world of difference. Qigong is a form of moving meditation that involves breathing and simple exercises designed to improve ones personal energy flow. I’m sure mine could use some improving.

Only I forget to take my shoes down with me, and the garden is filled with small sharp rocks. I don’t want to go back up and get them, so I walk along the flagstone lining the little pond, trying to get over to the concrete patio.

It seems a simple thing, but one of the flagstone is unattached. It topples right off when I step on it and, although the fall is only a foot or two, I land hard.

My right toe has been sliced open and is bleeding pretty good, and my left knee throbs and is swelling fast.

“What the hell is the matter with me?” I mutter at myself.

Then I know. I’m exhausted, mentally and physically. I’ve failed to stop and rest, like I should have, which has just become rule of the road #22 and maybe should have been rule #1.

My body and mind have conspired together to get me to do something stupid so that I will ….. just ….. stop.

“Okay, I’ve stopped,” I yell in irritation, wrapping a tissue from my pocket around my toe. Soon I’ll be bandaging it up, and sitting with my other leg elevated under an ice pack.

Aren’t we humans funny creatures? We go and go and often don’t bother to stop and listen to our own needs.

Aren’t we humans lucky creatures? We’re made to find a way to take care of ourselves. Sometimes we do it the easy way. Other times, we need to make a mistake.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful