Back at long last

Hey everybody!

It’s been forever and I’m thrilled to feel my fingers banging away at my keyboard. Tons of stuff to talk about, but I’ll split it into a few posts.

Leaving Belgium was a totally bittersweet experience. It’s essentially the only job I’ve had since finishing my training, and it occupied the vast majority of my adult life. On the other hand, it was me who decided to become an expat again.

Saying goodbye was deliciously moving, sad and hopeful at the same time. My co-workers were fantastic and lovely and heartbreakingly nice with me as I got ready to leave. I’ll never forget any of them, and of course I’m looking forward to seeing them and the hospital again.

As any of you who follow me on Facebook have seen, I’m completely enchanted with Abu Dhabi. I’ve been here for six weeks now, and am nowhere near coming down off my cloud.

Leaving aside the weather, the sun (feels like a reunion with a long lost friend), and the sea, what makes this place magic is the people.

On an average morning, from waking up until getting to the OR, I interact with people of at least five to ten different nationalities and cultures. And everyone is full of respect, usually smiling, and displaying an openness that is completely new for me. I’ve thought long and hard about the origins of this, and while I’m not sure I have AN answer, what I came up with surprised me. A lot.

Of course there’s the weather, and how it buoys the spirit. Of course there’s the pay – remember that most people, regardless of their job or station in life, are usually earning more than they would had they been home rather than here (Please don’t assail me with the horror stories. I know they exist, but I’m here and you’re not.) But there’s more.

For me, the explanation of the incredible vibe here is . . . Islam. Yep, that’s what I said. Islam.

You see, Islam is more than what we think of as a “religion”. It’s more than just a set of rules and practices and going to Masjid (the Mosque). Islam is about how to live. From waking up in the morning to waking up the next morning. (Sound familiar to any Orthodox Jews reading me?) The respect and openness that pervade and permeate life here are, for me, proof that this is not just talk. It is the essence of life here. I suspect that the number of devout people here is only slightly higher than in the west. But the principles really reach far into the fabric of day to day life here. And it is wonderful.

One sees it in little ways, constantly. “Inch’allah” – if it pleases God. Used after EVERY evocation of a future event. See you tomorrow, inch’allah. I’m having curtains installed tomorrow, inch’allah. What a lovely way to constantly remind ourselves that much as we’d like to think so, we dont really control what happens to us. Or “al hamdillulah” – thank God. Of course, we use that too, all the time, but here it’s deeper, more heartfelt. And used every time anything good is evoked. So much so that when you’re asked – how are you?, you can simply answer “hamdilullah”. There are other expressions, all of them delicious and almost moving. It’s constant, and it’s refreshing, and I’m sure it’s part of what makes this place so wonderful.

I’m ordinarily a seriously grumpy guy, and I find myself in conversation, sometimes deep conversation, with the most unexpected people. Taxi drivers for example, or the salesman where I rewarded myself with a briefcase (full disclosure, Longchamp, brown, beautiful). Malek is his name. A Syrian (right there you think, holy crap, is your family ok? And you realise it doesnt matter what side they’re on, what matters is the drama behind that). Malek is an archeologist, and we both wound up teared up at the tragedy of the richness of his country being torn apart. Or the staff in the hotel I stayed at until my apartment was ready. They’re all like cousins now. I stop back regularly just to catch up. THAT IS JUST NOT THE ME I WAS.

I’m not going to talk about my job now, for reasons that will become clear in the next weeks. Suffice to say that men are men, with their jealousies, insecurities, and pettinesses. So I’ve a bit of a bump in this marvelously smooth road laid out in front of me. Still less than anything Malek has confronted. More on this later.

I’m thrilled to be writing again. Thrilled with my new life. And blessed to have so many fascinating, curious intelligent people willing to read my words.

Next post imminently.

47 thoughts on “Back at long last

    • It is SO worth it. At the most basic level, the place has the greatest shopping malls ever. I’ve discovered al Samadi sweets, a fairly tiny shop that has the most AMAZING Arabic sweets you can imagine. Have I mentioned the restaurants? Don’t get me started!

      You’ll stand in front of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and be blinded by the sun reflecting off the white marble, and won’t be able to help being moved almost to tears at the beauty and power of the building.

      The last few days have been a bit rough for me here, yet the vibe, the people, and the sun warming us all have made it impossible to be anything but positive and optimistic. And lo and behold, we’re back on track.

      Get off that plane, get into a taxi, and tell the driver to take you somewhere cool. And keep doing that for a few hours. You might not leave.

