Monday, January 30, 2012

My Son, the Pickup Artist

Sorry to disappoint, but this has nothing to do with dating or attracting members of the opposite sex. I'm speaking of the good ol' fashion pick up game of ball.

Since my very first visit to the UAE, one of the things that stood out to me were the numerous make shift or impromptu sports pitches in the oddest of areas that you see around here. It is not unusual to see the grassy area of a freeway exit used as a "stadium", or the corner of a busy intersection. In our community that doesn't host a lot of traffic, games usually occur in the street or in vacant sandlots.
 

In our neighborhood the games of choice are usually football (soccer to the Americans and Aussies) and cricket. Unlike the games of my childhood, most of the players here are adults. Teams are usually comprised of laborers from construction sites in the area.

You see, the UAE has this thing about construction and road work security that I have yet to really understand. There is a "guard" for EVERYTHING being built or worked on here.  Most of them usually live in a make shift shack on the construction site, and I've seen some that guard the road work that have nothing but a chair.  The latter is the case for a Pakistani man that sits across from my house hour after hour, day after day, night after night.

At first the idea of a man sitting across from my house 24-7 creeped me out, but now I just feel bad for the poor guy.  His job is to watch an area of our street that is being repaired and a detour that's a result of the road work. Nothing happens quickly here, so he's been on the site for well over six months.  I've never seen him do any road work be it day or night, he just sits or stands there guarding the asphalt.  Occasionally, he'll cross the street to come get water from a spigot in the wall that surrounds our courtyard, or he'll chat with other guards, gardeners, and drivers on our street. Unlike some of the other workers in the area, I've never seen him take part in any of the neighborhood sporting events until recently....

Last week all of a sudden the man with nothing but a chair, suddenly had a green soccer ball and a new friend... my son.  My 16 year old loves just about any sport, but since moving here his affinity for soccer has seemed to double.  He's the goalie for his school's undefeated U16 team with only 2 goals scored on him the entire season. Sorry, I'm a mom. I have to brag on my boy.


Anyways, we were getting out of the car one day when my son spotted the guard and our neighbor's driver kicking the ball around. In a flash, my child was in the street joining in on the action. He played for well over an hour till it got dark and the only players left were him and the Pakistani.

The next day, my husband and I were returning from lunch when we spotted my son's new friend kicking the ball around right in front of our house by himself. He reminded me of the little kid that would linger in front of your house hoping that your mom would let you come out and play if he stayed there long enough. Well, there was no telling my son to go play. All it took was me mentioning to him that his friend was out front with the ball and he was down the steps and out the door. Soon what began as just my son and the guard became a game of 8 or more, my son of course being the only non laborer and the only American.

Later that evening, our neighbor asked me what was up with our son playing with the Pakistanis, like it was a bad thing. I simply replied that he loves soccer and he has a knack for making friends with everyone. As a mother, I'm very proud of him and the fact that in a part of the world where nationality, color, or sex can dictate where you fit in, he is able to look past all of that and see just another player of the game.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Abu Dhabi "Housewife"

While writing a post for today, that you will most likely read in the near future, my husband asked me if I had checked out the top story in today's National, our local newspaper. As I read the article, several parts felt as though I myself had been interviewed, because I had a lot of "me too" moments. Given that recently, I've been approached by several readers interested in making the jump of moving to the UAE, I think sharing today's insightful piece by Helena Frith Powell from the National is a better suited post.  Ms. Powell tackles the subject of the trailing spouse with six different expats that, like me, exchanged careers in their homeland for the title of housewife on their residency visa. You can click here for the story.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

For the Horse Lover


Hmmmmm, I wonder what they bake at the Horse Bakery???????
To all my equine loving friends, I'm just kidding. This is just one example of some of the many funny business names here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"A Week in the Life..." on Expat Arrivals

Ever wonder what my life is like? I mean, besides all the stuff I tell all of you in my posts. Well, here's an article I did for Expat Arrivals this week. http://www.expatarrivals.com/abu-dhabi/life-in-abu-dhabi

