We originally intended to go to Kurdistan for break. Qianqian bought her tickets quite late, but was eventually able to get them via Fly Dubai and Fly Erbil. Then, without warning, both of our itineraries began shifting . We’d get an alert that there was a new departure time, then another alert, then another. Eventually, an agent from Fly Erbil messaged me frantically on WhatsApp, asking if I wanted to retain the ticket or cancel it due to these changes. The changes kept happening, and her communication in English was limited (it took quite a while to even understand what it was she was asking). In the background I continued to follow the contested presidential election in Iraq leading to social unrest. In a shocking parallel to the Lebanese system, the government of Iraq is split by religious/demographic affiliation, with the president reserved for a Kurd. Usually this went uncontested as the opposition party had agreed to cede the position, but this year they decided to break with that (admittedly short-lived) tradition. I continued asking my contacts within Kurdistan for their opinions on the situation but I got radio silence from my contact with the government from sister cities. While a few of the students I’d worked with through the sister cities sculpture/website project continued to respond with a positive assessment of the situation, my own unease grew. By the time Fly Erbil changed our itineraries again and offered to refund the tickets, we decided to take them up on the offer. We flew home.
Regardless of the reality of the political situation in Kurdistan and the missed opportunity to visit during Nowruz, I firmly believe that we made the right choice. We lost some money with the Fly Dubai ticket being non-refundable, but defeated that potential sunken-cost fallacy. Our time at home was relaxing and yet rushed, exhausting and yet rejuvenating. With each successive return home I see the value of it more and more. The wonderfully broad streets free of crowds. The cleanliness everywhere. The abundant green space interwoven with the city. The unhurried, friendly people with whom I share culture and language. My friends. My family. Home.
I felt as healthy as I’d felt since starting with TGS. I was able to be fully me. Brent was home, with a budding relationship which he asked me not to screw up by being full Terrence, telling me to be on my best behavior. I mostly succeeded with one notable misstep. We climbed together again for the first time in a long time, although the continued descent into business mode for the former Gainesville Rock Gym meant that despite the setting team being severely understaffed, especially for difficult problems, I did not set. Contrast this to my preparation for Greece, where the gym I contacted was psyched to have me set immediately upon arrival, sight unseen. The competition problems were absolute rubbish. Derivative, uncreative, and sometimes downright dangerous. Quite a shame.
As with the last break I spent much of my time cooking for and eating with the bros. We used one of these meals to announce our engagement in a very fitting way – through O Caption, My Caption. New restaurants of mostly high quality had just opened since we’d been in Dubai – an Ivorian restaurant in the old location of Junior’s, a Korean Pocha-style restaurant replacing Twisted Tikka, a West African food truck, and two new banh mi restaurants. We ate at them all, even performing some science with the last set, ordering from two banh mi restaurants and comparing them directly. We played a lot of League of Legends to Qianqian’s delight, for which I chose the ironic moniker “git gud”. I finally met up with the Thai Student’s Association again at their first social event in years. We spent time in the natural parks, and I visited the Harn Museum, my regular haunt, where I sat to draw the zen garden in memory of the wonderful Martin Kellar.
I recorded with Legare for my forthcoming albums, with some nice studio sessions shaping up the songs nicely. The month was marked by many birthdays, too, all at terrible restaurants I would otherwise never visit. We visited Beque Holic on account of Bash’s birthday, then accompanied QQ’s mother to Yamato for her birthday. Qianqian celebrated her own birthday a month later with Kung Fu friends at Bahama Breeze. Life in Gainesville was filled with peace and meaning. I was quite loathe to leave for Greece at the end of a month filled with the warmth of my community.