Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things I Just Can't Seem to Get Straight...

I have been in UAE for 2 months 19 days and four hours. But who's counting? As I noted in the beginning, learning to live here was exhausting. Everything (and I do mean everything from using the bathroom to dialing a phone to paying for groceries to knowing what to wear to everything else in the daily life) I had to figure out. Now I have been here long enough that most things I know well enough to teach other new arrivals. But there are a few things that I just can't seem to reprogram my brain for. These include:

  • 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

Diarrhea of a Wimpy Kid

UAE is hard on my stomach. That's all you need to know. Thanks to a very supportive friend (THANK YOU) I am stocked up on Imodium which seems to do the trick.
Don't worry. This is not a post about my stomach issues. Not so much. But being as I am once again knocked out by this I was remembering something funny that happened on my flight over. This was the flight that I ended up sharing blankets with the young man seated next to me. We talked. We laughed. We ended up falling asleep on each other's shoulders. I ended up tickling his feet. It was one of my best plane encounters. Before you get too excited for me, I'll let you know that Liam was four years old.
Liam was restless. His mother, who was seated on the other side of him was helping him choose which movie to watch. Among other choices was the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." Only all Liam heard was "Diarrhea" and something about a kid. He said "that sounds gross." His mother tried to explain what a diary was. He wasn't buying it. And throughout the rest of the flight I could hear him singing from time to time "Diarrhea fa Wimpy Kid. Diarrhea, diarrhea, diarrhea fa wimpy kid."
I think the author of the book on which the film was based was very clever. No kid can resist saying diarrhea. He must have known if made into a movie, the name would be sung over and over and over by four year olds and such.
I am currently working on my own memoir about my time in UAE. It will have that word in the title. And I will have come by it honestly.
Enough said.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Walk

This is why we like Dubai. A weekend day can be spent jumping waves in the ocean and sitting on the beach and watching the families and friends out enjoying themselves. Mostly large groups of young men (looking to be from Pakistan or India or Egypt) playing chicken on shoulders, dousing each other, wrestling in the waves, posing for pictures. And families with little ones getting dunked in the waves. Kids mostly in water with their fathers as the mothers sit fully covered on chairs on the beach. And a fair amount of westerners in speedos and bikinis mixing up with the more conservative clothing of the locals. Everyone seems to get along.

Near the beach is the JBR (stands for Jumeirah Beach Residents) walk, affectionately known as "the Walk." Here, a nicely cobbled street runs between the beach parking and the street level restaurants, above which are hotels and residences many stories high. Ferrari's, reving their loud engines, mix with the taxis and other cars "cruising" the strip in the single lane of traffic (one-way). In the evening families stroll along the Walk, laughter comes from the patio tables (just like at home but no alcohol served). Other difference: lots of smoking of cigarettes going on. They haven't yet banned that in public places and this seems to be a big vice of many of the locals and expats. There are also very large airconditionaers humming away trying to cool down these outdoor spots. It's a losing battle.

There are many wonderful cafes: Italian, British, Japanese, Asian Fusion, Chinese, Lebanese, American diner and burger fare. And some very high end design retail shops. The Walk runs about six to eight blocks in length. One can almost feel at home, in downtown Kirkland, or San Diego, hanging here.

At night, after dinner there are bars to hang out in. Because they are related to the hotels, they serve alcohol and there many expats hang out to try to forget where they are for a bit. It's loud. And smoky of course. Men out number the women significantly but there are many blond women hanging out that attract the attention. Even a soul like me gets hit on some. Takes a little getting used to: I'm out of practice. A few strong Pina Coladas help ; )

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Promised Picture

As promissed, here's a picture of the place. I think this fellow is saving his place in line.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mucking Out

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

Transition Shock

So, having a little bit of trouble accepting my decision to come here. Living life much of the time feeling like I've had the rug pulled out from under me and I just can't seem to find my feet. Kicking myself because I am the one that pulled the rug out from under my very own feet. Who does that? What was I running away from?

