So the boys started this morning at a soccer–dammit, football–school about 20 minutes drive from our apartment.  As I sat there staring into the morning sun, I realized I was looking at my new life in a nutshell:

a football field (okay, that’s a holdover from my old life); a construction site (sometimes it seems as if the entire city is under construction, one way or another); sunshine; and Islam, in this case the Grand Mosque, built in honor of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE.

I live in a Muslim country–the call to prayer sounds five times a day, women walk around swathed in black, the grocery store has a specially designated “pork room” for non-Muslims. So on the one hand, the influence of Islam seems inescapable.

But like this image of the mosque that hovers only in the background, it’s possible, as a non-Muslim to go about daily life as if you lived in, say, Santa Barbara or something (but with fewer women in tank tops).  I can buy liquor; I don’t have to cover myself in black to go outside (although frankly, with all the holiday eating, an abaya may soon be my only sartorial choice); I don’t have to be escorted everywhere by my husband (something for which we are both grateful).

In fact, it feels a little strange, this ability to float along the surface of life here without having to learn more about local culture–but then again, even “local” raises a question: in a country where about 85% of the population is non-native, what exactly constitutes “local culture?”  Drinking camel milk and eating dates can’t be the extent of “local-ness,” can it?

At the moment–probably because I’m still so new here–I’m more intrigued than frustrated by what I don’t know; I like thinking about the complicated collisions that happen between ancient worlds and modern. I don’t know if I will ever understand this part of the world–maybe I’m doomed always to look at it from afar. The Grand Mosque, in my photograph, looks like it’s just on the other side of the construction site, but in fact, it’s at least a few miles down the road.

There’s a great writer in Canada whose blog is  Last month she wrote about her guiding word for 2012. Her word is “shift.” I like that word a lot–shifting paradigms, shifting perspectives, shifting attitudes, tectonic shift…it’s a good word.

If she hadn’t chosen “shift,” I might choose it for myself.  But instead, thinking about the mosque, thinking about this odd place where I find myself these days, I think 2012’s guiding word will be: discover.

Look underneath, look within, explore, reveal…all of those are embedded in “discover.” That’s what I’m going to do in 2012.

What would your word be?