Saturday, March 31, 2012

New Wheels

Lately we have been researching cars as it is time to make a purchase.  At first i really didn't care WHAT sort of car i drove because ANYTHING is better than a taxi.  But... after only a few months in Dubai and being surrounded by all these high end cars, i am starting to think maybe we should upgrade for the next few years.  Ferrari's, Lamborghini's and Rolls Royce's are more common than camel sightings around these parts.  I mean, when in Dubai, right?!  A 2 seater seems completely impractical but let's face it, all practicality flies out the window the minute you board a flight to Dubai.  AND, it is true the other day my little Jetta rental actually out drove the Ferrari next to me.  i was giggling uncontrollably as he revved his engine and i sailed past him because i didn't have to come to a complete stop to scale the mountainous speed bumps.  

BUT, if ever there was a time to upgrade now just may be it.  Especially since i have found a Lamborghini that is actually in our price range! 

As you can see it will need to be cleaned up a bit.

You should have heard the excitement in Kyle's voice when he spotted it.

Still giggling!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Life's a Beach

A captivating writer fills stories with imagery and analogies to enable his or her audience to grasp the complexity of a situation or the depth of emotions.  

The DESERT is often used to symbolize trials, barrenness or struggle in life.  It was not lost on me a few weeks ago that i live in the desert.  Symbolically i felt it.  It was a challenging week and i felt exhausted and drained.  Many of you sent me encouraging messages which meant so much to me.  

i believe there is much beauty to be found in the arid places in life, both physically and allegorically.  It is through trials and struggles that we are challenged to find ways to cultivated joy in the unexpected places.  

Look for it!  

Moments of true joy based on something other than circumstance can be breathtaking.

The past few days we are thankful to be gazing at a different view.  We consider ourselves super blessed, because although we are living in the second largest desert in the world, we also happen to be FIVE minutes from this... FIVE MINUTES!

Which means the last couple of days we have been enjoying the allegory of


i am the girl that ALWAYS wanted to live on the beach.  My college roomies and i always had "plans" to move closer to the beach.  (Ahem, you know who you are!)  The closest i ever got i was 20 minutes to the nearest sandy shore.  Trust me, i worked every angle to strategically plan my classes so every Friday i was free to attended 'Oceanography 101' ... all day long.

At the time my sights were set on the Pacific Ocean with girlfriends, magazines and a Mai Tai.  i am happy to say now it's the Persian Gulf with my family, sand toys and juice boxes.  

The sand here is super fine and easily blankets little legs and toes in a covering of sugar.

The water is saltier than the Pacific and can sting your eyes, but see if we care.  Wading way out into the water and standing only waist deep is pretty fantastic, especially when you are under 4 feet tall.

We've spent days playing, 

relaxing and just being silly.  

(Camels on the beach hardly phase the Littles anymore.)

i revel in the calming blues, the constant lapping of the waves and the giggles of my children.  i love the smell of the sunscreen as i spray their skinny limbs that are dancing to dash out into the water.  A happy day is when searching for seashells was the toughest job you had.  From start to finish whole process is therapeutic for me.

 i don't even care when we get home and my kids wiggle out of their wet suits and i see copious amounts of itty bitty sea shells falling from their bodies scattering all over the floors.  

It's just a sweet reminder 

that life in the desert is sometimes a day at the beach!  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our New Sandbox

i must preface this post with the following.....

We are SO thankful for our Villa/home!  i literally cried happy tears when it was confirmed days before our move that we had secured this place.  Really!  It was the one place we viewed in October where we felt it would be a perfect fit for our family for the next few years.  And getting our shipment from home after 2 months in this desert is like Christmas in March!  We opened boxes with anticipation of what's inside.  Sleeping in our own bed with our own sheets and pillows is the epitome of cozy comfort.  Everything showed up in one piece and we had fabulous movers that unpacked each box, assembled all furniture and even hung our clothes in the closets (not necessarily the correct ones mind you).  Yes, it sounds all very fairytale~ish but that is pretty much where the sidewalk ends.  Literally!

