Friday, July 9, 2010

First Friday

Fancy Dates from Welcome basket atop My New Ikea Throw

Add on to the last post: I forgot to mention that Melissa had put together for me a lovely welcome basket filled with local treats: some fresh flat bread, a can of hummus, some pistachio halvah, Nutella, Ketchup flavored Lays (really?), and a most elegant box of assorted dates (including lemon stuffed, nut stuffed, coconut crusted, chocolate brushed and a bunch of others). I also should mention that I had a lovely decompression soak in the tub before crawling into my freshly changed sheets. It was a lovely end to a new start.

Emirates Palace Hotel from Night Stroll


My first full day started early, with a mystical sounding call to prayer echoing over the air-conditioning sound in my room. Still groggy from the Ambien, I went back to sleep having very strange dreams until I officially woke up a few hours later. I decided I’d join Manuel and his friend Tim for church at the Evangelical Community Church. Tim picked us up near the flat and we drove about 15 minutes to the church, located in a non-descript neighborhood. Let’s just say that the churches have not had the investment that the mosques have. But a church is about the people, not the building, right? We arrived after the start and I was happy to hear some of my favorite church music played (Amazing Grace/Chains are gone, Come Thou Font, etc.) I think I must have been a little overtired because I almost dozed off several times during the sermon. During announcements they asked any newcomers to introduce themselves so I bravely did with the microphone brought to me. Several people introduced themselves to me after the service. Then I talked Tim and Manuel into looking for an open coffee shop. We ended up going to the Marina Mall which was mostly closed down until 10:30 or so. But we did find an open Starbucks (expensive here but worth it this morning). We went to an electronics store where I bought a blow-dryer and a grocery store where I found limes and tonic water.

Then they took me on a little drive to see the Corniche (the drive along the waterfront) on the way home. Back at the ranch Melissa and I made a nice lunch out of salami and cheese from Holland and a good cantaloupe from the market. When the noon call to prayer came I watched the progression of the prayer formation at the mosque outside my bedroom window. Melissa has done a fantastic job capturing that on her blog here, if you care to follow along. (Read all her blog posts starting here if you have the time. She's done an excellent job a describing some of the more fascinating day to day things about Abu Dhabi). After lunch we caught a cab for the Marina Mall (I will be talking a lot about the malls I guess. This is where we go to walk and people watch. It’s just too hot to do much else during the day right now. It will be different after the hot(test) season I hope). The cab ride was only about $4 US for the two of us. Considering how hard it is to find parking for the car and how cheap the cabs are it makes sense to take a cab whenever possible.

The mall was abuzz with people from all over the world. Very few “kawadjas” like us. Lots of Emiratis and others of Muslim descent. I was fascinated to see all the variations on the abaya. Many of the women with children were accompanied by what I assume are their maids, carrying the packages or keeping track of the children. Many couples strolling together, the men in their long white jalabeyas and headdresses, seeming very at peace being together. I don’t know how they do it. I can attest that going to the mall with Mark was never peaceful nor enjoyable for either of us. But this is what they do here. There were also many young women together in their abayas with their faces beautifully and elaborately made up. Very, very exotic looking. Beautiful people, really. I hope that during the time here I might get to know a few and find out more about what it’s like to live “under the veil.” The young boys also travel in groups looking very much like young princes.

We saw the ice-skating rink at the mall. The ski slope here we could see but apparently it’s never actually been opened: it was snowless. And not all that exciting though it shot out of view under the skating rink so maybe it went down into the lower levels. We wandered into several areas of the mall. It is huge and will take many visits to see all areas. I was amazed at the number of lingerie stores and the scantiness of the outfits displayed in many of the windows: beautiful dresses that were sleeveless and sometimes strapless: things I don’t know where you could wear around here as all women are encouraged to keep their shoulders and knees covered. There was lots of bling. Several familiar stores: even a Seattle’s Best Coffee! A Forever 21, Black and White, and lots and lots of new stores. Several Abaya stores. Again, I was fascinated by the women in Abayas. There is something kind of amusing about seeing a women fully covered (including a full face veil) holding a cell phone to her covered ear.

After some serious walking and people watching we made our way to the two stores we needed to pick things up in: Ikea and the grocery store. Believe it or not, I bought a throw blanket at Ikea. Who would have thought my first important purchase in this hot country would be a blanket? But the flat gets quite cool with the air conditioning and I just felt like I wanted something cozy for nesting. So I have a bright orange throw to cuddle up on the bright gold furniture on. I am making this my home (insert smiley face here). I also picked up some wooden hangers so I could unpack my suitcases.

At the grocery store we checked out many sections. We were forced to sample fresh baklava (really, he thrust them in our hands). The dry goods were pretty amazing: nuts and dates of all kinds. And lots of spices. Melissa and I laughed because she had advised me to bring spices because they seemed quite expensive here. In hindsight she realized she hadn’t been converting the dirham to dollars and in reality they are pretty reasonable and abundant here. Oh well. I have a good collection for my new place whenever I settle in. The produce was fairly decent. Some things looking very good. Others, like the fennel, not so much. Once you’ve selected your produce you have to take it to a special counter to have it weighed and tagged. Not as complicated as in Italy, and no plastic gloves required. We stocked up on produce and yogurt and sherry wine vinegar. Will have that to look forward to sometime soon.

Came back to the flat and unpacked suitcases now that I had hangers to put things on. After some settling in and catching up on office gossip Manual came over for gin and tonic happy hour, apparently a real treat for us as liquor is not obtainable on the regular market. Then we took a cab back to Marina Mall and at an Iranian restaurant. Had really good flat bread and cheese and herbs and pickled vegetables brought to us before we ordered. We split a mixed seafood grill and grilled lamb. The seafood wonderful, especially the white fish and calamari. The lamb not so much. The meal cost us each about $35. Not bad at all. Though would have loved a nice glass of wine to go along. We decided to stroll a bit towards the Corniche after dinner. We ducked into the lovely Havana Grill so Manuel could get dessert and we could get water on the way. Then we strolled for maybe a mile and a half before we decided we were way too hot and my feet hurt (wore sandals that weren’t fitting right with heat swollen feet). We flagged down a cab, driven by a very nice young Pakistani driver, and returned home. That’s when I stayed up until 1:30 writing yesterday’s blog post. And now it is 7 AM and I will officially start day #2. My iPhone is charged up so I can more easily get pictures for the blog. Will report back on Dubai later. Keep cool, my warm Seattle friends. Drink a cold beer for me. I’m still very much in the “how did I end up here and when will I awaken?” mode. This is such a very different way of life. It may take me a while to wake up and find myself here.

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