I am in a private bathroom stall at Emerites Mall in Dubai. Standing with my pants down around my ankles, hovering above the toilet, so as not to sit all the way down. This takes my leg strength as my hands are otherwise engaged. One is busy holding an open bag of salted peanuts. The other hand is shoveling the peanuts into my mouth. I wait patiently for other sounds coming from elsewhere in the ladies room (like flushing toilets, running tap water, towels being pulled from the dispenser). When these sounds shatter the silence I reach into the peanut bag, the cellophane bag shouting out crumpling noises, shove as many as I can into my mouth and chew quickly and violently until the background sound ends. Then I wait, hovering, until the next sounds allow me to continue in this criminal activity. I have to get my fill of peanuts before I finish and then can finish taking care of the other business which I am in the stall for. I am not multi-tasking for efficiency reasons. I am not a fan of eating in public restrooms, let alone in actual stalls while doing other business. But these are desperate times. I have not eaten since we left the hotel early morning. I have not had anything to drink either and I am hungry and thirsty.
I broke the law today and it wasn't pretty. I did it knowingly. And it sent me to new lows. During Ramadan it is illegal to eat or drink in public places between the sunrise and sunset calls to prayer. We are careful to follow those rules out of respect for the Muslim's whose territory we are in. It would be rude to take a sip of water or chomp on a morsel of food in front of those who are obstaining. Restaurants aren't open. Starbuck's isn't open. Samples are not given out at the date shops. A few places will deliver foods to private residences, but for the most part, there is not a bite of food or a sip of water to be had. Unless you are home. Or at a nice hotel with private separate dining places that can be closed off so the fasters can't see. So we follow the rules, out of respect. But also because we have heard that one can get arrested if they are seen doing these things in public.
The day before we had found a Starbucks that was dark, with black sheets draped over the windows. We poked our head inside and saw a person at the counter quietly ordering a drink. The finished drink was placed in a brown paper bag "to go" and the customer discreetly exited out of the store, brown bag carefully in hand. Seeing this action, we slipped into the store and ordered a drink "to go" as well. We then went to the car, drove to the middle of a completely vacant parking lot and carefully pulled the straws out of the top of the bag. We chugged our iced lattes from within the brown bag, all the while on alert for approaching cars, in which case we would have to ditch the caffein laced ambrosia. It reminded me of similar High School escapades with abandoned church parking lots and other types of drinks hidden in brown paper bags.
So now, back to my current position in the mall stall with a loud bag of peanuts and pants around my ankles. While all serving food establishments are closed until sundown, the grocery stores are not. People have to be able to procure the food they need for fixing the big feasts for the breaking of the fast, otherwise known as Iftar. You can't get any samples from the deli or date bar like you usually come. That would be publicly breaking the fast.
You know how when on a diet, once you have it in the plan that you cannot eat certain things, all you do is think about certain things? While I was at the mall, waiting for Garth to finish his skiing activity, I started thinking how hungry I was and how much I really needed just some small morsel to tie me over for a few more hours. It got so that while my eyes were cruising through the black and white letters on my Kindle, I was not registering a single word. I was instead pictureing food. I was seeing me eating food and drinking Starbucks. And then I got the brilliant idea that I could do a secret Starbucks visit to a store that was doing drinks for "take out" and that I could take such a drink into a bathroom stall with me and carefully gulp it down, taking care not to rattle ice or slurp at the end. It was risky, but I was up to the challenge. I thought about what I would do if hauled off to jail, like how to get a message to Garth why I wasn't at the meeting place. What stories I would tell. At the time I had forgotten that women who are having their periods are allowed to eat during the day. That would have been a simple lie that might have gotten me off the hook. But instead I went on a mission to do the Starbucks stall caper. Only I did not find a secretly open Starbucks. What I did find was the mall grocery. And it was calling my criminal psyche. I entered the store. I tried to look like I was there for something else. I thought about buying a box of Tampons and a candy bar. When I was underage in my teens I had an altered driver's license. Whenever I got up the nerve to try to buy alcohol I would include in the purchase a box of tampons. My friends and I reasoned that while we couldn't look completely confident in buying the beer, having the tampons would help explain any self consious mannerisms I might otherwise be displaying. In High School that worked. However, buying tampons in a Muslim country is about as comfortable as trying to buy Tucks in a foreign drugstore (see earlier post). Or so I'm told. Since I no longer have to do that. But what I did have to do now was buy a snack bag of peanuts in daylight during Ramadan. I finally got up the nerve and got into line. It feels like all eyes are on me: they know I am buying these for consumption. Are they talking to each other about it? "See that western lady. Thinking she can get away with eating those around here. I hope she gets busted. Where are the police when you need them?..." I do get the nuts without incident but then I must find a place to consume them. And so, with nuts secretly stashed into my purse, I take an indirect route to a ladies room and you know the rest. I break the fast and my own personal rules about eating in bathrooms. I eventually get the peanuts eaten, the empty wrapper zipped into the purse side pocket, myself wiped and the stall cleared. At the mirror I catch the eye of the bathroom attendant. She gives me an all knowing look (which in hindsight I am sure was all in my paranoid head) and I am now good for the remaining time until I meet up with Garth and can break the fast with everybody else just as soon as we hear the call to prayer broadcast over the loud speakers.