With that said, this "glass is half full" sort of girl was at her wits end this week.  If a move from one city to another is exhausting then settling in half way across the world is excruciatingly painful!  i am not ready to throw in the towel and purchase my one way ticket back home yet but there was much weariness this week.   

Reader Beware:  Venting ahead!

First of all, we had to start off the week by saying goodbye to some wonderful people that not only gave us expectational service for the past 2 months but have also become our friends.  Although we can visit them anytime, it isn't the same as having them downstairs and bumping into them in the elevators.

To ease the goodbyes, we were anticipating the excitement as a family of moving into our new home.  It wasn't long before we learned to take deep breaths and repeat the expat mantra.
  "Welcome to Dubai..."  
(The meaning is all in the tone.  It is said with a sigh and no enthusiasm.)  

My first chore in the villa was tiding up the dead gecko.

Really, this should have been no big deal, but keep in mind that typically you clean a house BEFORE you move in which for us means BEFORE our shipment arrived which would concurrently mean i have not one single cleaning supply in my possession.  i simply resolve to call a cleaning service to help me out.  After 10 phone calls of broken English, i discover there are numerous cleaning services happy to come and assist me but i must have all the supplies on hand.  OK, no problem... i can do that.  i set off to navigate the numerous isle of cleaning products at one of the local hypermarts.  However, the type of cleaning that needs to be done here is not typical of that which i am use to.  Besides dead geckos there is sand constantly piling up under my door.  Every. Day.

After an hour of shopping, my cart is filled with a new vacuum that greatly resembles the shop vac we left at home to suck out gold fish and small toys from the back seat of the car, copious amounts of sponges, 2 different mops, toilet brushes, dust pans and 8 different cleaning products, 6 of which i have never seen before.  Once the cleaning lady arrives i proudly show her my newly acquired goods.  She surveys my arsenal and tries to explain to me in broken English that what she really needs to adequately clean my house is not in my stockpile.  She nevertheless gives me one head side nod and says, "No problem" which really translates.  "Another poor housewife that isn't allowed to work and can't even buy the right cleaning products.  i will do my best to rescue her."

Then there are appliances.  In the past when we have moved, any new appliance purchase is an exciting endeavor.  From picking out the perfect item to using it for the first time.  Shiny new appliances make a mundane activity suddenly seem enjoyable.  It could be all the new buttons and lights or just thinking the new and improved model MUST be doing a much better job than the older version.  Well, thanks to this little plug and a change in something called voltage we had got to purchase all new appliances.

From stove/oven dishwasher, dryer, washer, coffee maker, blender, toaster,  mixer... you get the idea, we had to get it all.  First off trying to decide what to get is overwhelming, because let me tell you they all do things they don't do in the US.  We didn't even know what questions to ask while purchasing.  My first load of dishes came out dirtier than they started.  i now know i should ask about the salt i need to balance the hard water and the special rinsing product to help the dishes dry in addition to the detergent needed to clean.

Every bathroom, kitchen and laundry room has this handy dandy little drain, right where i always want to step.  i can't even tell you how many times i have kicked that annoying little cover off.  i figured out after my 5th load of laundry WHY i so desperately need this by my dryer!  You see, my brand new dryer doesn't completely dry, yet is extremely high maintenance.  It has 3 separate compartments to be cleaned out after every other load.  The lint screen (i totally have THAT down), a second lint barrel that looks a lot like a pool filter which has to be removed, taken outside and hosed off.  (Make mental note to buy hose at store next time.)  And a third container which must be pulled out and drained.  Apparently this is the water that has been sucked out of my freshly washed clothes and needs to be disposed of.  