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fickle Forbes



Well, it seems Forbes has had a change of heart when it comes to the UAE.  Last week I published this post, in response to a Forbes online article that claimed the UAE was the most unfriendly place in the world for expats. It seems I wasn't the only one that took issue with this title, thousands of Emiratis and expats gave the powers that be at Forbes a piece of their mind.  So after further review, its seems the UAE now holds the more prestigious title of Third Most Friendly Country in the World for Expats.  You can check out the story about the recant here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"I'm a Walkin' in the Rain"


My favorite outdoor cafe, Le Boulanger.  The  Breakwater location has a beautiful view of the Abu Dhabi  skyline.
 Tonight my husband and I enjoyed a night at one of my favorite places here in Abu Dhabi, Le Boulanger at Breakwater.  This little outdoor cafe has couches that you can sit on while you eat awesome food and enjoy a beautiful view of the city skyline and Emirates Palace across the water. To top off a perfect night, it actually RAINED here!  Instead of running for shelter, we took a nice little walk in the rain along the water.  I would have danced in it, but people probably already thought we were crazy...I didn't want to verify it for them. Below are some pics from our dinner and our little walk in the rain.

The terrace after the rain ran everyone inside.

 The View........









The Many Colors of Emirates
Palace..........





Emirates Palace view from Breakwater

Walkway around Breakwater

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Emiratis vs Kiwis





                               



An online subsidiary of Forbes magazine recently gave the not so glamorous label of The Least Friendly Country in the World for Expats to...................The United Arab Emirates.  That's right, as much as I love it here and have felt welcomed,  my new home has been branded with a scarlet frowny face.
                                                                                                       
Despite what Forbes may say, the post you've read here over the past few months are not fiction.  The UAE is a great place for expats, actually it's the fact that the UAE is so friendly, that I think led to them getting the label of least friendly. Confusing I know, but stay with me and I'll explain.

The first criteria used to determine the world's most expat friendly country, which is New Zealand by the way, was the ability to befriend locals.  Do you know how hard it can be to meet locals, and fall into the same circles as them when they account for less than 20% of the country's population.  That's right, they are way outnumbered by expats that have come here seeking to prosper from the sheikdom and it's oil wealth.  I laugh when I see articles from the US about people complaining about immigration, and it cracks me up even more when Americans try to say things that suggest a group that is less than 20% of their population is taking over the country.  Gee, what must the poor Emiratis feel like, and now they have been branded as the most inhospitable country on top of being a minute part of their own country's demographics.  I will say they do have a "we were here first" way about them, but again they are the minority in their own country. They have been known to, as one Emirati called it, "pull the Emirati card" and cut people in lines.  I myself, have only seen them do this, but I personally have never had an Emirati push in front of me at a register.  My son will tell you it's the blonde hair that gives me such immunity.  My treatment here based on my hair color and the fact I'm a female is a running joke among my husband and children.

The second item the study looked at was the success in learning the local language.  The Emiratis have been so welcoming of other nationalities that they have made it unnecessary to learn Arabic.  Almost every sign here is in English and Arabic.  A lot of locals were Western educated, so they speak English just as well as I do.  They all seem to have a bit of a British dialect when they speak English though.  I would love to hear one sound like an American one day, that would be interesting.  Oh if I haven't mentioned this in any of my past posts, people outside of the North American realm think we Americans sound funny.  They even had a call in on the radio one day when people were trying to imitate us.  I should clarify that the DJ is an Aussie, I don't want to give any merit to the Forbes title.

Ok, moving on.  The next thing they looked at was the capacity to integrate into the community.  Really?  This one boggles my mind.  With all the different groups and ways to meet people here, how can you not fit in?  You play tennis?  There's a tennis group.  You cook?  There's a cooking group.  You like watching movies? There's a Movie Mavens group.  I could go on and on, but one could over schedule themselves here with all of the different community groups you can join. Also, how can you not feel like part of the community when stores and restaurants here cater to multiple nationalities and religions.  This is a Muslim country that decorates it's malls with Christmas trees and even has a Santa Clause for the kids to take their list of demands to.  Oh, I should also mention that starting in the early spring it seems that Mother's Day cards just stay on the shelves. There's always a new sign claiming it is Mother's Day, each with a different date, because they cater to all the dates of the different countries for Mother's Day.  I tried using this to my advantage last year, and told my kids I expected gifts for UK, UAE, and US Mother's Day.  I figured I was cutting them a break with just celebrating 3 when there are actually 27 different days that mothers are celebrated around the world.

