Without a doubt, 2018 was a life-changing year.
As I write this I am sitting on my bed watching the sunrise from my 6th floor apartment in Abu Dhabi. The haunting call to prayer sounded 30 minutes ago, gently nudging me out from under my warm duvet. I wish I could say that pulling back the curtains and watching the day unfold through my floor to ceiling windows is something I do everyday. If I’m not still under the covers I’m sitting on a bus, speeding past the mangroves on my way to work as the surface of the water changes from deep brown to crimson to gold. The sunrises here are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
This has been a defining year in many ways. I took a huge leap and landed somewhere between where I was and where I want to be. There is no going back, no wish to go back, and I’m happy to settle in and occupy this in-between space.
It’s difficult to compress an entire year into a few bullet points but here are the experiences that shaped my 2018.
Moving to Abu Dhabi
The obvious highlight of 2018. Never in my life could I have imagined living in the Middle East. When Luke and I arrived in August the air was so thick with humidity and the sun so relentlessly bright it was difficult to breathe. Our apartment had no electricity and water was leaking from the ceiling. We had one day to settle in before starting a full week of work. Trying to navigate a new city in the oppressive heat while jet lagged was stressful and exhausting. The entire first month was stressful and exhausting. I was full of anguish and furious at myself for leaving an amazing job and moving to what I viewed as a literal hell on earth.
I know what you’re thinking. How awful! How is this a highlight? Well, in just four months (and a lot of trips to IKEA and a lot of maintenance visits) we have transformed our apartment into a peaceful sanctuary full of plants. I have a cupboard full of yarn and space for my loom. We’ve come to the realization that living in Abu Dhabi during this particular time in history is a privilege. Every time I walk along the corniche, or learn something new from a student, or spend an American holiday with our new friends, I am reminded of how unique this opportunity is. My worldview is already changing and I have grown in ways I never would have by staying stagnant in North Carolina. We didn’t take the easy way and in the end, I have no regrets.
Going to the Amazon
I am still processing and trying to accept that I have visited the Amazon rainforest! Saying it out loud sounds ridiculous. I caught a catfish with a piece of wood and some string in a downpour on the Amazon river and made fresh ceviche. I saw a sloth in the wild, high up in the trees. I got to see the tiniest monkey in the world, a pygmy monkey, drinking sap from a tree. I had a scarlet macaw soar past my head. I had a meltdown when I realized that the giant waterlilies I so desperately wanted to see were unreachable in the dry season. My husband hacked his way through the jungle with a machete. A flying fish smacked me in the chest while we were going down a tributary in the dark looking for caiman. In short, it was thrilling, unpredictable and challenging, the way all adventures should be.
My First Artist Residency
Something I have wanted to do for years finally came to fruition this year. I got to spend three weeks living in the Sacred Valley of Peru learning the art of backstrap weaving from a local Quechua-speaking woman named Maria. Every part of the weaving process, from the wood used to make the loom, to the colors of the symbols being woven, has a meaning and tells a story. Nothing is arbitrary and the final product is a mirror of the weaver’s identity. The weaver and the weaving are one, the cloth being a vessel for the soul in the same way our bodies are.
I loved this experience and I hope to explore this philosophy more as I continue to create textiles in 2019.
Our First Wedding Anniversary
I can’t believe our first anniversary has come and gone. We visited one of our favorite places on earth, Seabrook Island in South Carolina. We ate year-old frozen wedding cake, drank wine and went for long evening bike rides. It was perfect.
Going to Machu Picchu
Yes, it was just as amazing as everyone says it is. We went two hours before sunset and it was the perfect amount of time to see the site with the added bonus of way less people. My dad also went to Machu Picchu in 2018! He came with me to Cusco before my artist residency started and then traveled there solo.
Exploring the Middle East
Before we moved to Abu Dhabi, we made a goal to see as much as the Middle East as possible and in just four months we’ve traveled to Oman, Jordan and Israel. We spent Christmas in Jerusalem and I hope to write more about the experience in the new year.
I said goodbye too many times in 2018. To my family, my colleagues and friends in Charlotte, an amazing job at the best private school. The hardest goodbye was unquestionably for my grandpa. The silver lining was traveling to Newfoundland for his funeral and getting to see cousins and extended family that I rarely see. It was an emotional family reunion that resulted in more painful goodbyes. Even though we’ve made new friends in Abu Dhabi, it is SO hard to live thousands of miles away from your family.
While looking back on 2018 in this way, I can’t help but feel immensely thankful. Through the difficult times and the thrilling adventures, having someone to share my life with is the greatest joy I could ever ask for.
Cheers to a hopeful, creative, adventurous and light-filled 2019!