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.



Noelle said...

Omgsh!!!! What a life!!!!! The cars are amazing and how funny that I have seen a similar car as the dirham covered one (sp?),but covered with Louis Vuitton emblems in south central!!! Lol! The lack of cash, Ahem, everyone's problem here in the US! :P
We need that kids can't open their door rule here!!!
Praying for your crafty driving skills now that you are an official licensed driver! That has got to be nervewracking! Loooooooove you friend! Keep on truckin! Xoxo

Unknown said...

You never lack for adventure, do you, Tami?! I love how you make an adventure out of all the "little" events in your lives. And I love your blog. I laughed all the way through...hope that's OK that I laugh at your "adventures." OOXX

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I left you a long sweet post, that you didn't get, so just want to say, I loved your humor and thoughts, they are so "you". Dad

Betty said...

I think Mr. B owes you more than a cup of coffee! When you move back to the US, your lives will be quite boring!

Deniele said...

What an amazing adventure/life! Love reading your blog.

Natalie said...

Bahahaha! The parking job on the first Ferarri...aw man. That takes me back. The dirham car is EPIC! Love this. Keep it up, girl.

Natalie said...

PS: Bentley. :)

Anonymous said...

life happens...you are just in a "sandstorm". The buzzy pace should settle soon.