The last thing listed was the ease in which the expats are able to fit into the new culture.  Let's be real here, this is not going to be easy for any Westerner or other non-Arab expat.  The decision to move here isn't like deciding to pack up your bags and move to France....forgive me whilst I day dream for a moment of a life spent sipping café au lait with a view of Le Tour D'Eiffel and Édith Piaf playing in the background.  Back to reality, this isn't the Champs-Élysées.  THIS is a sandy street in Abu Dhabi with a view of the Aldar (circle building you always see on the engineering marvels shows), the tall buildings of downtown in the distance, and the control tower at Abu Dhabi International with it's steady stream of Etihad planes landing and taking off.  Here, parts of the culture can be based largely on their Islamic beliefs.  Just like many expats, I am not a Muslim, so I don't expect to fit in to that part of the culture.  I do however, respect the culture here and try to learn about it, understand it, and try, try, try not to disrespect it.

I'm not saying the United Arab Emirates should have knocked out the Kiwis as #1. I have never been to New Zealand, and I have nothing against them.  I do think the questions asked could have been crafted a little differently to take into account the unique living situation here in the UAE.  Emiratis take pride in their hospitality, and it upsets me that they were given a bum wrap on this one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NO YAKKING!


I'm not sure which part of this sign is funnier, the part where the NO SPITTING picture looks like NO PUKING or the part where they couldn't spell the words strictly and guilty. And yes, this is a real sign here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

Angel Princess Kitty

I was enjoying one of my usual Ethiopian coffee times(where we sit on the floor and drink several tiny cups of fresh roasted coffee) with the neighborhood cleaning fairies when my fairy told me about a mauling that occurred in our house while we were on our Christmas vacation.  It seems our cat, Angel, attacked an AC repairman that was at the house fixing one of our units.  No, we don't have an exotic wild cat like some folks here.  We just have a cat that thinks she's a tiger.  I like to joke and say by "Angel" we mean "fallen angel", as in Lucifer.  For those of you looking at the picture of the cute little cat above and thinking I must be exaggerating, there are plenty of witnesses and victims of her past attacks with scars to prove it.


Before I finish my story, I think I need to give a little background information on our Angel.  Angel was rescued from an animal shelter in Virginia when she was just a few weeks old.  My husband, who wasn't a big fan of cats, was completely against the idea of getting a cat.  To be honest, I wasn't a cat person myself, and up until Angel I never had a cat.  So, why did we adopt her?  My little girl fell in love with my Grandmother's cat and begged and begged for one of her own for months. Then my Grandfather started bugging me about it too, asking me when was I going to get his baby girl a kitten every time I saw him.  If you think grandchildren can be spoiled well great grandchildren are double spoiled.  After months of the get the baby girl a cat campaign, I caved when a friend of mine told me about a kitten that was going to be euthanized. The kitten looked exactly like my Grandmother's cat, Boots, that my daughter adored.  She was tiny, smaller than my hand when we got her.  We even had to bottle feed her in the beginning, because she was too young for regular food.

My daughter named her new kitten Angel Princess Kitty, and over the years we've shortened it to "Angel" when we're not calling her "Evil" or "Psycho".  You see, I'm not really sure what happened, but the sweet little animal we brought home stayed rather small in size, but grew a BIG attitude.  She attacks everyone that tries to touch her except...my husband.  That's right, my poor daughter that wanted a cat so badly can't even touch Angel, but my husband who didn't want her at all is her favorite human in the world.  Go figure.  Now, that doesn't mean that she won't come lay on the lap of one of her enemies when she wants a little warmth.  We just don't dare lift a finger to pet her, or we pull back a bloody hand.  It's an I can touch you, but don't you dare touch me thing with her, unless of course you are my husband.  He can do what ever he wants to her like putting goofy hats and neckties on her, and he still keeps all of his fingers in tact.

