Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dog Years

i've heard it said that living in Dubai is like dog years.  The learning curve here is so steep that one year of experience really credits you 7 years.  (i am just hoping that is not true of the aging factor.)  We are temporarily settling.  It has been almost 2 months since we moved and as a family we ALL concluded it feels like it was forever ago we got on the plane in SF.  There are already moments, where by the grace of God, we feel like "We Got This!"  We know what to expect in certain situations and some things are not feeling so foreign anymore. 

Then we take one more spin on the Merry-Go-Round and find this....

Yes, that would be a big fluorescent light that has fallen FROM the ceiling ONTO my car.   On first inspection i couldn't believe my luck.  It just missed my car...oh, i take that back.


i actually consider this little "incident" a blessing.  It is a perfect dress rehearsal for the future incident that will come my way. It's guaranteed that living in Dubai your car will get hit by something or someone at some point during your stay. Since this happened in our apartment garage to my rental car it was a perfect non-stressful opportunity to get some practice in receiving Arabic road side assistance.    

First off i had to get the kiddos to school, so it was off to Taxi Que again.  Once back at the apartment, i placed a call to the police.  Every car fracture MUST include a visit from the police to determine the repair fate of the cars involved.  If you are lucky enough to receive a green card, your vehicle can be repaired and insurance will pay for it.  No green card, just the police report, you will pay out of pocket for repair.  No police report at all means no repair shop will even touch your car regardless of payment method.  Obviously all parties involved are pining for the one coveted green card.  The problem with this can be in where you happen to fall on the food chain of drivers.  Have a fender bender with an Emirate?  Don't even think about seeing a green card.  i wasn't too worried though considering i was up against a dangling light.

i get to wait 2 hours for the police to come fill out a report.  Why so long?!  When you make a call from your apartment and they ask for your mobile number, make sure you have cell service so receive their call back.  If you don't answer their return call they won't come to you.  Nice to know!  After resolving that issue and a disconcerting 10 minute 'splaining of directions, the police finally arrive.  i am able to find this somewhat amusing because it isn't really my car and i know i didn't damage it and i can wait comfortably in my room while they try to locate my very large 45 story building which is apparently difficult for police to locate.  The car rental staff assisting me, become somewhat uncomfortable when the police arrive.  They've prepped me in advance that it is much better to explain this is my husband's car and he is out of the country right now, just to make things easier for myself.  Now, all of this is true but really?!  How does the sex of the driver change the fact that the light fell off the ceiling?  Oh goodness...  In the end the car still had to be taken into a police station to be investigated by someone else and more paperwork filled out since it wasn't an infraction with another car but a building.  Fortunately, this is where i was able to hand over my rental keys and let the car company deal with the rest.

Besides collecting years of experience in little bits of time we are learning much about ourselves and the world around us. 

At times we are all exhausted but the exhaustion seems to be less and the frustration that used to lay loosely at the surface appears to have disappeared.  We are missing friends and family from home but we have been fortunate to meet so many interesting and diverse people that we haven't had time to be lonely. 

 Our routines seem to be taking shape which help us to feel more grounded. 

Super fun school activities help keep the Littles happy.    

(Jammy day at school with author Mo Willems.  There was so much excitement in the air at home and at school as they got to learn from one of their favorite authors.)    

We still are amazed at the sights around us and the weather is perfect for taking them all in.

It's a little surreal at times to step into a story that two and a half months ago was only available to my kiddos at the library.  Now they bump against the nationals in their Emirate dress as they stand under the Burj Khalifa all of which were topics for research reports in December.

i love how this experience is already polishing up their God given talents.   Little Artist is soaking up the world around her.  Her art is beginning to have Middle Eastern influences.

As for Kyle, he is loving the challenge of learning Arabic.  He is constantly looking for letters and words that he knows. 

Chris is an amazing provider and is working hard learning how to do business in an entirely different culture.

As for me the photo opportunities are endless... except for the places from which i am banned.


As we take in the sights, sounds, culture and friendships in expontial amounts i am praying these experience become more than just a collection of memories stored away for safe keeping but rather that we are left with an imprinting on our lives that leaves us more loving and compassionate for the world around us.   

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sand Storm

This is the post where those of you who were even the slightest bit envious of our Arabian adventure will sit back and breath a clear sigh of relief that you only have to read about this one.

Friday was our first official sandstorm since we've moved here.  Chris and i got to experience one while we were here in Oct.  (You can see pictures here.)  Let's just say it is WAY more exciting when you are visiting and get to view it from inside a hotel a few days before you are set to leave.  Coming to grips with our new reality not nearly as glamorous. 

