Friday, December 31, 2010
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Walking doors....men transporting all kinds of things up the hill town street of Mussoorie, the hill town above which Woodstock Boarding school is located.
Those are the Himalayas in the distance. The air here is so clean and cool. A welcome change from the UAE
Homes nestled in among the foothills. From one of our hikes above Mussoorie.
The cows own the streets. This one settled for my banana peel when I wouldn't give it the fruit.
Hiking past some shops along the road up to the school.
Just a sunset from somewhere up north.
Two little boys who helped serve us pancakes at the Tip Top Tea Shop. Indians of all ages are very industrious. They were working hard helping the shop owner.
Travel companions outside an ornately ornamented Hindi temple.
A typical scene from the car. Welcome back to the '60's.
Sunset prayer ceremony along the River Ganges. After chanting and beautiful music send a gift to the gods of bright flowers and scent and flame floating down the River.
Our Bride under the wedding tent. Isn't she stunning?
The wedding couple as the make their way through the five plus hour ceremony under the tent.
A very involved ceremony.
The groom's family looks on.
Friday, November 26, 2010
We are off to Delhi this afternoon and I am so excited that we will be attending a wedding. Can't wait for the experience. Understand henna and dancing will be part of the experience. Until then: Namaste!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
In Delhi we experienced the Chadni Chowk which is the quintessential market street, having successfully transported ourselves there via subway. I have no idea how we did that. We were guided by a one legged man, Abdulah, in a turquoise sarong who got about on his one leg faster than we could scoot. He took us into the inner depths of the market, taught us which areas were safe and which were not, hired us pedicabs when needed. Senses in complete overload. A completely naked man (who Jasmine said looked pregnant) walked down the street toward a temple, surrounded by his entourage. I thought he must be a mad man. Turns out he was a Jain priest. They go about life without clothes. Even in the midst of a bustling market. We were served tea in a pashmina shop by a kind man with the orangest bad dye job you ever saw. Jaz, bless her heart asked him the significance of his died hair, as we had seen in on other men. "To cover my grey hairs" he said and then gave us a lecture on how the chemical dyes we use are so bad but his natural hennah is much better (yeah, and it looks like a very bad dye job... but whatever works). We bought fried biscuits with curry potatoes from a street vendor. Indescribably delicious. Saw the barbers doing razor shaves right along the curbs. Right next to the professional ear cleaners using long needles on their paying customers. The garbage is everywhere. The parks are strewn with papers and plastics, as are all the street gutters. Another stark contrast to the UAE where laborers are constantly sweeping and picking up any little bit of trash around.
Today we caught a train to Haridwar. I met a lovely Indian family who were on their way to Dehra Dun. He is a retired historian and a writer and he was busy on his manuscript that had "uncensored" in the title. He introduced me to his wife, a beautiful grandmotherly woman. And then his daughter who was holding his 4-month old grandaughter "Rin Jin" which means rain fall. I held Rin Jin and made her smile. It was a lovely encounter.
We were met at Hardiwar by our driver, who does not speak a lick of English so it's been interesting trying to communicate. He took us to the Har-ki-Pairi temple on the River Ganges. Bustling markets surround this holy place on the water. We take off our shoes and enter into the temple which really is steps down to the water where the devout bathe and bless themselves in the water. We are approached by someone who offers to do an official blessing for 5 rupees a piece. But then as we repeat the sacred words and take the flower bowl to float in the river he asks how much the welfare of our family is worth. 5,000 rupees? What will you pay for your family's good fortune. As I stubbornly resist his imploring for my family and more money I realize that now he is probably making me repeat "forgive me oh blessed one for I am a cheap soul who will not pay top money for my family." If we are hit with the plague and illness and loss of fortune you will know what happened. After this dousing in the river, and watching so many in ritual cleansing we head up the side of a mountain to the Mansa Devi temple. It is a good long climb we share with beggars and monkeys and other families out to be blessed. There is a cable car option but we are ready for some exercise. At the top there are more market stalls, mostly selling blowers, puffed rice, candles and other objects to buy for offerings at the temple. Again we take off our shoes and enter in. But at every idol they want donations. It's a very strange mix: Gods and money and one I'm not comfortable with. But it is obviously what works for these people we see as they provide the gods with offerings of food and flowers and money.
After the hike down we head up road, dodging motorcycles and oncoming trucks (these two lane roads are used as three lanes along with a good measure of cows wandering freely along as well. I am so glad we have a driver (they also drive on the left side of the road so it makes it even more uncomfortable).
We drove to Rishikesh where we were greeted at our hotel with bright yellow marigold garlands to wear around our necks and cold glasses of Coke. Heaven! After we checked into our simple but ample rooms we went down the hall to the hotel restaurant for a late lunch: dahl, paneer tika masala, stuffed potatoes in curry sauce, rice, yogurt. Absolutely fabulous and all for 500 rupees ($11) total for the 4 of us. After a too short rest our driver picked Karl and Jaz and me up to see a very special site (Mary Ann is resting up as she is starting to come down with something....I certainly hope this is not caused by my lack of donations to the Ganges). We are driven up a windy mountain road to the Ashram Temple Parmarth Niketan. This temple is along the Ganges as well (but higher up) and we arrive to a swath of bright gold, young boys in ceremonial clothing, swaying around a fire on the steps down to the river. A singer and musicians are melding the crowd into a trancelike joy while a large statue of Vishna or Krishna hovers over the water. It is totally joyful and we are soon one with the crowd. Then as the sun sets leaf bowls with flowers and incense and small fires inside are launched into the water. Now we are back. I am ready to sleep soundly (I hope) and rest up as tomorrow we head into the Rajaji National Park at the foothills of the Himalayas where we are promised wildlife sightings. Will try to add pictures if I can later.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The balance of the week off I caught up on a little housekeeping, got busy planning the details for the trip to Spain in December and packed my suitcase for India: I leave tonight to catch up with my niece and see the boarding school in the Himalayas that raised my father. I am excited to be seeing family (I miss them so much) and to get to see the bright colors and greenery of India: two things lacking in the UAE.
