Your attention, please?

DUBAI — Greetings all… As is obvious, I’ve not been writing much. There are some good reasons for that. First and foremost, I’ve been busy. Since November of last year, I’ve

  • Gotten married
  • Moved to Dubai
  • Taken on a new job
  • And started a new phase in my career.

Married life is great, and very comfortable. Mrs. Back-to-Iraq seems to like it, too, but to be honest, I got the better end of the deal. (That’s usually the case, no?)
Dubai is less comfortable. It’s a strange place, an odd cross between Singapore and Las Vegas without the former’s clean efficiency and the latter’s cheerful and unapologetic sinfulness. Its love of bureaucracy, lack of any concept of customer service and no real planning makes it much less of an ideal place than people should believe. It’s also damn expensive, and the era of good living, cheap housing and fat salaries is long over.

But the new job is a good one. I’m editing Trends Magazine, one of the region’s top business and political magazines, if I do say so myself. My bosses are really devoted to the idea of journalism — a rarity in this part of the world — and are willing to take on big powers here, like real estate companies. (They’re all connected to the government, which has any number of vaguely defined “red lines” that journalists cross — or even approach — at risk to their jobs and residency visas.)

But the big news is that I actually won’t be staying here. I’ve been awarded the Knight Stanford Fellowship, one of America’s big journalism fellowships, to go study the feasibility of various business models for online news. I plan to concentrate on foreign correspondence, naturally. was a big part of getting me into the fellowship and I look forward to nine months at Stanford University with excitement and humility.

So my four years in the Middle East seem to be coming to an end, for now. I’ll be back in Dubai in July 2009, armed with experience, contacts and new language skills. Let’s hope Back-to-Iraq can be revitalized with the experience.