  1. Gary, you write so well! It’s great to read you’re reflections on sunny AD… although a little disconcerting when I’m about to move from sunny Sydney Australia to the Netherlands!!
    Please keep blogging about life in AD. πŸ™‚

  2. Oh and here’s hoping Yas Marina circuit needs a local doc to participate. Would love to hear you back in the car Doc!

  3. Doc,

    My best friend and I always talk about life being like a book. Turning pages for the little things, new chapters for the big ones.

    Congratulations on the new chapter, what I’ve read already sounds like you’re in a great place.

    Can’t wait to read more !


  4. Hi Gary,
    I hope your reason for moving was not ‘assisted’ by Todt and Saillant’s attempts to have you fired from your old job. You’ll love 45deg, I live in Australia so I can tell you from experience. But for me 45deg needs to be accompanied by the beach and alcohol, which I believe the Muslims aren’t mad about…
    Either way, glad you’re liking your new surroundings. Soak it up mate, forza humanity.

    • Edward, life in Abu Dhabi happily evolves round very alcoholic, Friday brunches at five star hotels like the St Regis, and the Ritz Carlton down to the Crown Plaza and three star hotels. For example, at the Ritz, for around only 80 Euros you can eat from spectacular buffets – delicious food from all over the world (including foie gras, lobster, Wagyu beef, oysters, etc) and drink copious amounts of beer, wine, cocktails and Champagne for four hours on Fridays (eat and drink as much as you wish). Then you get a taxi home and swear you will never do it again since you are completely sozzled but of course you do because the place is such a social whirl and there are so many great restaurants to try. Or you can head out to the islands with a cooler of beer and BBQ. Contrary to many peoples’ belief, the people of the UAE embrace all cultures, religions and traditions. It’s the antithesis of Saudi Arabia where drinking is only done behind high walls. It’s always real fun having visitors here since they never expect Abu Dhabi to have such an awesome bar and restaurant culture. Do come visit!

      • Haven’t done the brunch thing yet, but youve convinced me. If I’m not on call it starts next Friday. There are two St. Regis’s right? One off the Corniche one on Saadiyat?

      • Indeed there are two St Regis. I did brunch at the Corniche one fairly recently; good service inside the terrace restaurant but cooking stations outside for fois gras, grilled meat, shellfish etc that were impossibly slow (with the poor chefs at the grills nearly on their knees from heat – awful). For your introduction to brunch I would suggest Saadiyat St Regis or the Ritz Carlton out by the Grand Mosque. The selection on offer at the Ritz is phenomenal down to a separate cheese room and a dessert room that will have you climbing the walls from sugar high for days afterwards! And prepare to spend the week in the gym! Booking required (St Regis Saadiyat 024988888 / Ritz Carlton 028188888).

  5. Good to hear that things are going your way Gary, as one of the good guys that’s entirely deserved.

    Say hello to your cats from me! One of the pleasant things in life is to be ignored by your feline companions, unless they want something πŸ™‚

    • Tragically unsurprising. Patients with DAI who are profoundly comatose on admission tend to remain comatose. I’m heartbroken for his parents.

      And (lest this point fade as a new season, with its risks and dangers, is well underway), I’m full of rage that the appointment of a totally inexperienced and (let’s say it clearly) incompetent Medical Delegate dramatically compromised Jules’ care after being extricated from his car. As we’ve mentioned (and I can only hope the Bianchi’s attorneys have noted), Piette failed to conform to HIS OWN regulations as concerns evacuation. His subsequent justification that the difference between the theoretical 20 minute evac time and the reality of a 40 minute trip to the hospital made no clinical difference is both sickeningly mendacious, and medically preposterous.

      It will not bring Jules back, but I can only hope that legal redress will establish firmly that Piette’s lack of leadership and basic notions of trauma care will end his “career”, and make merit-based appointments (rather than Todt’s incest-based system) the permanent rule.

      And yes, I will learn Arabic. I love the language, its nuances and tonalities, and can’t wait to be able to speak even just a bit. Inch’Allah.

    • It’s fascinating to read the interview and to see that Philippe Bianchi starts by expressing his gratitude that his son is still alive rather than concentrating on the ‘stagnant’ part which all the media have highlighted.
      “The first thing is Jules is alive, that’s the most important thing for us,” said Bianchi’s father Philippe, speaking to Canal+.
      “He’s fighting with the weapons he has, but in neurological terms I’m not sure he is able to do much now.
      “Seeing him fighting gives a lot of hope to his loved ones, and it’s important for us.”
      Long before I knew anything about prolonged comas I saw a BBC documentary filmed in Addenbrookes Hospital ‘Between Life And Death’ in which families said exactly the same thing, even though a minimally conscious state was the best recovery that anyone made in the programme. I wonder about this more than ever now that I am following the stories of Michael Schumacher and Bobbi Kristina as well as Jules Bianchi.

