Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A love song for Omaha


Getting excited about all the Halloween displays already out

Welcome to Nebraska. Home of Arbor day. Home of GO BIG RED Husker football. Home of... Well, shoot. Let's just call it home.

After flying for roughly 32 hours, I was grateful to see Lisa's ever-chipper smiling face at the airport. She kindly ignored my unshowered-girl stink and herded me outside, baggage in tow.

"The air." I gasped. "You can smell the air. It has smells."

Lisa smiled politely, laughed a bit, and popped me into the car. We were off. I was in Omaha.

For those of you who don't know, Omaha is the nation's 40th largest city (oh thank you, wiki, for completely irrelevant facts). Founded along the Missouri River, it's tucked into the quaint 'n charming great ol' American midwest. There's lots of grass, cows, corn, cows, corn and huskers. That's Omaha.

Now imagine this. Times a million. That's Nebraska on game day. Thanks internet!

What wiki and Omaha's visitors website fail to capture is the true charm of this little place. Before leaving for Doha, I was spoiled. I expected that there would be fat squirrels chasing after my Clif Bars (a la Creighton University) and women chasing after my newly-purchased shoes.

Beautiful mural located down in the Old Market

Having lived in the Middle East, I know such assumptions are ill-founded. What is here in Omaha really is unique. My first morning back, I went on a 2.5 mile walk to the much beloved Super Target. I couldn't stop grinning. The grass was green, bright and dark and smelling freshly of earth. There was a sky, one blue with almost stupidly fluffy clouds, not bleached by a harsh desert sun. Birds chirped. Crickets and cicadas whispered from the corners, all creating the swooping sound of nature. An occasional breeze brought the slightest hint of autumn's chill right up against my face.

Enjoying Jason's Deli with one of my favs :)

Since then, I've gone on many of these long walks. My initial intense wonder (what I imagine using acid might be like?) has faded into something more constant and quiet: absolute adoration. Omaha truly is a beautiful place. With its rolling green hills and its four seasons, with the leaves of trees already tinged with reds and berries, with its farms crouching close at the city's limits, it drips its own unique splendor.

Part of the Labor Day parade: Tractors

Another charm of the big ol' Nebraska, and Omaha in particular? There are women. Women in the stores. Women in the streets. Women with their lil babies screaming at the grocery store. ...nix that last one. But there are women. After spending three months in a region where ladies are few and far between, I am constantly struck by the wonder of seeing gals out and about. Suddenly, I'm not a rarity, an oddity. I am just one of many others, and I am perfectly a-ok with that.

Part of the Labor Day Parade round II: Cars with singing fish

I love being back. Bet you couldn't tell.

Having only three weeks in Omaha before shipping out to Cali has made my time here both extra precious and a bit sad. Everything I so adore (read: Jason's Deli, Whole Foods, good people) will soon be gone. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I finally have found a home. Thanks to Creighton, my close friends, my professors, and all those other amazing individuals (you know who you are), I have a little niche that is mine, a place where I feel not only comfortable but also loved.

Marco loves a lil lovin'

Rather than dwell on the sad aspect of my imminent departure, I've been spending these last couple weeks enjoying my favorites. I've visited several farmers' markets (both here and in Lincoln). I've seen friends out the wazoo (which gives me a great excuse to eat at all my favorite places, especially because they've usually been willing to drive my car-less tush around). I've even popped up to Creighton a couple times, riding in with Lisa. I still love Creighton. Go there.

Downtown. Pic from internet.

So that's Nebraska. I'm heading out to Cali in just two days, and from there I'll be wandering across the pond. It's crazy to think that in less than two weeks, I will be in England (if things with the visa work out, knock on wood, cross your fingers, kill a leprechaun).

I'm glad that I have a home, and that it's here in Omaha.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Waving Dubai-bye to Doha, hello to Omaha.

I can't believe it's over.

3 months, ninety days, endless experiences all beneath the melting desert sun, and it's over. I'm back in Omaha.