As we walked into church after parking our car, we were pelted with sheets of sand paper.  The kids closed their eyes as we led them by the hand into the building.  On the way in Ry said, "i'm just not used to this yet like everyone else here."  Sweet girl had her optimism dashed as a 20 year Dubai veteran next to us chuckled and said, "You never get used to this."  Once inside the shelter of the church i attempted to make myself presentable by straightening out my "sandy blond" hair (teehee) and dusting off the thin coat of fine sand that covered me from head to toe.  Somewhere in the world i am sure a woman is paying a fortune for a full body scrub like the one i just received while walking through the church parking lot. 

"Parking Lot"

i have over heard some discussion among the locals regarding a real Dubai sand storm and the one portrayed in the latest Mission Impossible movie.  (Unfortunately for me, we have been so absorbed in trying to adjust to the real Dubai i haven't had a chance to see Hollywood's version yet.)  They can only speculate what it actually looks like as it picks up speed in the middle of the vast sandy desert but we know what it looks like once it hits the city.  The sky looks like a blanket of gray and the visibility reminds me of foggy days in the Central Valley.

The sand literally slithers in lines across the road like snakes in quick pursuit of their prey. 

Oh, and the fun things you find back at your home!

A fresh blanket of sand

and our very own Zen Garden on our front step!

Kyle's final response of the day,
 "Well, I thought a sandstorm would be way cooler than that." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Custard Apples, Date Milk and Other Adventures in Food

Depending on my mood and the mood of those traveling with me, a trip to the grocery store can be an overwhelming,  "i want to sit down right here in the isle and cry" experience or an exhilarating exotic field trip around the foods of the world.  The choice is entirely up to you.  First off grocery stores don't exist here.  They are called HYPERMARKETS and rightly so.  Hypermarkets truly are grocery stores that are high on life and can't sit still.   There have been moments when i am sure the store is actually running circles around me.  There is SO much to take in.  i promise one of these days i will be of sound clear mind and actually take pictures of all the amazingness that fill the isles.  (Yes, i know "amazingness" isn't a word but it really seems the perfect description.)  The choice for milk alone is ENDLESS;  Date Milk, Chocolate Milk, cold milk, shelf milk, strawberry milk, camel milk.   It is usually around the fruits and vegetable isle that my head starts spinning.   Rows and rows of produce i have never seen or heard of before.  Thankfully i am able to at least recognize the country from which they come.   Sprinkled in between treasures from around the world, i am able to locate Pink Lady apples from France, SunMaid raisins from Selma and bagged carrots from Bakersfield.

Most of the time though i'm not even sure if the odd shape in front of me is a fruit or a vegetable or how i would even attempt to cut it open.  Our intent is always to purchase one exotic foreign item to try each time we go.  The kids always want to sample the largest most prickly produce they can find which i am sure will involve losing copious amounts of blood to actually cut it open.

(not my picture)

Today we tried a soft small Custard Apple from Lebanon and washed it down with some cold Date Milk.

From a distance, this odd looking fruit deceived me into thinking it was an asparagus stripped of it spikes.  But when i noticed it's neighboring produce was all fruits i had to think again.  Custard apple is a perfect description for this fruit.  i had to read online to find out exactly how to eat and prepare it.  Which is simple, cut open and dig out seeds.  It cuts easily and the white flesh inside forms little pockets that house large dark brown seeds.  Once the seeds are dug out, eating it is like biting into really sweet and firm vanilla custard.  It taste pretty much like candy.  Evidence of it's sugary sweetness is that the precursor to this fruit snack was an Oreo cookie.  Any fruit that can follow an Oreo and STILL taste like candy is a hit around here.  i have no idea what the nutritional value of a custard apple is but we figure if it grows on a tree it must be good for you right?!

Can't go wrong with Date Milk.  It is like adding lots of brown sugar to milk.  Who doesn't love that?

Other things we love...

Cocktail Juice

Yes, Digestives are a big favorite around here despite the name.  And better yet they come in CHOCOLATE and Hello Kitty wrapping!

i realized on our first trip to the market all produce must be taken to the weigh station found in the produce section.  Your fruits and veggies must be weighed and stamped before you make your way to the cashier.  That has become the kid's job which involves a final inspection by mama.    Because nobody wants to survive a trip to the HyperMarket only to become a casualty at the check out when you discover the bananas didn't get weighed back in produce.

Lock on the grocery cart.  Kyle likes to find abandoned carts to turn in so he can pocket the 1 dirham.