"Christmas Angel"...NOT!

Anyways the fairy, who only speaks a little English, used phrases like "cat cut man for AC" and "too much blood" to relay the mauling account to me.  Then the fairy from down the street that works for my American neighbor piped in and told me that when the same AC repairman came to her house he was terrified when he saw they have a Golden Retriever.  As she tried to relay to him that the dog would not hurt him, he told her about his horrific experience at my house and showed her his wounded arm.

After hearing about this poor guys injury, I realized I messed up.  When I left the fairy to care for the dog and cat I failed to show her how to warn people about the cat.  I'm sure you're thinking, you just tell people to stay away from her.  It doesn't work that way here thanks to the language barrier.  I've learned this myself when workers have come into our villa.  I try to use phrases like "stay away", "cat very bad", "no go near cat" and other broken English phrases of warning.  I've even grabbed their arm and pulled them out of her path to save them.  They still see her and her sweet little face and they don't seem to comprehend my warnings. So, I have come up with the best way I know how to warn them, and I demonstrated it to the fairies after they told me about what happened.


I will spare you a real picture, but I basically have to make myself look stupid to get the point across and save Angel's would be victims.  I squinch up my eyes, scrunch up my nose, and open my mouth wide and try to mimic the face of the cat in the old Pet Cemetary movie.  I also throw in some tiger claw hand gestures. When I'm finished I don't know who the new comers are more scared of, the cat or me, but they seem to understand after I give them this crazy visual.  The cleaning fairies got a good laugh when I showed them too, and my fairy replied with a "m'am is crazy".



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Ultimate Vending Machine


These gold bar vending machines or gold ATMs, as they are called, can be found in malls and in some hotels in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  Just pop in your cash, choose which gram size you want, and out comes your gold.  My husband is still looking for the vending machine that dispenses Ferraris.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Letting Go....or Maybe Not

We all have our things we can't let go of when we move to a new place.  When you move 9 time zones away, not letting go can mean living in two worlds.  Our address may be Abu Dhabi, but our family has been living in two time zones for the past 2 1/2 years.

Prior to our family moving to the UAE, my husband worked here for a year and a half.  I made trips to the UAE and he came home to the states for visits, but for the most part he was here and I was there.  During that time, my schedule revolved around the kids, work, and video chats and phone calls with my husband.  Any free time I had on weekend mornings and afternoons was spent in front of a computer talking to him, trying to pretend we weren't thousands of miles apart. Through the work week, early morning phone calls on my way to work, and afternoon instant messages and emails were the highlights of my days.  Yes, we really do still like each other that much after all these years.

The calls and video chats came at a cost though, in the form of lost sleep for one or both of us.  The 9 hour time difference(8 when the US is on Daylight Savings) usually meant one of us would be up till past 1am.  The separation was not only emotionally, but physically draining for both of us.  We both looked forward to the day that our family could all be living in the same country again, either the US or the UAE.

After visiting the UAE twice, I wanted to move here.  That's right, I wanted this.  I still would have been happy anywhere, as long as it meant we would be living together as a family again.

The day my husband called me in November 2010 to tell me we were definitely moving to Abu Dhabi I was ecstatic.  If I could have, I would have walked out of my office, grabbed the kids from school, and jumped on a plane immediately.  Oh, if only it was that easy.  Still in less than 2 months from that phone call, our house was packed up and we were on a plane headed to the UAE.

Looking back, I'm not really sure which part of the move excited me more, moving to a new country or finally being able to live together as a family again.  My husband will tell you my excitement was because I no longer had to work anymore. Ok, maybe that was a small part of it.  For a year and a half I had been juggling work, the house with the pool that always needed something fixed, the kids with multiple sports practices and games, and my favorite.... medical issues.  Yes, my son chose while his dad was out of the country to break bones and growth plates on two separate occasions in back to back months. He also enjoyed an overnight hospital stay in his father's absence.  I could go on and on about totaling my car and all the other things that broke or went wrong during that year and a half, but my point here is I NEEDED A BREAK.