  6. UAE sounds great Gary, although it would be too hot for me. Lovely and sunny here in the UK today in good old multicultural Birmingham. I don’t think any one religion has discovered the secret, apart from the fact that we are all human and far from immortal and so we might as well enjoy the present. Plenty of people here of all religions and none who seem pretty happy on the whole.
    I hope Jean Todt is happy too now that he has got his UN Road Safety Envoy position. Maybe it will lead to changes in F1 – who knows. The sun shines on the just and the unjust!

    • I’ll get to Mr. Road Safety in an imminent post.

      Going to be 45Β° tomorrow they tell me. First time I’ll feel that temperature. Can’t wait!

      Not sure I said anyone or any group has discovered any secrets. I did mention that after thinking a lot about things, and closely observing life here, and observing things (and talking about them with smart people), I’m convinced that the core principles of Islam (the state religion) are in no small part responsible for much of the “magic” of this place.

      Don’t get me started about European “multiculturalism”. It seems only people of our colour actually think it’s working. And then, only those of our colour who are not forced to interact with those of “their color”! The EU states are on a collision course with something with which they are totally unprepared to deal. And I’m afraid that no matter the “solution” chosen in the various member states, the resolution will perforce imply that either the very meaning of “European identity” will change, or the humanitarian ethos on which the EU has prided itself (at least since the end of WWII) will be washed away.

      • Glad you are back! Interesting to read what you write about multiculturalism in Europe. Here in Sweden today, politicians suggest that it should be possible to go through the Swedish High School without proper knowledge of Swedish. It can be done in English by immigrants.

      • Only a tiny bit more, as this is not my area of expertise, and far from something I feel like getting into lengthy, passionate, and ultimately sterile debates over. Here goes:

        It seems to me that “Europe” has a choice. Almost all “immigrant” populations have birth rates that are significantly higher than replacement, while autochthonous populations are well below replacement. Long story short? If the current “multiculturalism” is maintained, what we, and more importantly Europeans, think of as being “European” will perforce change as presumably somewhere around mid-century they become minorities in “their own” countries.

        Alternately, measures are taken to slow or end this process (witness the struggle now to deal with trans-Med migration). While this may be effective in stemming the demographics, this alternative will, again perforce, put paid to any self congratulatory “haven of humanism” on which Europe as a whole has prided itself for some number of years (with more or less factual basis).

        That’s all. Again, I’ve neither the expertise nor the desire to pursue debates on this issue. I moved here and am more than content to watch from a distance Europe’s struggles with this.

      • To Gary – your very interesting response made me think about Birmingham especially as we had Diversity Day in my college yesterday. I grew up and went to school locally in a 100% white environment and now work in a college where there are very few white students and yet it just seems normal to me. Maybe the people who move to Birmingham (we get new arrivals all the time) come here because they are searching for a better life in much the same way as you were when you moved to UAE. This is a solid Labour seat and certainly not UKIP territory.
        To Mimi, Most of my family are great tennis fans – I went one year and my son and daughter are planning to with their cousins. It’s at the Priory in Edgbaston – Aegon Classic Birmingham
        15th – 21st June 2015. My son is at Warwick University and is head of RAW sport (university radio) and tries to attend as many local events as possible to report on. He was thrilled to have the chance to report on a track day in Northampton a few weeks ago. His favourite sport is football and our local Birmingham City team.

    • How does this change what I wrote about my experience so far . . . in Abu Dhabi? Want me to write a similar article about, say, India? Where as I remember, some schlub built himself a 53-some-odd STORY house for himself, his cars and his wife and kid? Or about the USA, where for example my sister, who’s 58, only just got health insurance? Or about Belgium where they’re STILL trying to keep a steel industry alive 40 years after it became uncompetitive? Oh did I mention the animals running Russia, or their boorish compatriots who are making travelling ANYWHERE they are a nauseating experience?

      Cupidity, vanity, and ego massaging is a universal. Go to Monaco this weekend for example. There IS lots of money around. So?