While working on these things I had a constant stream of old archived episodes of NPR's "This American Life" going. I have always loved this program, but I think it is especially attractive after being situated for a while in this totally unAmerican setting. I nice dose of reality I think.
And so, this American will be out of touch for a bit. Not sure if I will be able to add to the blog while on the road but I know I will have some great adventures to share when I return. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
(Photos by Melissa. Thanks!)
Just returned from our adventure into the desert. Qasr Al Sarab is located about a two hour drive from Abu Dhabi. Once one heads inland from the coast you are surrounded by nothingness pretty fast. You drive through the suburbs where the working class are housed. First "suburbs" and then the labor camps. Pretty bleak places. Then industrial areas. Huge power lines cross the desert. As we are driving I wonder outloud how the electricity is generated to feed these huge power lines. There are no mountains and therefore no waterfalls to generate electricity, as I am used to back home. I wonder if electricity can be generated from gasoline as that is something that they do have a lot of out here.
Soon we enter the desert. As far as you can see are sand dunes. Much the color of the Palouse hills at harvest time. Every once in a while there is an oil facility where the richness of this country is brought to the surface. Off in the distance I see a flame where gas is burned off. This is all out in the middle of nowhere. The road is a decent asphalt two laner slicing through the desert. Not much traffic. According to the directions we pass through towns but there are no towns. There is one sign and road leading to a place called Gasco. Along the road there are hitchikers, working men in "pajamas" and head scarfs. We wonder outloud where the heck they came from, here in the middle of nowhere. They pull their thumbs in when they realize that it is two blond women in the approaching car.
As we drive we are intent on camel spotting. In our four months in the UAE we have yet to see our first wild camels. We know they are somewhere out there and we are excited to have our first sighting. We imagine every bush in the distance is a camel. And then, of in the distance we see a small herd. Definately camels this time. But not close enought to really encounter. Eventually we see more. Pretty amazing. These huge animals out strolling in the middle of nowhere. Just walking along in little groups. Crossing the dunes. No destination in sight we wonder what they are journeying to. Kind of like us.
We head over a dip and Melissa all but slams on the brakes. There is a herd just walking along the fence that separates the desert from the road. The camel fence. She pulls over, puts on the hazards and is running off to the fence before I know what's up. She has been intent on having a camel spotting since she arrived and is not going to wait another minute. I quickly follow. The camels stop their forward motion to look at these two white women running towards them. Melissa stops about 30 feet away, remembering stories of how camels spit. We start taking pictures. We get quite close though are leery of camel lugie. But just for good parting measure Melissa spits in their direction. It's one of those things we want to experience. Well see, not experience. Fortunately the camels do not return the gesture.
We follow the road to Hameem where we are supposed to turn. Only we don't know we are in Hameem because there, again, is no town. There is a petrol station, and as per instructions we take the second U-turn after the petrol station. Fortunately there is a sign pointing us onto a gravel road into the desert towards the Qasr Al Sarab. Then we go through an archway of sorts. With large urns and basketry and start the 12 kilometer travel to the resort. Melissa says it's like driving in snow as the road shifts around on her. Though the road is winding it is easy to tell if another vehicle is nearby because of the dust storm it kicks up.
Just as we have about given up we come around a corner and there is another archway and some palm trees and then a magnificent resort opens up in front of us. We cross a bridge, not unlike a drawbridge over a moat (albeit a dry moat). A fountain in the courtyard welcomes us and we pull our car amongst the others checking in. Where were these travellers on our way in? We enter into a huge lobby with more fountains and some lovely incense wafting through the air. We hand in our passports and are told to wait in the lobby amongst the other arrivals. It's a big lobby with lots of seating area and beautiful staff from all over the world helping the guests. We are offered some cold fruity drink and before long are escorted by a lovely young Asian women to our deluxe room. By the way, the "deluxe room" is the most basic room available. And even as such we can only afford to stay one night at about $400.
The resort is a maze of stairs and passageways and bridges and walls. I hope we will be able to find our way back to the room once we venture out. The buildings are clay with cutouts on the top. All doors are solid heavy wood with large metal fittings. It feels very much like a desert fortress. The doors open up to our suite and we sigh with contentment. The furnishings are beautiful. We have a private patio with lawn overlooking the hills of the desert. The bathroom is stupendous. The first time I have checked into a hotel and thought I could be happy just spending my vacaiton in the bathroom! The tub is the largest one I've ever been in. I will think later as I am soaking in it that this is such a waste to be in alone.
While we wait for our bags to be delivered we check out all the drawers and features. Lots of little extras. Like our own toothbrushes and toothpaste in boxes saying "time for teeth" next to the "time for nails" and "time for hair" with files and combs. We quickly devour the box of dried fruits that have been left for us. Then we start to get antsy. We are waiting for our luggage to be delivered. This is our first sign that things are not as perfect as they appear to be. Three calls to the desk after good hour and a half. No, our bags are not lost. It's just that they have so many people checking out and so many people checking in that they are not able to keep up. Nor are they able to call me back as they have promised to do to assure me that the bags really are not lost. We want to get to the swimming pool. We want to lay out and soak in the sun and get some good people watching in.
Finally the bags arrive and we start the trek to the pool. It is a long walk but pleasant as we wind our way through the hotel and the grounds Up stairs. Down stairs. Down hallways. Accross lawns. But the trip is worth it. The pool is gorgeous. We have a little challenge finding two empty chairs together. We ask for some help. A harried guy walks us around until chairs are found and then dissappears to get us towels. he is gone a long time and finally he comes. Gracious. The staff are al gracious. Just overworked, hard to find and long about the delivery. We stay by the pool until sunset. The sunset is pretty special. We see several guests have hiked up some nearby dunes to watch it. We are in swimsuites and flipflops so the trek won't happen for us. This time. We watch from the comfort of the patio. Then head back to the room to clean up and rest up for dinner.