If i were a good consumer, i would sort through all the manuals, set aside the Arabic directions, and attempt to read the broken English directions to minimize my frustration.  However, being the the competent "housewife" that i am, i like to think i am able to use my new blender and make a cup of coffee without reading a manual.  When after a few minutes later i am almost reduced to tears, i surrender, sort through the 4 inch stack of manuals to find out how to make something blend, toast, wash, or cook.  

i was so happy one day to pull out my rice steamer from home.  The oldest appliance in my kitchen and suddenly my favorite!  i could hardly wait to use it!  i knew EXACTLY how to cook rice in it.  i plugged it into the transformer (because i know it needs additional voltage help) only to find out i burned out both my steamer and the transformer because the wattage was too high!  

i have to remember buy drinking water at the store... i live in the desert!  When i forget, that is a problem.

i also have to remember i now have the latest manual garbage disposal.  My eco~conscience compost collector which must be carried into the car, driven to school and disposed of at the kiddo's compost pile in the school garden.  

This place is a complete dichotomy and at times i have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that i can locate an ATM that dispenses gold...

But i have to do my hair in a storage closet because there is not outlet within 25 feet of any bathroom.  Outlet and light in storage closet makes way more sense than in the bathroom.  (Seriously!  i cannot make this stuff up!)

Sometimes when i am supposed to be searching out solutions for our villa issues, i find this and escape inside.  

It may sound ridiculous but it is the one place in Dubai where i know EXACTLY what to expect.  i know how to pronounce every item on the menu,  i know what my order will taste like before i get it.  They always speak the English i can understand AND even if i don't have cash they will still serve me because they take credit card!  It is a nice little reprieve but as i drain my drink, i know i have to go back out into the world because they won't let me stay there forever.  

Needless to say, by the end of this week i was feeling exhausted and a complete failure.  All the things i used to be able to do to care for my family, i was suddenly incompetent in.  i couldn't make dinner or clean the house.  i couldn't find the clothes the movers put away and i couldn't wash the dirty clothes i could find.  New friends didn't always recognize me because i was sporting the "i am not spending time in the storage room" hair do and my kids were late to school as we try to learn new short cuts.  It was hard.  i was grumpy, impatient and annoyed.  i don't do well with chaos and clutter and that was all i was surrounded by.    

How timely was this weeks women's Bible study.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control."
Galatians 5:22-26

It's all the things that would make this world a lovely and perfect place if we could just live these qualities out on a daily basis.  But unfortunately it's not in us naturally.  Oh, i am all about self control until i burned myself with the water that is turned up too high in the kitchen while the water in my master bath is cold.  You should have seen how patient i was with my kids and husband this week when they asked me where thing were.  i perfected a great pout when i realized i'd have to hire someone to hang all my pictures onto the concrete walls.  As for kindness, i'm pretty sure the only person i showed kindness to was the delivery guy who brought us our pizza.  

It didn't take long before i realized i was allowing the outward chaos of the world to constrict all inward joy and peace.  Yet, i so  much long for a life marked by love, peace, kindness and joy which spills out when i'm crushed by the circumstances around me.  i want to demonstrate these characteristics to my family and those around me in ways more tangible than just the physical means of laundry and food.  

Being pushed out of the comforts of the familiar forces me to look inward and evaluate what is really important in life.      

Riley unknowingly also shifted my perspective one afternoon.  While i was inside trying to put things away and infuriated with the sand all over my floor she calls to me from outside.  "Mom, come here a minute."  Completely frustrated and impatient i ask her what she wants.  i walk outside to find this.  

She's playing outside and cheerfully sweeping up sand, i can't even get frustrated that she has the broom and dust pan i had been looking for.  She says almost giggling, "Mommy, there is  A LOT of sand here.  i am making a sandbox with it."

i am working on filling my sandbox with the fruits of the Spirit not the chaos of my surroundings.


We baked our first batch of homemade cookies a few nights later.  The vanilla tasted like some gross chemical.  We had to convert cups to grams and Fahrenheit to Celsius which involved way too much thinking.  Chris ended up 'baking' them on the BBQ because i forgot to disassemble the rotisserie pieces before i heated up the oven.  It was a family effort to be sure and our sandbox is filling with the important stuff.  