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

Transition shock
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
glazed stare
desire for home and old friends
physiological stress reactions
getting "stuck" on one thing
excessive sleep
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

Heard In the Car the Other Night...

"I don't want to drink too much tonight. Seriously, can't imagine being hung over in Abu Dhabi. If I were to wake up in Abu Dhabi hung over I would have to kill myself." It's a rough place to live. The Muslim's may have it right about no alcohol in these conditions.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ramadan is Over

We are in the middle of Eid al Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan. On Monday the Government announced that Wednesday and Thursday would be holidays though Ramadan didn't end until Friday. It's and so we were looking at a four day weekend. Which normally I'd be all over. Except to anticipate four days in Abu Dhabi without work, without anything planned would have been dificult to handle. So Melissa and I went to Dubai for a night. Spent most of Thursday at a water park. We Entertaining but nothing like the water park at Atlantis. Checked into the Rotana at Jumaira Beach. Felt human again. After checking in we walked to the beach accross the road and played in the waves until the sun went down. The ocean was like bathwater. The setting sun a most brilliant orange. People were happy, relaxed, free. The vitamin D very invigorating. After dinner at the hotel strolled along the beach shops. So wonderful to be in a place where we could do this. Good people watching, strolling activity. Next day hung out at the pool, mojitos at the poolside bar, checked out and played in the ocean again. Dinner at one of the beach stroll restaurants. Then drove back to Abu Dhabi. What a world of difference Dubai is from Abu Dhabi. One could imagine living there and commuting to Abu Dhabi. Something to consider come end of lease (December) here. There is hope...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another First in Abu Dhabi: Haircut

Today I got my first haircut in Abu Dhabi. Something I was quite nervous about because I can count on one hand the number of short fair (blonde) haircuts I've seen since the two months I've been here. There may be some short hair under those abayas but I don't think many. Like most cultures, a woman's beauty is in her hair (that's why they cover it up) and men the world over find long hair most attractive. Unfortunately my hair is not good for a long cut (too fine textured) and my head/face too small. I would be burried in a big long fluffy mane. And so I wear it short. Which, as I noted, is just one more thing that makes me stand out as different in this place.

My hair was getting quite shaggy and in need of attention. I had waited until Rasha's hairdresser had returned from his annual leave. She said he was good and could cut short styles. So off we went today as he is finally returned. She dropped me off, introduced me to Nicolas, from Lebanon, and I was on my own. Fortunately I had on my i-phone the shot of a haircut on someone who was out and about back home before I came here. Someone had told me to take a good picture of my hair in a cut I like to take with me to help explain what I wanted. Well I didn't have a cut on me I liked, but I liked the cut on a girl walking by and so I asked her to pose. She graciously agreed. (what I would give to have the kind of haircut that strangers stop me on the street to photograph!).

Nicolas has long dark wavy hair and the body of a buff hairdresser. He was wearing a tight T-shirt and lots of bling. He even smelled nice. He had just returned from his honeymoon vacation so my crush is safe. He ran his hands through my hair and pushed it around as we talked about the cut. Then after a shampoo he was off and clipping. When he was done another gentleman stepped in and began the most thorough and beautiful blow dry I have ever had. He spent a long time plumping and curling with brushes and messing and moussing. When it was all said and done my hair was huge. By the time I walked to a cab stand and returned home it was half the size I started but still, a nice cut.

The cool thing is that I am consistently blond through now, with a few weekends in the sun and just enough Sun In to hold it, that I still had plenty of blond left after he did the cutting.

So, ta-dah: mission accomplished. Found a new hairdresser that can handle my hair. Whole cut and blow out was the equivalent of $54 US plus tip. Add in two $2 cab rides. Not bad. Not bad at all. I think I might survive this after all.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cooking Class

Yesterday afternoon Melissa and I went to the home of our director to learn some Arabic cooking from his wife, May. She is Lebanese and has had us over for Iftar dinner a few times. I had expressed an interest in learning how to make some of these dishes and so this was our chance.

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.