According to the website there are four restaurants at the place. We are relaxed and not into making major decisions so we opt for the closest one which turns out to be the buffet one. As fancy as this resort is, the buffet is pretty non-descript. Generally not impressive, except for the dessert buffet. I guess it's good that the other courses were not that impressive as that left more room for the dessert. I do get to expreience my dessert oasis in the desert afterall! We call it a night and return to the room which has been "turned down" for us, with slippers placed by the beds and covers turned down.
In the morning we head back to the pool, soak in some sun and rest up. We get lunch at the poolside restaurant before heading back to Abu Dhabi. We try more camel spotting on the road back. See several off in the distance and the same fence side gang on the return. Then we run accross a group of about thirty not too far from the road. Several are laying down. This seems to be a younger group. No large ones in the midst. Teenagers I think. We pull over and try to lure them over with our sorry imitations of camel talk. Much to our surprise it works. They cautiously come towards the fence. We are amazed at our camel speakng skills. There are grumbling noises coming from them as well. Soon we are nearly face to face. At least within spitting distance (theirs, not ours) It is a lovely encounter and good way to finish our journey into the desert. Operation camel spotting a success! One midnight at the oasis. Camels sent to bed.
(I apologize in advance for getting this tune stuck in your head...)
"Midnight At The Oasis"
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows paintin' our faces
Traces of romance in our heads
Heaven's holdin' a half-moon
Shinin' just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust
Come on, Cactus is our friend
He'll point out the way
Come on, 'til the evenin' ends
'Til the evenin' ends
You don't have to answer
There's no need to speak
I'll be your belly dancer, prancer
And you can be my sheik
I know your Daddy's a sultan
A nomad known to all
With fifty girls to attend him, they all send him
Jump at his beck and call
But you won't need no harem, honey
When I'm by your side
And you won't need no camel, no no
When I take you for a ride
Come on, Cactus is our friend
He'll point out the way
Come on, 'til the evenin' ends
'Til the evenin' ends
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Got shadows paintin' our faces
And traces of romance in our heads
Oh, come on...
Friday, November 5, 2010
I know bloggers all over the world are lamenting the fact that Starbucks already has the Christmas Cups out. I think I have posted something similar for the last many years. Usually a shock to the system when one is hardly expecting Thanksgiving to be around the corner, to wander into Starbucks half awake and discover the Christmas cups are out. While I love me a half eggnog latte, it always comes slightly flavored with a little stress about how much I have not yet done to be ready for Christmas.
Here in Abu Dhabi at Marina Mall I found the first signs of Christmas: the Starbuck's cups. And I was excited. Because maybe it will mean that there will be some Christmas here. Because folks, there is nothing here that says winter is approaching. I have not felt a drop of rain since I've been here. Four months now. no rain. There are no trees to change color. While I have seen winter coats and hats and boots in the store I don't imagine that I will actually see anyone wearing those things around here. I don't think I'll be doing any Christmas shopping around here. No Christmas coming this way. Except the cups. Seems weird. But welcome. I need some sign of Christmas. I guess it will be the cups.
My major dissapointment is: no eggnog.
Speaking of Starbuck's Cups, here's a repost of my 2005 Christmas letter around a similar theme. My first vivid memory of the arrival of the Starbuck's cups.
Christmas Letter 2005
Two weeks before Thanksgiving the holiday decor schussed into Starbucks. Like the Mouse King vs. the Nutcracker, the Tuscany yellow colored walls battle with the cranberry red and tinsel silver of Starbucks’ Holiday Look. The tall centerpieces on the display tables, made of shiny metallic paper cones and silver spangles are vaguely tree shaped and look tacky. Trashy. The usual non-descript everyday cardboard cups offering stupid drivel of life advice have been replaced with a deep crimson holiday one sporting a cute sketch of a man and boy working together to put up a tangle of holiday lights. “It Only Happens ONCE a Year” it says. I think this is supposed to be encouraging.
Even though we haven’t yet reached Thanksgiving, here Christmas tunes are playing in the background, as if to herald in these garish Christmas decorations. Faint staccatos of cinnamon dance through the typical peppery coffee aroma. Any sign of baby Jesus is conspicuously absent from all the décor and holiday gifts. Likewise, there are no Stars of David. No green trees. No gold stars. No white doves. It seems commercialism can’t afford to recognize the true meaning of the holidays. This makes me slightly sad. But mostly I am disgustedly amused. I’m certain this whole holiday campaign has been planned for at least ten months. Probably as soon as last year’s last post Christmas holiday sale items were boxed up and sent to some African country, the Starbucks visionaries got together and looked at several benign holiday campaign ideas to select this year’s winner. This year’s attempt looks oddly familiar to last. Which itself looked like the year before that. There is only so much you can do with crimson red, white and silver. It all starts to look the same. Now, if they would throw in some pine boughs, some golden stars, some brightly wrapped gifts: decorations as colorful and varied as the lives of these customers that come here and they might just knock me into the Christmas mood. These people, standing in line in peppermint-mocha daze, craving the wake up that only an espresso fix can give, are showered with snowflakes of holiday stress that this new seasonal Starbuck’s decor has released; depression dancing into their subconscious like the Sugar Plum Fairy.