Oh one small problem. The nuts were salted. Bad planning.
Today, between client meetings I dropped by our sub-office located in a municipality building. For this large project we are assembling a team of technical experts who will be stationed full time at the government building. I am not at all involved on this project but I do work with some of the directors on various management issues. So I thought I'd drop by to say hello and meet some of our new hires, me representing the face of firm ownership. After greeting our director I see two desks in an office accross the hall. This is in our part of the building and I recognize one person at one desk so I guess the second person is one of our new hires. In fact he sees me leaving our director's office and stands up behind his desk with a freindly posture, leaning forward as if he wants to meet me. Without thinking I approach him, hand out stretched "Welcome to TR****" I am saying. He points to his chest and says "sorry." I think he is telling me he doesn't speak English. I say "no that's OK" I point to my chest "Jennifer" I say. You? and I extend my hand. He says "no, no, no. I cannot. Nothing against you at all. I cannot shake your hand. We do not shake the hand of a lady." I keep the smile on my face as my self assessment takes a nose dive. I say "oh yes, I am sorry. I need to wait to see if a hand is extended to me first. I try to remember to do this and I am so sorry. I understand and totally respect your boundaries." He's apologetic. Asks how long I've been in the UAE. I tell him a month and I can see he forgives me.
He is newly hired into the company I have been with for probably at least half his lifetime. I am part owner of this firm, owning more shares than most of the other male owners, due mostly to my age and longevity with the firm and the fact that my company values what I bring and involves me in the management of our enterprises. Here is this brand new employee who will not shake my hand. His reasons are tied to his faith and his faith is ingrained in every nook and cranny of this country I live in. I am so very aware and respectful of where I am and whose country I am in. What part of the world I am in and how very far away it is from my beliefs and comfort. I am not here to change anything. I will not blatently disrespect or openly violate the rules. I am here to work and absorb as much as I can about the current culture while I am doing that work. It is often awkward. Most people are understanding though they are very clear on what is correct and what is not. I just hate that feeling of screwing up and having people think that I am disrespectful. I also don't like feeling second class or "untouchable" when I am simply doing my business and expressing my respect to someone else in the way I am used to, such as extending my hand. It was just a wake up call from a colleague and fortunately not from a client or official. But things like this, like the above stall incident amplifies how far away I am from home, how very strange a situation I am in, and how grateful I am that home is a place where I am not "untouchable" with even an offered handshake.
For you good spellers, forgive me. I access my blogsite through a local portal. It is an Arabic portal. When I do my customary spellcheck before publishing almost everyword comes back yellow. Apparently using an Arabic dictionary for the spellcheck. I am too lazy to write in Word, spell check and then import it here. So you get the strange spelling sometimes. I hope you don't find it too distracting. I can't spell. But I can give a good handshake, for what it's worth.
Sorry. I've got a nice post started about the grande Mosque. But it deserves a really big post. It's a really big Mosque. And so much to share. So I'm stalled. But that will come. In the meantime work is going well. Too well. Have been very successful in bringing in new work. Now the fun begins. Delivery. A whole new challenge. Will need to coordinate extra help from the other side of the world. And beg, borrow and steal some extra help from here.