Another foreign food.... Bacon

My family loves BACON.  Chris & Riley have a favorite saying "Everything is better with bacon."  Now that we live in a Muslim country bacon is not so easy to come by.  There are only a few stores that actually carry it and even then it is hidden away in a secluded restricted section.  It is not commonly found in restaurants.  When my kids spot it on the menu they get SO excited!  We are still working on learning not to shout out, "Woo Hoo!  They have bacon here!"  Saturday brunches usually include plates laden with "non halal" pork.

The treat cart in hotel lobbies are always filled with Arabic coffee, dates and Arabic treats.

"Bird's Nests" and "Camel Eyes"  filled with sweet syrupy goodness. 

(Just think of all the deliciousness we will discover once mama actually starts preparing something other than school lunches!) 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Team Pink

In the States any time i have to fill out a form requiring my information, i always check the little square marked "Female."  That is in fact how i was created.  i happen to like being a girly~girl and all the sparkly goodness that goes with it.  The various facets of my life are viewed through my female lens.  i get to be a mother that feels my babies kick inside of me before they breathed their first breath.  i love my "girlfriends" and the wide range of emotions we are capable of feeling.  When i run, i wear pink.  i like to get all dolled up for a night out and i prefer girly movies to the shoot 'em up variety.  These among many other things characterize me as a woman.  But aside from that, in the US i rarely considered my state of femaleness.  In America we are taught that being a female doesn't define who you are.  We can do whatever we want when we grow up.  We are equal and our sex shouldn't determine our rights.  

Maybe this is why one of the first concerned questions asked of us when people heard we were moving to Dubai was a fearful, "Does that mean Tami has to wear a burqa?"

Translation:  What will it be like to be an American woman living in the female oppressed Middle East?

Let's just set the stage right now and say Dubai is hardly typical of the Middle East.  Honestly, i am currently enjoying living in the "underprivileged" class of Female.  One would think that being a minority (some statistic say Dubai is 70% male) AND female in the Middle East i would feel oppressed.  Quite the opposite actually.  Chris and his clever quips summed it up perfectly one day.

"For being a second class citizen you sure get first class treatment.

Tru dat!

Second Class Citizen Status: 

1.  My husband has to grant me written permission to obtain a drivers license and to be included on a bank account.

First Class Treatment Options

(Available only to those on Team Pink.  Sorry, Dudes!)
1.  If i want i can pass by the long lines of men and head to ladies only line.

2.  i can call a Ladies Only Taxi service with female drives and PINK cabs! 

3.  As a woman i can strike up a conversation with any man or  woman if i so chose.  i can offer a handshake to anyone.  i also have the option to ignore them completely.  Chris not so much.  He should refrain from starting up a conversation with Arab women and only return a handshake, never offer one. 

4.  Last week i had to visit a local clinic for a physical required for my visa.   Instead of choosing the Women's Only Clinic,  i had to wait around with the rest of male population (sigh).  Men were ushered into the required x-ray room 10 at a time.  The handful of women waiting however were invited in one at a time and treated in an unhurried courteous manner. 

5. With only a five car metro and 70% of the population supposedly male it's pretty amazing that Pink Team gets an entire car to ourselves.  That is if you want, but trust me you want!  Not because you fear the men, they have all been complete gentlemen.  The mixed cars are just not as amusing.   Simply buy a ticket at a popular destination stop, sit back and be ready to be entertained!  Inevitable, some poor male tourist taken with the sights around him will miss the "Women only sign" and unknowingly step into the lair.  All the women aboard will eye him and each other with a smirk that quietly conveys, "Ha, watch this."  A security guard deftly makes his way to the poor clueless victim man and swiftly moves him to the back of the train.   The embarrassed look on the man's face and the giggling women around him is hilarious.  Totally worth the 5 Dhs spent!  
(If you want to hear Team Blue's perspective talk to Chris.)

6.  Chivalry is not dead!  This has happened to me more than once and it still surprises me.  After trekking to the nearby school taxi stop with my little ones in tow, i see a high school boy 30 feet from us who clearly has been waiting for a taxi for quite awhile.  I prep the kids for a long wait and start dialing my taxi numbers.  When a random cab pulls up, the young man goes out of his way to walk over to us (honestly, he was far enough away that i couldn't quite make out his face) and he GIVES us his cab.  i try to say, "No, no, you were here first.  Go ahead."  But they ALWAYS insist!  The first thing i want to ask is, "WHO is your mother?!"  (Who knew Kyle would get first hand lessons on being a gentleman in the Middle East.)  Now we insist the young gentlemen share the cab with us even if it takes us an additional 15 minutes and extra dirhams to get home.  

i am thankful my rights at home are not based upon my sex but right now i am soaking up all the available opportunities to be treated like a lady.