In Starbucks I see couples and sense a triple shot of tension between some. I remember that. How we would load into the Subaru always saying “next year we should go to the mountains and cut our own.” Son would be sulking. Though he said it was because he’d rather be doing something else, I suspect it is the same reason that my heart was also sulking. I knew that with the Christmas tree would come a day of cussing: help would be hard to find at the tree lot; carrying the tree to and tying on the car would have husband and son barking at each other; the stand wouldn’t fit right; the tree would be unacceptably crooked; the poor dog would get yelled at by husband as she got in the way in the excitement; the decorations weren’t put away right last year; the light strings are tangled and only half work. I do not miss that.
This year son and I got our tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving. As we pull the box with our take-apart fold-down pre-lit fake tree (no floss, no tinsel, thank you very much) out of the cardboard box that has been stashed in the basement of our rental, son laughs and calls us “trailer trash” because we have a fake tree which makes me laugh because there is no tree crisis, no day of swearing and moodiness though I used to vow that I’d never have a fake tree or use Presto Logs instead of real wood which are two fabulous changes in my newly single life. Make that a cup of seveneleven coffee trailer trash, please. Stained cardboard cup. Just black. No room.
Here at Starbucks, the Christmas gift packs are expensively assembled. They will be snatched up by the last minute gift shoppers who have to bring something for their seasonal catching up with friends or in return for some small gift somebody unexpectedly gave them. I know this because this is when I buy Starbucks overpriced gifts.
This year Christmas shopping is fun. No frustrating effort in going out with my uncommunicative husband who only whines about the parking and the crowds and how we should have a list. No exhaustive efforts on a mother-in-law who doesn’t like me. No obsessive shopping for careful selection of a special gift for my husband which he will store unused for years on his dresser, claiming he likes it but still wont use it and doesn’t want to return it but wont use it or donate it to a good cause. No, this year our shopping is fun. Son and I spend more than our limit selecting CD players, basketballs, footballs and make-up kits for needy teens. Son asks with worry if we have enough. I say, for trailer trash we are doing OK.
Coming home from shopping, we stop at Starbucks. Son is not as bothered as I by the garish colors and lack of Christmas in the decoration. He thinks I am being silly. He tells me that for trailer trash I sure am opinionated. I am OK with this. We pull into our driveway, crimson cups of Starbucks’ hot chocolate in our hands, reminding us that “It only happens ONCE a year.” Our trailer trash tree looks beautiful, all lit up in the corner window. This has been a peppermint mocha moment. With whip cream.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Arabic classes are going well. After five classes I can count to ten, ask for and tell you the time, give greetings, order food at the restaurant and know about twelve letters. So I can read some simple words (though don't necessarily know what they mean). Class before last one of the letters we learned was "Jeem" which gives a similar sound to "J" in our alphabet. This letter is easy for me to remember. I mean really. It's a boob. I wonder if sixth grade Arabic boys get the giggles in class as they write out girl's names that start with jeem.
So in class, the night we learned this letter, I was, unfortunately, in the front and right accross a desk from Melissa. Without my filter on I say to Melissa "Great. My name starts with a boob." Lovely. I mean I like it that it starts with a boob because it makes it easy to remember the letter. And I suppose it could be worse, like if it started with something that looked like a belly roll. Or a vagina if my name was Virginia or Vanessa or something. But did I really have to say that thought outloud?
To my dear friends Judy and Julie: be it known that your name also starts with a boob. See, you know some Arabic now as well.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Around 4:30 AM with a call to prayer from the Mosque outside my window. A slow mournful song. To remind my Muslim neighbors that they have little time to do their abolitions (ritual cleansings) and prayers before sunrise. Since this is my day off (we have Friday and Saturday off), I roll over in bed with a sigh, knowing I don't have to get up for a while. I fall back to sleep for some crazy dreams about polar bears and ice-skating. I believe this is a result of Melissa and my current pastime of turning up the air-conditoining to full blast, wrapping up in blankets and watching Christmas DVDs. We miss the seasonal change at home.
Around 4:30 AM I am asleep in my cottage loft. Satchmo snuggled down under the comforter, not the sheets, dozing away, or not.
Around 8:00 AM I throw on my jeans, short sleeve shirt, flip-flops and head out for coffee and Manakeesh. I leave the air-conditioned coolness of the lobby, as the Chinese doorman says "Good morning Ma'am Sir". In the lobby is our new company driver, Hussein, from Lebanon. He started this week. Does not speak much English. When I saw him yesterday morning as he arrived at the office to drive a visiting co-worker to see a desert Oasis, I told him he did not need to come in today. That he could come on Sunday morning to the office for work. Apparently he did not understand and I feel badly that he has taken the 1.5 hour bus ride into the City to work on a day he doesn't have to. (His salary is standard. He is on call 24/7 so not working today will not cost him income. But it will cost him three hours on his day off to commute from and to the lower rent area where the laborers tend to live.) I offer to drive him home. He looks shocked and embarrassed and waves me away. I will have Rasha explain to him in the morning that he doesn't typically work weekends unless we have special needs.
Around 8 AM I lie in bed and look out the window at the early morning sun breaking over the water of Lake Sammamish. This time of year I imagine there are no leaves on the trees and the view is beautiful. I would head down my spiral stair to the kitchen where I would make my own Latte.
A little after 8:00 AM I walk out my building, having sent off the driver, and aim towards Costa Coffee. The temperature at this time is in the low nineties and it feels fine. Feels doable given that it was well over 110-degrees this time of day when I first arrived. Though it is warm I cannot see clouds in the sky. Cloud scouting is rare due to the layer of fog usually present. We are right at the ocean. In the Middle East. Blue sky and clouds are a rare treat. The humidity rarely gets below 80-percent. My sunglasses fog up usually as I step outside. But I notice this morning that I am no longer surprised by the temperature change leaving the building. I guess this is what you call getting acclimated.
