We are officially expats. The movers showed last Monday and packed what was left of our belongings into neat symmetrical boxes all cataloged and labeled. A snapshot of where our life stopped in Boston ready to be picked up 6 weeks later in Abu Dhabi. As the plane taxis down the runway and the wheels lift off the ground I am filled with excitement and fear.
This has been my home for the last 11 years. Boston has been the place where I laid down roots. I ‘grew up’ here as you might say. Some of my biggest challenges and greatest successes happened here. I came here to graduate school at MIT. In the Chemistry Department. I did not realize until after the fact how grueling that would be. But it was also immensely rewarding. MIT allowed me to hang out with some amazing people from around the world. I dissected life and science with exciting people driven to change the world one invention at a time, developed great mentors, and have made lifelong friends from all corners of the world.
I met Lily at MIT. She changed my life. For the better. Now we are both off to London. Together. Eight days to contemplate our new life and prepare for our next adventure. Abu Dhabi.
I traveled to Orlando this week to visit my mother. I had known that the ‘urban development’ squad had severely affected the area, but it did not prepare me for the barren landscape I encountered. Gone were all the small shops and lunch counters. The streets were now 4-6 lane wide auto mobile conveyor belts with no chance that those ferried would slow down and drop out to frequent local shops on their way in to work and return their McMansions on the outskirts of town. This urban renewal planning fiasco slowly choked the life out of the small towns that developed around Orlando proper over the last century. Everywhere you turned there were empty corner lots, decayed structures boarded up with lease signs and no sign of a heartbeat of what once had been a vibrant small community. Over 50 years of politically based decision and bad planning had reduced once vibrant communities such as Eatonville, Winter Park, Maitland to a shell of their former selves.
As I drove (there is no way you could get out and walk) through these communities it was not hard to be overrun with a feeling of tiredness and despair evident the recent attempts to reconstruct what was left of these towns. One word came to mind – Disneyfication – an attempt to reconstruct these run down communities into a cookie cutter facsímile of the Disney pseudo-utopian Celebration City. There is no sense of the lived in by the living in and around the reconstructed streets.
Later, as I sat in my mother’s house I started to think about the contrast between the city I grew up in and the city I am going to see grow up in Abu Dhabi, Masdar City. A gruesome, tortured urbanization compared to a well thought out urban space that reinforces a dense population and community space. A city developed by Sir Norman Foster on the combination of the Arab understanding of physical and social structure wrapped in 21st century construction materials and technology. A place purposely built for human inhabitants to move around and interact free of metalic machines grumbling along concrete superhighways.
This week marks the end of my time at MIT. When I leave on Friday, I will have been here for 10 years, 11 months, and 16 days. 4002 days. It is had to imagine that I have been here for this long. I remember showing up to Tang Hall and getting my room. Up in the corner of the 24th floor. Now, I have a PhD – 8 years in the making, three years of Post Doctoral work, and I met one of the most amazing people in the world, who agreed last year to spend the rest of her life with me.
Along the way, I have met some incredible people. Jarrett, who officiated our wedding and has been there every step of the way since our beginning. Kerry, who came with Lily and has been an amazing friend. Eric and Zary, fellow MITers whom I kind of brought together (at least that is the story I am telling). Charles, for those out there and realistic conversations on the pursuit of science and scientific thought. Peter, who I can always count on to get things done. Will, who has been a true and loyal friend for some long years now. John Essigmann, who has been a terrific mentor and friend to me. Joost, who always plied me with libations and conversation. And many, many more. Too many over the years to recount here.
Lily and I are leaving soon, and arriving later this month, at Masdar Institute a brand new graduate research institute in Abu Dhabi. I will be a Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department.I am excited about the opportunities ahead of me, but also mindful of the responsibility that comes with this opportunity. It will not be easy, but it will be very rewarding.
It is not a good bye, but a so long to MIT and Boston. We will be back soon.