      That said, the people I’ve dealt with here . . . in Abu Dhabi . . . have been singularly open, respectful, and fascinating. You can read what you want. I’ve read that the surface of Venus is quite inhospitable. I’m TELLING you what I’ve LIVED. Thanks for your attempt to educate me as to some sort of reality. But buddy, whatever reality this dude is writing about, it ain’t mine. Coming here was the best decision I ever made. Period.

  7. Hello Gary. Welcome back.
    I’ve also just moved. To the beautiful hills above Spoleto in Umbria, Italy.
    Your comments on the warm sun and warm people resonate here too. To have both in abundance, especially at “our” age is wonderful. Life affirming, in a way.
    Good luck in Abu Dhabi – I lived in Doha and Saudi years ago – wonderful place with wonderful people. Hope you’ll be writing about F1 again soon … Seems it’s changing a bit … For the better ..Inshallah! πŸ™‚

  8. Well, it certainly sounds as if you are in deep despair about missing Jean Todt et al. At this point it must seem as if it’s a bad dream. I am sure I speak for the readers of your writing that it’s great to read more than 140 characters. As I do not participate in social media exchanges I had to Google you to find out you had moved. I lived as an expat for ten years moving from a weather dreary place, Pittsburgh, Pa. to the Caribbean, so I can totally identify with the profound effect the Sun can have on a persons general outlook on life. Compound that with genuinely pleasant smiling people and a vibrant economy and one begins to wonder what the hell was I doing living there?
    I, as well as other readers , are waiting with baited breath to read the dossier those frauds at the FIA submitted, but it is great reading about your new digs and life.
    Your tease about your new job and the challenges it is presenting with your colleagues. I am sure, we all want to hear about it. I am certain you are aware of this, but ” free speech” may or may not be a concept welcomed in your new world. Implied actions or inferred personalities, however obtuse, may be misinterpreted in certain cultures and social media is not necessarily protected speech. I know you know what I am alluding to.
    Can’t wait for the next post.
    Delighted you are so up and ” un grumpy”.
    Jan burden

  9. Gary, the Hamdaniya is named after Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Nahayan. If you are interested in cars (!) then one day in the not too distant future you should come to one of his son’s Car Museum. Classics and moderns – best Veyron collection in the world. There is much to experience…….

    • I like the gutrah/egal, especially the lovely little folds the wives take hours ironing into the front, but I find the hamdaniya just so cool. I’ll probably look like an idiot, but i’ll practice at home and not venture out in it unless i look amazing.

  10. Good luck on your new journey ! much better weather and lovely people all around. Glad about your comments on new culture and the Muslim faith. Actually you will see amazing similarities with the Jewish faith and the Christian faith to some extent. Enjoy the food as well. Am sure you are thinking of getting a nice car there …

    • Driving a lightly used pearl white Cadillac CTS-V sedan; black interior. Magnificent car (will get black/gunmetal gray wheels soon; currently on chromed 19″ rims. 255s in front, 285s in back). Supercharged 6.3 liter V8. 556 hp and 747 nm torque. 0-100 km/h in 3.8 sec. A monster. And a kick-ass stereo. Totally love it. Insanely bad mileage but gasoline is so cheap here that i just dont care.

    • None that I can see. I think people instinctively feel when you’re into their culture, want to learn more, and thoroughly enjoy bathing in it (not necessarily literally though). Next step is for me to learn to make “hamdaniya”. I’ve asked a lot of Emiratis if it would be insulting or somehow “gauche” if I work it and the answer is a resounding and unanimous NO. Here’s what I’m talking about:


  11. Welcome back, Gary! Glad you are enjoying the UAE. My daughter has been to Dubai several times and loves it. Beautiful, friendly etc. Never to Abu Dhabi. Sometimes a life change is good!!!!

  12. Gary, welcome to Abu Dhabi (had been wondering why so quiet). Thrilled your incredible path should lead you here and I hope your impressions of efficiency remain. Above all, the Emiratis are indeed fabulous and I hope your life will bring you into contact with many of these wonderful people. And just wait until you get to Oman for a few days holiday and then you will really experience what humble, warm, hospitable Islam is all about – it is indeed an impressive way of life and it’s almost shocking for somebody to arrive here to find it’s so much the antithesis of the of what we are fed by the Western media. And Oman is a breathtakingly beautiful country; I so look forward to your reporting on a visit to Muscat in the not too distant future.