The garbage truck is wedging between the cars parked down the middle of the street, trying to empty the large dumpsters on the corner. The stench of the garbage that has been simmering in the Middle Eastern heat is part of City living. In the City the nose is constantly assaulted by clouds of aroma: leaking sewer lines; "ripe" laborers as they pass by; incense wafting out of small dress shops; curries bubbling on burners of tiny restaurants; strongly perfumed women and men (there is some popular men's perfume that has a very chemical scent which is close to moth balls with ammonia), and; garbage dumpsters. I dodge dripping air conditioner units, pass by feral kittens stretched out on the tops of cars, and gingerly step around or over places in the "sidewalks" where the bricks have been upended leaving a sandy hole filed in with cigarette butts and rocks. While the sidewalks are in horrible disrepair there really isn't much garbage as the city has employed many laborers to patrol everywhere and pick up garbage. But they have their work cut out for them with the cigarette butts and candy wrappers as people just toss down those types of things. They know they will be picked up after.
I arrive at Costa's coffee, a modern coffee shop and Starbuck's biggest rival here. Though the shop is modern and clean, smoking is allowed inside. At this time in the morning about eight tables are filled, all with men, half in dish-dash, speaking Arabic. The others with single westerners on laptops. All of them are smoking. I order coffee from the nice young Philipino with whom I'm familiar. I tell her I want the largest cup for a skinny vanilla latte. She says they have no largest cup (they have been out for a few weeks now). The cost is 24 dirhams (about $6.50 US). This is one of the few food/beverage offerings that is more expensive than in the US. I leave the Costa shop with my procured latte in hand for the next part of my stroll. I love the Costa coffee cups by the way. They are a textured cardboard with wavy indentations that make it easy to hold. I like the cups and the taste of the coffee better than Starbucks. The only advantage to Starbucks is that there is no smoking inside. I digress....back to stepping outside with my latte in hand...
I walk outside for the three block stroll to the Lebanese bakery on the opposite side of my office/apartment building. I go past the fire station, around the corner, past our car that is parked along the curb. It was a good night for parking yesterday I guess. The car is on the curb, not far from the Mosque. Parking in this neighborhood, like most neighborhoods in Abu Dhabi is horrible. Once the curb spots are full a new line of parking forms down the middle of the streets leaving barely enough room for cars to squeeze by on either side. Aisle parked cars fold in their mirrors so that the passing traffic can clear them. At all corners and right up to the driveways cars wedge in. There is no "clear zone" from the intersections and drives. If there is any extra radius at the corners you will see cars doubled up. The driver of the exterior car leaves his mobile number on the dashboard so that the inside car can call the driver of the exterior car if he needs to get out. Cars are parked up on sidewalks, where there are sidewalks. Often, early in the morning or late at night you will hear drivers pounding and pounding on their horns. That is for wedged in drivers to try to get attention of the "wedgees" to move their cars if a mobile number hasn't been left or if someone isn't answering the call.
....back to my walk. I pass our car and cross in front of the Mosque. Though this is not an official prayer time (there are five daily) there is an assortment of about a dozen pairs of sandals on the Mosque stairs. Always there are sandals on the steps. There are apparently always some people in the Mosque praying. I round the corner to cross the garbage truck again who has made it this far along in the morning rounds. The stroll this time of the morning is nice as there is very little traffic out and, as I mentioned, the temperature is tolerable.
I arrive at the Lebanese bakery. Hussein, our driver, is in front visiting with someone. I am glad to see he at least has gotten some breakfast from a bakery of his country of origin and has found someone he knows to talk to. We nod at each other and I enter in. I take my place in line behind a father holding his daughter and a woman with head covering on. The men behind the counter are so friendly and smile as I say "Salam Allecoom" (Good morning). I practice my Arabic "Min Fadlak. Bidee itned manakeesh cheese, olive and vegetable" (please. I want two flatbreads with cheese olive and vegetables....obviously I haven't learned cheese olives and vegetables yet). They would understand me in English, no problem. But they like that I am practicing my Arabic. I wait as I see them take the bread that has just freshly come out of the big open oven, put cheese and some olives on it and slide it back into the oven. In just a few moments they pull it out of the oven and place cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh basil onto the warm treat. They are placed onto paper and folded in half. Securely wrapped and placed into a paper bag that is put then into a plastic bag with handles. I hand them a 20 dirham note. He asks if I have a 1 dirham coin as the total is 11 dirhams for the two ($3.00). As I am getting out the change the other guy behind the counter waves me off and tells the other to just give me 10 dirhams back. They want to give me a discount. So I have procured breakfast for Melissa and me for a total of $2.72 US. It is fresh and delicious and made with kindness. "Shokran" (Thank you) I say. "Masalama" as I walk out the door.
As I walk back to our flat I duck inside the small little everything shop to see if they have some onions for the soup we will make tonight. I find some decent ones and a nice melon of some sort. The total is 9 dirhams ($2.45). I wait in line. Some passing man (Pakistani?) says "Hello. How are you madam?" as another man grabs my vegetables to weigh them. He comes back and says the cost. I hand him my money and he gives me my change. I do not have to wait in line with the others. They are doing some kind of other business at the counter that has to do with receipts and forms and something complicated that my limited Arabic can't understand.
On the homestretch, I walk back along the row of buildings leading to my flat. The carpenter is busy in his tiny shop, sawing away at a board. I look in and see that he is barefoot in his carpentry shop. He also has no safety goggles on. The dress shop has the usual five or six men crammed into the tiny air-conditioned space. The laundry shop is full of steam as they press the sheets and shirts that are dropped off. The three cell phone shops are open for business (seems every block has multitudes of cell phone shops). The waterpipe store is buzzing with the tobacco sales. I arrive and the Chinese doorman says "welcome Ma'am sir". On the 13th floor the smell of fish curry (at 9 AM) comes from a neighbor's flat. I am home. Ready to start the weekend day.