Well, we got here, and I got my much needed break.  It has actually been more of a break than I had ever imagined thanks to the cleaning fairy that helps keep my house clean and our clothes washed.  Even with the break, one thing hasn't really changed.  We still live in 2 time zones.

Yes, all 4 of us are here together in Abu Dhabi, but my sister, nieces, nephew, mom, grandfather, and the rest of my family are all in the US.  On top of that we all left behind friends, people that were a part of our everyday lives for years.  In the states I worked with my best friend who I have known for 23 years.  That's 1 year longer than I've known my husband.  Unlike my husband, who grew up a Navy brat living all over the US, I lived in Virginia my whole life up until this move.  As a child, I grew up three doors down from my paternal grandparents till I was 12.  Then our "big" move was only 5 miles away. And thanks to my mom's large family(Grandma had 12 kids), my husband jokes that I can't go anywhere in our hometown of Chesapeake without running into a cousin.

No, I'm not clingy, but I take my relationships and friendships seriously.  I come from one of those southern families where family members greet you with a hug and sometimes even a kiss on the cheek, and all of them know you by your first and middle name, both of which they tend to use when referring to you.  I couldn't  just pack up and say, "See you guys later.  Have a good life."   Oh no.

Thanks to modern technology and things like social networking we haven't had to kick our US friends and family to the curb.  Despite having an account, my husband hates Facebook.  To me, it is my lifeline to the friends and family I left behind.  I love to log in and see the most recent pics of my nieces and nephew staring back at me.  Google with it's voice, video, and chat features along with smart phones have also made living 7500 miles away easier.  For my son, XBOX Live has been his lifeline to his friends in the US. It has also been a network to introduce his friends in Virginia to his new friends here.  My daughter has done the same with different mediums, and thanks to her, some of her friends in the states talk to some of her friends in Abu Dhabi.  It's like we have our own little global network.

I'm glad that we can still talk to and see the people we left behind, but just like those late night video chats with my husband, it comes with the cost of lost sleep. No matter how close modern technology brings us together it can't change the difference in time zones that separates us.  So, we continue to stay up a little later, but thankfully life is a little more relaxed here and afternoon naps aren't just for toddlers.

Sister love!


 
   My Grandfather and I the night before we moved.


The BFF and I a long long time ago......
I'm the one with the darker hair and the loud red lipstick.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Birthday Laughs


Today would have been my brother-in-law's 37th birthday.  He was not only the brother I never had, but a dear friend of mine.  He always loved a good laugh, so today's funny pics from the UAE are dedicated to him.



 This sign was in the bathroom at a local hospital.  I think the picture of what not to do is the most amusing part.  





It comes in a variety of vibrant colors, but I found the Christmas colored toilet paper very festive.  Forget hanging lights next Christmas, just TP your house with this stuff.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Now Showing...

Last night, we all went as a family to Marina Mall to see the new Mission Impossible 4.  If you haven't seen it, check it out.  Part of the movie was filmed here in the UAE, and there have been several news articles in the paper here about it this past year.  The UAE, and especially the emirate of Dubai are very proud to see their Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, on the big screen and on the movie promo posters.

No, this post isn't about Tom Cruise, or Mission Impossible 4.  It's about the movie going experience here.  Yes, even going to the movies is different here.  For starters, at the ticket counter you have to decide if you want to watch the movie with the average folks like my family in the regular theater, or if you want to pay the big bucks and watch it in a gold theater.  The gold theater option allows you to watch the movie in big fully reclining leather seats with waiters that will serve you food while you watch the movie.  The next thing, and this is the part that drives me nuts, you have to pick your seat like you're going to a concert.  That's right, there is no way to know if you are picking a seat by someone annoying or worse, odiferous....I'm not being mean here, just honest.  I'll have to cover the smelly part in another post.   Going back to assigned seating, you better make sure you are in your assigned seat.  There is actually an usher in the theater to assure that everyone is sitting where they are supposed to be.