I arrived only hours ago after roughly thirty-three joyous hours of traveling through the wonderful creations that are airports. Dante knew nothing of the circles of hell. I've got him beat... but that's a story for another time.

My last days in Doha were fantastic. As Ramadan commenced in full swing, I found myself striving to savor those last niblets of all my favorite Qatar things. The ABODE gang took me to Thai Snack, where I gorged myself on melon dipped in curry sauce, fried morning glories and of course papaya salad. I will miss that.

Sweaty and stuffed outside Thai Snack

For my final Thursday night, those crazy ABODE staffers threw a surprise going away party. They said we were going to watch the exorcist. Resigned to scary-movie-viewing (I hate horror films), I showed up at Bryce's apartment with popcorn and peas. Kath met me outside with a grin. "You scared?" This from the girl who gets goosebumps watching daytime TV.

"Of course!" I exclaimed, following her up, up and away into Bryce's apartment. We all know how this story ends. Crowding in the hallway were all the people I had come to know and absolutely cherish during my time at Doha: Bryce, Tessa, Megan, Del, others. "SURPRISE!" They shouted as I walked inside. "Surprise!"

Megan, me, kath and Joyce (an amazing person/writer/MISS YOU!)

"We made vegetarian food," explained Kath, showing me the impressive array of goodies. Bryce prepared Indian dishes. Kath cooked up some puppy chow and chopped vegetables. ("I knew how to cut cauliflower because you showed me," she noted. "I hated it.") Megan whipped together her famous guac, and Tessa repeated the created-by-mistake hummus Lebanese seven layer mexican style dip, which tastes far better than it sounds.

Poor Salah: promised movie time, equally surprised by surprise party

"And we made bloody maries because they are veggie too," added a grinning Miss Flood.

Half the snack table. YUM.

I spent the remaining days in the company of good friends, relishing the sun, sand and all that I would soon leave.

Then it was time to go. They took me to the airport, this unexpected family of mine, Bryce and Tessa and of course Kathleen. We hugged and I almost couldn't let go. I'm not ready, I wanted to say. I could stay another nine months, I could keep on writing and living with Kath. I'm not ready.

Kath pushed a note into my hand and slid a bracelet on my wrist. I've never been one to cry when appropriate, so the tears I felt in my heart weren't quite there on my face. Suffice to say it was hard to walk through that awful security checkpoint and commence my long journey back towards H'omaha. I'm not ready.

Shisha partner, and so much more (liason? Sister? Both? Mobile?)

Now, sitting in bed hours later waiting for the sun to rise, with the smell of autumn mixing with the scent of clean bed sheets and bottles of my untouched perfume, I realize just how much I grew to love Doha and the people there. The opportunity was amazing. Fresh from college, I was allowed the chance to work as a full time staff writer for a nine-year-old magazine. My editors gave me freedom to pursue my own stories and guidance to keep me on track. I lived in the Middle East, a land so entirely different from anything I'm used to that still my head is reeling. And I met some amazing, amazing people... people who have again reminded me just how great life can be when you let those certain individuals in.

Already little things about being back in Nebraska are surprising and astounding me. The soda cans open with a pop-top lid. The air is scented with grass and trees that will soon drop their leaves. The sun is still hiding and it's after 5:30. There are no women in abayas, no men in thobes. Wow.

Reverse culture shock, here I come.

For as much as it hurts to leave behind ABODE and the fantastic people I met there (here's looking at you, KK), I am ready for my next adventure. California looms just weeks in the future. Until then, I plan on fully indulging in the charms Omaha has to offer. It'll be nice to see old friends, enjoy my own room, and spend time with Lisa. I want to visit the farmer's market, Whole foods, book stores, my old high school, Creighton...

After that? Cambridge. A new life. A new run.

...speaking of run, I think I may sneak off right now and go for one outside. I can do that here. It's not 120F. Wow.

I'm back in Omaha.