But...another diversion this weekend in store. Taking our visiting engineer to Dubai. We have a few fun things coming up. Skiing. In Dubai. Imagine. Sure hope they have a ski outfit large enough for me. My two mile hike in the heat and climb up the 15 floors of stairs tonight was my ski conditioning and maybe will help with the fitting the ski clothes thing. One can dream.
Then we have booked rooms at Atlantis. We need to hang at the water park. There are very special summer rates going on. It's still a splurge. But I am finding it easier to justify these special splurges because the rest of life is still a little difficult. Maybe a lot difficult. In very strange ways. I don't know how to describe it. Daily life seems a struggle from wake to sleep. If and when sleep comes.
While I am growing more comfortable with my surroundings and know enough to show a visiting co-worker around, I still feel pretty isolated much of the time. I guess walking away from the new life I'd been crafting for the last six years is more than I had bargained for. Dear friends seem unsurmountably far away. It takes a very big effort on both parts to keep connected.
But I refuse to go down easily. Which is why the splurges and planning things like skiing and Atlantis. If I can't have "normal" I might as well have extreme adventure. I have not yet found a middle ground.
My long-term readers (a few out there?) know my love for cappucinos and latte art. My idea of a prime cultural experience is sipping a cappucino in a foreign setting.
I have a new one to add to the list. Meet "The Emerates Palace Cappucino."
That is gold leaf floating on top.
This is arriving at "the Palace."
My splurge (really, it was only 50 UAE (or about $14 US).
The Palace Hotel is almost empty at noon during Ramadan. All the shops are closed. Just the one cafe open. We took in the incredible Middle Eastern Embroidery exhibit at the hotel. It was a fabulous exhibit (no pictures allowed). Colorful, incredible art work from ceveral centuries, along with old photos and descriptions of nomadic and "urban" life from several countries. Oh the colors. I wish I could show you...
By the time we finished with "tea" the other exhibit on Saadayat Island (the new cultural island project) was closed. Things close here mid-day. Especially during Ramadan when fasting locals have no energy left until they can eat at sundown.
Their other specialty drink was a Camelcinno (that's right, a cappucino made with Camel's milk). We chose the gold laded one. We also ordered a fabulous plate of scones and jams. Hopefully pictues to come... This is Garth, our visiting engineer from the home office. The challenge is to show him things during Ramadan. He opted for the cup o' gold as well.
It is really classy to have flecks of gold on your lips after sipping your special drink.
This is the buffet in the empty cafe.
These are the empty tables in the cafe.
For a while we were the only ones there. We had lots of attentive service! We pretended we were important.
This is a not so good picture of the dome in the entrance lobby of the hotel. I'm hoping to post better pictures from Garth's camera. My iPod ran out of juice.
Accross Defense Road from our flat is Lulu's Hypermarket. It is like a Wall Mart on steroids. It's where I found the Baby Washer and other marvelous, intriguing things.
Because this is such an international community there is a huge variety of foods. Many of which I have never seen before.
The fish looks particularly fresh and beautiful as they have it arranged.
But we don't have a grill or much of a kitchen so I am reluctant to try to cook them. They do make beautiful pcitures though. I think.
Unfortunately, though, the produce is not all that lovely. Some of it is. But fresh herbs and lettuce, fennel and "quick wilters" are not so good. I am going to try the vegetable market on the other side of town sometime soon. One thing I do try to do is rinse the vetables in a diluted bleach bath prior to eating. Im hoping this will cut down on the stomach issues. Another thing I'm adjusting to in my new life...
"Write yourself a happy ending" is the sign my sis, Julie, gave to me for my little cottage. I'm working on it...
In December, 2011, I returned to the States from an extended company assignment (eighteen months) to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emerits where I heloped our office get established. While there I met wonderful people, had some great adventures, fit in some travel to interesting places. Living in an Arabic country was a cultural challenge. I got used to it. Now I am adjusting back to normal. Whatever that is. This blog has a bit of everything: favorite things; musings; poetry; recipes; essay and DIY projects. Everything geared towards a Happy Ending (except the sad stuff too!)
Oh, and if you want to know where the pen-name comes from, you can find that here.