(But for the record the cookies were disgusting.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Expat Wife Life

Call me sheltered but i had never even heard the term "expat" until 8 months ago and now i find myself swirling in it's very vortex. The bad thing about being an expat is that i feel like an idiot 85 percent of the time.  The good thing about expat life in Dubai is that i am never the lone idiot.  

Standing in line the other day at a government office i heard 4 people replay the EXACT same scenario, while filling out the necessary paperwork.

Wide eyed the expat asks, "I owe you HOW much?  Why?... Oh, OK."  After fumbling around for a credit card with a dazed look, the expat hands the receptionist the worthless plastic only to see her direct his attention to this sign...

(This is one of the only signs i've ever seen not written in both English & Arabic as this seems to only be a problem with the English speaking world.)

"You don't take credit card?!  Uh well, where is the nearest ATM?" the man asks, hiding his frustration.  (FYI... it is best to control your anger when you are attempting to gain permission to live and work in another country.)  The receptionist then proceeds to send him to Block 7 which may as well be Mile 7 because the expat must get into a taxi to reach Block 7 and then return back to this building, Block 12,  20-30 minutes later.  The only reason i happened to avoid this exchange is because i am an expat wife and i wasn't allowed to fill out this paper work until my husband had completed his, which means HE sent me there prepared with the necessary cash!   i have however, had this exact conversation about 10 other times in various other places so i feel like i am in good company.

The other thing i never have enough of  is minutes on my phone.  My cash and minutes seem to disappear into thin air around here.  (Expats are required to be on a pre-paid phone for awhile but that is another post.)  ANYWAYS,  i find myself at the school needing cash for lunches, school uniforms.... whatever.  i don't have enough cash so i call my sugar daddy  husband and ask him to get some cash on the way home.  (He is after all the one with the name on the account.)  Oh, but as i pick up my phone to dial i realize i am out of minutes and i can't make a call.   i have to first go the store to buy minutes so i can call my husband to bring money so my kids can eat lunch.   Oh, forget it!  i just decide to call i mean wait patiently for a cab to take me to the bank so i can pay for my taxi ride and then to the grocery store for more minutes and then back to school for the kids.  If only i could say i was exaggerating....

The other aspect of my lack of cash that amazes me is when a delivery man brings me water, curtains, a gas bubble or clothes dryer and this poor Amercian doesn't have enough cash to pay him. They all say, "No problem madam.  I will come back to pick it up from you when you have it."  They then proceed leave me the goods and take only my mobile number (which may or may not have minute on it).  Umm... i am standing in a completely empty house with no furniture.  i wonder how they know i am going to pay them back?  i always feel horrible and tell them i will drop off the money to them once i catch a cab to a bank.  Again i get, "No problem, Madam.  I will come back to your villa and collect it.  Just call me when you have the money."  If that takes days, "No Problem."  From what i understand they are completely relaxed regarding money or they are used to expat wives who never seem to have enough cash.   

One of the best part about the expat community are the wives.  They welcome you into their lives, homes, cars and help you survive this crazy place called Dubai.  It's a village really, a group of women who would be strangers anywhere else but here they become instant friends.  i am surrounded by other mommy's who know what it is like to find themselves and their family in a foreign country trying to figure out simple everyday tasks.  There is no common nationality.  Everyone has a different style of dress and accent but our common ground is this Middle Eastern sand and our attempt to build homes for our families in the midst of it.  i have met women from every continent.  Some are like me and this is their first overseas assignment.  Some haven't lived in their homeland in 20+ years.  Some have had each of their children all born in different countries

During Riley's first grade UAE cultural day, my sweet little Columbia friend wrapped Riley's hijab (head covering) up like no body's business.  Totally taken back,  i asked her how she knew how to do that.  She smiled wide and with her thick accent said, "Ahh...por 2 years I live in Saudi."  Fascinating!

