I have been having the same conversation with various people for almost a year. I’d say, “I am going to UAE in April.” They’d say, “Where?” The response was either curiosity or incredulity. Depending on who I was talking to, they either didn’t know where it is, or were alarmed; and to be honest, until a year ago, I had paid no attention. I didn’t have a reason to know anything about that country, or so I thought.
Until one day last May, when a friend who had just returned from a trip to UAE sent a message to me, asking if I had any interest in teaching writing workshops there at the annual book fair. Mary had told stories of the night sky at the event, and the organizers liked her so much they asked her to recommend other presenters. She thought of me.
Her question surprised me, piqued my curiosity, and excited me. I turned to Google, punching “UAE” into the search engine. Pages and pages of results popped onto the screen; all of them referencing United Arab Emirates, which I was sure was a mistake. I re-Googled, and got the same result. Was Mary serious? Surely I had misunderstood. Surely UAE could represent something else. But no amount of searching turned up any other result. I thought of my List Of 100 Places I want To Go In My Lifetime. UAE? Not on it.
But then, it had never been a possibility, either, and now here it was on the table in black and white. Did I have any interest in going there to talk to kids about writing? Did I? Suddenly, I did have an interest in doing exactly that. I was actually thinking about it. An opportunity was before me.
I am old enough to be keenly aware of opportunities I’ve missed because I’ve allowed obstacles, both real and assumed, to stand in my way. I have learned the hard way that slamming one door can cause others to quietly close without my knowing. Was this a door I wanted to close without even jiggling the knob? I wrote back to Mary. “I have to think about it,” I said. After all, it’s a long way from home.
I forwarded the message from Mary to my partner. “What do you think about this?” I asked, hoping he’d think it was a terrible idea, thereby giving me an easy excuse. For a moment, I forgot that he once told me his favorite word is “opportunity”. He’s also reasonable…the kind to think things through logically. His immediate response was, “It’s not an offer; she is just feeling you out to see if you’re interested. I think you should say yes, and then if they invite you, you should go! What an opportunity!”
Another note went to Mary, asking for more information. She sent me links to the festival’s website and links to photos from her trip. I wrote again, told her that yes, I was interested, and realized, to my surprise, it was true. Soon after, I received an email from the organizers of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, asking me to submit a workshop proposal for the April 2016 event. I wrote one, closed my eyes, and pushed “send”.
Weeks passed. I had begun to think, with some relief, I admit, that nothing would come of it. And then one day there was another email; an invitation. I forwarded it to my partner. Maybe he wouldn’t think it was a good idea now. But he responded right away. “Excellent! You should go! I’m so proud of you!” I knew that my only real fears were attached to my unreasonable fear of flying, my fear of failing, my fear of succeeding, and my fear of stepping into a situation that is completely foreign to me in every way. I like predictability, I guess, and there is nothing predictable about this Opportunity. So with my heart thudding against my ribs, I wrote a short reply. “Thank you for inviting me… I’d be honored…” Again, I closed my eyes and pushed “send”, and thereby sealed it.
So, for almost a year, I have been reading about this little country on the Persian Gulf. And except for the long flight to get there (I think I mentioned that I am a nervous flyer.) I am more than excited. A place of beauty, culture, and history, the United Arab Emirates is also one of the safest travel destinations in the world. I will leave the seemingly endless winter we’ve had in Michigan this season and trade it for eleven days of arid heat. I’ll teach school kids a little bit about the creative process, but know that they will teach me far more. I’ll teach 17 times, and potentially touch the lives of about 600 kids from other cultures.
Am I nervous? Oh yes. I won’t know anyone when I get there. I am uncertain that I have chosen the right wardrobe for the weather and cultural expectations. I’m nervous about the food, being in a big city, jet lag (it is an 8 hour difference), currency exchange, communication, and doing a good enough job. Yet my fear is dwarfed by the once-in-a-lifetime size of this opportunity and the remorse I’d live with if I let it pass me by.
So off I go, down Opportunity Road. One more time, I’ll close my eyes and push “send”. This time, I’m sending more than an email. I’m sending myself to an unforgettable experience.
I’ll keep you updated along the way.