Homemade latte in my commuter mug in hand, Satchmo on leash, I head out my door. I imagine I am assaulted by a chill in the air as I leave my heated house, reminding me it is fall. I go out my gate and down the hill. My neighbor Ron is out washing his car and greets me. The air smells like wood burning stoves and rotting leaves. Satchmo tries to lunge after birds and rabbits as we head out along the road, devoid of cars and traffic this time on a weekend morning. I walk past the treed protected area, but disgusted with the piles of fast food wrappers, empty beer cans and plastic bottles that people have tossed out the window of their moving cars. I tell myself I should come back and pick up the garbage but I never do. I may cross paths with a few runners and bikers and others out walking dogs. Maybe a car or two will drive by. There are no shops within walking distance to buy breakfast. No assaults to my nose. No sounds of chatter. Just the sound of my iPod playing an episode of "This American Life" or "Radiolab" for my entertainment. As we near home Satchmo pulls me up the hill. I enter my cottage. I am home. Ready to start my weekend day.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
When taking down a phone number or email address over the phone I often have to have them spell it using phoenetic spelling, such as "T as in Tango" in order to make sure I have it right. I have to do the same thing when leaving my email address since they seem to have trouble understanding me as well.
I was trying to get an Indian's contact email over the phone. He started spelling:
"S as in star"
"O as in Ostrich"
"B as in ballot"
"B as in ballot"
"I as in ice"
"L as in lamb"
"at somethingorother dot com"
So I sent the email to him. It came back undeliverable. I got to looking at something that had his name on it. Soppil. Apparently B as in Ballot means P as in Pallet? Why would he pick pallet for the P word? Especially if he can't pronounce P and Ballot is a word too?
It's always something. Be habby!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
- See that writing up there? I am learning Arabic. Melissa and I host a weekly Meet Up group in our office where Sam teaches us beginner's Arabic. I can now greet you (for several times of the day), say good bye, ask where you are from and what your name is. I can also answer all those questions. And now I can write the letter "A". It's fun to learn. A bit of a stretch for this old brain. The locals are happy that we try at least a little.
- Not all flatmates are created equal. This "gift" was left in my garbage can last night. Let me explain. There are three of us in the company two bedroom apartment. I have a single bed in the living/dining room which I really don't mind. Last night one of my flatmates asked if we were going to be home in the evening because her friend's parent's were in town and wanted to fix her dinner in HER flat. OK, we made plans to be scarce so she could have dinner in our place. We went out. No big deal. We do that a lot anyway. But we were tired so didn't stay out real late. Got home. The family was there. Flatmate makes no introductions. We dissapear into M's bedroom. A few minutes later the door closes. We wait and hear no sounds so venture out. We find the kitchen a horrendous mess. Every dish dirty. Nothing washed. The aforementioned flat mate has an attitude that we have a maid and she can deal with any mess we leave for her. M and I always try to take care of our messes at least a bit. Anyway, this morning I wake to an awful smell in my bedroom. The above is what I find in my garbage can. Thanks so much! Sometimes I feel I am back in college. And not in a good way.
(Post script: the maids did the dishes. The stack is up to the ceiling(!) And unfortunately there are fish scales on about half of them so we get to rewash. Oh happy day!)
- I had a date this week. With a young handsome foreigner. "Cougar material" M described him. We had a delicious dinner at a seafood restaurant where we sat side by side looking at the water. There was a particularly funny moment when I mentioned that my father was a professor and I asked him if he knew what "entemologist" was. When I explained he "studies insects" the guy chocked on his water. He asked "what is it exactly about sex does your father study." Studies insects...studies in sex...I guess they sound similar. We had a nice drink in Trader Vic's afterwards where we watched good salsa dancers and hookers at the bar looking for business. Then by cab he dropped me off home. It was romantic, safe and a nice way to spend the evening. Go Cougs!
- I spent three days at a Middle East Parking Symposium. I am by nature an introvert and so these kinds of things are not typically easy for me. Add in the factor that I am one of maybe four women at the show and the other women are all positioned with co-workers who are men and easing them into the crowd. Many of the men are Middle-eastern and not approachable. I did meet a few (see above note on being a Cougar), walked away with a new project, made some important contacts. But it was otherwise a difficult, uncomforatable three days. I miss working at home where people are generally much more approachable.
- There's been a transition inside me. I have moved from "newbie" to host. Acceptance is the best word to describe it. I am no longer a fragile newcomer filled with anxiety and grieving for what I left behind. I am just filled with anxiety. And grieving for what I left behind. But busy with the business of trying to make sure others are supported and dealing with their own fragility and shock from their arrival. Being put in that position forced me to move along. I'm more resigned and committed to make this the best I can within the limitations that I have. It's a process. I am proceding.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The doorman is Chinese. He looks like Mau T'se Tung in green work uniform. He is Chinese, working for an Egyptian boss, with a Filipino crew, in an Arabic speaking country, serving British, German, French, American, African (Maybe Nigerian?), Indian and Pakistani Tenants. I am honored that he greets me with "Good morning" even if I am called "Sir."
Less than 20% of the population in the UAE are indigenous: the Emeratti. They are the heirs to the oil based wealth of this country. The men dress in the long white "dish dash" with white head covering fastened on with a black ring with long cords running down their backs. When they are at a desk or sometimes out with friends they tuck the long folds from their head covering back. A modified "flying Nun" look. At the front, where a tie might be they sport a three or four inch length of intricately woven white cloth that is the same color of the dish dash. I was told that this is how you can tell they are Emeratti as lots of other men from other countries dress similarly, but without the tale tale woven piece.
The working class are often here to make money to send back to their home countries. Our maid, for example, is from the Philipines. She is here on a contract. She gets one short visit home after two years. She left a young daughter at home in the care of relatives. Her eyes tear up when we ask her. So we don't ask her often. She is always so cheery and positive. She works extra jobs on her hours off. I have seen others be very dismissive to her as well as other maids and taxi drivers. That so rubs me the wrong way. But then again, sometimes I find myself so frustrated trying to communicate something that I think is simple. That should be obvious (in my humble opinion). And they don't get it and they don't get it (though all the time nodding "yes") that I end up getting short as well. I am not my best self at those moments.