Hijab i cannot, but gutrah i got!

As an expat wife, i am also being schooled in "how to greet new friends."  Since this village of mine is made of many different cultures and backgrounds even morning Hello's on the school playground turn into a cultural lesson.  Depending on who i encounter there are various options of Good Morning!  With some it is a handshake and then they hold my hand the remainder of the conversation.  There are also differing versions of the air~cheek kiss; sometimes it is one cheek, or the left then right kiss, but then there is also the left, right, left kiss.  The myriad of salutations are always warm, friendly and welcoming which i really love.   (Imagine though Chris' surprise at the 2 ~ 2 Goodbye planted on him from a male Egyptian co-worker at the airport.) 

The other thing that is completely comical is when we wives try to give each other directions to our villa/apartment.  There are no street names here or addresses.  If you do live in a numbered housing development the numbers are in no particular order.  (Hence the reason the police couldn't find me in the last post.)  You are lucky if you live next to a well known landmark, as that landmark becomes your address.  For example, when i give the taxi driver the name of my children's school and they respond with that far off lost look, i simply say,  "You know, across the street from the German Saudi Hospital."  A light immediately clicks on as if i have just given them an exact address.  "Oh, THAT i know!" they say.   Unfortunately, our current apartment is lacking a well known landmark so i have had this conversation with delivery men ...
"You are at the Gloria Hotel? Ok, come back towards the Mall of the Emirates but not all the way...  No, more towards Sheik Zayed Road not towards the beach.  Can you see it?!  No, come back to Dubai, do not keep heading to Abu Dhabi.  K, now you have gone to far.  If you are heading toward Abu Dhabi on Sheik Shayed then the the hotel will be on your right. "  This madness can go on for 10 minutes.  It really is amazing when they actually locate you.
Often, instead of giving directions we women just meet at the school and follow each other from there.  The other great thing is if you do get lost on your way to a get together and are so frustrated you want to forget the whole thing and go home, the women you are suppose to meet won't hold it against you or even think you are a loser.  They totally get it.  On the flip side, when you DO find a completely out of the way place with just a map and your sleuthing skills it feels like a HUGE accomplishment.  The feeling is comparable to running at least a half marathon!  (Seriously, i can't make this stuff up.)  When i got lost with my kids and we found our way back in record time they did this grand cheer for me completely unsolicited.  Excitement filled the air!

While we are on the topic of driving, i will end with this.  As you may have seen, i am not allowed to work. 

However, i now officially have this!

Which makes ME the official unpaid rental car driving chauffeur for my kids.   

This is true of ALL moms.  It is what we do.  Here, my chauffeur status has been bumped up just a tad.  My kids are not allowed to open their own doors AT. ALL. EVER.  They wait in their seats until i walk around and open up their doors for them.  Besides having to park in spots you'd swear are placed in the middle of the Indy 500 race track, stall sizes are designed for sports cars NOT suburbans.  So in an effort to protect my kids from the racing cars and the parked cars from my racing kids they only exit once i have approved clearance. 

Mr. Ferrari parks near to us but we try to keep a safe distance at all times.

Some sort of car covered completely in Dirhams.  (The currency which i never seem to have enough of.)

i am not a connoisseur of cars and i don't know what half the cars are that i see but i do know this much; a door ding from one of my Littles would be very pricey. 

It's a shame, only 3 of his 4 of his cars are parked here tonight. 

In all honesty, if the car's name isn't written on it, i have no idea what it is.  i happen to know what these cars are simply because i can read their emblems.  A few days ago Mama Chauffeur took "B's" spot. (You know, that expensive car that only has a B emblem on its hood).  Parking is first come, first serve and that slot happened to be opened and closest to the elevator so i grabbed it and let my kids open their own doors that night.  i think "B" owes me at least a cup of coffee because that was the very same night THIS happened.