    But before that, the settling in; your impressions are written so eloquently, beautifully (a book must be in the writing before too long although when you will find time with the work hard/play hard mentality here is beyond me). I’m relieved you don’t pass up the opportunities, as so many do, to talk to the melting pot of people you meet during your day. The taxi drivers are indeed fascinating, from the Pakistanis who are always horrified about a woman’s marital status if she’s still single, without children and past her sell-by date (they can be so funny), to the sweet, gentle Nepalese and the more funky Indians, so many of whom hail from Kerala they are like one massive family. A ride in a taxi is a valuable lesson in history, current affairs and sociology compressed into ten minutes. Then of course there are indeed the Syrians, so many of whom put one’s day to day niggles into absolute perspective. A close girlfriend is from Aleppo and her family suffer endlessly; she has not seen them for four years and on top of that she has just been diagnosed with two brain tumors. Go figure how some of us are so fortunate and others not. The Iraqis, whose sense of humor can have you bent double with laughter, their calm resilience shining through. And on and on. We are so blessed to be able to live amongst such rich cultures and every day we learn.

    If an attack of the grumps hits, there is little chance of it lasting long – life is just too beautiful here.

    Very much look forward to your next posts…

    • You didnt make my day with this Phillie, you made my month. I’m glad I’ve started to pick some of this up already. Let’s not forget the Ugandans, who are amazed when one guesses their country of origin within two guesses (Kenya being the first). Full of joy and eagerness to get ahead.

      It’s magic here – Oman high on the list of next places to go!

      • Yes! The Ugandans! Get down to the Meat Company at Souk Qaryat Al Beri by the Shangri-la; the guys are brilliant and you can’t help but leave full of beans. Another great thing about Abu Dhabi: the restaurants and bars, although watch your waistline, everybody whacks on 5kgs within a few months of landing here, and that’s with regular trips to the gym. And BBQs on the islands, bliss even in the long, hot summer. And Dubai sucks! I’ve lived in the UAE 23 years, six of which were in Dubai but I charged back to Abu Dhabi when the construction took off. Never looked back. Abu Dhabi is a village where you run into people at the Supermarket and give a friend a wave while cruising down the Corniche. In Dubai you can be grumpy – for a week. In Abu Dhabi after ten minutes of a bit of frustration you’re smiling.

      • That’s definitely the vibe I got. It’s this strange brew of ultra modern, cool city, masquerading as a small town. Or vice versa. In any event, it suits me to a tee.

  13. Thank you Doc, lot’s of insight – that is what we are waiting for. I am very interested to see if your opinions rest the same or change over time. I know Dubai much better than AD and had a completetly different experience – multi culti not working at all in complete oposite to Singapore where it works out perfectly. Of course nearly everybody is friendly but every class was on it’s own. No social mixing unless for business. Beside this I wish you all the Best for your new adventure in life. Monaco misses you.

    • Went to Monaco eight times. Loved it utterly. I dont know Dubai at all really, but will check it out. For sure it’s more laid back here, which works for one of my advanced years!

  14. Gary, thanks for sharing. It sounds like you are in the beginnings of a new, satisfying, and successful life. Note I said “new” life; this is a GOOD thing as you can now leave the rancor and negativity behind. Take advantage of this time. Enjoy it, refresh yourself with new adventures and friends. You have not had much of a chance to get to know yourself in the past while….this is a great opportunity to do so now. Best of luck with this new adventure!

  15. What a wonderful post. I am a cardiac nurse and have frequently prevaricated on whether to work in Abu Dhabi (it would be either there or Bahrain – you know – it would have to have an F1 GP circuit πŸ˜€

    I hope once the newness of the experience fades you still see the world around you as you do presently. I remember reading of an artist who was working on a painting for many hours and days. It troubled him. Something wasn’t quite right. He fussed over it and spelt badly. Once his wife made a rare visit to his studio during the day (he preferred solitude when working as a rule) and suggested, casually, a small amendment to the composition and colour palette. “That’s it, that’s it!” he exclaimed excitedly, beaming: “the fresh eye sees everything in a minute!”

    It doesn’t, of course, but new eyes have an objectivity and alertness enabling them to notice things the familar eye has become blind to. I hope you cultivate that for the longest time.

    Enjoy your new journey and challenged, your new life and friends πŸ™‚

    • I loved writing this one. I’m sure that my perspective will evolve, but I’m equally sure that the magic I perceive here is quite real. Hey – I opened accounts for gas, electricity, and tv/internet on a sunday (a working day here), and EVERYTHING was up and working the next day. Try that anywhere else in the world! Incredibly efficient bureaucracies, al hamdilullah!

  16. Hi Gary, Really good to read about your new life in more detail. I wondered what was happening and belated happy birthday from everyone here!

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