I often try to talk to the cab drivers to find out a little bit about where they are from. This isn't always possible as some have extremely limited English. Then I just smile and ride in silence. But most try. Most seem really surprised when you ask where they are from. I think not too many passengers care. They just yell with impatience. Sometimes they will ask me if I am here for big money contract (as they rub their fingers together with one hand). Or they assume I am a teacher. There are many western women here teaching. Cab rides are very cheap and most locals or people who have been here a long time give them a 1 dirham tip for each ride. A dirham is worth about $0.30 US. They are always so grateful when I round up the tip and say keep the change. That's maybe a dollar tip or so. I fantasize about handing them a 20 or even 100 dirham tip just to make their day. I probably will do that this Christmas season (and even say "Merry Christmas" even though they don't celebrate it, just because that is why I would be doing it).
Melissa and I took a very late cab ride accross town to the hotel this weekend in Dubai. We had been out celebrating a birthday. But the celebration didn't include food and with a few too many drinks in us we determined we had better put something thick and greasy in our stomachs. So we asked the cab driver to get us to a McDonalds on the way back. he sighed heavily and seemed irritated that we needed this stop. When we were a block away I asked him if he preferred hamburger or chicken sandwich. I think he thought I was teasing. I asked what drink he preffered. "Coke" he said, very softly. I said "please wait" as we got out of the cab. When we came out five minutes later with his dinner he was speachless. Actually he was speachless before (just heavy sighing) but his mood seemed better knowing he had a meal to eat. That was a feel good moment.
Life is pretty hard here for the workers. The construction workers are the ones my heart goes out to most. The temperatures are so very, very hot. Work conditions do not look safe at all (you should see the scaffolding they are climbing around on: scary). They are bused on these old gray busses that surely don't have air conditioning between the job and the labor camp where they "live". Life just cannot be very good for them. I think they are probably committed for a long time on their contracts. So sad to think about them living so far from home working such difficult jobs, living in the labor camps. Probably no, or very little, education, and so very difficult to imagine doing anything else.
I complain about the work conditions here. I admit it. It's just so very difficult. Everything. And pretty thankless. It will be a very long haul. But just an awareness of what some of these others are dealing with puts it in a good perspective.
From Sir, with love....
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
- How to dial the phone. There is a different procedure to use for dialing a mobile number or a cell number from a mobile number or a cell number. The numbers on people's business cards are not necessarily exactly how you would dial the number. If they have the country code in the number you have to drop it. You might have to add a zero to it, or you might have to drop some numbers depending on what kind of phone you are calling from. Melissa is pretty sharp. She is in her twenties. I think that helps! She has tried to simplify it for me. I hid my request disguised as an attempt to put things down in writing to help other new arrivals. She found the simplest way to put it. Reduced my half page write up to four simple lines. I still need to look up those four simple lines whenever I dial. This is just too new a trick for this old dog. And you know what they say about teaching new tricks to old dogs. That dog won't hunt...
- I don't seem to be able to reprogram my brain for a Sunday through Thursday work week. When Thursday arrives I say "Thank God it's Friday." When I am organizing plans for the weekend, I always tell people "Saturday" when I mean Friday. Same problem with Sunday.
I put out a meeting agenda this week. The meeting was on Monday. My mind processes this as "OK. I have one day to prepare after the weekend. So I put together the meeting agenda and send it to verybody with the heading "Agenda for Tuesday's Meeting." I have the wrong day on the agenda as well. Result: I have confused everybody and it takes a bunch of emails and corrections to straighten it out.
Additionally, with the 11 hour offset from the timezone at home I am always confused on what time I've set up for Skype calls, etc. Fortunately Outlook, our electronic mail/calendar program for work, automatically adjusts time when an appointment is set by someone in another time zone. Unfortunately my brain does not do the same.
- Metric System. How many of you were told in the second grade that you needed to learn the metric system because by the time you were in JR. High this would be the US standard? Didn't happen, did it? In second grade they brought out a felt bag with little wooden cubes. Purple and red and green and blue ones. We grouped them into rows of ten and then ten rows of ten. And talked about centimeters and decimeters. I remember it as great fun. How pretty those cubes were. The tactile experience of moving those around. I loved the metric system. Loved as in past tense. Now not so much. We never moved to the metric system and now that my brain is past the formative years I just can't seem to adjust to thinking about the metric system.
Or to calling the letter Z "zed". Which they do here too. Though there are other British terms that I will come home using I'm sure. Like football for soccer. Perhaps I will pick up a limey accent as well. There are lots of Brits and Aussies around, including in the office. And many non-English speaking nationalities learned their English from the Brits so they speak with that accent as well. I digress. Circling back...the metric system trips me up. This also affects my ability to complain eloquently to you all about how hot it is here. "It's up to fifty-degrees" just doesn't get that much empathy. But saying it's 120 does. But I never know when it's 120 because all the signs and all around are discussing the fifty thing. All I can tell you is it's damn hot. Oh, but now cooling down to 48! Hope is on the way.
- The money thing. The conversion rate is somewhere around 3.6. Which means things aren't nearly expensive as they initially appear to be. Like a hotel room for $400. Only it's really $108 US. So I get in this pattern of reading a price. Gasping at the price, remembering I get to divide it by 3.6 and the result is so much nicer. Problem is some things are still expensive. But I have already talked myself into relief that it's not 3.6 times as expensive and have my money down before I consider if it really is a good deal. The money thing requires too much thinking. Fortunately I do have a good app on my iPhone for money AND metric conversion. But I wish my mind could just do it, you know?