The concession stand is a bit odd as well, although at first glance it looks similar to what you would find in the states.  Here most theaters serve up popcorn with flavors like spicy and caramel, but liquid butter is almost impossible to find.  So far, we have only found one theater that had it, and that was Marina.  Last night, to my husband's dismay they no longer had it.  They did have that nasty shake on butter powder....YUM.....NOT!  We opted for the caramel instead.  Besides weird popcorn flavors, you can also get Arabic bread with Nutella as a movie treat.  I'm sure this goes over well with most of the Europeans, but to the Americans like myself it is odd.  Don't get me wrong, I like Nutella.  I've just never had a craving for it at the movies.

Once you are in your assigned seat and ready to watch the movie, you would think this is when it should be no different than any movie in the states or elsewhere...Ohhhhh nooooo, not here.  If you choose a later showing that is usually close to being sold out on a weekend, you are in for a treat.  Prepare yourself for cell phones ringing loud during the movie and people talking.  Again, this is another reason that the whole assigned seat thing can really stink.  If you get stuck beside the guy with the annoying ring tone that he allows to go on for a minute before answering, then proceeds with a lengthy conversation to his buddy it can be not only distracting, but really annoying.  With the exception of last night, this is why we normally choose early showings that tend to have less people and less distractions.

I should also mention that movie titles aren't always the same here.  A good example of this would be the movie Puss in Boots.  Here and in other places in the Gulf region it was called Cat in Boots.  We didn't go see this one, because something about Antonio Banderas saying "I am Cat....in Boots" seemed weird to me.  It probably would have made me laugh a little too loud, and then I would have become one of those annoying viewers that we try to avoid.

Well folks, now you are prepared if you ever decide to take in a film here in the UAE.  Remember, go for the early showing and bring your butter with you.

"I am Cat...in Boots."

MI4 poster, note the Burj Khalifa in the background.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Really?


Gee, I can't remember the last time I wanted to get out the bubble bath and bathe in a toilet.  This sign was actually in a gas station bathroom here in Abu Dhabi.  Thought I would share the laugh.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Christmas Surprise

 I know for everyone else Christmas has come and gone, but since we were out of the country for Christmas we decided to have our family Christmas last night.  Weird I know, but we didn't even start Christmas shopping till the 29th.

We were actually finishing up our Christmas shopping last night when I got an awesome Christmas surprise.  First, I have a confession to make.  This is something that only my closest family members and friends know about me...I AM INSANELY CHEAP.  I can not stand to spend money shopping for myself, so almost every clothing item I have was bought by my husband.  Don't get me wrong, I like to shop.  I like going to stores and picking stuff out, I just have a tendency to put it all back before I ever make it to a cash register.  So, last night when we were shopping at Bawabat al Sharq, the newest mall to open in the Abu Dhabi neighborhood of Bani Yas, my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when lo and behold there was a Payless shoe store before me.  To the non-Americans, Payless is an American shoe store that sells mega cheap shoes. To add to my bliss, all the aisles and shoes were labeled with American sizes not European sizes like is the norm here in the UAE.  If I could sing I would have belted out a "Hallelujah" in the middle of the store.  My dear husband immediately began giving me pairs of high heels to try on, and he bought me a pair as a Christmas gift.  I know there are some women gasping now at the fact that I could be happy with a pair of cheap high heels for Christmas, but I walked out of Payless with a huge smile on my face.  Then as if Payless wasn't enough to make me happy, there is a Starbucks right across from it.  For those of you scratching your heads now, yes, I like cheap shoes and expensive coffee.  I'm a Gemini, this should explain it.  When we left Bawabat al Sharq I was as happy as can be with my el cheapo shoes in one hand and my caramel macchiato in the other.  Merry Christmas to me!

                    
I wasn't the only happy camper last night, Shadow, our labrador retriever, was EXTREMELY happy with his one and only Christmas present........THE BONE!  Below, are some pics of our third child and his new toy Santa brought him.