And so it goes. Two months. Twenty days. And now...five hours. Stay tuned.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The pity party isn't over, but the light has come back on. Just naming it, talking about it, doing a little research on the phenomena has helped. As someone very wise and dear to me pointed out: I have to consciously seek life-giving input into my days. I think that means more than a strong gin and tonic and handful of crispy chocolates. Though in a pinch that's been more life-giving than nothing at all. Maybe adding some worship music on the i=pod as I climb those stairs. Maybe getting off my arse and climbing those stairs again.
I really hadn't realized, until it was gently pointed out to me, how truly different this territory is than the one I left behind. There are some really awesome people along on this journey with me. A few close at hand who are new close friends. And others that are on the journey with me though not touchable close. That doesn't discount the fact that there is not a single thing in my daily routine that is the same as it was before. (OK, and I am just going to drop a little tear right here as I typed that sentence and felt the empty spot that Satchmo, my super dog, used to fill). I had my share of pity parties in my former life as well. (Note to self: glorifying one's past location is another typical symptom of culture shock). I am going to try to find the humor in what I see and experience here. And folks, if one were to look, one could see irony all around. Take for example the road sign we encountered on our way to Al Ain a while back (above). Beware surprises.
Here's something else to think about: at home I had probably a dozen or so good friends that I could call up and plan to do something with. Or even just hang out with doing nothing in particular. Here I have...well, you can count them on one hand and still have a finger left to scoop out a nice blob of Nutella and plop it in the mouth. The others I am with by circumstance: we are dependent on each other and so we try to get along but I am sure the feeling is neutral: that we wouldn't likely be hanging together if we had our base support group closer at hand.
Across the street at Lulu's Hypermarket (our really big mall grocery store) I ordered from the grill counter. I got four shish kabob sticks of ground lamb, six small grilled pita breads, a small tub of hummus, a "salad" (which turned out to be a small clump of parsley. That's it. Just parsley) and a scoop of French fries (which I did not eat). The whole meal, which actually provided me with two meals, could have been three if I had fried up the potatoes for breakfast, cost me 15 dirham. That's less than US$5. There is no sales tax here. I also bought a bag full of broccoli that cost me 18 dirham. Go figure. Very strange to figure out the pricing of everything. Obviously, the local laborers (like the guys running the grill) don't get paid much. And the broccoli came from somewhere further away than the lamb.
We finally got bottled water service to our flat. We bought a cooler well over a week ago. It took me over a week to coordinate with the water company to get someone over to deliver it. Hope when we need a refill it will happen more quickly. Instead of having to buy 5 liter bottles at about 3 dirham a bottle we now get 5 gallon bottles for 7.5 dirham. Plus it's oh so cold and handy and frees up space in our fridge. Oh the little joys. I will however miss my daily calling to the water company and taking my frustrations out on them. I believe, however, they will not miss those calls. I tried not to shoot the messenger. Really I did. But I think I may have wounded a few egos in the process.
There is a shop a few blocks up. It is called the "Butt Sweet Shop." I will take pictures to prove it. What do you think happens in that shop? I hope they sell T-shirts. Maybe that is where I need to go to buy an attitude adjustment.
Monday, September 13, 2010
My normal support system is so unreachable at times (and a special shout out to Julie and Kelley and Anne and Judy who have gone out of their way to let me know you are still there. Thank you! Without your precious contact I really would be completely lost).
In my effort to fight the desire to crawl into a closet and drink myself to death I am trying to help myself by figuring out what is happening to my psyche. Good old Google (though it is probably obvious to those of you looking on from the outside) has identified this as a process which I must go through. Definition: Culture Shock. Since I have never shied away from experiencing different cultures, embrace our differences, somehow I just thought I'd be imune to that. mmm nhmm. No such luck.
Wikipedia is a good place to start. Though depending on what you chase, there are from four to ten stages of adjustment in moving overseas and experiencing culture shock. There are also as many different time frames to expect to move through these stages, and, like all life processees, it is not a linear process. I get to make progress and digress...step forward...fall back.
My gem for today, from Wiki
Culture shock is a subcategory of a more universal construct called transition shock. Transition shock is a state of loss and disorientation predicated by a change in one's familiar environment which requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, some which include:
excessive concern over cleanliness and health
feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
desire for home and old friends
physiological stress reactions
getting "stuck" on one thing
compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain
stereotyping host nationals
hostility towards host nationals
Note: I score myself with varying degrees of all 14. The "one thing" I am finding myself stuck on is a feeling of abandonment by so many of my good friends back home. There. I said it. And as I mentioned above, there are those of you who are giving such good support that you are the reason I remain tethered. You are also the only ones I think that are even bothering to read my blog. This is also a familiar symptom of depression (and self pity). Life goes on for everybody else. They are not stuck in this world of the unfamiliar as I am. I try to quiet those voices in my head that say "I guess (fill in the blank) has forgotten entirely about me." "I must be easily replacable as (fill in the blank) seems to have already filled in the spot in their life I used to fill with something else." A symptom of the homesickness is thinking constantly about the people I left behind so I am thinking and missing all the time. Life goes on for those who didn't change it up. It's my bad...not theirs.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
We made a baked layered dish with eggplant, seasoned ground meet and tomatoes. This served on top of rice with pasta. Also, spinach filled pastry, eggplant moutabelle (similar to babaganoosh), salad and wheat and garbanzo soup. This dinner was served for Iftar (the nightly breaking of the fast) which we enjoyed with our director's family and the newly arrived lab director.
After such a filling meal we walked the mile+ back to the flat in the warm, humid Abu Dhabi air. The temp had gotten up to 120-degrees earlier in the day. Humidity well over 80%.
The evening was a lovely way to end the weekend. Back to work, though this may be a short week as the end of Ramadan is approaching. There will be a holiday though the day when it starts is not yet determined: depends on the sighting of the moon.